For most of us, life leaves little room for rest or renewal. Most days, we’re racing from home to work to our daughter’s elementary school. Rather than concentrate on completing one thing at a time, each hour of the day, until the day is over, we carelessly rush from one task to another— or worse— attempt to do two things at the same time. In a pandemic that requires us to spend the majority of our waking hours in front of the hypnotic blue light of the computer, it has only become more difficult to be mindful. How can we possibly focus on one thing when— with a single click— we can skim the headlines, take Buzzfeed’s “What Disney Princess Are You?” quiz, and watch another hilarious but ultimately pointless cat video? The high-speed twenty first century is a circus of jugging clowns and acrobats in sparkly costumes.
If— as Rebecca Solnit so poetically phrased— “the mind, like the feet, works at about three miles an hour,” the frantic pace of modern life is too fast for thought. Hurried and haphazard, we can’t penetrate anything beyond the surface, let alone appreciate the glory and grandeur all around us. Rarely do we marvel at the miracle that we even exist (the probability that any of us will be born, after all, is only 1 in 400 trillion), that despite car crashes and earthquakes and forest fires and meteors and stage three breast cancer and diabetes and heart disease and serial killers, we’re still here. Too often, we neglect the “little joys”: the smell of french toast and coffee in the morning, the laugh of a child, the dappled autumn sunlight.
A daily walk, however, can help us slow down and notice what we usually overlook. When we stroll, we soak up the scenery: the flower beds of red geraniums, the brick house covered in ivy, the old-fashioned Victorian home on the corner with a magical tree house in the backyard and a red 1967 Mustang in the driveway. With nowhere to get to and nothing pressing to do, we pause for a moment to leaf through the local street library only to find a pack of Tarot cards and a rare first edition of Anais Nin’s first diary.
In our accelerated lives, things usually whiz by in a black-and-white blur, but on a solitary stroll, the world bursts into vivid technicolor. At a slower pace, we can actually see the sky: clear or cloudy, robin’s egg or carefree Renoir blue. The instruments of nature– the breeze blowing through bare branches, the patter of rain against the pavement, the foreboding sound of an approaching storm, the reposeful chirp of crickets at dusk, the drowsy buzz of bees in the sweltering summer sun– form the soundtrack to our saunter. We may have walked these streets countless times, but today we see things we never noticed before: a corgi across the street, two bushy-tailed squirrels chasing each other. We start to see the humanity of our neighbors. There’s the liberal-minded lesbian couple with Black Lives Matter signs in their front yard, the beautiful German woman who wears impossibly chic sun hats and spends her Saturdays tending her garden. “With the utmost love and attention the man who walks must study and observe every smallest living thing, be it a child, a dog, a fly, a butterfly, a sparrow, a worm, a flower, a man, a house, a tree, a hedge, a snail, a mouse, a cloud, a hill, a leaf,” observed Robert Walser.
Experts agree that something as simple as walking can do wonders for our mental and physical health. Not only does walking daily support a healthy immune system, boost your metabolism, and help you burn calories and lose weight, it lowers blood pressure and reduces the risk of stroke, heart disease and diabetes. Walking increases self-esteem, improves overall sleep quality, and reduces stress and anxiety. Studies have even found that a brisk 30 minute walk 3x a week is just as effective as anti-depressants. So this year, swap another sedentary hour on the coach for a spirited saunter.