When we walk, we grasp our humanity

by Kristin on May 4, 2009

in Culture, ideas & paradigms

Photo by John Rawlinson

“We walk because they walk.”

That’s the slogan for  the CROP walk, an ecumenical fund- and awareness-raising walk focused on fighting global hunger and poverty. The idea is that people all over the world have to walk great distances every day, in every kind of weather, to get the most basic life requirements, like water and food. The six-mile CROP walk trek gives you a good sense of the distance many walk daily. It’s a simple, yet powerful symbol.

Yesterday Jason and I took the girls and the pup on our local CROP walk, along with a group of people from our church and a few hundred others in the community.

Both Jason and I participated in CROP walks as kids, with our parents, so we were looking forward to continuing the tradition as a family. As we walked, though, I began to see walking as a global tradition, and began to think more broadly about the role walking has played in my life.

Walking to bond with others

I’ve always felt that walking is a powerful intellectual, spiritual and communal experience. Well, I shouldn’t say always. Between the ages of five and ten I’m pretty sure I thought walking was a form of parental torture—particularly when we were on family camping trips in various National Parks, walking for miles through the heat with only occasional sips of tepid water that tasted like plastic to refresh us.

But by the time I was in middle school, I think I started to enjoy it. (My parents might have a different memory, though.) By the time I was in high school, it really clicked for me: Walking provides a new context and fresh perspective for thinking and talking to others.

During my teen years, I’m pretty sure all of my best conversations with my mom happened when we were taking the dog for an evening walk. It’s not that we talked about big, weighty issues. Somehow I just felt like I could talk freely while we walked. It’s almost as if walking does for our minds what it does for our muscles and joints—it stretches and loosens all the thoughts and emotions that get lodged in us when we’re intently focused on making it through a day of school or work.

Walking together is a way to fully be with someone, without the pressure of sitting down and looking them in the eye. (Not that that isn’t important at times, too.) There’s something symbolic and satisfying about heading in the same direction with someone, or with an entire group of people, like we did yesterday. You create rhythm and cadence, you move in agreement, with purpose, and you can measure your progress in a real way.

Since we met, Jason and I have enjoyed taking walks together and with the girls, but it didn’t often occur to us as an ideal family activity until we got a dog. Now, suddenly, it’s everyone’s favorite way to spend time together. I think the girls simply love being able to do something all together, without really having to do anything, if you know what I mean. They know that when we’re walking, they have their parents’ listening ears, and they can also take our hands. And just that change of scene, stepping out of our house into the neighborhood, can do wonders for everyone’s moods.

Walking in search of that deep, inner self

I think it’s that change of scene, along with the physical activity and pumping of blood, that helps me think so clearly when I’m walking alone. When I’m walking, I’m able to focus in a way that’s not always possible when I’m sitting still. Maybe the more accurate way to put it is this: I’m able to focus on a deeper part of my memory and subconsciousness.

When I’m walking, I uncover thoughts that have been nagging me, and examine them more closely. I pray in a way that feels more honest and real. I fluidly compose entire blog posts that I would have been unable to grasp while at the computer. I’m able to get in touch with that often-muffled voice deep within me.

Walking to connect the human race

As we walked the CROP walk yesterday—as we passed the time telling each other stories, talking about our plans for the summer, greeting people along the route, and thinking our private thoughts—I felt a sense of oneness with people around the world. Not because we really have any idea what it’s like to have to walk several miles every day for water. Not because we were carrying a heavy container, or walking barefoot on uneven paths. Not even because we were raising money for people in need.

The oneness came from realizing that when people all over the world move in this most basic way, putting one foot in front of the other, they too are passing the time telling stories, singing songs, and making connections with others and with the deepest parts of themselves. Yes we are different, but we are also the same.

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  • http://www.roseyposeyconfections.blogspot.com Cheryl Ensom Dack

    Love this post, Kristin. I feel the same way about walking, and lately have been enjoying running for similar reasons. I’ve never heard of a CROP walk, though! I need to look into that locally!

  • Trina

    Love the connection “…do something all together, without really having to do anything…” A family that can spend time toghether just being, truly has it made.

    Plus a wonderufl connection and explanation about how this specific walk and walking in general connects us all.

  • http://surrealsparrow.wordpress.com SurrealSparrow

    “When I’m walking, I’m able to focus in a way that’s not always possible when I’m sitting still.”

    OH. I think you’re really on to something there; I have felt that, too, but never consciously acknowledged it. I am going to purposely try this immediately, ha. Great post.

    –Sparrow, from Divine Nobodies

  • Cindy

    Walking has always been a huge part of my life. As you know my parents are big into walking so we too walked as children. I introduced my husband to the pleasures of walking many years ago. He can now go for a walk with no particular destination and enjoy it. (a Dairy Queen at the other end does help motivate however). Regardless of the weather I have always been a fan of walking it out – as you said things just have a way of coming into focus when you are walking. Thanks for making me pause today and mentally plan my next walk!

  • http://blueduckcopy.com Jamie Simmerman

    Crop walks aren’t something we do here, but maybe we should. Perhaps I’ll mention to my pastor. Thanks for the idea, Kristin!

  • http://www.halfwaytonormal.com/ Kristin T.

    Cheryl, do you ever walk or run with a friend, or is it usually a solitary activity for you? I would love to have a regularly scheduled walk with a friend. The most affordable therapy ever!

    Trina, isn’t it interesting that we often want to just be together, without doing anything, yet we seem to need something to mold our time around. Taking a walk together does the trick.

    SurrealSparrow, so did you drop everything and take a walk after you read the post? :) I hope you fit one in at some point today, and that it inspired some new thoughts and ideas. I’m looking forward to getting to know you better on Divine Nobodies.

    Cindy, when your childhood includes lots of walks and hikes, it’s hard to imagine having to introduce someone like your spouse to the pleasures of walking, isn’t it? I’m so glad you did, though, so that you and your husband can enjoy walks together.

    Jamie, a CROP walk is a great event, put together by a great organization. You should definitely look into it!

  • http://www.tjhirst.com/ TJ Hirst

    I love to walk with my family. We have afmaily walk every Sunday afternoon. Our neighborhood almost expects its. It’s a predicatble pattern and a flexible informality at the same time.

    I’m not currently a solitary walker becasue it’s still a little cool and that kind of weather bothers my ears, but when it’s warm enough I like to walk in the monirng when everyone is still asleep in the beautiful way you described, “I’m able to get in touch with that often-muffled voice deep within me.”

  • http://www.ihatemymessageboard.com Tracy

    For starters how cool is the CROP walk idea? I looked and there aren’t any scheduled for my area, and I’m not a member of any Church, but somehow I need to find a way to do this.

    As a stay at home mom, walking is my life saver. It’s often the only time I can be “alone” and not doing anything during the day without feeling guilty. Whenever possible I walk both of the older boys to school, then the two little ones home in a double stroller. By this time, the babies are quiet and mellow and enjoying the ride, and I have some time alone with my thoughts.

    I also love talking with the boys while we walk and seeing all the neat things they observe. It’s great bonding!

    Speaking of, time to get everyone up and ready to go get big brother from school. I will have to read your post again, it really spoke to me.

  • http://www.ihatemymessageboard.com Tracy

    Oh before I leave, it kind of surprises me how many people are somewhat astonished at how often they see us walking. We live in a compact city area with almost everything you’d need on a daily basis in a one mile radius. Why wouldn’t we always be walking!?

  • http://ww.blackwasp19.wordpress.com Blackwasp19

    Alyssa and I love walks together. It is a time to unwind and contemplate with one another. One beautiful aspect of walking is that fact it meets us both where we need to be. Doing something helps me talk, although I love coffee shop conversations they are less natural than conversation in the midst of movement. Being quiet helps Alyssa talk, it is not the walking that is of great benefit, but the time to be quiet and and allow thoughts to simply emerge.

    As we have children, walking is something we also intend to be a family practice – hopefully with a doggy. We have a retirement nunnery near us – a mile – that offers a beautiful place to walk and meditate. It is a wonderful thing.

  • http://foreignquang.blogspot.com Randi

    School is out for the summer (I’m a teacher,) and I have been feeling the itch to go walking again. I’ve had a couple of friends mention that we should go walking this summer and after reading this post, I’m going to put thoughts into action. You see so much more when walking than you do when zooming past in a car.

    I’ve gotten so spoiled as an adult. In high school, I had to walk eight blocks to the bus station after school, then after getting off the bus, I had another seven blocks to walk to my house. Did it every day. In college I walked a mile every day from the campus to my home because I could get there faster than if I had waited for the bus. Now? I take the car to my friend’s house 2 blocks away.

    Thanks for the push…

  • http://www.roseyposeyconfections.blogspot.com Cheryl Ensom Dack

    Kristin! :) I do both…walking with friends and also running alone. I love BOTH…and for different reasons. The running (alone) has the interesting effect of making me highly aware of my body, which somehow helps me “feel” more. I think it’s that there’s nothing else to distract from my own feelings? Sometimes this means I feel teary but rather than crying, I run harder/faster when I feel that way, which is just as cathartic as tears, if not more. Walking with friends has become a really great way to connect and talk with friends. So I enjoy both!

  • http://www.halfwaytonormal.com/ Kristin T.

    TJ, I love that your neighborhood expects you on Sunday afternoons. Here’s to warmer mornings way up in your neck of the woods, so you can resume your solitary walks soon.

    Tracy, I’m glad the post resonated with you! I remember those double stroller walks well, and how they were my life saver, too. In fact, I’ve insisted that every house I’ve lived in as an adult be within walking distance of various interesting cafes, food co-ops, libraries, etc. And you’re right—in neighborhoods like the ones we live in, why wouldn’t everyone be walking everywhere?

    Blackwasp19, that’s so insightful for you to recognize how you and Alyssa both benefit from walks together, but in slightly different ways, for your own reasons. It sounds like you’ve hit on a marriage super food, so to speak! (And I can already picture you with those kids and that dog.) :)

    Randi, I was MUCH less likely to walk places when I lived in a city where everyone seemed to drive everywhere. For the past eight years, I’ve lived in a college town where biking and walking is the norm. That alone has given me a different perspective on how I get around. Changing habits in these ways is mostly about a paradigm shift, it seems. Anyway, I’m glad you’re going to get back into walking! Thanks for stopping by my blog and leaving a comment.

    Cheryl, what you said about being aware of your body and “feeling more” when you run is really fascinating. I bet there’s something physiological going on (not that I’m a biologist or anything). Whatever it is, I’m glad you’ve found some powerful releases in your life.

  • Elaine Tolsma-Harlow

    Yeah walking!! I can’t image life without walking (or running). I do believe that most of the problems could be solved with a walk & talk.