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You Should Take More Aimless Walks

When walking becomes the destination itself

Photo: Jad Limcaco/Unsplash

To the uninitiated, walking is just putting one foot in front of the other. When the destination is the goal, walking is indeed a slow approach and sometimes considered a waste of time. Walking can also be interpreted purely as a form of exercise without the walker having any other expectation.

But “going for a walk” evokes something quite different from “walking.” In “going for a walk” neither destination nor effort need be the prime motivators. Instead, when “going for a walk,” whether it be in the city or country, one takes a voyage into the self that lets the mind wander and rest. In this sense, walking itself becomes a place, and for those in the know, it’s deeply cathartic.

Walking has been my passion from childhood to my adult years. Sometimes I walk for exercise, sometimes to get someplace, but the most cathartic walks have been the walks for the sake of walking. These walks have lasted hours, days, even weeks across England, Europe, America, Australia, and New Zealand. On every occasion, these lengthy walks turned into a voyage of self-discovery, a retreat from the chaos of life.

In our constant struggle to get more done, where time is precious, walking even to get somewhere is often avoided. Making the decision to “go for a walk” is a deliberate way to take time out, slow down, get out, and appreciate what you see. In walking there is peace.

Walking through ‘hidden’ doorways

To the converted, “going for a walk” is a voyage, akin to opening a secret door and carving a path through the terrain of one’s imagination. In walking just for the sake of walking, we can use all of our senses to notice the contours of our surroundings — the shapes, the smells, and the feel of things. At a walker’s pace, we can truly appreciate what we sense and absorb the beauty of what we usually don’t notice. If we let ourselves be part of the landscape, we can reach into it and feel the reality of things, grasp it, and be part of it, even if momentarily, as I experienced on a wet walk through the Lake District in England.

Two days into this two-week walk, I came to the bottom of a steep rocky path and paused to catch my breath and look upward. Ahead in the mist, I could see a moving landscape where walkers slanted across the wide river of rain carefully they placed one foot and then another, and one by one, they disappeared out of the frame behind a rocky outcrop — presumably continuing their journey upward or to enter a hidden place.

Then it was my turn to walk into this scene and become an impermanent part of the landscape. I wondered if they, too, were searching for the forbidden entrance into the mystical. Is their vision also troubled or buoyed by the inexplicable labyrinths of their existence?

The true voyage in “going for a walk” is entering a landscape, passing through, and coming out the other side with hope for the journey onward.

Walking as fantasy and adventure

As a child, I was a wanderer in mind and body. As fantasy and adventure, wandering kept my childish fears and anxiety at bay. One of my favorite things to do on a Saturday morning was to walk with my sister. I would fall asleep the night before, imagining the adventures the next day would bring: goblins in the forest, secret hiding places, and above all a sense of freedom and independence. We would pack our lunch and set off for the entire day. I don’t remember being asked where we were going or when we’d be back. The day was ours.

Often, we walked long distances making our way uphill and down. Sometimes we had a particular destination in mind; however, the walking journey into our childish imagination was the key to an adventurous day out as on our way we made up stories of our boldness, heroism, and superpowers.

This pleasure is not just the domain of children. Adults can experience walking as an adventure into the unknowns of the universe of their mind.

Walking as an emotional retreat

Ask any walker and they will confirm that walking can quiet the mind. If you take care to notice as you set off, you will realize your moods respond to the panoramas and events unfolding: now light-stepped and joyous in the morning sun; then ponderous and with a grieving heart as one continues the tiring journey uphill and down; then cheerful again with the glimpse of an unexpected creature or delight in greeting another avid walker.

On a walk, things stifled and silenced become awakened. Problems weighing on the mind can be mulled in peace. On a walk, one doesn’t need a physical destination. By crafting one’s own thought and experience, the walk, the journey, is given its sense and direction.

In 2021, I intend to reclaim my love of the walker’s motion to satisfy my primal need to get up and get my blood moving, leave the interiors behind, and go for a walk outside, with or without a destination. In doing so, I believe I can reclaim the antipodal forces of motion then rest, as I meander my way through the landscape of my imaginings, stopping here and there, solving my problems along the way, and gaining some relief from the chaos of life.

Ph.D. Finance, MSc Creativity Studies. I combine science and personal experience to write about Creativity, Writing, Finance, and Life.

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