An easy walk

When you walk, do you wander or do you follow a prescribed route? 
I like discovering new walks and become very fond of particular known walks.  I don’t at all mind doing the same walks over and over, and noticing how different light, times of day and seasons change them for me.  I especially like being able to walk from home. I walk avidly in the spring to local bluebell woods, in summer along the wild rose hedgerows and in autumn to the same hedgerows now full of plums – but I’m always aware of how destination-minded I am, and how rarely I’m able to be there in the present for the entire journey without periodically checking where I am in relation to where I think I want to get to; and whether I’m on the outward journey or homebound.
I find it very uncomfortable, maybe almost impossible, to just go unless I’m away somewhere with time on my hands.  I don’t like it when I don’t know broadly how long or far I’ll be walking.  There’s a fear of getting lost or maybe of losing my energy somewhere in the middle – especially if I don’t know where or when the middle is!  I think this is because walking is usually framed by other elements in my day; and a sense of commitments or responsibilities pending.  If I were to give myself up to walking, it might be a different story.
I really dislike using a map, and when I do I usually end up somewhere different anyway.  I find it interrupts the journey.  I’m lazy and I like someone I trust to give me a broad overview of the way or to guide me, although I can get very impatient with my guide and even treat them badly.  I like it best when I know the route without having to consult something outside of me.  When I’m confident enough of my bearings I vary the route – even if only slightly – and so make discoveries.  I often get a little lost and end up trespassing, sometimes with my heart in my mouth should I get caught but always hopeful I’ll be let off for an unpremeditated offence.   
While walking with others can be enjoyable, I prefer the silence and pace of being on my own.  I find it much more relaxing and I’m more able to be comfortable in myself in the landscape.
I’m not usually ambitious in my walking.  Ambition puts a barrier between me and the experience of being there. 
Do I always need to have a destination?  I think I’m always moving towards something – the end of the walk, a pleasurable experience such as the bluebells etc –  and not just moving.  Is that a kind of ambition?  Well, I’m not moving away from something at least.  I don’t walk to get away from where I start, though I do sometimes walk to clear my mind and change my mood.  And I do, nearly always, get pleasure from returning.  
I’m wondering how much an approach to walking can reveal about an approach to living.  Intuitively I feel it should be revealing.  What do you walkers out there think?
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33 Responses to An easy walk

  1. Dody Jane says:

    What a beautiful essay… I also love to walk, particularly in the early morning. I live near a college campus with a delightful, wooded three par golf course. There are walking trails and a little winding stream. I often wish there was more of it – but I am thankful for my little loop. It is funny, but I also like to walk alone. I am very excited about your blog and look forward to reading and enjoying, you are a lovely writer.

    All the best – Dody

  2. I walk the same route with Lily everyday( twice a day). And I think that is why I don’t enjoy my walks as much as I could. However because of where I live it is the best place for her to walk. I prefer walks that involve discovery and unexpected turns and twists. I am even willing to get lost.

    Julia Cameron has a wonderful book called “The Vein of Gold” and in it Julia recommends walking as a source of creative ideas. I get many of my ideas for writing when I walk. Another book I love about walking as an act of discovery is “The Flaneur: A Stroll Through the Paradoxes of Paris.” Sorry to get all into book recommendations.

    Anyways, lovely to discover your blog. Thanks so much for sharing it with me!

    • karin says:

      Thanks for the book recommendations, and for visiting my blog. I agree that routine walks with an everyday purpose lose their power. I also get lots of creative ideas when walking. Strangely they often seem more creative when I’m on the walk than when I get back – something perhaps about the energy in the air and environment, and the pace of walking that fires up my internal thinking. I have just been on a very long walk which has led to other thoughts – wait and see!

  3. Deborah says:

    Dear Karin,
    I like your elegant site. I look forward to reading more about walks and other doings in your verdant surroundings, so different from mine here in NYC. I also love to walk, for me mostly in the city finding odd unexpected things, new buildings I have never seen, or idiosyncratic shop windows. I find I am even more alive to seeing when I’ve popped a camera in my bag, and have lucked on some wonderful unexpected pictures. But when I want a greener view I go to my neighborhood park, Prospect Park designed by Olmstead and Vaux, after their completion of Central Park. It has a very different look, more rolling meadows than craggy rocks. For more planned and flower-rich territory I go to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and discovered there the most astonishing sacred lotus flowers. It was the first place I attempted landscape painting which now is a great love of mine, though I much prefer going off into the countryside where one doesn’t have to contend with interested bystanders, whom I find endearing, but distracting.
    All the best – Debbie

    • Hi Debbie, walking with you around NYC is a recent memory that will linger. Your ability to wonder and wander, spotting stuff others would miss, and stop awe- or do I mean dumbstruck? at some of the striking and bizarre things only to be encountered there (such as that weird graffiti at the bottom of a lamppost), leads to a unique pace – very unlike my usual focused way of dealing with large busy city streets where I tend to blank out nearly everything except my destination. I loved our walk through Central Park and especially discovering the hidden sculptures on the staircase.

  4. Dody Jane says:

    That is so funny, Karin! I have the same creative bursts while walking and they do seem to evaporate somewhat later on. I am now trying to keep the ‘walk’ energy and ideas going the older I get.

    I love your blog friends, by the way. I think this is going to be very fun.

    • karin says:

      I hope that it will be fun. Please feel free to comment directly to anyone on the blog, by the way, as I’d like to encourage people to talk to each other and not just to me!

  5. Stephen says:

    Walking has different purposes. Last week I went for a walk around Pitsford Reservoir. This is a walk I’ve taken several times before and on this occasion its purpose was to build up my walking ability in readiness for walking the Cotswold Way later this year. Earlier in the week I was walking in Hazelborough Forest and my intention this time was completely different because I was intent on photographing butterflies. On other occasions I’ll park outside of town and walk to the shops.
    Each walk is equally enjoyable but for different reasons.

    • Hi Steve, I look forward to hearing more about your preparation for the Cotswold Way and also how the walk goes. Someone has suggested I add a page of suggested walks to the blog so may ask you to contribute. I went on a long walk for me last week (17 miles approx) and will be writing about it soon. I agree with you that different walks for different purposes offer different types of enjoyment.

  6. Christine Gale says:

    My walks are nearly always over familiar territory and nearly always starting out from one of my homes but generally with a friend and dogs. This makes the early part of the walk busy as everyone is excited to be out but gradually I fall behind – always! I don’t naturally walk as fast as my friend, I’m not as fit as she is and I have back, hip and knee problems. So gradually what started out as a communal walk becomes a solitary one for me over dunes, beach or farmland depending where I start from. Because of the nature of the land over which I roam I don’t often see other people. They are out there somewhere but thinly spread over a large expanse. Occasionally a dog will appear, attached presumably to a distant owner but just scouting around, dog-like, to see who’s around and what’s going on. We greet each other and go our separate ways. I don’t have to think too much about where I’m going – I have a good knowledge of the areas and I’m not normally constrained by time or commitments, more by how hot or cold or tired I am.

    There are two clear elements to my walks. One is that I become acutely aware of the natural world. Birds, animals, sky, clouds, the sea, plants, flowers, trees, their colours, shapes and movements all register with me as I pass by. With increasing age I too often find, particularly with trees and flowers, that I used to know what they were called but can’t now bring the name to mind. But in a strangely parallel experience I am also very busy internally, using the solitariness to think through things in my everyday experience and to trawl back across years remembering friends, conversations, events, a shared joke. Even re-having old arguments, re-making old speeches. And thinking too of the future – a letter to be written, a meeting to be chaired, some patchwork to be finished, dinner with friends coming up, what I am going to cook later in the day – anything and everything. But the delight is that all of this random stream of thoughts is uninterrupted. I can pursue any topic for as long or as short a time as I like. I know that I sometimes talk out loud to myself so it is maybe as well that I am alone. Sometimes I sing.

    And when I eventually arrive home again I’m always relaxed but invigorated. I cannot ever in my life remember feeling lonely. I love to be alone and I treasure my own company in an increasingly frantic crowded world. I always return from a walk, generally after the companions I set out with, refreshed physically, mentally and spiritually.

    • I know what you mean about the parallel universe experience of walking and interestingly a number of you are writing about this. Mindful, mindless; externally observing, internally reflecting…like you, I can go back in time and just as often I find myself projecting into the future, less thinking about what I have to do, than imagining possibilities and wondering. I have to call myself back to the present so I don’t miss what is happening right now. I love your comments on being alone but not lonely. So many thanks for writing this and sharing your thoughtful prose.

  7. Teresa says:

    Dear Karin

    Very glad to see you’re up and running – and leading me into uncharted waters with a blog.

    I used to love that opportunity to let the rhythm of walking and the light and the surroundings put me in some other headspace than my day to day. But now that I can’t walk any distance, I have begun to find a similar headspace in learning to paint – really focusing on the subject, ‘walking’ through the light and space within it, trying to enjoy the journey, rather than looking always towards the end point. Not that I always succeed.

    I recognise your resistance to ‘just going’ in my own resistance to actually starting to paint on my own. Unless I actually book time on organised classes, or on weekend workshops, somehow, I never just do it. Other things always seem to take precedence – it feels like something of an indulgence. And what would happen if I just did it, anyway? I think perhaps I’m frightened of what that state of mind might lead me to find out – about myself, about my priorities, about my ‘purpose’ in life, if I have one. And it makes the practical business of plugging on with day-to-day tasks and obligations feel more dissonant, somehow. Unlike you, I don’t seem to look forward to returning.

    Still, I’ll look forward to hearing more in future blogs.

    • Teresa, thanks for venturing into uncharted waters and I hope you’ll enjoy it here as a new experience. I’m interested that both you and Debbie have linked walking with painting and maybe there is a topic to develop and a blog for someone else to write on this website! Interestingly, the end of your comment starts to move into what is the topic of my next blog which I’m just writing.

    • Christine Gale says:

      Hi Teresa,

      Your comments about not getting on with your painting unilaterally – that it seems like an indulgence without the framework of lessons rings a bell with me. I go to patchwork and quilting classes. I’ve got beyond the basics and there is no reason why I can’t branch off on my own, but again and again I book on to further classes and workshops. I go to more than I have time to keep up with. I must have more unfinished projects than anyone else in Britain but if I don’t book and accept the discipline of turning up on the day and at least trying to complete the homework I would do nothing at all. Somehow I too see my hobby as an indulgence which must always move to the bottom of the task list. What does this say about us? Do we not place a high enough value on our own pleasure?

  8. Christine Gale says:

    I’ve been pondering the parallel-ness of what goes on while walking since it seems to happen to more than one of us. And I seem to have jumped to the contrast between what happens to troubles you may have on your mind when you think about them while walking and when you think about them in the middle of the night. The former makes them seem small and manageable. The latter makes them seem huge and pressing. I can remember going on a walking holiday the day after splitting up with the love of my life (reader he was special – no-one else ever measured up). During the night I did not think I could go away, could not face my companions, could not contemplate life without him. But of course I did go – how to explain a last minute cancellation? And I found that as long as I was out in the open, far away from buildings and crowds I could see our finished relationship as a dot on the timeline of nature and history. Maybe we can face the truth about ourselves when we are out wlking, dwarfed by nature.

    • karin says:

      Hi Chris, your further thoughts are profound, I’m enjoying your writing, and thanks for sharing such a personal reminiscence. I think it is true that being in the landscape puts things in perspective. I too find that if I am keyed up about something or unsure what to do, walking can be a way of regaining balance. For me this is an effect of being absorbed in movement. Yoga is another way of gaining inner calm and quieting the distracting noise waves of inner turmoil. I seem to return home from a walk with an inner calm and resolve that I don’t believe I would have gained had I tried to sort the issue out in a static way, and certainly everything in the middle of the night can seem turned way up in volume.

  9. JOHN NEILSON says:

    Karin feels that one’s approach to walking should be revealing on one’s approach to life. I agree – it is a rich metaphor. It brings out choices and contrasts such as a strict timetable or spontaneity; the familiar or the unknown; risks and opportunities. One’s approach walking – and life – will change over time. The approach will depend on, for example, how much time one has; whether one is at home, somewhere familiar or somewhere new. It will depend on one’s objective – if there is one. It will depend on one’s mood.

    Ecclesiastes 3; vv1-8

    I too relish the unexpected discovery, the new insights – especially if they are totally unlooked for; they don’t happen very often. One could waste a lot of time on random walks hoping for inspration to strike. So such a walk is an occasional pleasure. More often it pays to create some initial favourable conditions conducive to pleasure or value.

    For example there are a number of specialist travel companies who offer guided walks in all parts of the world across fabulous terrain, with good accommodation and food, access to historical buildings and concerts in the evening! One anticipates pleasure, but as often as not one will also learn something new that one didn’t expect!

    I welcome your blog Karin and wish you well!

    • karin says:

      Chris’ comment in response to yours, John, highlights the difference between a ‘Perceiving’ person and a ‘Judging’ person – the former enjoys the unplanned aspect of walking, the latter takes pleasure in the structure of and around the walk. Of course it’s not as simple as that, but it jumped off the screen at me. Of course, it helps when I know the types of the people who are responding! I am now off to reacquaint myself with Ecclesiastes!

    • Hi John. I hope you are well and, as always, I enjoyed reading your words of wisdom. I admit I’ve never had to look up a biblical reference before and not being an owner of a bible (probably burnt it years ago) I resorted to Google (possibly the new bible) to find read the Ecclisiastes reference. Of course it would have been easier for me if you’d referenced the Byrds song from 1965 – Turn, Turn, Turn (!_Turn!_Turn!).
      I’m intrigued by your comment: “One could waste a lot of time on random walks hoping for inspration to strike” because one could apply this thinking to our whole lives. I like to think that no time is ever trully wasted or the antithesis would be that all time is wasted and that everything is a waste of time.
      Good to make contact again.

      • karin says:

        I would have found the Byrds reference easier too, Steve. I was a little embarrassed when I realised what the verses were….

  10. Christine Gale says:

    We are all different – which is excellent! And to all us a walk or walking means a different thing. I hadn’t thought about it before but John’s suggestion of organised walks with an itinerary, accommodation, pre-planned sights to see, etc brought me up short against my definition of ‘a walk’. To me what he describes is a holiday in which some degree (possibly a very large degree) of moving under one’s own steam happens. It has helped me realise that for me the unplanned nature of the thing is a huge component of what I think of as a walk. But then I couldn’t physically cope with really long walks so that may explain something. Funny how this blog has brought that insight to me. Thank you, John.

  11. Chris says:

    Once an INTP always an INTP!

  12. Simon Donnelly says:

    So many of your collective thoughts ring true with me.

    Rather than add something on the same lines, the walking that I do most frequently is when the phone rings. It’s simpler to get up and wander away from whatever is occupying me at the time in order to concentrate effectively on the conversation. The joy of wireless phones…

    Like other comments before this, this somehow frees up the mind to creative inspiration, enabling easier thinking.

    The first problem with this is that I meander to windows overlooking trees and consequently birds or out into the garden resulting in distractions of a different kind from the work being carried out. I’ve often wondered whether the person at the other end of the line can tell what’s going on.

    The second problem is then finding the motivation to drag myself back to the desk to paperwork and computer again. And then there’s the possibility of making tea along the way…

    Better, I think, to switch the phone off and just head off into the country for a stroll so that I can enjoy it without interruption from the ‘real’ world.

  13. Karin says:

    Hello Simon, thanks for taking the discussion off down a different avenue. You’ve reminded me how when I”ve got a beckoning view from my window (such as now) and I receive a phone call, I can be conscious of the world outside and usually still remain focused on the call. But on the thankfully rare occasions when I’m having a frustrating interaction such as with a call centre or with someone who tries my patience, I know I often look at that world outside and really wish I could be there instead. I don’t like having phone calls outside in the garden because I feel torn and like my attention’s in the wrong place wherever it is – neither here nor there. I agree with you – better to switch the phone off and head into the country. The phone can be a tyrant.

  14. Chris says:

    I’ve just switched over to check the blog before turning off my computer and heading to other things. The talking on the phone while looking out of the window is so much a habit of mine that I smiled to hear of others who do the same thing. I find it helps me concentrate on the conversation. Maybe it ties up those passages to the brain from the eyes so gives the ears more bandwidth to deal with the conversation. A thought sparked by reading the other day that the practice of sticking ones tongue out while concentrating is because the tongue is such a sensitive organ and ties up so much brain capacity while functioning inside the mouth that we do actually free up extra capacity for thinking by sticking it out into an alien environment. Not saying it’s true – I just read it somewhere and the thought has fascinated me. And coincidentally I turned to the blog immediately after sending Karin an e-mail in which I asked in passing why some people seem glued to mobile phones. Do they not, I asked, ever just want to be with themselves?

    • Simon Donnelly says:

      Now there’s a thing with the tongue. When I want peace in my own head I use this little trick I was fortunate enough to stumble upon.

      If you want to stop that internal dialogue that’s going on all the time, relax your lower jaw then put the tip of your tongue just behind, but not touching, your top front teeth. Voices gone!

      Apparently, to hold that conversation in your head, your vocal chords need to be able to vibrate a tiny bit. Doing the exercise mentioned actually prevents that from happening. Have fun!

  15. Karin says:

    When Chris first mentioned the tongue, I was tempted to make a link with yoga and now your comment, Simon, really takes me there. Not sure if that’s where you intended to go but….here goes! There are various yoga practices involving the tongue and they are linked with your exercise. Where did you learn it?

    Touching the tongue to the palate is called tongue lock or in Sanskrit, jiva bandha. It is meant to have a number of physiological benefits including reducing tension in the neck and jaw and creating better alignment and freer breathing. Tongue lock also reduces the production of saliva, thus allowing you to maintain greater levels of stillness, and it reduces the distraction of needing to swallow. Overall, through this practice your body and mind are meant to move into a healthier, more balanced and less distracted state. This would fit with your experience. Also, the activity of chanting or creating an internal vibration will help bring your body, mind and breath into a state of equilibrium.

    In addition, there is a yoga of the tongue that operates on a more metaphysical and ethical level. This is about reflecting on our speech and the way we choose to interact. As Deborah Allison says in her interesting piece ‘The Yoga of the Tongue’, there are three questions to ask oneself when choosing to speak: ‘Is what I am about to say worth saying? Is the topic of interest to this other person? Am I able to address this topic in a way that is knowledgeable, and in an excellent manner? ….
    There are, in turn, three components to the idea of “excellent” and they are the keys to the practice. The speech should be pleasant or charming ….It should be proper or fitting to the occasion …. and it should be truthful, insightful and accurate ….These must be synthesized and developed into a lifetime practice that becomes natural and spontaneous.’

    I am sure this is all helpful (to me, anyway) when on the phone with annoying people!

  16. Chris says:

    I like the rules about speaking. Excellent discipline. Who could fault them? But sometimes I only get the response I want, or more often the discussion I want to promote, by not obeying those rules. If you break them and set yourself up as an ignorant fall-guy you often draw people into expressing views that they might not have done had you obeyed the speaking rules. Is this politics, low cunning or sensible deployment of a full armoury?

  17. Karin says:

    Interesting question. I know what you mean, but speaking personally I think I feel better about the outcome, and the way I’ve got there, if I broadly follow the rules and am not manipulative. It all depends on who you are talking to and their ethics I think. I am also minded to think about various Indian myths and fables where the characters assume a certain guise to achieve an outcome and this can involve dissembling.

  18. Chris says:

    To maintain my credibility I should perhaps add that as aften as not I will preface the words spoken ‘against the discipline’ with “Some people might think …” or “Could there be a view that …” or “Possibly ….”. I am Chairman of a small rural Parish Council and sometimes you have to resort to these approaches to get people unused to the protocol of meetings or to speaking in public to get started on offering their own views.

    I rest my defence, m’Lud!

  19. Simon Donnelly says:

    Oh how I wish more people would ask themselves those three questions before they open their mouths to say something… Mind you, I’m not sure I practice it all the time myself. I’m off to see my children this afternoon (children! – they’re both almost 30!) both of whom are masters of good conversation. I’ll bear the three questions in mind while we’re talking and then compare with more mundane conversation when working tomorrow.

    On the subject of the tongue exercise, I learned it when I was training to be a neuro-linguisitc programming (NLP) practitioner. That might be worthy of a blog discussion in itself as I know that along with many other ‘alternative’ methodologies, it’s seen as not being very serious by some.

    • Karin says:

      Look forward to hearing how your silent application of the three questions goes and any discoveries. Like the idea of a blog entry on NLP etc, but I’m not the one to write it – so am wondering if you might volunteer?

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