A Nice Long Walk
tom walsh


I think that I've been fortunate to have an innate urge all my life to take long walks.  Ever since I was a kid (and my wife would argue that those days aren't over!), I've always loved heading out and walking for hours sometimes, often with no particular destination or reason for going other than just to get out and see some more of life.  These walks have done a lot to keep me aware and to keep me healthy, and I've learned more through walking than I ever could have by sitting at home, doing nothing.

One of the prerequisites for enjoying a nice long walk is having no real time table.  If you have to be back at a certain time, that's okay, but it certainly doesn't promote spontaneity or searching out new roads or paths.  It also speeds you up, which means that your chances of noticing things definitely go down.  You may still notice the major things that you go by such as houses and trees and nice views, but you'll miss the things like the cool insect on the tall grass or the way the light makes certain bushes shimmer.  I would never not take a walk because I had a deadline, but I try to make sure that I have time to stop where I want to (especially if the urge for a cup of coffee hits), to extend my walk, or to explore new directions.

The health benefits of the long walk cannot be disputed.  Our bodies were made to be used, and walking is great exercise.  It's also very low-impact, which means that our chances of hurting ourselves while out for a walk are very low.  Walking also helps the heart by getting to to beat more strongly, helps our circulation and our lungs, and helps us to shape and define our muscles, especially in our legs.  No one's going to get the body of a body builder by walking, but the long-term benefits of walking are well documented, which is why so many doctors recommend the practice for those of us who need exercise.

The mental benefits of walking are also many.  Walking for me has a very similar effect to meditation for other people.  It helps me to clear my mind, and it helps me to think through problems and dilemmas.  When I'm out walking without hurry and without a destination, my mind tends to relax as I focus on so many things outside of myself, as I see the natural world around me and breathe the fresh air.  A long walk can help me to reach a state of clarity much more easily than any other practice that I've ever discovered, and walks have often helped me through difficult times in my life.

I try to walk as much as I can.  If we need a gallon of milk, I'd much rather take the twenty-minute walk to the store than the three-minute drive.  When I have a break at work I often take advantage of the time to get out and spend the time walking.  Even if I'm seeing the same things that I always see on such walks, they're never exactly the same.  Every walk has its own personality, its own feel, and I love to see and feel those changes inside.  I don't remember ever being bored on any walk I've ever taken--there's always something interesting to see.

In our modern world of hurry and convenience, I often find that I'm the only one out on the street, walking.  Sidewalks in most places tend to be empty, except for downtown areas during business hours.  I see very few people walk to the store, and most of those I do see tend to be either very old or very young.  One of the things that I love about Spain is that the people are out walking so often--usually the streets of most towns are packed with people, except during siesta.  This fact leads to much stronger social ties, as people who are walking have the chance to stop and chat with someone they know, something we just can't do when we're in our cars.

For many people, walking hasn't been an option for years.  It's no longer one of the choices they have to make--should we walk to the movies, or drive?  For most of us, it's assumed that we'll drive wherever we go.  And that's a shame, for most people never will know just what they're losing by depriving themselves of the experience of walking.


Walking is the great adventure, the first meditation,
a practice of heartiness and soul primary to humankind.
Walking is the exact balance between spirit and humility.

Gary Snyder


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