An Ode to Ambling
Definition: walk at a slow and relaxed pace
We often treat walking as an interval/transition, as something occurring between events. Nothing to be gained except the happening of going from point A to point B. It is predictable that in such a goal oriented, efficiency focused culture such as ours, that we would overlook the possible wonder of the journey alongside the destination. Why must we go from A to B? Why not, every now and then, start at A and skip B, roll our way through the rest of the alphabet and then finish at B?
When one walks, perhaps not even walks but ambles, takes their time, and moves with ease, the walk takes on an entirely different nature. Before, you had to get somewhere. You were busy, you had errands to run, work to do, people to see, places to go. You had no time to see the boy with the purple knitted jumper, the praying mantis humbly sitting at the base of that tree, or to hear the joke the mailman said to the clerk as you walked past the post office. Now you are witnessing. The environment is no longer a background, it becomes a landscape, one in which you live and breathe. You are not separate to it, brushing past it on your way to ever more productive things, you are a part of it.
Slow walkers get a lot of criticism. It is what you expect from a culture focused on the immediate and ‘now’. It seems to have a quality of incomprehensibility about it. Walking slowly may have a quality of relaxation about it. But it also trains us into another way of being. A way of existing that is not in a rush and that does not demand things occur immediately. Walking slow, especially when you want to walk fast, is an exercise in training yourself to live differently, in tune with a more peaceful and calming rhythm.
In a way, it is all about rhythm. How you walk is the outward expression of your inner rhythm. I’m not pretending to be scientific here, but I think how we walk is an expression of who we are. If you cannot learn to walk slow, to take in the environment and become part of the landscape; if you are always rushing through places, never being in places; what does this say about your state of mind? About the type of person you are? I sometimes wonder if people who hurry and rush when they walk are also the same people who scoff down their meals rather than savour each mouthful, and are the type who will send many instant messages but rarely sit down for a discussion. A myopic focus on ends, conclusions, and results comes at the expense of appreciating what lies between.
The idea of going on a walk, especially a slow walk, is somewhat a threat to our culture. To walk, not even with a purpose, just to walk aimlessly is to live in an entirely different way. It is to ask something entirely different from ourselves. It asks, instead of focusing our mental energies into some external object, whether it be a task, goal, job, test, or so forth, why not, instead, just release that energy and see what happens. Instead of making our mind a laser focused on a single object, transform it into a diffuse torch, radiating outwards. Shine in no particular direction, just illuminate and observe the world around you.
When we walk slowly, just for the sake of walking slowly, something begins to happen. We start to become more aware of our own body; of the pressure on our feet as we tread upon subtly shifting terrain, of the push and pull of muscles in our bodies, of our heartbeats changing pace, of the smells as we move from place to another. These subtle sensations are usually missed. Walking slow transforms the semi-abstract experience of travelling by foot into a real and immersive experience where you and your body reconnect to the landscape.
To walk slowly is to reconnect, both to yourself and to the world in which you live. I like to think of it as a panacea to the ills of an efficiency driven, goal oriented society that operates according to a very limited theory of value. Indeed, walking slowly may not provide any immediate economic or material benefits, but it is no less valuable for that. Walking slowly, even if just for a little bit, adjusts your rhythms away from the hyperactivity of modern society to the more natural and gradual rhythms of the natural world.