Walking and the Meaning of Being Present
By Katie Fielder
“Live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find eternity in each moment.” Henry David Thoreau
They say that walking is a thinker’s pastime. Philosophers, poets and writers throughout history have all credited their thinking ability and inspiration to rambling alone in the great wilderness. Friedrich Nietzsche once advised that, “all truly great thoughts are conceived through walking”, and according to French Philosopher Frederic Gros, Rousseau couldn’t even think, let alone work, if he wasn’t walking.
THE PHILOSOPHY OF WALKING
I too, love to walk. I could, and still can, spend hours wandering through heathland, marshes and ancient woodland. I never really thought of why walking appealed to me so much, however according to Monsieur Gros in his book ‘The Philosophy of Walking’, it’s not so much the ‘being in nature’ that plants the seed of inspiration, it is the inner peace that occurs when solitary. Walking alone allows us to go inward without disruption and be totally present. In that state creativity flows like an electric current to our brains. When we meander through the great outdoors, a space is created between mind, body and spirit – a type of meditation that is incredibly healing.
CREDIT: Katie Fielder
It wasn’t until I went on a walking holiday that I truly began to understand why walking is such an excellent mindful practice. The penny dropped during a long and arduous hike across Dartmoor. The moors are famously boggy in parts, full of crags and hilly terrain. The majority of our group struggled a fair bit with this landscape – halfway through, I fell and hit my face on a rock, another retreatant twisted their knee, some fell into bogs. Once we’d caught up with our guide, we started complaining about all that we’d been through, he paused and asked if we would like to turn back. We all looked at each other perplexed, and said, “of course we don’t want to turn back! We’ve walked miles already, and we don’t want to go back and do it all over again!” So we marched on until we eventually reached our coach, and headed home.
…it’s not so much the ‘being in nature’ that plants the seed of inspiration, it is the inner peace that occurs when solitary
Back at base, I kicked off my boots and had a hot bath before joining the others downstairs. I sat next to a retreatant I’d befriended. “How’s your head?” she asked. “A bit sore, but I’m just glad we’re back home” I laughed. We talked about being ‘seriously pissed off’ during the treck yet refusing to go back. We both fell silent for a while. She said “Actually, it’s quite poignant isn’t it? Just thinking about it. There is no going back, is there?” I knew what she meant, and I understood why we took the route we did. If we hadn’t experienced those setbacks, the lesson would have been lost. In the same way that we didn’t want to go back over that hike and the experience of it all, why do we repeatedly keep going over the past in our minds? If you keep going back over bad events, you might as well keep throwing yourself down a rocky hill. Or repeatedly twisting your knee, or keep falling down holes. To do this in a physical sense is ludicrous, like not learning the fact that fire burns. To do it on a mental level, is dangerous even more so, because in the caverns of your mind, there is no one to guide you. It’s so easy to get lost in the carousel of your own negative thinking. That’s what makes mental ill health so harrowing, and mindful thinking so important. Walking has been my saviour in recovering from my own mental health problems, and also a source of inspiration when I don’t have the answers. The trick is to take one step at a time, one foot in front of the other.
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