I went for a walk this morning. Not a serious walk; I had no destination. Just a little stretching of legs, a little breathing of fresh Sunday morning air, before sitting down to a day of work.
The day, so far, is gorgeous: a morning sun shining sideways across the streets of my quiet, residential, soon-to-be-ex neighborhood in East Vancouver. It is Sunday, so the streets are relatively quiet, although given the nice weather and quarantine, it’s likely that they will soon be full of physically-distanced clusters of people.
There is a certain peacefulness to walking in the morning. Like watching a loved one quietly doze. When I lived in Ho Chi Minh City in Southern Vietnam, I would sometimes get up early just to wander around. That city was so interesting in the morning. A mass of humid, noisy chaos, muffled by the early hour but still very much alive… everyone gearing up for the unrestrained madness of the day in the quietude of dawn. Those are some of my favorite memories from that period.
I find walking therapeutic. While there is certainly something to be said for the physical benefits of walking, it pays extraordinarily high dividends to the mind. There is a definite (although hard to quantify) correlation between walking time, walking speed, difficulty of terrain, novelty of environment, and “inner state.” I have noticed that short walks give my mind time and enough pattern interrupt to work on one or two specific problems, while longer walks allow for cycles of idea generation or problem-solving, punctuated by the serenity of environmental distraction. Sometimes, the distraction itself is the true gift — just getting away from a problem and taking a break can generate new creative energy that I never knew was there.
The distractions of a simple walk are gentle, voyeuristic: a movie-like collage of objects and people and life to be wondered at. Here, an interesting tree or a particular slant of light, there, clothes hanging on a laundry line, signs of life. The mind wanders over everything and then slowly back into itself as feet propel you forward.
Walks in more difficult terrain afford a different sort of distraction, increasingly physical. The effort and exertion of coordinating feet and limbs across dynamic, changing spaces creates a state quasi-flow. The mind, preoccupied as it is with keeping you upright, has little time to dwell on urbanities. As difficulty increases, thoughts become increasingly rare.
An easy walk, like charging a phone battery, can give new energy. A difficult one, like restarting a computer — can sometimes be magically, inexplicably effective. When trying to debug my life, I’m always surprised at how effective a walk can be.
But no matter the type, there’s sort of kinetic joy to walking. Moving, breathing, seeing. It is invigorating and energizing. It is all the more wonderful because you can do it (almost) anywhere, with nothing but your feet, and maybe a pair of shoes. I am a passionate pursuer of many activities that require unholy amounts of gear: expensive gear; heavy gear, unwieldy gear. Organizing and maintaining and managing it takes a toll on the mind, often joyful but always distracting. Walking requires nothing but the ability to move one’s legs.
Of course, there is no panacea. Sometimes phones (and minds) just don’t work the way we want them to, even after a walk. But a surprising amount of the time they do, and I’m always surprised by how effective a simple walk can be.