“It is the best of humanity, I think, that goes out to walk.”— Ralph Waldo EmersonIt’s well documented that getting enough exercise is good for both body and spirit. There’s something special about a contemplative walk in nature that can’t be found anywhere else, however: a meditative or spiritual element that can help us find answers to life’s puzzles, a process described by the Latin phrase Solvitur ambuland: “It is solved by walking.”Walking as a contemplative activity can seem…well, sort of pedestrian in our fast-paced, multitasking world. But it wasn’t always seen that way. In past centuries, books and essays with titles such as “In Praise of Walking,” “Walking as a Fine Art,” and “The Reveries of the Solitary Walker” encouraged participation in the “noble army of walkers,” a membership that was open to any able-bodied person, young or old, rich or poor.Or, as Mr. Emerson puts it:“It is a fine art; there are degrees of proficiency, and we distinguish the professors from the apprentices. The qualifications are endurance, plain clothes, old shoes, an eye for nature, good-humor, vast curiosity, good speech, good silence, and nothing too much. Good observers have the manners of trees and animals, and if they add words, it is only when words are better than silence.”
“Plain clothes and old shoes” and “nothing too much”: How different from today, when the highest-tech equipment can practically be a requirement before heading out. I’ll take it on faith from possibly the most profound thinker America has produced and consider it good.When I walk alone in nature, I feel the pressures of the day melt away slowly, leaving me in a quiet, meditative state focused solely on the natural world. I find that when I avoid pondering weighty matters while walking, solutions to them are more likely to come unbidden. Sometimes I’ll realize at the end of a walk that something that’s been bothering me for days has a clear solution that wouldn’t have occurred otherwise. When our busy brains are spinning the whole time, it can be difficult for that to happen.“I am alarmed when it happens that I have walked a mile into the woods bodily without getting there in spirit. The thought of some work will run in my head, and I am not where my body is — I am out of my senses. What business have I in the woods, if I am thinking of something out of the woods?”— Henry David Thoreau
Good question. It sounds to me like what we might call being “in the moment.” And that’s a good thing, no matter what we’re doing.