The role of walking has played a constantly changing role in my life. It is an action that can have a wide range of influence on my mindset, my feelings, my thoughts, and my life, because it is a highly dependent action: In an abstract way, it is a flexible thing. It molds into a variety of forms according to the moment in my life that I choose to walk. Because I understand what great meaning walking can have in my own life, I have decided to take a closer look at the patterns of effects my walks have. Here, I will list from memory some links between the contexts of my personal walks and their effects on my body, mind, and life.
I begin from, well, the beginning of my life.
Walking as a toddler. It was merely a practical act. I don’t recall the first time I took a short walk without falling, but I know that my parents were ecstatic. Their child would be able to place one foot before another to carry her through the rest of her life.
My first memory of walking is from elementary school. I walked to and from school each day. This was the first time I was aware of the act of walking without taking it for granted. I recall estimating the time it took me to get to and from school, the shortcuts I could take, and how this was affected by the company I was with. I remember choosing which side of the street to walk on, as some of the school bullies always took the left side and needed to be avoided.
Walking along the ocean with my dad when I was a kid. It was something we always did at some point during our stay when we spent the day at the beach. My dad and I would walk slowly to the rocks dividing the beaches and turn back in desperate search for our umbrella. I used to watch his footprints and compare which parts of his foot sunk more deeply into the sand than mine. Sometimes I would walk in his footprints, jumping from one to the other as his stride was so much longer than my own.
Walking in snow boots and ice skates. These were times when I became conscious of my normal walking step and how difficult it is to travel by foot when my feet are not free.
Leisurely family walks. My parents used to take my brother and me on walks through the woods near my old house in New Jersey. It was a weekend event that I came to dislike merely because it became such a scheduled, predictable occasion in my family. These walks eventually developed into hiking trips in Maine, in Vermont, and Upstate New York. I was too young to appreciate walking for walking’s sake and it caused me to develop an innate aversion toward it. Why did we have to waste time walking from home to nowhere, simply to return home again?
When I got older and became more conscious of health and weight maintenance I began to appreciate walking for, in my opinion, some of the less important reasons. For a while I took a daily run on the treadmill, and when my forty minutes of running were finished, my reward became the slow walking warm-down at the end. This conditioned me to appreciate walking as a relaxing action—something that wasn’t important in and of itself but that followed the “main action.”
Walking to class. Lateness gives me intense anxiety, as does rushing. Although it takes me 5 minutes to get from class to class at my tiny university, I leave my dorm fifteen minutes early so I can stroll, get some coffee-to-go, or have a quick conversation with a passerby. I never know what I will encounter on these walks. Though, because of my fear of being late, and my hatred for rushing, I always hope I will pass nothing substantial on my way to my destination. This has conditioned me to prefer getting from one place to another with nothing in between.
Walks for photography. In my first black and white photo class, I developed a portfolio of photos from around my college town. This forced me to walk slowly, absorbing my surroundings and choosing direction intuitively without a destination in mind. These walks were some of my first tastes of walking for walking’s sake. They forced me to think and not think, see and not see, and to simply be.
Walks for detoxing the brain. It was a subconscious realization that walking was good for my mental health. At some point in the past few years, I began to walk to change my mood. I could return from a two minute walk a completely different person than I started.
In Siena. I have walked more on a daily basis here than I have in a long time. Walking from school to home or home to school becomes a time for meditation, contemplation, stressing, distressing, pondering, accepting, wondering, longing…. Now I consciously realize when my moods change along my walks, at which locations I am happiest, most anxious, most confident. It was in this town that I learned to fathom what power walking holds. However, it is a power that I am in control of.
I have become more conscious of myself while I’m walking than ever before. I am aware of my pace, my breath, my heartbeat, and foremost, my thoughts. Thus, walking has become a greatly personal act for me. I find that when I walk with others I feel pressure to keep up a certain pace and my breath and pulse adjust according to my speed. This lack of freedom makes me anxious, and I’ve developed a great distaste for walking with and for anyone but myself.
In the past few months I’ve gone on several required tours with my school and I have been struggling to derive from them something meaningful enough to me to justify spending my time following the steps of others to attempt to comprehend what makes the path important to them.
I understand objectively the importance of having an open mind and experiencing what exists in the world outside of what I would naturally come by on my own un-dictated journey. On the other hand, as selfish as it sounds, I also believe that there is a vast amount to learn and delve into in my own life without having my attention directed elsewhere.
While touring, I find myself zoning out and nodding in polite agreement with the tour guide every now and then to falsely indicate that my attention is on what I am being shown. As rude as that sounds, my honesty has justification. No matter how I pretend to react outwardly to what I am being shown, I always allow my inward reaction to be authentic.
All my life I have strived for honesty in my relationships with others and myself. I realize that my relationship with myself has immense impact on my relationships with others, which is one of the reasons I am constantly working to learn more about the way my mind works.
Lately I have conditioned myself to make walking a meditative process. This didn’t happen naturally. I started at a point where walking just gave me “too much thinking” time, and I spent every breath with a racing mind, endlessly dragging myself through the same worried thoughts. But soon I began to recognize the patterns of my mind and it gave me great power and clarity to identify the sources of my worry. The power comes from the immediate disappearance of my worry that occurs when I identify its source.
Soon I realized that this identification process works for me as a way to understand all of my emotions and more importantly, it helps me make up my mind about my personal beliefs and values. Walking has become a precious friend. It’s always accessible, always supportive, and always on my side.
I have come to the realization that much of the growth I have done during my stay in Siena occurred while I have been in motion. What a funny thing to be moving in several dimensions simultaneously–forward by foot in a measurable way, mentally in an unmeasurable way, and physically in millions of different ways which are only scientifically quantifiable. Without one of these movements the others would be drastically altered or simply static. Another comparison of these movements is the free will I have in controlling them, and thus their control over me. I choose where and how to walk and so walking has only the control I allow it to have over myself. Mentally, I only have limited control over my growth based upon my previous experiences and knowledge, and so my mental state has a greater amount of control over me. The more I become one with my own consciousness the more control I will have over it and the more mature and ME I will be. And finally, physical growth is something I have barely any control over. Of course it is my choice how healthy of a lifestyle to live but there are many factors I have zero control over, such as genes, chemicals in the air, water, and food, etc. And so, walking for me is a means of taking control of myself indirectly.
I have learned to calm my mind with a slow stroll and to alter my pulse and respiration with a quicker pace. Walking is a simple action with the potential for remarkable and limitless effects.