I have absolutely no athletic inclination whatsoever. The only sport I enjoy participating in is sailing. But I’ve always been a walker to some extent. I walked to school every day and was always up for a long walk. I love the way I can become so absorbed in either my surroundings or my own thoughts as I walk. I can daydream and brainstorm and obsess. And I find that after a long walk I am more focused and ready to get stuff done.
As an adult, I started driving a lot. I would still walk fairly regularly but not daily. I live in a typical small North American city with crappy public transportation. I would need to get to meetings or different offices in different parts of town, and it was only really feasible in a car.
Eight years ago I quit a decade-long heavy smoking habit. I did this totally cold-turkey; prior attempts at nicotine patches or gum were a total failure. One of the ways I dealt with the insanity that comes with quitting was by walking. I walked like a maniac. I walked fast. I would walk 5-10 miles before lunch. I would walk fifty miles per week, easily. I walked in rain, snow, freezing cold and blazing hot, humid days. It was my meditation, my proof to myself that quitting was worthwhile. I would keep adding more distance to my walks and try to finish them faster.
In the years since I’ve slowed down. I still walk every day. I tend to do about five miles per day, sometimes a bit more, sometimes less. Interestingly, after all these years of lots of walking at a fast pace, I still can’t run or ride a bike. Both seem to make me feel ill. Biking is also too fast; I can’t become so absorbed in my surroundings. I can’t observe details. I also find that in an urban area that I can’t just enjoy the ride; there are too many hazards. Walking to work is relaxing. Biking to work is nail-bitingly nerve-wracking.
People are forever offering me rides or expressing dismay that I am walking because it is too hot/too cold/too damp/too windy/too sunny. I just mutter that it’s the only exercise I get. The thing is, that aside from heavy rain almost any weather becomes less noticeable quickly as you walk. A very cold day seems to push me to walk fast, and soon I feel warm. On a hot day you sweat and become acclimated to the heat. I would prefer to walk in the cold or heat than have to get into a freezing cold or blazing hot car, which seems to take half the drive to reach normal temperature anyway.
Years ago I met a Buddhist, who taught me some simple techniques for walking meditation. Two steps on inhale, two steps on exhale. You quickly become very attuned to the rhythm of your breathing, the rhythm of your steps. I am a Quaker and find the silent contemplation of walking to be extremely comforting and natural.
A friend had heart surgery recently, and his doctor instructed him to walk for 30 minutes every day. He was not keen. I am totally amazed at how averse people are to walking. A day when I do not walk is a bad day. I love the movement, being aware of the weather, noticing the different smells of the seasons. I love meeting people in the street. I love becoming intimately familiar with the buildings and gardens I pass. I love the birds.
I can’t really imagine my life now without walking. I need this time in my day, time away from computers and phone calls and pushing to do things. I see my walking time as totally unprogrammed; My day can be incredibly busy and yet I always have to get places, and I always walk to them, and that walking time is always downtime. And that’s a beautiful thing.