Paul Andersen: Fair Game
August 18, 2008
Walking is a form of time travel. It takes us back to a simpler, primitive time. Walking is a motion of grace, ease and efficiency, and yet, we have mostly forgotten its therapeutic potential for handling stress, maintaining good health, and finding a meaningful personal relationship with nature.
Rod Nash, a wilderness writer and historian, says that as a species we human beings have lived in non-mechanical wilderness a thousand times longer than we have lived in civilization. Our ancestral habits are far from broken, and they have designed us for a slow, natural pace that fits best with our pedestrian sensory systems.
It’s time we step back from our hurried lives and honor a Paleolithic pace, the one we evolved with. Perhaps only by going back to atavistic bearings can we gain clear insight into where we are today and where we’re headed tomorrow.
As Nash states, it has only been in the last several hundred years that most humans have moved faster than a walk. Our senses are geared to 2 or 3 miles per hour, not to the high speeds we accelerate to today.
Could this be one reason our children are plagued with hyper-attention deficit disorders? Why stress has become a pandemic? Why road rage reflects our inability to handle speed? Why we have grown so distant from the natural world?
The advantages of high-speed travel are taken for granted. The disadvantages are hardly considered. Not only do we pay for it economically and environmentally, we forget the importance of our journeys through life.
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When Henry David Thoreau set out to walk somewhere, he did so to imbibe in the world around him. Thoreau once told a friend that he could walk to Boston from Walden Woods faster than he could get there by train, and he would enjoy it more. Thoreau reasoned that the train cost money, which took time to earn. If he set out on foot, he would arrive long before he had earned the train fare, and would be a better man for it.
I once made a forced march through the Grand Canyon, covering 75 miles in four days. At the end I was tired, but I realized how physically adapted we are to walking huge distances, day after day. Our species populated North and South America after crossing the Bering Straits land bridge 12,000 years ago, mostly by walking. It has been proven that a man can outdistance a horse or stalk a deer to exhaustion through persistent walking.
Walking creates a rhythm that accommodates our deeper rhythms. Walking improves balance, burns calories, awakens the senses, works the heart and lungs, exposes us to the world on a manageable scale, improves circulation and flexibility, provides time to reflect, and allows us to greet other walkers.
Thoreau, when given a choice, said the direction he chose to walk was to the West. There lay the wildness that to him meant the preservation of the world. Walking to the mall is fine ” it’s better than driving ” but a walk in nature is the biggest gift you can give yourself. It’s also good for your friends and family, those who derive direct benefits from your health and happiness.
Last week I walked four hours on a wilderness trail with eight teenagers who I was leading on a wilderness seminar. After the first hour conversation dropped off and there was hardly a whisper on that flower-scented pathway in the mountains. We walked like Indians, immersed in the wilds, deep in our own thoughts, sharing a meditative and memorable experience.
Walking is an invitation to the freedom of the mind, a mesmerizing mobility that allows the brain to process logjams of information. Walking is a way of pumping oxygen and ideas through your neurons while absorbing sensory inputs at the right pace ” the Paleolithic pace.
So, if your world is spinning too fast, whirling out of control, try a good, long therapeutic walk to slow it all down. We are blessed in this valley to have easy access to trails leading into wild nature. Solace, health and beauty can be found there, one step at a time.
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