walking in the world

29 July 2009

Lately I’ve been revisiting some of my books about creative development and inspiration.  A couple of days ago I noted a passage by Mari Messer in “Pencil Dancing” in which she writes of “seeing” as a devotional practice, and I’ve been thinking about that ever since.  I thought about an exchange I once had with one of my colleagues.  He goes for a walk every lunch hour, like I do, and once he commented to me that he couldn’t understand how I could possibly go for a walk without an i-pod.  I was a bit taken aback by the statement, and got to wondering what is it about a walk that needs to be blocked out by way of music streaming into your head? 

I have nothing against MP3 devices, I have one.  But for me, walks are full of sights and sounds that beg all the attention music does.  I suspect the fact that my colleague walks around the same block day after day, month after month, is connected with his need to supply some sort of entertainment for the journey.  Maybe he’s achieving some sort of Zen with his devoted repetition of that square with his melodic accompaniment.

And just as I didn’t get his inability to perceive a walk without being plugged in, he looked at me with something akin to sceptical suspicion when I tried to explain that I believe walking is more than just moving your feet.  That I believe there are important benefits to communing with the immediate world, or even just one’s thoughts.  I suppose my colleague seeks to escape the world for an hour; I seek to be with it.

About a year ago I got rid of my car, and with that, walking became central to my daily life.  Around that time I was out for one of those lunch hour walks and I came upon a driver training car stopped at a traffic light.  The student driver was a woman about my age; by her clothing, I guessed she was an immigrant.  She flashed me a smile which spoke of great big pleasure and no uncertain pride, and her shoulders hunched up quickly in a gesture of excitement.  This gal shared with me the new freedom driving was giving her, and I imagined her dreaming of driving all over the city, doing whatever she wanted to do and going wherever she wanted to go.

As I smiled back, sharing her pleasure, I thought of the new freedom I was feeling at having just dispensed of my car.  I associated freedom with each step on sidewalk, of taking the back way and seeing the world up close.  While the woman was attaining freedom and independence via driving; I felt freed of being trapped in the walls of a steel machine amidst cranky drivers on jammed streets and highways.  For all the years she dreamed of driving a car, I dreamed of escaping the grief of owning one.  She was seeing barriers and distances diminished; I was seeing shops and cafes and gardens I’d never noticed before.

After reading the Messer passage, I’m trying to see devotionally, without prejudice or judgement. And I’m thinking about the rewards to be had in doing so.  Like that shared moment with the woman driver stopped at a traffic light on a bright summer day.

Pencil Dancing, by Mari Messer


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