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

Sunday, 26 December 2010

Three Or Four Hills And A Cloud

In my room, the world is beyond my understanding. But when I walk I see that it consists of three or four hills and a cloud. WALLACE STEVENS Of The Surface Of Things

Why do we go walking? It's an interesting question. We start to walk as soon as we wake up in the morning. We walk to the bathroom. We go downstairs. We visit the shops to buy groceries. We drag the dog round the block. We walk to our friends' houses and post Christmas cards through their letterboxes. In other words, we walk all the time, without thinking about it. It's a natural, practical way of getting from A to B, and we do it automatically.

But we may also have a regular walk we take each evening, say, when we 'beat the bounds' of our neighbourhood. Or we may even have a longer 'constitutional' stroll we perform ritualistically every Sunday. Some of us may take it much further - go on more demanding two day hikes through the whole weekend, book walking holidays, or undertake strenuous, multi-week treks over difficult terrain. This type of walking is different in kind from our normal, practical, functional walking activities.

So why, in a deeper sense, do we go walking? The question is more profound than it might at first appear, and the answers sweep us up into vast realms. In fact these answers cover all subjects and all experiences. They cover the whole world, like footprints stretching endlessly through Arctic snow or desert sand. Walking can be seen as pilgrimage, therapy, exploration. It can be a means of reflection and meditation. Astonishingly it's also a path through history, philosophy, art and metaphor. Above all it's a gateway to freedom. And, as Rebecca Solnit says in her book Wanderlust: The history of walking is everyone's history. The world of walking is one of the few democracies in which we may all truly and equally share.

I'd like to take you on a ten-part journey through the limitless country of walking. This sequence will reflect on Walking as Exercise, Walking as Therapy, Walking as Meditation, the Simplicity of Walking, Walking as a Portal to Discovery and Freedom, the Spiritual Nature of Walking, Walking as Pilgrimage, Walking as Art, and the Zen of Walking.

I look forward to your company on this physical, mental and spiritual voyage ...

12 comments:

Ruth said...

Oh, Robert! This posting has kindled true excitement in me. First the way you plumbed the depths of walking in ways I hadn't thought about, then planting that seed of anticipation for the series you have planned. Walking is something I love to do and have done in so many places in the world. It really is democratic, and we have access walking that we don't in vehicles. Also the rhythm is human/humane. I don't know that we need any other exercise than walking, and while doing it I nurture my spirit and soul besides my body, just as you say and will explore.

I am looking forward to walking through Chicago streets in a couple of days, part of it at night, under the white tree lights on Michigan Avenue. I love to be in a city and walk until I ache, or in the wild up and down hills till I think I can't go on. It is incredibly satisfying. I have hiked five straight days on the Pacific Crest Trail in Oregon, and there are so many other places I would like to hike in my lifetime, including ones you, George and Lorenzo have discussed.

This is a wonderful start to the new year.

annie said...

Looking forward to sharing these walks and so glad that you are doing this as a series. As Ruth says, a wonderful way to start the New Year.
annie

George said...

Needless to say, I am looking forward to this series, Robert. There are so many dimensions of walking that it's difficult to know where to begin and where to end. It is the spiritual dimension, however, that most resonates with me. I often think that the best spiritual path is literally a walking path, a place where one foot can be placed before the other, moving the the seeker tirelessly toward the horizon, which, as Tennyson said, always moves as we move.

Yesterday, my wife give me a gift that I will always treasure because if captures what I believe to be the essence of who I am. It was a nicely framed photo of me at the end of my coast-to-coast trek, and the frame was inscribed with these words by Sir Edmund Hillary: "It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves." Perhaps that is what many of us are doing with our walks — just simply trying to conquer, and hopefully preserve, ourselves.

Lorenzo — Alchemist's Pillow said...

Happy holiday wishes to you, Robert. Like Ruth, I am looking forward to the series on walking. I remember a previous one of yours from a few months ago with some memorable quotes on walking. It will be rewarding fun to stride into the new year with you in this way.

gleaner said...

What a wonderful way to enter the new year, I'm definitely joining this walking group.

I was reminded of how valuable walking is whilst reading a dedication in a gardening book yesterday - it was dedicated to the "spastic children who cannot run on the soft warm earth, and to the blind children who cannot see the wonders of creation"...it gave me a valuable reminder of how much joy and nurturing just walking gives and the abundance of wonder one experiences every day.

Val said...

that sounds enticing - I will be there! thanks

The Solitary Walker said...

Thanks, Ruth. I'm not sure what I've taken on here but I've committed myself now! I truly am passionate about walking, and I suppose it's my main form of exercise, but I also have a 20-30 minute 'routine' I do semi-regularly at home involving stretching, light aerobic exercises such as running on the spot, skipping etc, some 'resistance' exercises to keep muscles in shape, and so on. Nothing fancy, and I don't have any special equipment at all. I don't go to a gym. I find it utterly tedious. (Though my daughter has been going to a gym several times a week for many years and loves it.) Have always wanted to walk parts of the PCT or Appalachian trails.

Annie - thanks for your comment, and welcome to the blog!

That was a lovely, memorable and uniquely personal gift from your wife, George. Hillary was surely right.

Lorenzo - best wishes to you too, Lorenzo ...

Gleaner and Val - hope to see you along the way ..! (Perhaps we could stop half-way for a picnic lunch or a pint in the pub.)

pilgrimpace said...

The beer's on me Robert. As I begin to surface from Christmas exertions and my brain finds itself able to think a bit, I'm looking forward to engaging with your thoughts - and to get out for some walks

Andy

The Weaver of Grass said...

I look forward to this Robert - but do hope it doesn't stop me walking myself - at present with the icy roads, I can always find an excuse not to walk. Happy New Year to you all.

Phoenix C. said...

I'm really looking forward to this!

Walking has always been very important to me - my Dad instilled the love of walking in the countryside into me at a very early age, for which I am most grateful.

And when I'm too busy to go out for a long walk, it's so good to visit blogs such as yours, and 'virtually' walk. One learns new ways of seeing which then enhance future walks!

Bonnie said...

Robert: Count me in! I will certainly be accompanying you on this journey. Can not think of a better tour guide for this wide-ranging excursion.

The Solitary Walker said...

Andy - I'll get the second round ...

Pat - be careful on that ice, but is it thawing now?

Phoenix - I 'virtually' walk much of the time!

Bonnie - strap yourself in and let's go ...