One step at a time
I recently brought a small reflection on Erling Kagge’s book on silence. He also wrote a similarly small book on Walking and today I want to reflect on it as it too contains some great treasure. I will do this alongside my own thoughts.
No stranger to walking, Erling Kagge is a Norwegian explorer who was the first in history to reach the ‘three’ poles – North, South and the Summit of Everest.
He says, “After having put my shoes on and let my thoughts wander, I am sure of one thing – to put one foot in front of the other is one of the most important things we do”.
He goes on, “Everything moves more slowly when I walk, the world seems softer and for a short while I am not doing household chores, having meetings or reading manuscripts… the opinions, expectations and moods of family, colleagues and friends all become unimportant for a few minutes or a few hours… It is a truth universally acknowledged that one saves time travelling only two hours from one point to another instead of spending eight hours on the same journey. While this holds up mathematically, my experience is the opposite: time passes more quickly when I increase the speed of travel. My speed and time accelerate in parallel. It is as if the duration of a single hour becomes less than a clock-hour. When I am in a rush, I hardly pay attention to anything at all.”
Kagge correlates walking with slowing down but also recognises that this can add some inconvenience to life. “For as long as I can remember, there’s been a little devil inside of me who constantly tells me to choose the path of least resistance”.
It requires intention to walk, it can be so much easier to hop in the car and go, auto-pilot takes over, we speed along and miss the life and beauty unfolding outside the window. Of course, the way we live our lives it’s virtually impossible to get by without getting in our cars or using some form of public transport but having walking as a regular practice is rich in many ways.
Charles Darwin went for a stroll twice a day and had his own ‘thinking path’. Søren Kierkegaard was, like Socrates, a street philosopher. He wandered around Copenhagen – ‘I have walked myself into my best thoughts’…Albert Einstein fled into the woods surrounding Princeton whenever he was frustrated with his work, and Steve Jobs went on walks with colleagues when he wanted to expand his ideas… ‘the moment my legs begin to move, my thoughts begin to flow’ concluded Henry David Thoreau – it is too easy to give in to the worry that says other matters are more pressing…
‘If you are in a bad mood, go for a walk,’ was Hippocrates advice. And if you are still in a bad mood: ‘Go for another walk.’
Studies all over the world are conducted to find out how walking influences our creativity, mood and health. In other words: how our feet have an affect on our brains (and not the other way round).
Of course there are some problems that are so big you can’t just walk away from them, but most problems benefit from a healthy stretch of your legs, a kick of endorphins and a release of stress, allowing worries to go further away.
Kagge talks of a time in life when things were really painful and difficult, he felt as if he needed to take a pilgrimage as a way to clear his head and gain perspective. This made me wonder whether, when we walk we’re embarking on a pilgrimage of our own, even if the walk is short. Each time we step out we are choosing to slow down, to open up a space in which the movement of our bodies can connect to our minds and souls. There is something soothing about the rhythm of walking and – if we don’t have our ears plugged into music – it invites us to be more present, to have time to notice and see the world around us, whether that be nature or urban.
Being present invites us to quieten down and become still. As we bring attention to our surroundings – the colour and shape of leaves, the noises our feet make on the ground beneath, the shape and texture of a wall – we leave the noise of ourselves for a moment. Our senses are given the opportunity to awaken not only to what we see and hear but what we feel – the breeze or sunlight on our skin, the rain on our heads. What a gift to slow down enough to notice.
I can often wake with a sense of melancholy (it’s an Enneagram 4 thing), dreams have often taken me to places I would rather not have gone. But once I start walking it’s as if troubles and heaviness fall off me. The rhythm of one step following another is a balm to my soul. My steps in themselves are prayers, a contemplation. Walking for me is where my life gets sorted, gets perspective, gets ordered. I’m not even sure quite how this happens, I don’t normally dialogue with God, I don’t choose to think about certain things, it just happens. When I return home I’m restored, made well, reordered. Thoughts are quieter, my heart is soothed, my spirit invigorated. I remember, as Julian of Norwich says …
all is well,
and all shall be well,
and all manner of things shall be well.
Reassurance… I remember I’m held, seen and loved. My steps have lifted my gaze from the floor. God is near.
I finish this reflection with a beautiful blessing by Jan Richardson called May Each Step be a Shedding…
That each step
may be a shedding.
That you will let yourself
That when it looks
like you’re going backwards
you may be making progress.
That progress is not the goal anyway,
to the feel of the path on your skin,
to the way it reshapes you
in each place it makes contact,
to the way you cannot see it
until the moment you have stepped out.
For more on Erling Kagge – https://thespaces.com/how-i-live-adventurer-art-collector-erling-kagge/