An Ode To The Purposeless Walk
Walking seems to be something fewer and fewer people do. And, when they do, it’s a rushed, distracted experience. But, are we missing something creative and inspiring by not walking more often?
The BBC, yesterday posted a fascinating article by Finlo Rohrer on the lost art of “purposeless walking” or as those us old enough to remember a pre-digital age used to call it, going for a walk.
In many cities today, walking is not prized, it is something one does as an add on to other modes of transport and something we try to do as little as possible. When we do walk, we do so in a very rushed and often distracted way, trying to get it over with as quickly as possible, often while staring at an electronic device (without which we would literally be lost).
But, many authors were avid walkers and many have written about the value of walking. It’s not hard to see how walking in a slower, more observational way can fill one’s mind with the details and experience that will enrich the writing process. And, the connection between walking and insight dates back at least to the Ancient Greek philosophers like Aristotle.
“There is something about the pace of walking and the pace of thinking that goes together. Walking requires a certain amount of attention but it leaves great parts of the time open to thinking. I do believe once you get the blood flowing through the brain it does start working more creatively,” says Geoff Nicholson, author of The Lost Art of Walking.
An idea, which Anne Lamott cemented for me, is that ideas, or solutions to problems can come from purposeless walks. The walk with intention, to go somewhere, or exercise, doesn’t active the mind in the same way as the walk with no fixed goal, purpose, or time frame.
When I visit Adelaide, there’s a walk I like to do in the evenings, when I visit my parent’s home. I know it takes about an hour or so, depending on my pace, but I never time it. I simply walk out to a certain point, then walk back. The walk takes me through two parks and out by the water and sometimes I see other people and sometimes I don’t.
It’s not exercise, it’s just walking. But, every time I do this, my mind clears and I have a rush of ideas. Not, random ideas, but clear workable ones; the kind that help me finish tasks that were on my mind, or solve problems I was facing.
Here in Tokyo I’ve started to do the same, heading off from a point I know, then just following street after street until I either get tired, hungry or thirsty. Only then do I try to get my bearings, only then do I pull out my electronic device, only then do I check the time.
I believe there is a valuable connection between walking and creativity, between observing and having the resources to describe what we imagine. The small details can rouse the writer, the rhythms of life can inspire the musician and the unexpected sights can fuel the photographer. You’ll find some examples of this in Sarah Green’s HBR article, The Daily Routines of Geniuses.
And, the experience of putting away the device and creating the map in our mind (as Borges would say), powerfully grounds us to the value of our lived experience and the place where we find ourselves. Owning our present reality and understanding our place in it is perhaps the most powerful, the most liberating creative tool we can employ.