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Walking and Thinking

Today I took a walk. I take a walk a lot of days. I live in a suburban community where everybody walks. They have dogs they must walk. They have kids they must air. Or they are old enough that they must walk to stay relatively healthy, relatively young, relatively thin and relatively supple.

I fall in between the airing-my-kids and maintaining-my-mobility category. Iím just the person who is too old to have toddlers, too distracted to go to the gym when itís sunny and too congenitally cold to walk a dog.

So I just walk. Because I know itís good for me.

However, Iím not a very good walker. I have to steel myself to do it. Because I donít like doing things that arenít really doing anything. When I walk I feel as though I should be going someplace. And often enough, I am: Iím going to the grocery store, the bank, CVS, the wine store. But the fact is, other times Iím not always going places. I might be going in circles on these tidy suburban streets. Or I might be going up and back on the bike path, ceding the right-of-way to stone-thighed cyclists or just to your average couple out to burn some calories and use their lungs.

Sometimes I walk because itís a way of keeping me from doing other things Iím supposed to be doing, like balancing my checkbook or doing the laundry. Fortunately I donít live close enough to a Laundromat that I could walk to it. Otherwise, Iíd have no excuses for my procrastination.

Iíve heard people talk about walking meditations. In fact, staying at a retreat center one time, I saw a bunch of people doing some Zen walking meditation. It involved them looking tres, tres serieux and putting one step gingerlyóOK, mindfullyóin front of the other. They moved very slowly. There was no chance that they were going anywhere: not the bank, not the Laundromat, not the grocery store.

That is not the kind of meditation I would want to do. In fact, meditation and I arenít best friends. I get too bored. My teeming interior mental life wonít quiet down as I review and reflect on lifeís obligations and quandaries. So sometimes when I walk I count. What am I counting? Steps, I guess. But then, somewhere in the 70s or 80s, I get bored and my mind reverts to thoughts of national significanceówhat a lout Ben Roethlisberger isóor personal importanceódo I really want to buy a pair of those shoes that look like toe socks and really arenít very flattering?

Often, when I walk I phone people I know and love.

Though there are a select few of those I know and love, I mostly donít like to talk on the phone to anybody. Ever. Iím not a phone person. But when I walk, Iím able to talk on the phone. I think it makes me feel as if Iím going somewhere. Even if Iím going in circles.

But today, when I walked, those select few I know and love are busy not answering their phones.

I completely understand what it means to be busy not answering my phone.

And so I walk in silence, going nowhere, with no destination, no errand to accomplish.

Suddenly, and in spite of myself, I notice Iím not aimlessly counting. Nor am I mindlessly thinking about how I really ought to learn about good cholesterol and bad cholesterol with little intention of really doing that.

Suddenly Iím having what I can only call a mini-meditative experience.

It is very quiet as I walk. I notice the flowers in immoderate and early blossom. I notice a cardinalóa male, it must beóflapping along ahead of me. He seems quite fearless as I approach and I assume there must be a well-stocked bird-feeder behind the stand of hemlock into which he disappears, all red flounce and fleetness.

I cross a major street that is, for reasons unbeknownst to me, closed until May 10. So there is no traffic. Which means there is near silence. I walk across the street and look into the windows of houses still too full of sunlight to admit my gaze. When you walk at nightfall, you can look into the houses of other people and glimpse a way of life different from your own life. But in the late afternoon, you canít see insideóthe houses are mute facades that leave you with your own thoughts instead of musings about the fortunes and misfortunes of other peoplesí lives.

I walked around the edges of a small park and heard the wind as a soft whisper in the otherwise still and silent air. And I stopped in front of a blossoming lilac bush, lowering my head into the cloud of purple aroma. And eventually, I made my way back home, calmed, quiet, not willing to go back inside right away, not wanting to answer the question ďSo how was your walk?Ē because Iím not quite ready to say, ďoh, it was very meditative, my walk.Ē Even though it really was.

óJo Page

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