I’m back in the routine of taking early morning walks. They’re not very long, but they don’t need to be. They’re usually technology-free; just me, walking outside and looking around and trying to practice mindfulness activities such as focusing on my breathing and paying attention to what’s happening in the moment. Sometimes I get new ideas for my writing or my executive coaching work, and other times I take a mental trek through my calendar. On most days I get to meet dogs and avoid one or two cars.
Walking has been a common habit for some of history’s most luminous figures. Health and wellness blogger Mark Sisson writes that Aristotle “conducted his lectures while walking the grounds of his school in Athens. His followers (who quite literally followed him as he walked) were even known as the peripatetics – Greek for ‘meandering or walking about.'” The poet William Wordsworth walked nearly 175,000 miles across his lifetime, and viewed walking as “indivisible from the act of writing poetry.” Sisson says the philosopher Soren Kierkegaard “had two main pursuits: walking and writing. He wrote through the morning until noon, when he’d walk the streets of Copenhagen, mentally composing paragraphs and working through new ideas. After the walk, he was back to writing (at a standing desk, no less). The success of his thinking depended almost entirely on his walking.”
I’m especially intrigued by the way Sisson describes Nassim Taleb, a contemporary writer whom I’d never heard of until now. “You can find him trading jabs with critics on Twitter, probably in the last hour,” Sisson says. “He’s been writing about anti-fragility for many years, about how successful systems and economies and businesses must experience and be able to adequately respond to punctuated, not chronic, stresses and randomness to stay successful and robust. But it wasn’t until he started walking that he realized the same concepts applied to humans. We also need to face intermittent stressors to remain healthy, robust, and anti-fragile, and we require randomness and variation. So, for Taleb, that means some intense strength training every so often, a fair amount of relaxation, and lots and lots of aimless meandering as a foundation.”
After reading about these individuals and many others, I’m even more motivated to walk every day.
It’s easy to remain sedentary. Most of our jobs demand that we park ourselves in front of technology, and we can get so worn out from working that it’s tempting to spend all of our leisure time sitting on a couch or lying in bed staring at some kind of screen. But the more sedentary we remain, the less energy we possess; it’s a vicious cycle.
Getting out and walking each day kick-starts our bodies and helps us to de-clutter our minds, so that we can begin to move out of the realm of reactivity into the sphere of possibility.