The Joys of Walking

There are places where walking is no longer allowed. Especially in densely populated areas where the coronavirus is raging and ravaging the population. Talking to my parents the other day, the father sounded strangely dull. A little prodding revealed that the evening walk was cut from his list of allowed activities for a few days, and I felt keenly for him. I, like him, enjoy nothing more than tying my hands behind my back (unladylike as my mother often said when I was growing up), and taking in the sights, smells and sounds of the air around me. Often, I don’t remember where all my mind has wandered during these walks, but I always come back strangely uplifted, the day’s conundrums a little clearer, and life’s perspectives a wee bit sharper.

I sympathized with the father and told him that all we could do was to make the best of the situation. For instance, I told him,  I had not enjoyed tea in my backyard for all this time. My work spot is a good 50 miles away from where I live, and I spent many an hour getting to and from work. Silently sipping my tea in the backyard before the day at work began the other day, I felt strangely grateful for this time – the time that I would ordinarily have been rattling to work on a crowded train. But that morning as I sat under the cypress trees, watching the sycamore sway in the breeze outside, I slowly raised my head upwards and was dazzled at the most beautiful blue that greeted the eyes.

The father lightened up at this little piece of my day that I shared with him, for he enjoys our backyard too when he visits, and spoke fondly of the squirrels. The squirrels really are admirable as a means of entertainment. They titter, run and make merry all day long in the fruit trees, and before you know it, a pleasurable time has been had by the entertainers and entertained alike. 

Walking makes philosophers of us. How many times have I admired the mallard ducks and the geese for their spirit? All these little creatures that we share the Earth with have to be the most engaging lesson-givers in the world. Squirrels, cats, butterflies, dogs, geese, ducks, and blackbirds – they are all marvelous teachers to the philosopher willing to take in lessons.

We fell into discussing the joys of walking, and he spoke of Thoreau and a number of writers who were known for their musing during their daily walks. We laughed at how some of our best ideas after hours of walking were nothing short of ordinary, while these authors of whom he spoke so highly had truly world-changing ideas at the end of theirs. One day at the end of a long walk, I came back with an epiphany about ducks, I said, and I wasn’t joking. 

ducks

T’was one evening after a nice long walk, I sat by a lake. The waters were clearly more than 20-30 feet in depth, and I remember wondering whether ducks felt any qualms about plunging into waters that deep. Do they examine their toes studying the webbing and decide to swim? Do they stretch their legs knowing it is waddle-worthy? I have watched the ducks hatch their little ducklings countless times in the spring, and watched them teach their young to take to the waters. But how do they know their capabilities? Do they stretch their wings knowing it is intended for flight?  Ducks have to be the most admirable creatures for they adapt to any medium with ease, and seem to enjoy  it. They waddle, swim and fly with ease. 

How about that? 

“Anyway, why don’t you watch what you eat since your daily walks are also cut?” I said taking a large dollop of ice-water and pouring it over his igloo.

The mother came hissing into the phone like a queen bee in-charge of delivering the daily news updates to the BBC at this, and said, “As if! Now, because he is bored, he eats almost continuously from 4-8 p.m!” . We all landed up laughing at this. 

“Must see how these ducks control their diet Appa. But now that I got the chance to observe squirrels, I don’t think they control their diets very much. Munching on fruits all day long, and talking bites out of them and flinging them to the ground without even properly polishing them off!” I said.

And on this note, we said toodle-oo to each other. I continued on a walk grateful that I could indulge in this activity though my mask made me feel sweaty and hot. He went to make himself some coffee to go with his mid-morning snack. We both pondered on life.

A Philosophy of Walking

The Paradox of Philosophy

One evening, the husband was yawning loudly. The kind of yawns where after a few of these, you worry for your loved one’s jaws. The children and I exchanged knowing smiles. “He must be reading that Philosophy Book of his!” we said in unison, and started laughing.

The husband decided that to uplift himself, he must invest in a book of Philosophy. If ever there is a soporific cure for insomnia, that seems to be it, looking at the effect it has on the husband. The Philosophy book has him floored regardless of time of day. Whether at 9 am or 10 pm, within minutes the man is snoring much like the philosophers say the man with a good life should. (Only he hasn’t got to that part yet).

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In an attempt to retain enthusiasm in the text, he has taken to explaining things to us. It hasn’t gone well so far, for we scent his Philosophy lessons from a mile away, and scuttle like that turtle Achilles is supposed to catch up with. According to Zeno, Achilles would never be able to catch up with the Tortoise since the Tortoise would always be ahead of Achilles albeit by a smaller margin.

Achilles & The tortoise
Zeno’s paradox of motion

The husband has evolved and now solicits our attention on walks and hikes. Zeno would have either been proud of us during these evening walks, or been utterly shocked at the frivolous way in which we were treating his treatise on paradoxes. Known as Zeno’s Paradox, old Zeno does not seem to be a guy known for this love of exercise. He preferred to spout philosophies on how it must be quite impossible to get to one place from another. (Hence the paradox, since we all know that we can get to one place from another in a finite amount of time).

Zeno might have been offended, but not the husband. No Sir! He ran after us trying to explain Zeno’s paradox, while we ran even faster – “See, this is why Zeno’s Paradox doesn’t work. We are running faster than you, and unless we slow down or you speed up, which seeing the state of your dinner plate is not possible, you cannot catch up with us!” we said panting. The somewhat heavy dinner protested inside us – “Hey!Hey! You said mild walks to calm the system down. This is not a mild walk. This stroll is a Paradox is what it is!”

To be fair to old Zeno, his philosophies were laid out about 2000 years before Calculus was invented.

Of course if old Zeno were to be around today, he would be shown the following you-tube video
The Essence of Calculus – (3blue 1 brown)

To which the old fellow would have said with good humor and grace, “This is so cool!” and he could go back to come up with other interesting questions in life

It is indeed refreshing to find hours of lectures, the huge books written by all and sundry summarized in a children’s book, Carl and the Meaning of Life.

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Carl, the Earthworm spends his time underground, digging, tilling and keeping the soil soft and fluffy. When asked about his purpose in life, Carl is unsure and sets out on a quest to find out his purpose in life.

Sadly he returns to where he started from after finding no answers to his purpose of being and finds that the ground has become hard and dry. Vegetation has dried up, and the rabbits are moving elsewhere in search of greener pastures. It is one of the most joyous things for the poor earthworm – he realizes then what his purpose is. He burrows underground and spends months, raking the soil and turning it upside down.The flowers start to bloom, the rabbits linger on and therefore, so do the foxes, and all of life thrives again.

I read the book out to the husband one day to save his jaws and his guffaws sent the earthworms in our backyard scuttling back to work. He flung his Philosophy book, and leapt out of bed and said his purpose just then was to not fall asleep and watch 2 hours of television in which he hoped to finish 10 different movies.

I laughed. Maybe the meaning of life comes to those of us who do not think too much, but do.

The Three Selves

Mary Oliver’s, Upstream, is a book of many marvelous essays. One in particular stood out: Of Power and Time. This one is about the three selves in many of us:

  • The Child Self
  • The Social Self &
  • The Eternal Self.

upstream

Reflecting upon the piece, I realized we should know this by now, and we probably do at some level, but it takes a clairvoyant writer to set it out so neatly.

The Child Self is in us always, it never really leaves us. I completely identify with that. I am decades away from my childhood, but I can dip into it like I only just grew up.  Everything felt keener and sharper as children, and that is part of the reason why The Child Self never really leaves us, I suppose. (Probably the reason why I forget the name of the person I met yesterday, but remember the names of my friends from when I was 5 years old : What is Time?)

While young, I yearned to grow up, and in the words of L M Montgomery realize that growing up is not half as fun as it is purported to be.

“That’s the worst of growing up, and I’m beginning to realize it. The things you wanted so much when you were a child don’t seem half so wonderful to you when you get them.”
― L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

The second self is the Social Self. This is the do-er, the list maker, the planner, the executer. The one, in short, that most of us find ourselves trapped in for the most part of our lives. This is “the smiler and the doorkeeper” as Mary Oliver so elegantly puts it. This self I am familiar with: metaphorically the whirlpool, the swift horses of time, the minute  keeper.

“This is the portion that winds the clock, that steers through the dailiness of life, that keeps in mind appointments that must be made. Whether it gathers as it goes some branch of wisdom or delight, or nothing at all, is a matter with which it is hardly concerned. What this self hears night and day, what it loves beyond all other songs, is the endless springing forward of the clock, those measures strict and vivacious, and full of certainty.”

The social, attentive self’s surety is what makes the world go around as she says.

Then, there is the third self: The Creative Self, the dreamer, the wanderer.
“Certainly there is within each of us a self that is neither a child, nor a servant of the hours. It is a third self, occasional in some of us, tyrant in others. This self is out of love with the ordinary, it is out of love with time. It has a hunger for eternity.”

The essay goes on explain the regular, ordinary self in contrast to the creative self. The Creative Self – the one that is out of love with the ordinary, out of love with the demands of time or the regular routines of life, is concerned with something else, the extraordinary. This is the self, she says, that makes the world move forward.

“The extraordinary is what Art is about. No one yet has made a list of places where the extraordinary may happen and where it may not. Among crowds, in drawing rooms, among easements and comforts and pleasures it is seldom seen, It likes the out-of-doors. It likes the concentrating mind. It likes its solitude.”

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The essay was eye-opening in many ways. For I know many, including myself, have to fill our days with the demands of the clock. It is also easier to be the do-er, so that we may not have to enter that difficult place of teasing, figuring and wrestling the extraordinary out; to give shape to the nebulous clouds skirting in the recesses of the brain.

There is nothing wrong with succumbing to the demands of the clock, but it is a valuable lesson to teach ourselves to take our brains for a tease and see what results, isn’t it? We may land up surprising ourselves if only we give it the chance.

The essay ended on this note:

“The most regretful people on Earth are those who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither time nor power.”

What do we do to ensure that there is enough time in our lives to ensure the nurturing of the Eternal Self? (Read: The Art & Charm of Shoshin) I don’t know the answer yet, but when I do, I shall hop on social media and share it right away.

Note:

A version of the essay is found here: 

Mary Oliver: The Artist’s Task 

Brain Pickings – The Third Self

Life is one vast canvas

I like blogging. For one, whatever I come up with, I have a place to post it. Sometimes, I even tamper with my own laws of sense and publish things as frivolous as a poem on life and it being a vast canvas and all that. Not that I feel like Wordsworth, just that I don’t feel like getting my word’s worth when the head is a chock full of worries!

Life is one vast canvas.

Some strokes make a pretty picture.

Some strokes make it bleak.

The bleak ones leave you feeling weak.

Just when you think it can’t be tweaked,

Another stroke you’ll paint

Now if that ain’t making you faint

Guess what? You are a saint

For the bleak canvas just turned

Into a riotous canvas

Full of colour

Full of joy

Full of life’s essences

The vast canvas evolves.