Walking the Coastal Path: Day 2

Day two found us walking a 14 mile stretch from Porlock to Lynton ; a nice gradual increase in our daily milage where we often found ourselves appreciating the fact that we had been walking and conditioning for months now in preparation for this walk. Yet more important than physical preparation and conditioning has been the mental preparation, and that becomes more than just a daily slot of time being devoted as it is truly a moment to moment awareness of where we find inwardly. Paying attention to the call to adventure requires a certain mental diligence, and its cultivation, what Thoreau referred to as “self culture”, requires elements of patience and time. Something not easily secured in our rather harried day!
In his essay on Walking Thoreau tells us that “the Highest we can attain to is not Knowledge, but Sympathy with Intelligence”. Earlier in the same essay he says “I am alarmed when it happens that I have walked a mile into the woods bodily, without getting there in spirit. In my afternoon walk I would fain forget all my morning occupations and my obligations to society. But it sometimes happens that I cannot easily shake off the village. The thought of some work will run in my head and I am not where my body is, I am out of my senses. In my walks I would return to my senses.”. 

Thoreau certainly harbors the wish to return to his senses in order that he may truly saunter toward the “Holy lands” in even the shortest of walks. And he clearly states that the requisite capital necessary for the LongWalker getting there are leisure, freedom, and independence. Hard to accomplish no doubt when you can’t shake off the “village”, or the multitude of thoughts, concerns and worries, that tend to plague our heads today!

Thoreau’s statement that sympathy with intelligence, not Knowledge, is our highest accomplishment is an immensely interesting one! It’s one of those great trail signs at a crossroad along the trail worth our deepest attention. A real “way finder’ statement, or track, that he deposits along the way for our ruminator benefit.   The connection between the two comments here, that of sympathy with intelligence and returning to our senses, has deep connective relevance to “heart intelligence” , and how in contrast, compulsory education is consumed and dominated by the need to fill the head with knowledge.
As for the training of thought (an art in itself), how is this different from merely dispensing knowledge? Where mere description serves well enough perhaps!  What comes to mind is the old proverb about feeding a man a fish, thus feeding him for the moment, or teaching him how to fish, thus feeding him for a lifetime. No amount of fish, no quantity of knowledge will fully satisfy our human appetite to understand. We live in a period of vast accumulation of knowledge, data heaped upon data. We know much, yet understand little!

Actually, learning to think involves an organic process. “Through the wheat fields of our minds we must nourish our souls.” In any other form of nourishment that sustains the organism, a process of digestion is required. We must break things down before building them up again, before making them ours! We hardly question this fact, and indeed, we go to great pains to ensure that physical food is combined, prepared, and served in just the right way. Yet when we come to “food for thought”, our efforts to assist the ‘digestive process’ often lack flair and creativity. No Art! Little recognition is given to the ambiance of the ‘eating establishment”, let alone the time required preparing and then digesting the meal. Thoughts, ideas, and facts are often shoveled onto the plate in factory-like fashion. The fast foods of factdom! In consequence, this style of learning often leads to a kind of mal-nourishment of the mind.  It is stated within numerous fields of academic study that a paradigm shift in our thinking is of paramount importance if we are ever to realize a healthier and more sustainable future; our current modus operandi being unsustainable, as well as environmentally unsound. If a shift in thinking is not accompanied by an awakening within our hearts, or a true sympathy with intelligence, any shift will be as fleeting and unsubstantial as the unconscious stream of thoughts that currently characterizes our level of cultural, and individual, awareness. This shift must extend beyond a mere reconstruction of how we think about conducting our lives, to include a renewed discovery of the feelings lying behind the reasons for living them the way we do.  An awakening of conscience, or true intelligence, that is reflective of what we feel in our hearts, and ultimately determines our course of action. This is the deeper significance of the concept within indigenous cultures called shape shifting It involves a fundamental shift in the inner form of our perceptual landscape, and the recognition that leisure, freedom, and independence are part and parcel of the educational effort to craft an elevated sense of ourselves, and our life journey.

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