In this age where everything is fast and convenient, walking seems to be passé. Unless you live in the remotest villages and do not have your choice of transport, people have become cargo. We are transported door-to-door, 24-7 and expressly delivered on time by vehicles of our choosing.
We can simply get our fingers to type and click, and the survival elements of food and water come to us via delivery. Walking in this age does not necessarily mean travelling to get from here to there because you can walk but go nowhere. Think treadmill where you put one foot forward, and then the other and swing your arms very much like the walking motions of old but you stay where you are.
There are still many people who use their feet to survive. Many kids still walk for hours just to go to school. Many pregnant women walk to town centers to give birth because they do not have midwives or birthing clinics.Ambulant vendors brave the roads walking to sell anything they can to make ends meet.
Walking has a very rich history among many traditions. For activists, walking is a political act. Protest marches are still a potent tool to demand or celebrate change. We do have motorcades, parades and bike rides to advocate for something but many activists still rely on marches because all they need are their angry feet, passion and dreams.
Walking has spiritual roots. In pilgrimages, people walk. Indigenous peoples have quests and rites of passage and these involve days of walking and finding meaning in the journey. New age practitioners walk in labyrinths to meditate in motion. Ascetic monks walk with their begging bowls in a gesture of humility and detachment from the material world.
Walking has literary roots. Many great poets and writers have documented their passion for walking. They imagined and thought on their feet. Rebecca Solnit wrote about wanderlust in walking, and “the interplay between the body, the imagination and the world around the walker.” Many of these writers’ and artists’ major works were products of their walking the world.
There are those also who walk for pleasure and adventure. Mountaineers take their basic homes on their backs and walk to the highest and lowest possible places under their own power. Marathoners challenge their bodies as machines to walk and walk until all the muscles not just on their feet are at their breaking points, and find bliss there.
Walking has roots in loving and lusting. Throughout history until today, it is part of the courting ritual to walk with a loved one, and better yet, holds hands. Lovers have always walked just for the sensation of being with a beloved, sharing dreams and slowing time down.
Walking frees humanity from the curse of speed and busy-ness. You’d feel it – this instinct to walk and clear our heads, and most of all to slow down. There is this moment in walking where you are just so into yourself and not notice the distance you’re travelling but you just need to move, but slowly. But there is also this moment in walking where you forget about yourself because you notice everything that you normally don’t – flowers growing on cracks by the roadside, trees that have survived road expansions, poetry written as graffiti on walls, orphaned kittens.
There are walkers, and there are walkers, and while some walk to slow down, some walk for no particular reason than having the need to walk-it. Forrest Gump did not walk, he ran but the reasons are the same. He just upped and found himself at the end of the street, and thought that what-the-heck, I’ll go a little further and further and further. And after he ran for 3 years, 2 months, 14 days, and 16 hours, with a huge mob of followers waiting because they thought he was going to finally be the guru and say something, he said, “I’m pretty tired… I think I’ll go home now.”
I will take back what I wrote earlier about walking being passé. As long as we have legs and arms to swing, we will walk for whatever reasons, wherever, wearing neon or slippers. As long as we love, we will walk. As long as we wonder, we will walk. As long as we have wanderlust, we will walk.