I’ve gone on a lot of walks this past year, more than all previous years combined. It’s not that I had more places to go or more things to do. These were just regular, old, casual, leisurely moseys around the neighborhood with my family.
I’d never really been a fan of “going for a walk.” I felt it was pointless meandering, absent of a defined challenge or goal. It seemed like a lot of time and effort for very little practical use. (This is coming from a guy who’s watched an entire NFL preseason game before.)
Nevertheless, the humble walk had become a regular family activity to end the day.
Early on, I found justification for this otherwise futile task by convincing myself it was a game. My fitness tracker was happy to facilitate the scorekeeping. The walk helped me achieve a (surely in no way arbitrary) goal of 8,562 daily steps. The psychologically rewarding buzz of my watch invoked a Pavlovian response, and I’d celebrate a victory in silence. But eventually, the novelty of an eight-bit graphic fireworks display on my watch wore off, and it became apparent that the number of steps I took during the walk wasn’t the intended purpose of the activity.
It took me a while, but I slowly embraced the secret serenity of our simple strolls. While we plodded through our neighborhood, I found myself immersed in the wonder of the wander.
I noticed encouraging chalk messages on the sidewalk, seemingly meant just for me, that would only survive until the next rainstorm erased them. I heard the hoot of an owl I never knew lived in our area. We had engaging conversations we’d never had before. We literally stopped to smell the roses along the journey, while our dogs stopped to smell absolutely everything else. We peered into neighbors’ houses as we walked by with newfound appreciation and insight. (Not in a creepy way. More in a “Hey, they have the same kitchen cabinet handles that we have!” sort of way.)
Without the burden of predetermined objectives, I could see our neighborhood in a whole new way.
The walks were not timed or measured or otherwise quantified. The experiences we had along the way were only realized by being present in the moment—by clearing distractions and quieting the mind. I’ve always had difficulty achieving that level of tranquility. In a constant on-the-go, results-driven, goal-oriented world, I’ve found it hard to embrace any activity that removed the focus from an explicit mission.
But that’s exactly what these family walks demanded from me—to ignore a mission altogether and appreciate the experience itself. In fact, like most soccer games, our walks (done right) were completely goal-less. The walks helped me connect deeper with my family, nature and my inner self (whom I hadn’t gotten to know very well, but he seems pretty cool).
The humble nightly walk became the perfect activity to remind me that life is a journey, not a destination.