The art of walking

“Walkers are ‘practitioners of the city,’ for the city is made to be walked. A city is a language, a repository of possibilities, and walking is the act of speaking that language, of selecting from those possibilities. Just as language limits what can be said, architecture limits where one can walk, but the walker invents other ways to go.” ― Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust: A History of Walking

I’ve been a walker all my life.

When I was little, I walked from necessity. I spent my childhood outdoors, and to get from home to anywhere you had to walk.

When I got a little older I woke up to the liberating power of walking.

I walked hundreds of miles on the streets of Berlin when it was still fenced in, still somewhat pockmarked from the war, wistful and forlorn. I walked the ruins, I walked the East, I walked the West. I saw it transform over the years, but every time I walk I still discover places I have never seen. I walked there from loneliness, I walked from curiosity, I walked from boredom.

I walked all over London, freshly arrived as a teenage runaway, I kept moving, to grasp the city, to understand England, to understand a culture that was entirely foreign to me and quite hostile. I walked many evenings and nights when I had nothing else to do, when I just wanted to be among people. I walked the East End, I walked the canals, the river, the old industrial areas, the docks, the cemeteries, the Metro-land suburbs.

And I fell in love with New York by walking endless hours until my feet were swollen and blistered, because I couldn’t possibly stop  – the streets were so exciting, so busy, the people so beautiful and odd. I walked the Bronx, the outer reaches of Queens, every neighborhood in Brooklyn from Maspeth to Gravesend, and every block in Manhattan.

Many of my literary heroes used walking for epiphanies, for transformation, for understanding.

Louis Aragon, who wrote so well about the chance discoveries, the peculiar magic and mystery of Paris, creating a larger framework for experiencing the world.

WG Sebald whose books are from the perspective of the solitary walker, the solitary traveler.

I thought nothing of walking 10, 15 miles at a time, and I would have walked longer if my feet wouldn’t give out.

But the point is, I walked because I wanted to.

When I first got a pedometer I was intrigued to learn how much I actually walk. But when I started to set goals everything changed. I began walking for mileage. Five miles every day, six miles every day, eight miles every day. I walked circles in the neighborhood, circles in the park, circles in the cemetery because I had to hit my goal. I’d pace up and down the apartment just hit a round number.

I no longer walked for pleasure, for curiosity, for loneliness. I walked just to walk.

“And once had, the data mind is hard to shake” writes Craig Mod in his essay Paris and the Data Mind, where he describes the abject disappointment of climbing the Eiffel Tower and then realizing that he forgot his Fitbit, making the trek not count.

“Part of me wanted to cab it back to the hotel. Cab it back and clip on the Fitbit and do the walk again. All of it. Mirrored and remapped. Climb the Eiffel steps once more. Ground it. Make it real in the ether.”

I’m trying to rediscover my old way of walking – open to what’s around me, ready to be transformed, open to detours and adventure, unconcerned with mileage.

The basic rules are:

To never walk just for exercise

To walk into the uncharted

To walk with my eyes wide open

To lose myself

“To lose yourself: a voluptuous surrender, lost in your arms, lost to the world, utterly immersed in what is present so that its surroundings fade away … to be lost is to be fully present, and to be fully present is to be capable of being in uncertainty and mystery.” ― Rebecca Solnit, A Field Guide to Getting Lost

2013-08-15 20.23.12

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75 thoughts on “The art of walking

  1. Do you know about Tiger Walking? Not many people are aware of the great martial artists and their techniques for walking
    and focusing chi. Walking shows how you think. I walk, therefore this how I think.

    • Beautifully observed and written. Our data minds too often separate us from fully experiencing. And too, we forget that the bilateral movement of walking is deeply rooted in who we are. Our ancestors walked for miles every day, passing down genes that make walking important to our well-being. The rhythmic left-right-left-right of walking facilitates a body-based reduction in stress and even trauma. Here’s more about how that works: http://lauragraceweldon.com/2013/01/22/free-fix-for-what-troubles-us/ Losing ourselves in a walk lets us find so much more.

  2. Pingback: Monday Reading | Wait until next year
  3. you gave walking a new passion. I admit am no walker but the truth is whenever I have wanted to be one with any place, I’ve walked through it. It is like a gateway to its heart and soul.
    I just hope I can take it up as a regular thing. Kudos to you for seeing a facet which is going to be unknown to me – congratulations on being freshly pressed and thanks for this post.

  4. It’s amazing how much you forget how to lose yourself once you incorporate something so relaxing with goals or technology. It’s like always having your GPS/smartphone with you when you take a drive. You can’t just lose yourself. Thanks for the great read!

  5. Thanks for this fantastic post! My older brother is a walker, and I have always wanted to give it a try since he always seems so enlightened. I am now motivated to walk because it is an important activity that seems to have been lost in modern times.

  6. Great writing! I loved the quote at the end. I know this feeling when I have the guts to experience it, i.e. getting deeply lost in ……
    It is letting go of everything, not being grounded, not having a safety net and being in the moment … truly mystifying. Listening to music,
    being lost in a really good book and walking in Sequoia National Park several years ago does it for me. Keep writing. You are so honest.

  7. Walking is my mode of transportation as well, today I walked to work at 4am… It was so dark and the sky was clear so I could see the stars. The scenery is quite rural in parts of my walk, and it’s amazing what you can discover… Today, I saw two possible scenarios for paintings, perhaps one day I will paint them, the images are embedded in my brain. When I rode my bicycle in the summer, during the first days I felt like I was cheating myself out of something… But as the winter is coming, I’m back to walking.

  8. I am also an avid walker by choice, surrounded by many people who find that confusing. I really related to your post and I am glad you are getting back to a place of walking to enjoy and not to count. Thanks for writing!

  9. Pingback: The art of walking | helo12511
  10. Thank you for a very enjoyable read. I’m a life long walker. I love distance – but not for distance’s sake, so much, but rather for maximizing my time outdoors, my time spent at my own pace, in my head with my own thoughts. My city and the surrounding countryside (Olympia, WA USA) are lovely, at all times of the year, and every day my walk is different, even if only in some small way. I have few rules: try to take the more off-road route, sniff flowers, talk to the cats, stare crows in the eye, and discover something new. It keeps my mind, my spirit, and my body healthy.

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