“I took my mind a walk
Or my mind took me a walk—
Whichever was the truth of it…
…And my mind observed to me,
Or I to it, how ordinary
Extraordinary things are or
How extraordinary ordinary
Things are, like the nature of the mind
And the process of observing.” ~ Norman MacCaig
At the risk of sounding like an old woman, I have a confession to make: I really, really like going on walks.
I began walking out of necessity; I’d just moved to a new city, and, without transport of my own, I was forced to embark on the 20-minute walk from where I was staying to the train station every morning.
I’ve never been one for exercise, but I found myself enjoying these early morning walks. They were refreshing and bracing, and they allowed my mind to wander where it pleased. I found myself taking advantage of the time to plan my day, ruminate, or explore a problem or project. At the very least, they made me feel light-hearted, no matter what kind of morning I’d had.
“When I walk, I have an empty, happy heart, and I see things.” ~ Maria Kalmein
When I moved closer to my office, I missed those walks. I began taking walks on the beach before getting ready for work, which quickly became a nonnegotiable part of my morning routine.
Although my lifestyle has changed somewhat now, I still do my utmost to fit in at least one 20-minute walk a week.
Walking brings us back into contact with ourselves. It soothes the soul, gets our creative juices flowing, and slows us down. Walking invites insight and inspiration into our hearts. Walking is an act of healing, a spiritual practice, and a source of creative flow.
Below, I share five reasons and (about) 17 quotes that will, hopefully, inspire you to incorporate walking into your lifestyle.
1. It clears the mind.
“The moment my legs begin to move, my thoughts begin to flow.” ~ Henry David Thoreau
Walking both clears the mind and allows thoughts to flow. When I’m struggling with something—a life decision, an art project or anything else—I like to “walk on it.”
“As you start to walk out on the way, the way appears.” ~ Rumi
Instead of turning problems or questions over and over in the mind, when walking, we move through them and arrive at problems and solutions. Through walking, I have decided with clarity whether or not to quit my job, where I’d like to study, and how to effectively deal with a dissatisfied client.
“As we stretch our legs, we stretch our minds and our souls.” ~ Julia Cameron
2. It’s therapeutic.
“The sum of the whole is this: walk and be happy; walk and be healthy.” ~ Charles Dickens
There is something inexplicably therapeutic about walking. Though I’m still facing many of the problems I was battling with a year ago, I’m far better at dealing with the effects they have on me, and I owe that to my new habit of going on walks. Since I started walking, I’ve found that I am calmer, less inclined to extreme reactions, and better at dealing with obstacles in my life and career.
“Writing is one way of making the world our own, and walking is another.” ~ Geoff Nicholson
Julia Cameron started walking after going through a divorce. In her book Walking in this World, she writes, “A day at a time, a walk at a time, even a single step at a time, my sad and tangled life began to sort itself out.” Walking has helped me process an unsettling move, the death of my grandfather, burnout from work, family conflict, and losing my dream job.
3. It boosts creativity.
“If you are seeking creative ideas, go out walking. Angels whisper to a man when he goes for a walk.” ~ Raymond Carver
That great, mysterious force of creativity—the muse, if you will—is notoriously flighty and elusive. I and thousands of artists before me have found the best way to find her is to go walking.
“Go for long walks and try to create something new every day.” ~ C.C. Chapman
I see it as no coincidence that he included the two in the same sentence.
Almost all of history’s great artists, writers, and philosophers walked, including Wolfgang Mozart, Henry David Thoreau, Friedrich Nietzsche, Ernest Hemingway, Charles Dickens, Lao Tzu, C.S. Lewis, Charles Darwin, Apache Kafka, Kurt Vonnegut, and Winston Churchill.
Our best modern creatives tout the benefits of walking, too; Julia Cameron cites walking as one of the three key tools to enriched creative living. Austin Kleon, Orson Scott Card, J.K. Rowling, and Haruki Murakami are also all avid walkers.
Through walking, I have both figured out how to approach certain art projects I was struggling with, and found inspiration for ones I didn’t even know I needed to create. Entire poems have come to me on walks, as have snippets of dialogue, opening paragraphs for articles, and blueprints for illustration pieces.
4. It’s a spiritual act.
“My God is the God of walkers. If you walk hard enough, you probably don’t need any other god.” ~ Bruce Chatwin
For me, walking has become a spiritual practice. I began walking around about the time I was experiencing a religious shift. Walking helped me to approach the shift with an open and balanced mindset, rather than freaking out or avoiding the matter entirely.
Walking is also a form of meditation. I struggle with the discipline of sitting down for 10 or 20 minutes to meditate, even though I am aware of the benefits and have even experienced them for myself. I put it off and become distracted by my phone, my family, or all the things I need to do.
I find walking to be the perfect substitute to sitting meditation. It stills my mind in much the same way sitting meditation does, while removing me from all of the distractions of being at home. Walking feels freer and less rigid than meditation, and I find it easier and more natural to focus on my breath and the weight of my body as I walk.
5. It’s an active form of rest.
“Walking is the great adventure, the first meditation, a practice of heartiness and soul primary to humankind. Walking is the exact balance of spirit and humility.” ~ Gary Snider
Walking is a way of slowing you down and bringing you back to yourself.
Western society doesn’t really know how to rest. Instead of truly resting, we binge-watch series, stuff ourselves with comfort food, and sleep late into the day. Though these are not intrinsically bad pastimes and can be restful in small doses, true rest is meant to be rejuvenating to the spirit. Personally, they tend to make me feel more worn-out and sluggish than truly rested.
When I worked my nine-to-five, whenever I had a bad day at work, I’d go on a walk during my lunch break. Walking is an energy release, a soul-soother. I never return from a walk without feeling sounder of mind, body, and spirit.
We walk to clear our minds, to process, to discover creativity, to rest, to get in touch with something greater. We walk, to walk.
“In every walk with nature, one receives more than he seeks.” ~ John Muir
Author: Aimee-Claire Smith
Image: Elephant archives
Editor: Callie Rushton
Copy Editor: Nicole Cameron