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Solvitur Ambulando- It is solved by Walking

Updated: Aug 4, 2022

A friend was visiting me in Cape Town recently. She joined me on an afternoon walk. We came to a junction between a jeep track onto the mountain where you can walk amongst the Fynbos or continue between the houses on the street. I asked her what she would prefer. She answered: “I don’t really care. I’m only doing this for the exercise”.

ONLY for the exercise.

This is the reductionist mindset speaking.

Reductionism=reducing complex phenomena into their most basic parts Contrasted to: Holism=looking at things as a whole

Something multi-faceted is stripped down to one small part of it, making it much less than what it is. The dieting mindset, reductionist to the core, says that: food = calories in movement= calories out/exercise.

I have written about how food and eating is more than just taking in calories. You can read about it here and here .

In the same way, walking is more than exercise. If you walk only for exercise. If you do it to "get your steps in", it is easy to overlook the other benefits. Walking nourishes me. It nourishes all of me. My body, my mind and my spirit.

I am not alone, singing the praises of walking. The Latin phrase, Solvitur Ambulando means “It is Solved by Walking”.

I agree. Walking solves things. Lots of things

Here are examples of a few of them:

1. Walking gives courage and hope and a sense of can-do. As a Capetonian, I am always aware of mountains. Having walked on these mountains, I have an ongoing reminder of what I can achieve by taking one step at a time. My children also know what they can do this way. If they are feeling overwhelmed at the size of a task they need to complete, I can take them to the window and point to the top of the mountain and say “you have been up there”. They remember. They know in their bones that they can do big things because they have done it before- one step at a time.

2. Walking connects people Walking sometimes results in a conversations that could not be had any other way. Walking beside someone is comforting. They are with you, but not scrutinising you. The confines of walls make certain cringy topics feel unapproachable. On a walk, there is space to let things out. You can bring up the elephant in the room without the fear of it squashing you, because you are not in a room.

3. Walking for creativity Creativity needs to be fed. This food is abundantly present to a walker. Sights, smells, sounds sensations- fresh air in the lungs, soft moss under fingertips, crackling leaves and twigs, birdsong, clouds, changing seasons- there is so much.

By taking a lovers walk with the muse, one may more readily woo words into new relationship with thought than by sitting at a desk. Nearly all those poets whose lives are open to us have been good walkers- men and women who rambled about everywhere, adding to the scholar’s stimulus of study a truer poetical stimulus found along the woodland ways and out under the blue” George Macaulay Trevelyan, “walking” 1913

4. Walking to release anger

Walking helps to blow off steam- this quote about an Eskimo custom says it all:

An Eskimo custom offers an angry person release by walking the emotion out of his or her system in a straight line across the landscape; the point at which the anger is conquered is marked with a stick, bearing witness to the strength or length of the rage” Lucy Lippard, Overlay, 1983

5. Walking to learn

Observation of nature has taught me about life. It has taught me about cycles- living and dying, growth and decay. There is a time for everything- one plant is flowering, the other dying. Parallel processes occur simultaneously.

It has taught me about diversity- beauty exists in different shapes and sizes and colours- there is no ONE way. Some flowers are robust and fleshy, others are small and delicate Some have bright colours that grab attention, others are more subtle, but no less beautiful.

dead/dying sewejaartjies in the background, live Ericas in front; life and death at the same time.

It has taught me about the nature of our Creator. Even more than studying sacred texts, it has made me think differently about the character of God. I see a playful, brilliant, generous hand in creation.

Your pedestrian is always cheerful, alert, refreshed, with his heart in his hand and his hand free to all. He looks down upon nobody; he is on the common level. His pores are all open, his circulation is active, his digestion good. His heart is not cold, nor his faculties asleep. He knows the ground is alive, he feels the pulses of the wind, and reads the mute language of things. His sympathies are all aroused, his senses are continually reporting message to his mind. He is not merely a spectator of the panorama of nature, but a participator in it. He experiences the country he passes through- tastes it, feels it, absorbs it” John Burroughts, “the Exhiliratations of the Road” 1895

6. Walking to think

I do my best thinking when I am walking. If I have an issue that gets stuck in my mind, when my thoughts go round and round and round without resolution- I go for walk. The rhythmic movement of my feet, raised heartbeat, deeper breaths, fresh sights and sounds, stimulate a different part of my brain and the answers that evaded me come.

Sometimes answers don’t come, but perspective does. My eyes see the horizon, there is distance, there is space, I see how small I am in the greater picture, and then realise how small my BIG problem actually is.

I walk chiefly to visit natural objects, but I sometimes go on foot to visit myself. It often happens when I am on an outward-bound excursion, that I also discover a good deal of my own thought… These members (legs) when in motion, are so stimulating to thought and mind, they almost deserve to be called the reflective organs. As in the night an iron-shod horse stumbling along a stony road kicks out sparks, so let a man take to his legs and soon his brain will begin to grow luminous and sparkle.” Alfred Barron, Foot notes, Or, Walking as a Fine Art, 1875
“I can only meditate when I am walking. When I stop, I cease to think; my mind only works with my legs.” Jean-Jacque Rousseau, Confessions, 1782

Walking is not just exercise. Go out, go stretch your legs and see how it stretches the rest of you too.

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