Walking in Zen

Day 127 / 763 Miles

I mentioned in my “Social aspects of Walking” post (Jun 4th) that one of the fundamental benefits of the activity is a slowed engagement with place & time, as we move through it. True, but easily misconstrued. I’m not suggesting we’re on the verge of becoming unglued, en masse, from the pressures of being Dr. Seuss Zizzer-Zoff salesmen who “All day race round in the heat at top speeds, Unsuccessfully trying to sell Zizzer-Zoff seeds, Which nobody wants because nobody needs”.  The productivity race is supposed to be balanced with servicing periods in order to achieve a rhythm of peaks & troughs. But, sometimes that balance gets off and our mental washing machine begins to thump with exhaustion or boredom. Slowing the spin to achieve re-balance is indicated and, of course, there’s lots of ways to do it. In fact, the time out technique list is a bewildering tri-fold menu of self help religions from which to choose, all claiming be the one true Zen. Methods of slowing down fall on a continuum ranging from intensive exercise to floating in the saline of a sensory deprivation tank.

On one end of the activity spectrum, let’s compare running with its slow walking cousin. A “training” run, for example, is solely for the purpose of honing condition with the intended outcome of improved speed. Attention is paid to breathing, conserving energy, and that timer rather than to surroundings and thought. Even a casual jog is faster than walking and attention must be paid to foot falls and breathing, usually while gazing ahead at a 45 degree angle (As you recall, Forrest, while running, was a man of few words). I personally was never one to enjoy going out for a run with others. Trying to converse while running always made me feel like a goldfish on the carpet and the pace of my partner never matched mine.

And, action at the other end of the spectrum, like meditation, tai chi, and yoga are popular braking techniques to slow life’s RPMs too. For me, attempts at meditation are always fraught with thinking about trying not to think. The sloth-like movements of yoga are effective but, personally, the stimulation needle registers a little too far left on the ole blood stirring meter. My remedy? Rebalancing is achieved by a simple activity, the speed of which has a governor all its own. Walking speed is, and should -always- be, determined by environment, mood, energy,  conversation, sights worth stopping for, and whatever ailment du’jour you’re experiencing (which will invariably be diminished by the time you get back). They are the only things that effect how far & fast you walk. If you find yourself thinking about your pace or miles logged you’re likely going to derive more pleasure from that Zizzer-Zoff salesman of the month plaque on the wall behind you, than from the vacation photo on your desk of you at the Isle of Zen. (But that’s okay. Whatever delivers joy). When walking, all pieces parts are gently engaged and the head is UP and on a swivel in order to take in the detail missed when we’re mere passengers. “UP” is the operant word here, as walking helps to break (If only for a moment) the trance thats keeps humanity fixed in a downward gaze as we stare into Tolkien’s Eye of Sauron (aka, the cell phone).

So, come on, join me. You’ll find the hardest part of a daily stroll is standing up and stepping across the threshold. It’s all coasting from there.