Walking Practice

I’ve been walking lately.

To the post office, the bank, my boyfriend’s apartment, school, church, to meet my friends for breakfast on Thursday mornings.

When I started walking, it wasn’t philosophically motivated. It was just more convenient than driving, actually. The plow trucks push snow up behind my vehicle, packing it in hard in a three-foot wall between the road and my bumper; it took me an hour to shovel my vehicle out a couple weeks ago. Besides, driving in this town of steep hills makes me nervous. If it’s above twenty degrees and less than a mile, I’d rather walk.

As I plod along, I’ve been thinking about the concept of focal practices that Albert Borgmann wrote about. His words concerning distance running can apply to walking, I think. He says, “…in the runner, effort and joy are one; the split between means and ends, labor and leisure is healed…. Good running engages mind and body…. The mind becomes relatively disembodied when the body is severed from the depths of the world….”

He’s right. Now that I’ve started, I look forward to it. Walking, even if it’s on an errand or I have a full backpack over my shoulders, and I’m on my way to do homework at my boyfriend’s apartment, is a break from sitting at my desk, a chance to shut my school mind off for a few minutes and turn on my body mind. It is a small joy.

Hours of reading philosophy texts are more easily endured if there is promise of a walk later on in the day. The fresh air, sunshine or snowflakes, and bird song or padded silence are a reward dangling out ahead of me.

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It is physical work—tromping up and down this city’s unavoidable hills—but it is also leisure. It is a chance for my mind to connect with my body, to be embodied. When I pull the door closed behind me, tuck my keychain into my coat pocket, and turn down the street, my mind expands into the depth of the world.

I notice details I never would if I was driving. Borgmann writes, “the wholeness that running establishes embraces the human family too.” Though I rarely talk to anyone when I am out, I think my walks help connect me to the inhabitants of this town. I pass slowly by the old, exquisite churches and stop to read the plaques. I marvel at the stained glass in so many churches here and wonder at the histories this mining town holds. I take back streets and side streets. I pick out my favorite homes on parallel roads and imagine the people who live in them. I watch boys shovel piles of snow off of roofs.

I could say this practice is about making this town my home, for however long I may be here. But that’s not exactly true. It’s more about curiosity and feeling my legs moving beneath me. That’s all it needs to be.

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