It is the movement as well as the sights going by that seems to make things happen in the mind, and this is what makes walking ambiguous and endlessly fertile; it is both means and end, travel and destination.
—from Wanderlust by Rebecca Solnit
I was never a huge fan of walking. Growing up in an area in Cebu where urban planning was like having a mentally dysfunctional 5-year old design his dream metropolis in Sim City, walking was a safety hazard rather than a leisurely pursuit. The crumbling 1-metre wide sidewalk was no respite from the barrage of cars, tricycles, jeepnies and 10-tonne lorries competing for passage on cramped 2-lane streets. The area was also riddled with petty criminals who could skilfully grab your watch off your wrist in 3 seconds flat. Then of course there was the heat, the humidity and the smog. Don’t get me started on those.
So I watched the world go by comfortably seated on my prissy, middle class arse in the safe confines of my parents’ air-conditioned Mitsubishi. I never really had a reason or need to walk anywhere. The most I walked was an unpleasant twice-a-week trek across the university football pitch to get to a 7.30am theology class inconveniently located on the furthest end of the campus. Coincidentally, the class was a semester-long exegesis on the Book of Job, Christianity’s poster boy for pain and suffering.
Then things changed when I moved to Australia, land of wide open spaces and bloody long distances, where people actually walked — SHUDDER — for leisure.
To traverse this vast expanse of land, one has to either a) drive to get from A to B (the reasons I refuse to drive will be the subject of another post), b) cycle (done that and have the broken collar bone and smashed left index finger to prove it), c) take unreliable public transport, or d) horror of horrors, walk. I have reluctantly resorted to a combination of C and D, where D happens almost entirely as a result of the unavailability of C.
So it comes with great irony that three very significant things in my life so far — two books and one very special person — have a “walking” theme to them. They’ve taught me how to use my feet, how to ground myself, to observe, and even consider walking for the sake of walking.
1) Walking on Water, Reflections on Art and Faith by Madeleine L’Engle
I can’t remember exactly when it was during my 4-year Jesuit university education that I came across this book on religious art. What I do distinctly remember however, was the excitement that came when I had my first real insight into the creative process. L’Engle likens the act of creation to Peter’s walking on water and describes it as an act of pure faith, of letting oneself go. She says: “When the work takes over, then the artist is enabled to get out of the way, not to interfere. When the work takes over, then the artist listens.”
2) Wanderlust, A History of Walking by Rebecca Solnit
I stumbled on this book during my first year of post-grad design school while doing research for the design and content of an “instructional manual” on how to lose oneself in a city while travelling. I didn’t really know what I was doing with this project and the measly 78/100 mark I got at the end of the semester proved that I didn’t really understand my methodologies or what my outcome really was. Looking back on that project now after having practised asana and Buddhist meditation for a good number of years, I realise that this was actually my first real exercise in observation and awareness.
3) Walking Through Walls, the husband’s yoga and meditation brainchild
In one of his Paros workshops, Eoin led the class through a walking meditation which turned out to be both a scary and exhilarating experience for me. There was something incredibly surreal about performing an act so mundane and simple whilst being fully aware of my own feet on the ground, my breath and my thoughts. It was one of those rare moments where I came out of my usual mode of overthinking, overanalysing and overcomplicating, found a rhythm and just went with it. It bizarrely brought me back to the days when I swam competitively — each stroke gliding me forward, perfectly timed with the breath. Only this time, I was competing with no one. It was a weirdly liberating experience to say the least.
Since then I’ve been making myself go on walks every single day, whether it be a 20-minute lunchtime stroll around the un-scenic industrial wastelands of South Melbourne or a long hour-and-a quarter morning walk from home to work on moon days. Does this mean that I now love walking? Not exactly. The conditioned fear of getting mugged is still very much there. The anxiety of getting to a destination on time—and of needing a destination in the first place!—still wrecks my head. But now at least I actually go for walks. And maybe one day I’ll find ease in walking and learn to let go.