It is a time of year when we contemplate journeys, whether physical, emotional or practical. As I reflect on the nature of my contemplation, I observe in myself a desire to be introspective by being outrospective; specifically, by taking walks.
Most of my best ideas come in those incubation stages of mental activity, when we turn away from a specific problem or, indeed, any difficult cognitive tasks, and choose what twentieth century creativity pioneer Graham Wallas described as voluntary abstention from conscious thought. As I walk, my mind is free to form those trains of association that, occasionally, result in that eureka moment, or what Wallas describes as, “the final ‘flash,’ or ‘click,’” which is itself, “The culmination of a successful train of association, which may have lasted for an appreciable time, and which has probably been preceded by a series of tentative and unsuccessful trains.”
Only thoughts that are reached by walking
– Friedrich Nietzsche
For a few years, my wife and I have enjoyed regular walks around prosaic and profound landscapes, whether our local suburban neighborhood park, the mountains of Colorado, and the coastal paths of Cornwall and the Peaks in England. In considering the forthcoming year, I wonder about which terrain we now should be treading, to nourish the fertile potential of our inner mental and emotional landscapes.
Robert Macfarlane is a traveler who has walked numerous byways. When interviewed recently here by Kenan Christiansen and asked whether there are particular routes renowned for producing mental or emotional states, he replied that, “Among the most powerful old ways I know are the ancient routes of pilgrimage.” This reminded me of my home of Canterbury in England, whose cathedral is a historic end point of the Pilgrim’s Way, trod by millions of steps, as memorialized notably by Geoffrey Chaucer. Another writer whose obsessive walking often took place around my youthful haunts was Charles Dickens, who would tramp many miles around the Kentish coastline.
The bucolic splendors of nature are not the only walking options, as the dense urban environment also offers an immense array of interest, history and distraction, which we all too often ignore. As a contemporary flâneur, I relished the walk around my apartment on London’s south bank, passing the modern City Hall that looked across the Thames to the famed Tower of London’s Traitor’s Gate entrance, connected to each other by Tower Bridge.
For 2014, I confess myself drawn to the centenary celebrations of the birth of Welsh poet, Dylan Thomas, and a walk around the land that informed his works, especially the Welsh Coast walk around Laugharne, where Thomas wrote his Poem in October, excerpted below:
“It was my thirtieth year to heaven
Woke to my hearing from harbour and neighbour wood
ffffAnd the mussel pooled and the heron
fffffffffffThe morning beckon
With water praying and call of seagull and rook
And the knock of sailing boats on the net webbed wall
fffffffffffMyself to set foot
fffffffIn the still sleeping town and set forth.”