“You must walk like a camel, which is said to be the only beast which ruminates while walking.”
Thoreau (Journal, October 31st, 1850)
It’s something we hear, and are told, often. Right from the start, and right out of the gaits, we’re told to pay attention. From day one at school, until we walk out the doors of our academic institutions, we’re held by this question, command, or directive. Pay attention!
It could be the secret key that opens many “doors” in life; if, that is, we are looking for such openings.
It’s just isn’t with school though where we confront these simple and wise words, it’s within all phases, activities, and engagements throughout life. I almost think these words determine our world at times. Or at least to the point where just about everyone is vying for that attention. I mean, think of advertising as one small example; you might not be hearing those exact words, but it is the main point to all advertising. Yes?
Maybe we don’t think about it really? Or perhaps we only think about it when folks talk about its absence, like with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or Attention Hyperactivity Deficit Disorder (ADHD), but many don’t understand what these things mean anyway. The words themselves are something of a mystery to us, and our connection or relationship to them is mere word recognition. Or worse, as when that relationship becomes a matter of pharmaceutical remediation, which is at best just a more enticing form of seduction, and far from being a “cure” for the lack of, or diminishment of, human attentiveness.
If we were to go into a “tracking” mode of mind we’d maybe first find that the most common definition of the word attention (at least in the field of psychology) is “the enhancement of selected sensory information”. But, as Laura Sewall (in her book Sight and Sensibility) reminds us so nicely, paying attention is not something we usually do, but something that happens to us when we will it. It is an inherent human power, usually seduced, and very much in need of cultivation. William James (American psychologist and philosopher; January, 1842 – August, 1910) described attention as the mind “taking possession”, yet I believe, unfortunately, that we’re living in a day when it’s our minds that are being possessed, and not necessarily by our will, or volition.
And it’s here where I would happily remind and point out that a walk is something that we humans do, and doesn’t just happen to us (normally), and that the mind truly must take possession of its workings or else we wind up being terribly lost. The intent to walk somewhere brings about a certain level of mindful attention even at the most rudimentary level, and if one is following a way-marked path, then the keen awareness of “sign” that so readily aids and abets successful walking is a result of selected attention and the power of will in choosing to “pay” attention. How many of you have experienced the exhaustion of navigating along a sparsely marked or unmarked way, even when the demand upon physical exertion was rather slight? It becomes such a vibrant reminder of what a high level of energies are truly involved, and being drawn out of us, when we will such attentiveness, and what a diminishment of life it is in contrast when so many of us find contentment in the plethora of navigational aid devices that guide us to where we wish to go these days. A true, and full, relinquishment of human potential I fear.
A walk can become an adventure that stirs our imaginations and ignites the fires of creativity to enliven us, resulting often in many an evening around the hearth fire with stories rife with spellbinding power. All mind you, a direct result of an alignment of our looking with thinking – a connection of matter with mind, where inner and outer landscapes are harmonized and attuned to the experience of the moment; a true human participatory involvement, or relationship, with the world powered by the seemingly simple act of paying attention. Even with the simplest of walking engagements we find that the practice of taking walks, as a daily humanizing opportunity, unfetters the mind from the rather mindless habits introduced (unleashed) upon us from the symphonic distractions emanating out of our modern world. Why then are we not doing more of this then?
Richard Louv coined the term Nature Deficit Disorder (NDD) in his groundbreaking book Last Child in the Woods, and it may yet be born out that a daily dose of nature is a far better remedy to realigning our capacity to pay attention, of attuning and harmonizing our inner and outer worlds of experience, and bringing us back to the foundation stone realization of what it means to be in relationship. Going for a walk is a choice of action that propels us into an engagement with the world as opposed to one where we are mere spectators of it. Noted Tracker and Author Paul Rezendes says “attention is care”, where consciously placing one foot before the other may well be our full first step toward bringing us back into a relationship with the natural world, and with ourselves. The power of attention, derived from the Latin word meaning to stretch, could reclaim its birthright as the enabler of true vision, where we may yet remember the simplicity of those prophetic words heard since childhood – pay attention. What a great stretch and stride forward that would be!
And, what then is the gift we are given to begin such an enriching journey? Walking.
Pay attention to that call of taking daily walks; it’s life’s invitation to a healthier engagement and participation in the human journey. It is, from the day we evolved into a bipedal gait, what we were truly born to do.
So let us cultivate our power of attention in order to cultivate a greater vision, and a greater sense for what it truly means to be participating in, and engaged with, the human journey by taking a walk. It is a very simple choice, and we need to pay attention to it. Just do it, and make that first step which is always the beginning of every adventurous journey.