Unless I am travelling some distance, or carrying a very heavy load, I make most journeys on foot. While my two main reasons are exercise and the convenience of not having to keep a car in a city with little parking, walking also gives me a better perspective on the world.
When walking the actual mechanics of travel are entirely unconscious and desires unfettered. Unlike driving, we do not need to split off even a moment’s attention to controlling a vehicle. We are not tied to a minimum speed but can slow down or even stop when we will. There are no panes of glass or metal strips to wall us off from the world or suddenly steal a vista. Throughout the journey our senses are free to reach out and touch.
This ability to exist pressed up against the world, places the little details of the world within our grasp. Little cyclones built piece by piece from extensions and new walls are sculpted briefly from fallen leaves. Squirrels assail the urban forests of telephone pole and drain-pipe as easily as living trees. A street has only blue cars parked on it, but no shade is the same.
Freeing ourselves of the destination implicit in rapid transit can be enough. But walking for pleasure can even evolve into focussed dawdling. In The Pilgrimage, Paul Coelho describes relates his Speed Exercise. While modern society might have trained our minds to see the name and immediately think of doing something as fast as possible, this is in fact the opposite; Coelho suggests picking a route you often walk and walking it at half your normal speed. There are meditation techniques from many traditions which suggest the same deliberate slowing down. The mind gathers data at the same rate, so by doubling the amount of time we spend at each point we double the amount of data we gather.
Even the risks of walking can bring new beauty. Arriving home just before the storm hits fills the heart with victory. Striding through the rain opens up unique moments of light and sound, reflections off buildings that will never be repeated. The cold that slips in can offer the opportunity to be totally involved in a hot shower pressing layer-by-layer down to the bone.
Do you walk for the experience? Do you feel other forms of transport offer better vistas?