Walking is Working

Yesterday, in the middle of the morning, I went out for a walk. Through the fruit orchard, down the hill under the oaks and pines to the stream, across the river by the waterfall, past the reservoir and back up the hill along the track. It was slippery underfoot, the carpet of leaves damp with melting frost.

It was  beautiful and energising, and, as if that weren’t enough, I had a hatful of ideas along the way. Forgotten projects came back to me in detail, the next steps as clear as my own tracks on the frosty grass. New ideas arose and my priorities for the week became as clear as the cold December sky under which I walked.  

Yet I nearly didn’t go.

This often happens. When I was writing ‘Do – Improvise’ I knew from experience that a walk would probably get me unstuck but even so, I would sit and struggle at my computer, resisting the urge to get out. It would take the patient and endless enthusiasm of my black labrador, Cosmo, to get me out on the path, where I would discover, yet again, that with movement, the blocks started to dissolve and the ideas to flow. I often joke that I should have dedicated the book to my dog.

This fascinates me. I know that walking works. I have read many wonderful books about its power from Robert Macfarlane’s ‘The Old Ways’ to the exquisite ‘Book of Mindful Walking’ by Adam Ford. In ‘The Philosophy of Walking’ Frederic Gros talks of the great thinkers who were also great walkers. And I understand enough of the science to know that this isn’t just a fanciful romantic notion, there is a biochemical reality underlying it. Move your body, move your mind. 

So why do I resist?

I think it's a mixture of things. Being steeped in the protestant work ethic. A sense of unworthiness (‘Am I allowed to enjoy myself?'). A lack of imagination – I don’t think about what might change if I do something else. And a disregard of memory - I simply ignore past experience. A heady cocktail indeed.

How often do we do this I wonder? Not just with walking, but with anything. Blunder on in blind insistence, doing what we are doing, because we simply don’t pause to allow ourselves to consider doing something different that we know has worked before! 

So I am going to try something new. On the walk, one of the ideas I came up with was the title of this blog - ‘Walking is working’.

I am going to try using this as a heuristic or rule of thumb, to shortcut the mental sidetracking that stops me putting one foot in front of the other. ‘It’s ok, I will tell my guilty conscience… “walking IS working”…..’

Walk the Line - A different kind of path dependency

Most of us think of our lives as a line, much like a path or road, where events happen one after another in a single, linear, sequence. The past lies behind us and the future stretches out ahead.

We frequently use the language of paths – whether it is career paths, spiritual paths or ‘bumps in the road’. Our calendars and diaries picture time in a similar, linear way. Thus the idea of a ‘time-line’ is both echoed, and reinforced.

This way of thinking can become so natural that we forget it is just a way of framing things - an interpretation. And, like any interpretation, it shapes how we think, drawing attention towards some things and away from others.

For young people in particular, this linear way of thinking about the future, where one thing leads to another in sequence can cause confusion, difficulty and stress. The metaphor of a path carries with it a subtle series of associations that aren’t necessarily helpful.

It can be a corset, one that stops you thinking in the round about the wealth of different possibilities that lie before you. It pays more attention to where a step leads, than exploring that experience for its own sake. A linear interpretation encourages you to think in narrow terms of qualifications and stepping stones towards a pre-determined goal – it quite literally ‘channels’ your thought. It also creates the pressure to take the ‘right’ step. In defining a path it simultaneously cuts off (or casts doubt on) possibilities that lie off the path, implying that if you take them, you will become ‘side-tracked’ or lost. The emphasis is more on progress than discovery or enjoyment. Overall it implies that you ought to know where you want to go, and that the task is working out how to get there, rather than encouraging you to explore.

What would happen then, if we chose a different interpretation, a different metaphor. That of the field, rather than the path?

The idea of a field adds dimension. It can also add depth and texture. There are many ways to explore a space or a territory. There is no one path - no forward, no back. One might explore a section, then return to a central point, then head off in another direction. Or, go all around the perimeter. Or hop about. Or go back, repeatedly, to the same place, approaching from different directions at different seasons, or in different moods.

Using the metaphor of a field changes how you think (and feel) about your future and how you develop yourself to meet it.   

(Hat tip to Juan Albanell of Olivo Rojo, who first brought my attention to this whilst on a Parenthesis at La Serna).