“I am alarmed when it happens that I have walked a mile into the woods bodily, without getting there in spirit. In my afternoon walk I would fain forget all my morning occupations and my obligations to Society. But it sometimes happens that I cannot easily shake off the village. The thought of some work will run in my head and I am not where my body is — I am out of my senses…. What business have I in the woods, if I am thinking of something out of the woods?” -Thoureau
I first read this quote in Arianna Huffington’s book Thrive. I smiled thinking about being out on a run, in the midst of the park–physically, and being off rewriting my to-do list–mentally. I know this feeling all to well.
In this Huff Post article, Huffington discusses the benefits of walking and elaborates further on Thoreau’s quote.
“Shake off the village” — what a great way of expressing a vitally important human need. Since Thoreau’s time, the village has grown exponentially bigger and become more intrusive and seemingly intimate — giving us the semblance of connection without any of the real benefits of connection. Technology has enabled the village to become exceptionally good at not allowing us to shake it off. With the advent of the smartphone, getting away from it all is no longer as easy as simply getting up and walking away. And, increasingly, people are making the choice not to even try to shake off the village — surrendering to a life of distractions, with the result that, as Thoreau put it, we are living much of our lives out of our senses.” – Arianna Huffington
Taking a walk, getting out in nature, putzing in the garden, going for a run, etc. are all great ways to step away from your work and create space in the over-stimulation of thoughts and technology.
When I was in Nepal, one of our favorite places to visit was the Bodnath Stupa. We would sit high in one of the cafes overlooking the great sight, sipping our ginger tea and taking in the sunset, flags blowing, bells clanking and incense burning all around.
The stupa is said to house the remains of previous great sages and the bones of Buddha.
It was memorizing to watch them walk. Believers walk in a clockwise direction to pay their respects and have their wishes granted. In the evening, there were thousands at a time walking. Some chit-chatting with friends, others solemn in meditation/prayer, most with prayer beads in hand.
It takes between 5 and 10 minutes to walk around the entire base, we later learned. Some stopped and twirled the prayer wheels fixed into the walls, while others walked at a good clip on the perimeter.
They didn’t text while walking, or talk on the phone, or play Candy Crush. They simply walked. We watched until dark for at least three nights, in awe.
We joined in on the third. We’d seen other tourists do it. We all seemed welcome. I don’t recall making the full seven laps, perhaps three or four, but I really enjoyed it. I was amazed by how meditative it was. Being in the flow and tempo of the crowd, witnessing the devotion up close. In the heart of a bustling tourist center, here we were, in the midst of walking meditation at its finest.
It dawned on me while we were there that very few people walk just to walk anymore. Those of us with dogs might have the best excuse. We’ll go for a walk on the beach or a walk on the boardwalk, or walk around the mall, but to walk just to walk, without devices, it’s becoming a lost art, I feel.
Hence the reason I was so taken-a-back by these dedicated walkers. You cannot walk three feet in New York without dodging someone texting while walking, browsing while walking, gaming while walking. It’s insane.
I didn’t own a cell phone for my entire year abroad, 2011. During that year, I only missed having a phone when I was lost; I’d dart into the Apple Store and Google Map my whereabouts.
I took in more; I paid more attention. I was less connected in one way, and far more connected in others.
I can’t say that I’d be able to go without now, being back in the US, but I know the value of stepping away. I certainly understand what Thoreau meant.
I don’t know about you, but I’d like to live more in my senses, where intuition thrives and wonder remains. And while we’re on the subject, I think we’d all be better off if we did a whole lot more shaking off.
I leave you with this: I see a lovely walk in your future: a local park, a wooded path, an evening looking up at the stars. No phone, not even a watch. Just cruise;)
*No pics do this place justice, by the way. It was such a full sensory experience.