A common man marvels at uncommon things. A wise man marvels at the commonplace. CONFUCIUS

Sunday, 3 August 2008

Mindful Walking (1)

Will this thought rise on those who will meet my face no more,/'He was one who had an eye for such mysteries'? From Afterwards by THOMAS HARDY

The longer I live the more I consider life to be a long, meandering, circuitous, eventful, aimless, up-and-down, weather-beaten . . . walk. Bipedalism distinguishes us from most other creatures and we've developed it into a refined skill. Walking is the most natural, the easiest, the most convenient, the most eco-friendly, the cheapest and, for me, the most satisfying and enjoyable form of locomotion. Possibly in the future our by-and-large sedentary lifestyle may cause our bodies to evolve differently, and develop shapes and features which reflect our current obsessions with sitting at the wheel of a car, sitting in front of a computer screen, sitting in meetings, sitting in front of TV. But for the moment — despite lack of funds for sport in schools, despite insidiously addictive computer games, despite increasing health problems due to obesity and lack of exercise — walking is what we do.

Often we just walk automatically without really thinking about it. But, as with yogic breathing, if we allow ourselves to be keenly aware of the process — a state Buddhists call mindfulness — the simple art of putting one foot in front of the other gains a whole new dimension. It's the same with all of our sense experiences while we're out walking. Observing, noticing things, registering that little breeze, that birdsong, that piney scent of rising sap in the trees — all this makes us more human, more sensitive to nature and to ourselves, more empathic with others. When I walked The Dales Way some years ago I was struck by how my senses became more and more acute as the days passed — particularly the sense of touch (the feel of that wooden stile or that limestone rock beneath your hand), the sense of taste (eating out of doors when you're hungry after a long walk is truly special) and the sense of smell (one of our most neglected, I think, but there's a wonderful opportunity to fine-tune it as you wander over flower-filled hay meadows — and through farmyards!)


John Hee said...

here here, and well put

Crafty Green Poet said...

oh yes, i agree so much. I walk as much as I can

Goat said...

Wow, commenting on this old post, it almost feels...archaeological.

Great observations here. Very relevant to me right now as I think about the pleasures of heightened senses on my recent walk. In my case there was also the self-preservation aspect of constantly tuning your ears to hear approaching cars.

I'm reminded also of how hikers on the Appalachian Trail would often comment that they could smell "town hikers" or day hikers before they met them on the trail: their soap and perfumes and lotions.

By some merciful selective process, we were also able to tune out our own malodorous emanations!