Walking in the Now

Back in my twenties and thirties, my exercise of choice was walking. I loved to walk. I walked to work problems out, to relieve stress, and yes even to lose weight. I walked because it was nice out, I walked because I was cooped up in the house and needed to get out. I had routes I consistently used that kept me going for an hour. Once that became boring, I tacked on more miles so I was out for an hour and a half. I’d make playlist after playlist, all with up-beat, fast-paced music that made you move.

And boy, could I eat up that pavement.

Now, keep in mind this was before apps and I really didn’t have the money (or the desire) to invest in high-tech equipment to monitor pace and steps. But when I really got going, I was doing four to four and a half miles per hour easily. I didn’t do this for the entire hour, but for a nine to twelve minute burst, I was booking.

For perspective, these days when I’m working on my Couch to 5K (week six day two on deck, y’all), my current running speed is four mph. I walk faster than I run!

At least I could, once upon a time.

I used to revel in the speed. It felt good to push my body and to know it could keep up. I cranked the music up and I disappeared into my mind for an hour. For that time reality was what I made it. My problems, my sorrows, my frustrations… all gone as the music played and I mentally choreographed whole shows in my head, or imagined myself as the lead singer, or a virtuoso who played every kick-ass drum/guitar/keyboard solo in each song.

During that hour, I was everything I could never be in reality.

The problem was I missed a lot. I missed the mist as it clung to the mountains after a rainstorm. I missed the waves as they gently broke on the beaches. I missed the calls of the birds, the scents of the flowers, the hello’s of passers-by.

I also missed numerous bicyclists, joggers and cars coming up behind me. One time, I missed a truck following slowly behind me. I caught it only because another car came up behind it and it sped away.

I may have escaped from reality for an hour, but it was not always to my benefit.

I never realized how much I missed or how much I used walking as an escape until I went to Massage School. One day, we headed down to the waterfront and the assignment placed before us was “walk around the pier, but walk with intention. Be in the moment. What do you see?” Inside, I was all: ha ha! I got this in the bag. This is what I do!

I did not have it in the bag. For the first time I realized how insulated I was from everything around me when I walked. As I participated in this exercise, I became overwhelmed by the now. The water, the birds, the sky, the grass, the rocks… they were all there and they were all so beautiful.

And I had been walking past them. For years.

It took another several years for me to grasp what I learned that day. Moreover, I think I needed the escape more than the reality. Reality was too… real, and I struggled with my place in it.

As I found my way, I eventually broke free of the cocoon and started walking just to be out in nature. My pace slowed considerably, and I began to indulge in something completely foreign to the old me: I stopped. I sat on the beach. I collected stones. I touched the old trees as I wandered past, feeling the roughness of the bark and the life pulsing underneath it.

In slowing down and stopping, I ceased to be overwhelmed by the existence of life around me and began to participate more fully in it.

These days, I don’t often find the time for solo walks anymore. In lieu of walking for exercise, I’ve started Couch to 5k and martial arts classes.

But every once in a while, like this morning, I find the space for a walk. It’s not meant to be exercise; it’s meant to clear my mind. As the footfalls and steady, relaxed (for me, anyway) pace lull me into a kind of walking meditation, everything falls away and I am in the moment.

That moment is pretty darned incredible.