The wonder of walking

Stroll with Nicole

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Nicole Law finds hidden value in the act of putting one foot in front of the other.

One of my favourite pastimes is to take long meditative walks. If the weather in Singapore permitted it, I would be walking from one end of the island to the other. Sadly, the hot and humid climate exhausts the eager walker and drains him or her of energy and vitality in half an hour flat. 

When I was a student in London, one of my favourite moments was neither meal nor rest times but times spent walking to university in the cold. Those were the odd few minutes of the day when I could be alone with my thoughts, despite the crowds around me, traversing the streets on my own two feet. 

On those walks, I would survey the environment around me, notice the hubbub of activity, try out different routes, study old buildings… I recall signing up for a walking pilgrimage with a few friends and being the only person who thoroughly enjoyed it! In contrast to running or jogging, in which the aim is physical exercise, walking allows us to survey our surroundings and also engage in self-reflection.

I was therefore pleasantly surprised to chance upon a book by Rebecca Solnit, entitled Wanderlust, in which she expounds on the practice or, dare I say, ‘art’ of walking. I was astounded at how ingrained the metaphor of walking was in so many different fields of study and cultures. How often have we said things like – “I’ll just walk it off” or “walk on by”?

The simple act of putting one foot in front of the other allows us to understand place and to visualise spatial relationships.

This is something we won’t learn from taking the bus, train or bicycle. We start to understand what our smartphones mean by references to ‘walking distance’ on Google maps and to have a clear sense of where we – literally – stand in the midst of everything else that surrounds us. 

And here in Singapore I still walk when the sun is not too scorching. On my walks I have discovered new routes and nooks and explored the built environment more keenly, an especially pleasing experience given the fact that I’m usually stuck in the confines of four walls from Monday to Friday. Walking out in the open, crossing roads and junctions, is a liberating experience for me. 

When a friend remarked she was worried about how to get to a particular destination once, I commented that we could always find a way there on foot. Indeed, there is always a way to walk to a place. Maybe it’s inaccessible via bus or train, but it will almost always be accessible on our two legs! 

Another aspect of my walks I value is their meditative quality. 

When I am stressed by the vagaries of life and the demands of others, I naturally gravitate towards walking. I walk around my office, my room and, if possible, get out of the house and walk to a park nearby or just go down to the local shops. In that time, my thoughts start to clear and I feel less overwhelmed by the problems that beset me. 

The walk allows me to reflect more clearly on what is going on in my life and to look at these issues with a clearer perspective. The simple act of walking is reassuring when everything else seems uncertain and out of my control. I know that putting one foot in front of the other helps me to move forward and that I can control the pace of my movement. This is particularly helpful when I feel a sense of stagnation or, worse, that life feels out of control.

I also find that it is on walks with others that the best conversations emerge. I really get to know people through walking with them, whether it’s along the city’s river or even on the way to the train station. These slivers of time ensconce me and the other in a moving bubble where the act of walking adds rhythm to our conversation. We explore a range of topics as we progress and there is even an element of vulnerability that sitting in a noisy cafe does not come close to matching.

I cherish the walks I have had with friends and the honesty that walking seems to encourage in our dialogue – a shared space that is almost sacred to us. 

More than a simple act of moving forward, walking to me is really a metaphor for our journey through life. There will be potholes and dangers along the way, we may get tired and discouraged, but the important thing is we can always keep walking and, yes, even lean on a friend or two to carry us through the tough times. 

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