“[Milan] Kundera reformulates these examples into existential mathematics and two equations: ‘The degree of slowness is directly proportional to the intensity of memory; the degree of speed is directly proportional to the intensity of forgetting.” — Erling Kagge, Walking: One Step at a Time
I’m taking my time reading Erling’s book. In fact, I keep going back over passages I’ve already read because I feel I’ve missed something by reading at my normal, get-it-done speed.
It’s a bit like my walking — mostly accompanied by Alfie, my youngest daughter’s dog. I find myself often retracing my steps.
As a small child, I used to walk everywhere. Of course, those days are very different to now, where you wouldn’t dream of allowing a small child out to play unaccompanied, let alone walk several miles from their home to town — as I sometimes did.
I also used to walk to my Primary school in Paignton with my mum and brother; we only had one car and had no choice. It was about three miles.This method of transport continued into my secondary education; in fact, my parents made a deliberate choice to live close to the school I went to so that I could walk there. Once I left school, I still walked, mostly to the gym which was about five miles from our house.
If I compare my experience to my wife’s, she hardly walked: her parents drove her everywhere and when they weren’t available her grandparents would do the honours. I wish she hadn’t because she doesn’t have any connection or memories of walking, which means she (mostly) sees it now as a chore.
Most of my walking then was born of necessity, but I did, sometimes, take myself off for a walk to make sense of my life. It didn’t always work, but it was great medicine.
We all know the benefits of walking, right? How come then, so few people do it? Simple: we’re in love with the motor car. I accept that not everyone has one but that is now the predominant mode of transport.
We’re missing out on so much:
connection with other people;
nature in all her glory;
exercising our desire to explore; and
extending our lives.
There is a spiritual component to walking.
Our minds go quiet.
Our focus is the present moment.
And we feel alive.
It’s a wonder, therefore, that more companies don’t encourage walking as part of the working day. I know you can’t force people to do something but if you create the right environment, anything’s possible.
In the future, given our parlous situation, we need to stop building roads and build more pavements and pedestrian friendly spaces.
But we won’t.
I predict, sadly, with the electrification of the automobile or hydrogen stations that walking will be a distant memory for most people.
Walking can be and is a social activity. I walk at lunchtime with my colleagues. It’s an accomplished way of dealing with the highs and many lows of the day. We quickly loosen up and exchange a few personal thoughts and ideas and humour is never far away.
The afternoon always goes a bit quicker.
I’m sure I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know but perhaps now, more than ever, we need a renaissance in walking.
If nothing else, it might remind us what we’ve lost or will lose with the continued industrialisation of the world.