“As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives.”
Henry David Thoreau
In the evening, when the business of the day is over, go for a walk. Walk with mindfulness and without purpose.
I remember I started walking because there was a day when I became angry and irritable. Instead of staying in the same environment that caused the anger, I went for a walk. My initial purpose was to calm down but I began doing it every night and eventually I just ended up walking for the sake of walking.
Nowadays, we don’t really go on purposeless walks any more because walking in general has become a bit of a luxury. In the UK, 25% of journeys include walking but only 17% of people landed in the ‘just to walk’ category. And that category included dog-walkers. So we can imagine that number would drop if fewer people owned dogs. Of course, some people have to or simply enjoy walking more than others but the category of just walking for the sake of it seems to be decreasing.
Most of our entertainment is in our homes, we can take transport to most places or if we do go on a walk, it tends to be in order to get somewhere else. Like school or to the shop.
I say we should go on more pointless walks.
Going for walks without purpose relieves us of the multiple distractions that plague us throughout the day. With the increasing connectedness we have with other people, walking without purpose grants us permission to spend time alone. It means we can appreciate our surroundings better because that’s all we need to focus on. No longer do we need to remain captivated by the glare of our phones.
Many famous writers like Charles Dickens and Virginia Woolf walked without purpose as it helped improve their creativity. They have time for solitude and lack of distraction. They can work through ideas in their head or just find more inspiration in the simplest of things.
The Thoreau quote at the beginning speaks an important truth. If we want to create deep mental paths in our minds, we have to do a lot of thinking. Too often I find myself giving up if I cannot express myself properly or if I’m stuck on a problem. We can’t figure out everything instantly or with minimal effort. A lot of things are difficult and embracing it rather than running from it gives us a much greater chance at overcoming them. Walking gives us a better chance at doing that.
How do I start?
- Go outside.
- Walk somewhere.
More seriously, there are a few things that help.
- If you unfortunately have reasons to think you might be unsafe, walk with someone and during the day. If not, walk alone.
- Don’t use your phone.
- Be mindful.
- Find new places but don’t map your walk.
- Walk without listening to music or audiobooks.
Walking is another source of peaceful solitude. I remember many times going for a walk at night and looking forward to seeing the moon in the sky. Some days it would dominate the night like a king seated in his throne. Other days, it would be quieter and hidden behind a few clouds. Walking outside without any purpose allowed me to appreciate that properly. Instead of being preoccupied with other things, I looked up and was mindful of my surroundings.
Free from distractions and consumed with peace.
And that is the purposeless walk.