So much of our life is spent driving from place to place, or taking the bus, or even just the elevator instead of the stairs. All of these ways of getting around are artificial, and transfer the art of getting around to machines. In fact they transfer a big part of perceiving the world to screens, as the windshield or the window of a bus is rather like looking at the world on television. On most days, we might find this to be banal – really, so what? We get from place to place faster, expending fewer kilojoules of energy and are able to keep our minds focused on other things and places, that are floating about in the realm of our imagination. We can worry about work, or sit, muscles tight and shoulders crammed into a bus seat.
When you walk to a place, you feel the rhythm of the city or nature around you. If you’re lucky enough to be in a quiet place, you can listen to your heartbeat, and feel how it syncs with your breaths and exhalations. You smell the world around you. Smell has such a connection to memory, as Proust indicated in his “In Search of Times Past.” Walking allows you to really take it in. When you walk to work rather than take the bus, or even walk from your office down the stairs instead of taking the elevator, you might meet your co-workers, or get a sense of other people’s life rhythms. You start to notice that some colleagues go for coffee at a certain time, or that another colleague walks with a limp.
Walking from your home to the convenience store might lead you to notice your neighbours’ gardens – who tends theirs with the greatest care, what are the touches they have added? What does it say about them? Their preferences? Marigolds versus roses? What thoughts and fancies underlie these choices? You might tarry a moment and ponder this, feeling the breeze against your cheek, ruffling your hair.You might, on your way to work, begin to strike up relationships with the merchants from whom you buy your coffee, your newspaper. You might say hello to the road workers fixing the sidewalk or the people who tip the rubbish bins. These connections serve many purposes: they make you feel more tied-in to your community, they make you feel less alone, and they make you feel safer and more secure. We are afraid of things that are unknown or strange to us, and walking is the best way to familiarize yourself with your surroundings, whatever they may be.
In the end, walking is more human than driving or taking the bus. And becoming more human is a good feeling.