Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Reading About Walking

Every day for the past ten years plus, I've walked past this scene. There's something about the (almost) symmetrical placement of the bushes and trees against the strict geometry of the building, the tension of feather fir trees against the rigid steel siding, the pop of yellow in the springtime blossoms and the patch of sky reflected in the square window that always, always captures my attention and brings me back to myself. With each season, small details change but this moment in my walk delights my heart, mind and soul. 

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The Art of Flaneuring by Erika Owen

Flaneuring, it turns out, is a fancy name for strolling around a city. Though our author extends the term to include hiking, picnicking, and a pedestrian commute, the purist defines flaneuring as the art of aimless wandering. When done with mindfulness and intention, flaneuring can help us cultivate a more mindful and fulfilling everyday life. 

Peace Is Every Step by Thich Nhat Hanh 

Written by a world-renowned Zen master and spiritual leader, the premise of this book is profoundly simple and simply profound. The only moment of life that matters is now. All of the distractions and aggravations of daily life can be used to pull us back into the now, to act as reminders to breath deeply, to restore our mindfulness in the moment. 

I've always been interested in walking. As a little girl, my family rarely had money for outings to zoos or amusement parks; instead, my mom treated us to walks. We might head back on the dirt roads of some nearby state land to hike Poplar Pond; other days we left the car in the garage and walked partway around our lake, crossing through yards when one set of neighborhood gravel roads dead ended to reach the new unpaved network beyond - to a little playground hidden among the homes. As teenagers, my friends and I walked endlessly, jumping off sandy bluffs that we found along the way, wandering through the woods, or leaving the neighborhood behind to explore life on the asphalt roads beyond.

In my grown-up suburban life, my dog (and the dogs before her) have always given me good reason to get out of the house most every day. The chatter of little companions and the constant cautionary eye of motherhood kept me from truly relaxing into my walks during the intense years of growing up but since then, without even knowing it, I've settled into the rhythm of walking with mindfulness or, if you will, proper flaneuring. 

Often when I'm starting out on my walk, I can be peevish and annoyed. This walk eats up a solid 45 minutes of my time every day, and some days I just don't feel like I have that time to spare. But I've learned to catch myself at that point, and say, "Stop." With a simple reminder to chill and enjoy the journey, my mindset shifts to one of curiosity and openness. Some days, my inner landscape takes center stage, and I think about whatever is on my mind. Not to worry or stress, but to simply let my mind wander. I wonder about whatever interests me and let my imagination run wild. I get some of my best ideas this way.

Other days, my mind quiets and my eyes take over. Cars, bikes, and other walkers provide a fairly unending parade of stimuli but more often I'm drawn to nature and specifically, the passing of the seasons. I take note of the order in which the local shrubs bloom, I watch for the daisies that pop up in the fields twice a year. I can recall the exact scent of the leaves that begin to dry out and drop by mid-August, and I know the places where the snow lingers longest, in the shady patches along the edge of the forest. 

These walking moments bring me back to myself, make me whole again, settle my soul and bring me peace. Though I'm neither a Zen master nor a Millennial with a flair for words, I know what's good for me. And that's why I love to take walks. 

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Read more about what I've been reading:

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