I’ve never done anything but dream. This, and this alone, has been the meaning of my life. My only real concern has been my inner life. FERNANDO PESSOA

Sunday, 4 July 2010

The Benefits Of Walking (And Getting Lost)

In his book, Walkers, Miles Jebb reminds us exactly why walking is medically good for us:

It stimulates the muscles which assist the heart in circulating the blood, thus increasing the heart's efficiency and decreasing such dangerous things as cholesterol levels, clot formations, blood sugar, and hormone production. Also, through the exercise of the lungs, it improves the oxgenising capacity which, among other things, activates the brain cells. Besides this, it triggers off responses from the nervous system, so releasing tensions and providing an outlet for pent-up emotions. And it slows down the ageing process of bone-demineralisation, particularly in the legs and feet. All these attributes are more than ever important today when most urban people are overstimulated and underactive and grossly neglect their legs, those massive limbs which constitute over a third of normal body weight. Walking is thus the simplest and easiest way of keeping fit; and a brisk walk of around 4 miles an hour consumes about four times as much energy as a slow stroll, and about half as much as a moderate jog or run.

A little further on in the book, Jebb cites George Trevelyan, Master of Trinity College, Cambridge, who advocates the merits in walking alone, walking by night, and even losing one's way (!) He extols the usefulness of walking in the solution of personal and psychological crises, and of walking as medicine. Trevelyan's Essay On Walking begins like this: I have two doctors, my left leg and my right ...

I particularly like the idea that 'losing one's way' can somehow be beneficial - a good and valuable experience rather than a confusing and stressful one. I've often thought this myself. Indeed, I've been lost more times than I care to mention - not completely lost, but vaguely lost, a wee bit lost. Which, I think, is a rather pleasurable state to be in.

On my walks I'm frequently too lazy to keep looking at a map, and my map reading skills are more basic than refined, should we say. However, as long as you have a general idea where you are, and as long as you are not in a potentially dangerous situation - such as in the high mountains with night or bad weather approaching - being 'lost' for a while can be fun. You can call up all those forgotten, ancestral skills - navigating by the sun, moon, stars, and wind direction, interpreting the lie of the land with the physical senses rather than blindly and uncritically following some pre-prepared route or map. You suddenly become active rather than passive, a little more alive, more finely-tuned to what's going on around you. There's a raw immediacy, a delicious frisson in your interaction with the world which you don't get to the same extent if you stick religiously to a pre-planned route come hell or high water - and then panic if you accidentally stray.

In yesterday's post on Taormina I talked of 'intuitively guessing' my way back from the Virgin of the Rock into town. This kind of experience - when you're not really lost but are relying on instincts and split-second route choices to get you where you want to be - is a really attractive one, I find, and one I relish. Such tempting, serendipitous pathways can lead to secret, unexpected places you might never have found on the map, and you can have a really exciting adventure by following their siren calls.

I'm reminded of John Keats' concept of Negative Capability, which he defines as the state when man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason. Sometimes you just have to suppress the intellect, the rational organising mind, for a while ... and go for a walk ... with only a fuzzy idea about where you are going ...

11 comments:

George said...

Every one of your postings seems like a "favorite" to me, Robert, but this one truly resonates with me one three different levels. First, I find it amazing that so few people understand the many joys and benefits of walking. Second, I could not agree more about the the joy -- indeed, the need -- of getting lost from time to time. This has something to do with the Zen law of reversed effects. When you think you are not lost, you may be lost, and when you think you are lost, you may be on a good path. Finally, I have long believed that negative capability is at the core of all of the great art that has graced the world since the beginning of time. One who is not capable of dealing with self-doubt, despair, and failure is not likely to create anything of lasting importance.

Gleaner said...

This resonates with me too and I agree with George's comments.
Another favourite post.

The Solitary Walker said...

Glad you all liked the post! I came across Jebb's book some time ago in Mister Roy's wonderfully written and always thought provoking blog 'Walking Home To 50' (see my bloglist).

George, that's an interesting remark about the connection between negative capability and all great art. I've been reflecting on it, and I'm sure you are right.

Tramp said...

SW
There are so many ways to walk!
I agree with what you say about the unexpected when walking. For me it's not just the route that sorts itself out from the fuzzy mapreading but my thoughts go through a similar "defuzzation"...Tramp

Lorenzo said...

As with George, this post also resonates with me. I have always said (but not necessarily practiced) that once you can no longer get lost in a place, it is time to move on. There is something delightful about being vaguely and mildly (unthreateningly) lost. I generally have a very good sense of direction and orientation but like to test it.

I wanted to mention, that I have received an e-mail with a comment you posted on my blog. For some reason, my blog seems to not be accepting comments. Not even mine. They appear but then disappear. Fortuntately, I did see your kind words via the g-mail message I get for every comment. Thanks and I am glad that some of the joy of the moment made it your way.

I'll try to see what the problem is.

The Solitary Walker said...

Lorenzo - I think Blogger's had some problems everywhere with the Comments feature today. Hopefully it'll soon sort itself out.

The Solitary Walker said...

'Defuzzation' - it's kind of wonderful, that word, Tramp!

CaroleH said...

Your posts take me to a different place, SW, and make me look at life in 'other' ways. Like this post says, also my new favourite,, I always feel the need to get out and "walk" when I'm upset, stressed or angry, especially angry, and also feel we look and appear younger at the end of a few weeks of camino. Brilliant.

Not sure about the ...'losing one's way thing.....'?? Maybe a call to look at it in a different way, to not panic and to go with the flow. Yes?

The Solitary Walker said...

Yes, walking is great therapy and a brilliant stress-buster, CarlolH. I really meant about the getting lost thing, not being seriously lost, but enjoying the existential feeling of not knowing quite where you are ...

fireweed meadow said...

I read somewhere that walking is the only activity or form of exercise that is proven to prevent or delay cognitive decline, which is great to know because who wouldn't choose a walk over a crossword puzzle.

The Solitary Walker said...

Crosswords have their time and place, fireweed ... but walking beats them hands down every time!