The youthful William Wordsworth, the great English Lake Poet of the Romantic Era, was often uncomfortable with the prescribed notions regarding vocational pursuits coming from relatives, friends, and his cultural times. He sensed himself as a “dedicated spirit” toward something grander. He did worry about worldly maintenance of course, but from an early point in time, growing up in the Lake District of Cumbria, he was likewise conscious of a “strangeness in his mind” which was accompanied by a feeling that he was “not for that hour” and “not for that place”. He sensed that he was indeed a “chosen son” for some higher, yet unknown, calling. This moment of perceptive thought/feeling/sensation would come to him mostly while in natural surroundings, and while alone with the particular moment in time. Wordsworth called these moments a “spot of time”, where he also apparently would have “visions”, affecting him in such a way where he produced some of his, and the worlds, greatest poetry.
As an Educator I often wonder if students today ever have their own “spots of time”, where they too may be blessed with such a vision? As a longwalker, I know that the walk becomes an entry point into real experience, where the engagement of the mind and heart rises within, and is accompanied by a power of imagination that ultimately shapes our relationship to the moment. The spirit of place, as the Lake Poets discovered, likewise gives rise to a sense of self-spirit, which the Romantic Movement poets aimed at capturing as their minds experienced this expansiveness while out in great nature. Interior spaces stifled the mind of Wordsworth, and it is why he composed his poetry mostly while engaged in his long walks!
For many of the Romantic Poets, Romanticism was a reaction to the controlling elements upon the mind coming from modern life, and the perception that the fate of liberty resided in the mind more so than in the world of political intrigues. For William Blake, the moment of mental freedom and visionary powers, game through the foot. Real liberty resided in the mind itself. Or, as the freedom of a walk brought about the desired release without – so one’s mind was released within.
During the summer of 1790 Wordsworth, and his friend Robert Jones, undertook a longwalk of over 3,000 miles through France and Switzerland. This tour henceforth not only became the archetype of all romantic wanderings, but it was a paradigm shifting, clandestine act of disobedience for Wordsworth as well. After two years at Cambridge he was becoming disillusioned with the school’s institutional focus, its values, and its inner corruption. Seen by his family benefactors, his tardiness and delinquency toward his studies at Cambridge, and this break from the traditional forms of behavior, was viewed as foolhardy. However, this walk was a three-month “spot of time” experience for Wordsworth which was central to his development as a poet, and his emerging genius as an artist.This “spot of time” was a newer version of the standard practice of doing the “Grand Tour”, which was a common practice and standard item in the education of wealthy young men for over a century in England. The elite “gentleman” youth of the time would round out their education by taking a tour of what was considered the major centers of culture (Paris, Rome, Venice), and would usually be conducted by carriage and plush lodgings. Wordsworth and Jones went by foot, skipping the cultural centers all together, and opening themselves up to the magic of the land.
Do youth have these celebratory adventures today? A “spot of time” detour from the harried nature of the “prescribed” byways and pathways to sure success?
Not many I believe.
But I did; and longwalking was my cure! So I propose that a new 21st century, rounding out, archetypal educational experience become the LongWalk. A true “spot in time” experience for today’s youth who may likewise sense a constriction of the mind within these highly controlled times. Such an experience could indeed become the same out of the box, paradigm shifting, adventure that Wordsworth’s 1790 3,000 mile tour of France and Switzerland was for him; opening today’s youth up to the discovery of their own potential, greatness, and genius. From an educational perspective, this would become what I often refer to as a “metabolic moment” relative to the heart and mind. Biologically, the metabolic moment of digestion is when food, broken down to its simplest building blocks, makes the transition from our intestinal track (still technically outside of our bodies), across the wall of the duodenum, and into our venous blood supply, where it can now be incorporated into our body, and given “our” unique identity. The world, which we have taken into ourselves through a process of digestion, then truly becomes us! Given that a wise man, or woman, once said, “through the wheat fields of our minds we will nourish our souls”, I relate true educational experience to those moments when young hearts and minds can take into themselves truly nourishing events – or spots of time – that serve them upon their own life journeys. Real moments where they can do their own thinking, and be at liberty to bring meaning and value to their own lives.
This is the essence and therapeutic value of the longwalk. Jean-Jacques Rousseau proposed that at the core of our being lies a special feeling that he dubbed the “sentiment of existence”; Wordsworth found the magic of that feeling in his “spot of time” experiences that opened up his powers of imagination to great visionary power, shaping his times like few before or after have done in such a revolutionary way. All youth should sense that they too are chosen sons & daughters within these pivotal times. Their sentiments regarding existence should be just as special, and full of the promise which all young hearts and souls yearn for. Dedicated spirits to a far greater vision of the future than what is often the “senseless” standard fare of our times.
Do a long walk I then say – its spot on!