In the last post, I discussed how neither Socrates nor Buddha nor Jesus wrote anything down. This time, I want to explore another interesting commonality: all three spent their life constantly walking.
Socrates spent his time wandering Athens’ agora questioning his fellow citizens. His feet mirrored his mind: always in motion from one point to the next, meandering about and exploring Athens. This approach was so influential that Socrates’ “philosophical grandson” (Aristotle) based his philosophical school around interweaving walking and thinking.
Sometimes I move my feet to achieve clear cut, concrete purposes, like getting to work, buying food, or exercise. In these cases, I’m using my feet instrumentally, as means to the end that I have in mind.
But sometimes, I walk merely for the sake of walking. We all know that going out for a stroll can bring vitality, perspective, and creativity to life. When I don’t have a specific objective in mind, I feel more connected to the act of walking, more aware of the surroundings, and more spontaneous. I’m open to taking detours, to stopping for extended pauses (sometimes with hot chocolate), and actually noticing how unique every moment really is.
Through the act of goalless walking, I arrive at a question: is it possible to ever walk the same path? Every day, I take more or less the same route to work, but every day, I’m taking this journey with different eyes. Depending on my mood, my breakfast, and my company, my perception of the “same” bus and the “same” metro is completely different. Additionally, I can never predict exactly what will arise on this day’s journey. Perhaps I will cross a friend, or strike up a conversation with a stranger, or glance at an open newspaper and be inspired in some way I cannot image.
This is why it’s helpful to let babies or dogs tag along: they never allow you to take anything for granted.
Through goalless walking, I arrive at the understanding of TS Eliot’s famous line, “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” I can then take this realization and inject it back into the times when I walk with a specific objective.
Even though it might seem like I’m going from home to work, or from Canada to India, I’m actually always going around in circles. In a sense, I never really arrive anywhere, but in another sense, I’m constantly arriving someplace new.
What is true of walking is also, perhaps not coincidentally, true of thought. We begin by pondering a question, which often leads us to others. We sometimes ask these questions alone, but in other cases, having a companion enriches the journey.
Meditating on the same question at different times often reveals different truths. Sometimes what seems like a diversion can actually lead to a field of possibilities. In both cases, being overly concerned with acheiving a goal prevents us from seeing that what transforms us in not arriving at a set objective, but the journey to get there.
When I set out to write this piece, I intended to also include a discussion of Buddha and Jesus’ motion. Oh well. Even though I didn’t really get there today, I did discover some fun stuff along the way. Perhpas JRR Tolken had Socrates in mind when he said: “not all who wander are lost.”