Up until 2017, I still living in Connecticut. Up until 2017, if you had asked me to go on a walk I’d think: a) Is ‘walk,’ like, code for something? Or, b) Where? Surely not, like, here? In the neighbourhood?
It’s no secret that unless you live in a city or own a dog, going on a walk isn’t a trademark practice of contemporary American life. If you’re from a rural area like I am, nothing is within ‘walking distance,’ which oft makes it seem pointless. Door to door journeys are completed by car, there’s a lack of infrastructure (i.e. sidewalks), and heck – people (I having been one of them) even drive to the gym or a park just to walk, rather than going on a stroll outside their front door. Written out, it might seem bizarre, but in actuality, it’s all too common.
When I moved to London, I was walking my ass off without even intending to do so. The experience of living in a proper city (yep, I say ‘proper’ now) for the first time in my life – and a walkable one at that – had me out and about on a daily basis. Albeit I didn’t have a car (and lawd knows if I did, your girl wasn’t gonna try driving on the other side of the road), I fell in love with walking. It instantly became my preferred mode of transport, compared to taking the bus or tube. Need to go to the supermarket? Post office? Doctor? The most efficient way to get there is in stride. Everything being new and different, walking wasn’t a chore. It was instead an action fuelled by sensory engagement, making activities as mundane as running errands an adventure. Taking everything in – sights, scents, sounds…maybe not so much taste (but hey, whatever floats your boat) – is something many of us have experienced before, likely when travelling or exploring a new place. So, why does it stop there?
After a year of living in London, my daily walks became jaded. One foot in front of the other, quickly paced, head down, preoccupied with the day ahead of or behind me. Walking became a point A to point B activity, overwhelmed by a preoccupation with thoughts and simultaneous need for distraction. I’m not saying I became one of those people who needs get on the phone to forget they’re walking, but…I was close. The repetitive act of one foot in front of the other regressed from ‘going on a walk’ to ‘walking’ – a change in wording which denotes leisure in the former and mundanity in the latter.
If there is a good thing that came out of Covid, it’s been the rediscovery of ‘going for a walk.’ When we became confined to our homes back in March, the eventual announcement allowing outside exercise found me tying my shoelaces at 8 sharp every evening, checking with my husband as though things had changed from one day to the next, ‘shall we go now?’
The slowing of the city was echoed in the slowing of our pace. Traipsing through the same streets I’d grown to walk along with my head down and mind distant, I was mindful once more. I noticed the architecture, as it transitions from blocks of Edwardian to Victorian terraced houses, every so often disrupted by an imposing cathedral or the clean lines of an art deco apartment block.
I made a conscious effort to appreciate the greenery where we live, breathing the fresh air until my lungs were full. In doing so, I simultaneously breathed in the scent of curry cooking in another’s kitchen, roses in a front garden, and the pungency of other…herbs…as they waft into the street. My husband and I flow into our conversational rhythm, sometimes cacophonous and other times, the most comfortable silence. As we reach the top of our village, looking out at London’s unpolluted skyline, we pause for a few moments. My surroundings are as still as my mind.
For those of us with able bodies, walks are one of life’s simplest joys we have at our disposal, anyplace, anytime – and it seems a shame to neglect having access to such a thing. You don’t need a reason to go on one, nor do you need to travel to a park ‘appropriate’ for one. When we visit the US, I often walk around my old neighbourhood, albeit a bit nostalgically, and wonder, ‘why wasn’t I doing this before?’
Walking can alleviate a mind frenzied by anger, anxiety, sadness, overwhelm. It can change your perspective on days when you’re feeling demotivated, uninspired, or, for lack of better terms, like sh*t. It can give you the clarity you might have been yearning for by enabling mindfulness. There’s no right or wrong way to do it, so long as you keep your senses engaged, phone in your damned pocket, and chin up.