The common theme among the hundreds of walks I’ve taken since school began some five months ago has been purpose — moving with purpose, walking with intent. And it’s hard to recognize this theme when all the people around you move to the same rhythm; hustling into the library, pacing across the common room, jogging to class, sauntering back to the dorm, sprinting to Walgreens, trudging to the gym … the list goes on. And whether walking, pacing, jogging, or sprinting, the intent is always the same — one foot in front of the other, at varying frequency, in an intentional direction, with a specific destination in mind. That seems the issue with this kind of walking, not the movements, rather the mind’s focus on a predetermined destination. Walking then becomes a process to achieve a well-planned goal, like brushing one’s teeth or mowing the lawn.
Out of curiosity, the other morning I tried to break this trend. With no planned course, no urgent need to be anywhere, I slipped on my sneakers and strode out into the morning air. I found myself strolling through the city, along the sidewalk between the wooded New Haven Green and Shake Shack and the various shops and restaurants along Chapel Street. The city was beginning to stir, to vibrate, dark shops and long lines of humming cars at stop lights, the scent of bacon from a nearby diner, crowds huddled at the bus stop, dosing taxi drivers, old faces on young people, rustling birds and the two-tone 1962 Ford pick-up with army veteran plates. The walk of the unencumbered mind, the walk free of a intentional destination — perhaps what one might call a Thoreauvian walk — is not really a walk at all, rather, an immersion. Whether in a wooded hillside or on a bustling street corner, the walker leaves the narrow, quotidian track and discovers the world around.
The mind follows the feet. Purposeful walking gives way to purposeful thought. You begin to focus on a single finite issue, whether a confusing algorithm, a looming paper, nervous anticipation for the big game, or that girl who just won’t respond to your texts. And the twisted alleyways of the mind divide into hundreds of parallel one-way streets that insist on a common destination. This is not to suggest linear focus is the wrong way to think. But every now and then, jumble up the setting, let the avenues overlap, throw in a boulevard or backcountry road, maybe a few skyscrapers, or vast meadows. Let your mind meander through the new landscape. Venture alone, find your unique stride, and let the imagination go.
Notice Nadine’s tired eyes as she swipes your ID before a Davenport dinner, or the small faces carved into the overhangs beneath the Harkness bells, or the cracked window panes on the Sterling Library, or the hundreds of other idiosyncrasies within your new landscape. And you may discover the world in which you have immersed yourself is no longer the blurry setting whirring by your shuffling feet and focused mind, but a stirring, vibrant being.
So, the next time the moon is full, or the morning young, throw on a pair of comfy socks and good shoes, turn up your collar, and step out. Fill your lungs with the city air, and stride along slowly. Give it a try. If anything, it’s healthy exercise.