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I want you to think about stepping out with me.
I don’t mean stepping out for a night on the town and big city lights. I mean stepping outdoors, out from between walls that have me and maybe you a little too hemmed in, and maybe more than we both realize.
What I mean is stepping out into the world, stepping out to experience firsthand what is around us, and what is new and fresh right now. I mean stepping out quite literally. I mean taking a good long walk.
Sure, I know you know about walking. You likely have been at it since you were barely more than a baby, and you even may walk quite often already. But I want to be sure you know everything you need to know about walking. One thing you may not know is that there is walking and then, well, there is walking.
Almost all walking is of course healthy. It is our most natural human means of physical and emotional renewal, and how we achieved environmental and resource renewal in wild nature. All or most walking is a certain path to personal discovery and new experiences, if we are naturally attentive as we walk, and take time to observe what we walk by and through.
In many ways, though, walking and walks can be very different – at different times and in different settings. Walks can vary in purpose and familiarity, just as they can vary in duration and intensity. To better understand the forms that walking can take, I’d like to spend a few minutes showing you how our can walks vary, the different types of walks that are available to us, and how each type works to enhance our health and well-being in different ways.
To do this, and to simplify our discussion, I want to propose the idea that there are three basic forms of walks and will explain what is different about each form. My goal in this is to make you think differently and more deeply about the prospect of walking, to encourage more walks and help you get more out of the walks you take, and even to change how, where, and why you walk.
Step One: The Daily Walk
HumanaNatura members and others familiar with our natural health program know that walking is inevitably near the center of any natural health program. After all, walking is our most basic and natural form of human movement, one that was essential to lifelong health and well-being in our long life in wild nature, just as it remains so today.
Daily walks are the first level of walking and are just that, the everyday walks we take for exercise, relaxation, or simply to run errands and get things done. Daily walks are often an hour or so in duration, and usually last at least twenty minutes. Daily walks typically cover familiar terrain and take us to and through familiar surroundings. As such, daily walks often provide a familiar or similar experience. Daily walks thus can be regular and comforting but still quite positive walks, like a close friend who reliably energizes us and helps us whenever we spend time together.
As I mentioned, daily walks are essential to our health and a key part of the HumanaNatura natural health program. They give us needed exercise, encourage physical and emotional well-being, and provide a direct experience and renewed connection with the natural world. The only shortcoming of daily walks, if there is a shortcoming, is their daily-ness. Daily walks are healthy for sure, but as part of our routine, they often are routine. They take us only so far, both literally and figuratively. They are usually less than we care capable of and need for true natural health and personal vitality.
A way of thinking about short daily walks is that they are the beginnings of journeys, but usually are not full journeys themselves. They are stopped before they can proceed to become true wanderings of the self and true episodes of discovery. There are exceptions to this of course – there are truly exceptional days and daily walks, and daily walks can be consciously strung together and made into an insightful exploration of a particular time and place.
Because of the tendency of daily walks to become routine and limiting, it is essential to ensure both attentiveness and variation as part of all daily walking, as much as focusing on the duration and intensity of our walks. Extra awareness and variety (which nature helps with on its own) in our daily walks helps us get the most out of this form of walking.
Together, they make short walks as health-promoting, renewing, and satisfying as they can be.
Step Two: The Day Walk
A level up from the daily walk is what I will call the day walk, but I don’t mean this precisely. Let me describe a day walk as a bigger type of walk than a daily walk, ranging from a few hours to an entire day of walking.
This range of course includes breaks we may take and diversions we may make or meet amidst the more extended and open format of a day walk. Such breaks are not just physically necessary in this form of walking, but an essential part of what day walks are about. Day walks are excursions into the world and intentional pursuits of new experiences and perspective, as much as they are intermediate acts of natural conditioning and practices in the ancient human art of sustained walking.
To be done comfortably, day walks require a higher level of physical fitness and personal awareness than daily walking, so daily walking is rightly seen as a preamble, if you will pardon my unintentional pun, to the more committed form of walking that day walks are.
While day walks are more challenging, they in turn often give us back much more too, and both physically and emotionally as I suggested before. Day walks provide substantial new increases in our physical fitness and stamina, especially when done over varied and challenging terrain. But most day walks offer much more than this.
Day walks are opportunities for us to pause and observe life and our lives, amidst our lives, and this is why they normally involve stops and starts along their routes. Day walks are windows into the world, sometimes startling ones, which often offer new and unexpected perspectives on our surroundings and ourselves.
Day walks can even be small journeys in themselves. Just as you can’t rush a day or a journey, you really can’t rush a good day walk. You have to take the walk and the time walking as they come, one step and one breath at a time, and live on the walk’s terms and with the day’s conditions.
As potential journeys, day walks often ask us to give them extra time so that they may be journeys, that we give them our spirit and allow them to unfold in their own measure. Sometimes, we must let the day walk take us, and accept that it is no longer us that is takes the walk.
Allowing a day walk to carry or journey us into the world, even if only for part of a day, may naturally involve being out in changing weather. A day walk might lead us to unfamiliar places or take us though unfamiliar surroundings. And it likely will involve encountering unexpected things, of all sorts. For these reasons, day walks always involve being well-prepared for all three of these things – weather, new places, and unexpected encounters.
I have items I always bring on my day walks: a hat, a weatherproof jacket, an extra layer of clothing, money, a phone, a map if I do not know the area, and food and water if they might not be available on the walk. I often bring one or more friends, especially if the walk is in a truly unfamiliar or out of the way place. And I at all times bring good sense, and never intentionally walk where there are known dangers or hazards.
Day walks can be remarkably special times and very often involve extraordinary personal experiences, even when they occur in places we think we know well. Because of the probability of unexpected events and new perspectives on a day walk, these walks may take us to a place where we get in touch with what I will call our journeying self.
Our journeying self is a part or aspect of us that every experienced traveler knows, and often in proportion to the depth and richness of one’s life and travels. Our journeying self is a deeper, less constrained, and more personal side of us. It is an expression of us that is less distracted by and even less interested in our daily routines and personal commitments. Our journeying self is certainly a more central part of us, the self of our heart and conscience, and the person and spirit at the heart of all thoughts of journey and discovery.
This deeper and more heartfelt side of us is of course always present within us, always there in our lives, but often we do not notice it in daily living, and even in daily walking. Our journeying self is that side of us that comes to us and through us in intimate conversation, in moments of reflection and during attentive living, when we are relaxed and observant, and especially when we are journeying and away from routines and demands we and others place on us.
Put another way, our journeying self is the inside of us, where conscious acts of personal wisdom and kindness come and are felt in others. It is the voice that compels us to live in new ways and walk or run to new places, even when it is work to change and when exploring seemingly keeps us from commitments that feel more pressing to the outside of us.
As we discover our natural health, our journeying self calls to us to live more actively and spiritedly in the world, and to move and engage more deeply in life – always when it would be easier to remain close to home and in our routines, between familiar walls and away from unexplored paths, and in lower states of health and vitality than we are capable.
But step out we must, if we are to be naturally healthy, and fully alive and fully human. Our journeying self knows this and our health knows this, and we know this – inside.
We know we must explore and discover, to be true to ourselves and to be fully ourselves.
Step Three: The Extended Walk
Some days, we do not want our day walks to end. We perhaps want or need to rest for a time, but then want to continue our walking for another day or more.
This natural and healthy human impulse to sustain and deepen our walks, waiting for us in an exploration of day walking, brings us to the third and ultimate type of walk, the extended walk, which I will define simply as a walk lasting at least two days but often for several days or longer.
As you might imagine or know already, while extended walks are simply defined, they are anything but simple in practice. Extended walks, in fact, are among the richest, most heartfelt, and liberating experiences available to us as human beings. They are the full expression and realization of our natural need and ability to walk, to journey and be our true journeying selves, to be on the open land and immersed and at peace in the astonishing natural world.
Extended walks lasting several days are a change, not just in our surroundings, but in the way we live a day and how we relate to others and the living world. In truth, we often never fully return from extended walking and true journeys of the spirit they can be – often, we remain in them and they in us for our lives.
Walks of several days or more are of course re-tracings of our ancient human past and long life in nature, before fixed civilization, but they are equally explorations of our present and often surveys of our future. Extended walks are times intentionally apart from or only moving through familiar and settled human life. They are an immersion in an older time of human life and now, for modern people, perhaps in a newer time too.
Extended walks reliably offer new perspectives on and new alternatives to our regular life. They bring us to new and often more natural ideas about the way we live and might live. They show us how we might live more consciously and spiritually with the earth, and more in the cadence and tempo of a long walk. For me, we are smaller and less grounded as people when we do not know the natural openness of an extended walk, and the joy and health waiting for us in this ancient human pattern of movement on the land.
But how many of us have taken this third type of walk, an extended walk measured in days or weeks? There are a many groups around the world that organize such walks and many people who share an interest in this, so there is really no reason not to take at least one long walk yourself, and to go with friends, and to go soon.
If you have been on an extended walk, with a group or on your own, you know this deepest form of walking is more than simply stepping out. In many ways, extended walks are more like stepping in – stepping into the greater world around us, stepping into new company and relationships, and stepping into ourselves and much more deeply than we might imagine is possible.
Extended walks are inevitably and inexorably a re-connection to the natural world and our natural health, and to our humanity and individuality within the world. Extended walks are movements across landscapes and intentional journeys through space and time. They are movements over undulating country, movements along and then over horizons, movements apart from modern life and into natural life. Extended walks place us between the constant sweep of land and sky that is our Earth, and between the extremes of life that is our human condition on Earth today.
Whether alone or with others, extended walks call on us to be self-reliant and yet interdependent with and part of all that is around us – combining rhythm and improvisation in our walking and stopping, in our finding food and shelter, and in our deciding what to bring and what to leave behind – just as nature asks this of us in our daily lives, if we listen carefully and are to live fully.
Stepping Out Today
A good friend of mine, a member of the HumanaNatura community, earns part of his living leading extended walks of many days across Japan. He has found a way to make long walks a part of his life and future, as we all can. As I write this, he is three days out on the first of two spring walks from the city of Kyoto into the scenic Kiso Valley in central Honshu, along the old, famous, and now resurrected Nakesendo Way that ends near Tokyo.
I have made this two-week journey with Fusao before and today, as I write to you, I journey with him again in spirit. The walk from Kyoto into Kiso, the home of the poet Basho, is a splendid journey of many days and many landscapes. It is a journey into oneself and our journeying self, as much as it is a journey into the Japanese countryside and mountains, with its unique past and present. Like other extended walks, it is a passage into our common past as people and a reminder of our modern possibility of natural renewal and new life with, and not apart from, nature.
Wherever you are today, and whenever today is as you read or hear this, I want to encourage you to do some stepping out of your own, as I am literally about to now. I will wish you health and good walking, whether your next walk is of the daily, day, or extended variety.
As your walking reaches new levels and calls you beyond a routine of daily walking, then I will wish you good journeying instead. And with this wish, I hope to help you find the peace and hopefulness, the feelings of both freedom and rootedness, and the sense of spirit and humanity that journeys of the heart and Earth bring to us.
Mark Lundegren is the founder of HumanaNatura.
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