Thursday, July 18

Walking To Heal Body, Mind, and Soul

I like to walk. That, as pretty much anyone who knows me will tell you, is probably an understatement. In fact I suspect I am one of the very few people on this earth who has doctors telling her to please walk a little less whenever they get half a chance (I wouldn’t go so far as to say that this happens on a regular basis because I refuse to set foot in a doctor’s office often enough for that ever to become an option, but still, you get the general idea).

To me walking is not just a means of going from one place to another. In fact most of my walks are back and forth a nearby stretch of beach –very deliberately going nowhere– with the occasional excursion through a small thicket that is also by my place every now and then, just to mix things up a bit. What can I say, I’d rather spend a couple of hours allowing my mind to wander, and working out an idea, before sitting down in front of my keyboard to type whatever it is that has crossed my mind, than to spend a couple of hours sitting down, staring aimlessly at a blank screen as I wait for inspiration to come to me. The end result is basically the same in terms of productivity, but the difference with regards to my quality of life… well, that one is noticeable.

Of course, I also know I am incredibly lucky. I know most people can’t afford to spend hours walking up and down an almost deserted beach, watching both the sunset and the sunrise… in fact for way too many people the notion of going out for a walk is a logistical nightmare that requires them to figure out how to deal with cars, traffic, noise, pollution, and even the threat of random violence. That is not exactly an appealing proposition. It also used to be my life until not too long ago, and I will be the first to admit that there are trade offs to be made, that living in an almost-tiny-house out in the middle of nowhere, with the absolute minimum, is not necessarily easy.

I live alone, and if I want to go to town… well, that’s a twenty minute walk to the nearest bus stop right there (the bus runs roughly once an hour, so you have to time it carefully, or you will be looking at a fairly long wait), and as for that town, it is some five miles away, it has a total population of less than twenty thousand people, and while you can get the basic staples there, you can forget about anything fancier than that. There is no cultural life to speak of –to the point that, without the internet, I don’t think I could take it– and if you have a medical emergency, and have to go to the local clinic… well, the good news is that the doctors and the nurses are absolutely amazing. They care about their patients, who they are often intimately familiar with, having known them for years, in a way that their more urbane counterparts most definitely do not, and the fact that there are no interns means that you are not routinely reduced to a mere living prop for those interns’ amusement in what amounts to an utterly dehumanizing experience, not to mention that they do work miracles with the resources they have available, but unfortunately there is also no denying that those resources do leave a lot to be desired, and that can be a problem if you are dealing with a serious issue. The people are friendly, far friendlier than they were in the city, but at the same time I do realize that I am, and always will be, a stranger. In a world where everyone knows everyone else, where the average friendship seems to stretch back a couple of generations, and so on, I stick out like a sore thumb, especially because while I could probably tell you if there’s a spot out of place on a Dalmatian, I am truly awful at remembering names and faces, and on top of that it is a lot easier for a few thousand people to add a new name to their individual mental maps, than it is for a single person to add a few thousand names and faces to hers. The end result is that whenever I set foot out of my house I find myself being greeted by an old friend by a whole bunch of people I couldn’t name if my life depended on it, a fact that leaves me feeling even more out of place.

Still, and as I mentioned in a different post, this is the place I have chosen to watch the world end. Okay, so maybe it is not as dramatic as that, but it was a choice made based on a number of facts, and it is a choice I do realize is not even remotely feasible for most. It’s not just the financial aspect of the whole thing, but also the fact that this arrangement only works for me precisely because I live alone. I don’t have to worry about my kids’ schooling, or to negotiate with a life partner to come up with an arrangement that works for both of us from a professional perspective. I can afford to downsize in the most extreme fashion, knowing that no one else will be impacted by my choices. If anything my dogs did appreciate the change (though I suspect that the one that is still with me would have something to say about the three a.m. wake up calls if he could actually speak).

Still, at the end of the day I can’t help but to feel that this ability to spend hours a day walking up and down a beautiful beach, allowing my mind to wander has saved my life, or at least my sanity. It hasn’t just done wonders for my health, but it has also allowed my body, mind and soul to reconnect with each other in a way I never even thought possible. It even allowed me to process the grief of seeing a dog that had been my constant companion for years –one that was basically half my family– being killed right in front of my eyes some ten weeks ago, and it has allowed me to develop a completely different perspective on the world at large.

I grew up in a world of books, of borrowed words, and intellectual pursuits. To me that was what learning and thinking were all about. Being able to spend hours walking in perfect silence, alone with my thoughts –and finding myself surrounded by people without much of a formal education, seeing how they live and raise their children, learning to respect the kind of practical wisdom they possess– has changed that at a fundamental level. It is a change I am still trying to make sense of, but one I wouldn’t change for the world, so I prepare to go out for another walk, to enjoy yet another sunset.

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