25 April 2007

Zen and the art of going for a walk...

As I explained in my post below, I've been doing very little of late but there comes a time when doing next to nothing becomes quite unbearable no matter what and something needs to be done. As things stand, I'm not able to run as running would not do my insides much of a favour and, besides, my knees don't seem to be up to it anymore. However, I have recently rediscovered the alternative to jogging down country lanes and along canal towpaths and am in the midst of a walking spree. I must explain when I say 'walking' I don't necessarily mean the type of walking where it is imperative that one dons stout boots from Millets and sturdy wet-weather gear whilst carrying a rucksack and map. This hardy form of walking is, no doubt, very good and maybe I'll come to it in time but what I really mean is 'going for a nice walk'. For this type of exercise one only needs to check the immediate weather conditions and put on an appropriate coat (or not). Naturally, shoes are important and it's probably wise to also wear trousers.

'Going for a nice walk' may mean a simple stroll around the block. My good pal Tony and his dear missus often have a stroll around their block and I'm sure it's a refreshing and meditative change. For myself, I'm in the fortunate position of having some lovely walks as soon as I leave my front door. I have a choice of hitting the mountains (every hill in Wales is called a mountain) behind the house or, if I want an easier stretch I can take to the towpath of the Brecon and Monmouth Canal. I can even mix the two up and do a bit of both. I find that many young people look on with horror if you suggest a nice walk as a way to pass the time but this was not the case for me when I was a younger man. As a student I would often make for the country lanes and hills around Bangor and have a stroll. At times this may have been done in the company of friends but I have often been a solitary walker and I feel there is a special magic to walking alone, especially when one can enjoy the sights and sounds of nature. I believe it is a truly religious experience.

On occasions we like to have a little walk as a family but the cubs often protest about the duration of our hike or the steepness of the gradients we encounter. I must admit that this often detracts from the experience. Still, it's good to give them some idea of the pleasures to be had from a walk. The real thing for me is the loneliness of the long or short distance solitary walker but, strangely, it's not lonely at all. In recent days I have spent some excellent times with the trees and the birds, hardly seeing a soul. Occassionally, one comes across a cluster of mountain bikers but they are soon on their way and peace is restored. When you meet another solitary walker (which is rare) I find a nod and friendly 'good morning' or 'afternoon' is enough. None of us walkers seem to want to engage in chit-chat. Everyone, it seems, is out there for a deeper thing all together. Some walkers have dogs which is something I do wish I could add to my own walking experience but for now I'm content with just me, myself and I.

This morning I had intended to have an easy stroll as I have been walking rather a lot of late but my planned half an hour turned into an hour and a half as one previously undiscovered path turned into another and I found myself nearing the top of the highest point in the old county of Gwent. I decided against the final haul up to the top of Twmbarlwm as I really don't think I'm up to that yet but it's suprising how far you get when you are immersed in the walk. I've also started to really notice my environment a lot more. The flowers and the trees are amazing and this morning I had close encounters with a robin, a chaffinch and a great tit within five minutes of leaving my front door. Yes, it is all very 'hello sky, hello trees' but what's wrong with that (providing you don't start knitting your own muesli!)? The 'thing' about all this really is the way the mind begins to let go of all the rubbish as you go along. At times it is nice to ruminate on a particular topic but I find not thinking at all is best. Just let the mind flow into a state of 'no mind' and just hear the birds and see the trees and feel the breeze. Definitely superior to prozac.

For a successful walk I do recommend a sturdy stick to have as your sole companion. This needn't be something you keep at home as you are sure to find an appropriate fallen branch as you go along but sometimes you do find a stick that is 'just right' and you will want to keep this one with you for future excursions into the hills and vales (or park or even round the block).

Try it!


The Purple Gooroo said...

Right On, Bear! Pixie and I try to go for walks quite a bit. We just walked around port Meadow in Wolvercote last weekend--a lovely time.

Solitary walks seem to be a very good relaxation source--it helps me get things sorted in my mind.

Keep up the walking adventures!

Flaming Pixie said...

Sounds lovely Bear. Walking can be far more enjoyable than running as you get to see more of the scenery and views.

We've got some lovely walks around here too - either a few minutes from the house or a few miles drive away. One of my favourite walks is around Hampton Poyle, Hampton Gaye, Shipton (the Manor !) and Thrupp. And there's 3 pubs on the way back !!!

Anonymous said...

Pixie: Walking and pubs is a good combination! ;)