Zen and the Art of Walking

Photo by  Esther Tuttle  on  Unsplash

We’ve all heard it before. Go for a walk, you’ll feel better. We’ve all brushed it aside before. A walk won’t do anything for me. But we’ve all been wrong, over and over. A walk can’t cure depression, eliminate anxiety, make addiction easier to overcome, but it can do something. It can just be. In a world of unlimited calls-to-action, FOMO, and the unscrupulous draw of impostor syndrome, a simple walk can help us detach from it all.

I know. I used to call bullsh*t on this too. But it’s not just one walk that’s going to get it done for you. It’s about developing a pattern of walking and making it a part of your daily ritual. In January and February, 2019 combined, I walked for 63 minutes. On July 17, 2019 alone, I walked for 73 minutes. Actually, in June 2019 I walked for 1,305 minutes. And during that time I finished 5 audiobooks. I’ve been walking toward Zen.

It’s not that everything is perfect now and when I leave the house a rainbow appears and baby goats come to be fed bottles right from my hand. No, sorry. Not much is really different. Or not much that I recognize. But the ritual of daily walking has added a layer of calm to my life that wasn’t there before. It makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something. Different than a workout. Different than meditation. It’s movement, nature, viewing, smelling, listening. I’m out in the world. Every day, I’m out in the world.

And I’m not trying. I’m aimless. Aimlessly walking around the town I live in. Most days through a park. Some days, more recently, through a cemetery. Some days in a straight line. Other days taking detours I’ve never taken before. And all the while not constrained by a plethora of advertisements or very important emails that require my immediate attention because these light bulbs are only on sale today. The benefit isn’t just exercise, the benefit is also aimlessness. Without purpose or direction.

It’s funny that being aimless is seen as such a negative. It’s usually used to describe someone who can’t figure out what the hell they want to do with their life. But what’s really wrong with that? Why should we always know what’s ahead of us? And more importantly, how would that be possible? Walking aimlessly provides me perspective and allows me to feel loose. Loose from the constraints of contemporary society that won’t shut the f*ck up for two seconds.

Personally, I find walking aimlessly an extremely important endeavor for introverts. It serves a buried need of ours to be out in the world, but doesn’t force us to interact. And doesn’t force us to be in crowded areas. We control our route, our pattern, and our directive when we walk aimlessly. If something may upset the balance of our introversion, we can just cross the street or make a turn. We can stop. We can go faster. We are in complete control. And the world abides.

I don’t walk for time although I do track how long and how far I walk. I don’t try to walk faster because my idea of Zen and the Art of Walking is about being free. I don’t need to pace myself. I just need to be. To observe. To move one foot in front of the other until I feel like stopping or until I arrive back at home.

Walking also provides the opportunity for deep thought. Some days I put my headphones in and don’t even turn the audiobook on. I just think the whole time. I take notes sometimes, but I also allow myself to investigate what’s been hiding in the inner recesses of my brain. And when that becomes a part of your daily ritual, it can only increase your creative vision in a way that sitting at a desk waiting for a good idea to come to you never will.

So now I walk. Aimlessly. And I’m better for it.