1. Walk

Walkingby Gelen Fourtri

Here is a conversation. Find the problem.

Person A: “I’ve started walking eight blocks to the bus station and then riding to work to cut back on greenhouse emissions.”

Person B: “So now how much do you walk every day?”

Person A [thinks, “Yikes–bad at math”]: “Eight to the bus, eight back. Sixteen total.”

Try this one. Discover the hidden meaning:

Every day I walk past a gym. Through the row of windows of the gym I see a row of people on treadmills walking toward the windows and me walking past outside.

And we’ll end with a multiple choice. Pick one.

I walk

a. because I feel guilty about my contribution to climate change.

b. to lower my cholesterol.

c. to save money (can’t afford the gas!).

d. because I’m a human.

If you didn’t ace this test, gently put down your Wii console and head outside. If you’re lucky enough to have a place to walk once you get out there, then start walking. If you don’t have a sidewalk or a quiet road or a path, then carefully dodge the Hummers, Minivans, and Hemis whizzing down the six lane roads that surround you all the way to City Hall and demand something better.

Humans are bipeds. We are built to walk and to look ahead while we are walking. The walking is not just for tracking down nuts and berries. It’s also for thinking and creating. When you walk, your brain settles into the rhythm of walking, which is the rhythm of dreaming.

The dreaming-walking connection is the focus of Gyorgi Buzsáki’s research (Rhythms of the Brain, Oxford University Press, 2006). Buzsáki discovered that the part of the brain known as the hippocampus is the locus of rhythm. In his research, a rat grooming itself shows only random neuronal firing in the hippocampus. But when the rat walks, the neurons exhibit a theta rhythm, the same as the rhythm shown during dreaming. When the rat stops walking (and is not dreaming), the theta rhythm is replaced by occasional, short bursts of oscillations.

If you need a guidebook on this one, I recommend the Songlines, which chronicles Bruce Chatwin’s exploration of the Aboriginal songlines of the Australian Outback. But more than anything it is a book about walking and the way walking is embedded deep in our human souls. The best part is the second half which, oddly, consists mostly of notes from the notebooks Chatwin kept while in South Africa, not Australia. The majority of the notes are about the human need to move and about what that movement does for us.

The Aborigines kept track of their landscape through song. They would sing each landmark and turn so they would know where to go. It is their belief that during the Dreamtime, which preceded our known physical world, the spirits created everything through sung language. So the Aborigines replicated that act of creation as they moved through the world created for them.

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I used to sing, and I find that there is for me as well a symbiosis between singing and walking. And there is a symbiosis between creating and walking. Like the spirits and like the Aborigines, I am able to create in my mind and I am able to find my way through the world on both a literal level and a metaphoric one through walking and the inner song that accompanies it. It has something to do with the type of thinking that is like dreaming, when our mind is free to wander, just like our bodies wander.

My friends in the green movement want to get us out of our cars and get the Chinese back on their bicycles to make less greenhouse gas. The effect will be good for the planet I’m sure. But we need to walk or bike mostly to make something, not to make less. What we need to make is a path back to ourselves, our old animal selves. We need to walk our way back into the heart of life, sensation and perception, and the measured pace of true wisdom.

If you can walk, walk. If you can only roll, then roll is what you need to do, down the sidewalk, under the sky. If you can’t move at all, then dream yourself walking.

©2008 ProgressiveKid

Photo by Tobias (chaosinjune), 2006, Creative Commons license

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