Here is a very inspired article about walking in our mechanized world… You can find the article in pdf format here: (Walking the Car or Driving your body) for a more convenient reading. Enjoy the walk…
I LIKE TO WALK AROUND outside because life in a box gets dull. I walk wherever I can, on streets and sidewalks through neighborhoods right on down through town, and on the beach or in the woods where it is quieter and more beautiful. It’s good to get outside, to smell the fresh air, to feel the sun or the night sky, listen to the birds or the crickets, to see and sense the surrounding world, and sometimes even say “hello” to other people. I like to walk because it is probably a human being’s most natural activity. From time immemorial, walking has been our primary method of going anywhere—we forget that, on the grand scale of time, planes, trains, and automobiles are very recent modes of transport.
A spontaneous walk is not only good exercise; it’s also a good form of adventure. In the house, things are contained and stable, but once I step outside everything be-comes more alive. Like an animal that has unfettered itself from a shell or a cave, once outside I am part of an entire planet and cosmos, keeping company with the sun and the clouds, the stars and the moon—the presence of celestial forces surround me, in the air and beneath my feet.
I’ve always loved walking and have wondered why there aren’t more people like me walking around—for no good reason other than just to walk. By day it seems that people are locked up in their offices at work, and by night they remain in the house, consumed by the television and domestic concerns. It’s rare that I see another solitary individual, such as myself, just walking around outside—not in order to get somewhere, but just to walk. If I do, they are usually jogging.
I know that jogging is good for one’s cardiovascular system and overall health, but, for me, jogging is too fast of a pace to be able to really appreciate my sensory encounter with the world. On a jog you can’t stop to investigate curious details or smell the roses. For instance, while walking today I heard an enchanting sound and turned to see a woodpecker on the side of a telephone pole hammering away … an incredible spectacle! And joggers never seem to be really enjoying their experience anyway because it’s too much like work—they usually have headphones on listening to music to dis-tract them from the discomfort of their efforts. Of course, there are joggers who appear to be happily immersed in jogging through the world; these joggers also tend to notice oth-ers and smile or utter some form of greeting as they pass.
Other than joggers, I also encounter people walking their dogs—I only hope that these people enjoy the walk as much as the dogs do. People out walking their dogs often times walk in pairs, are talking, and appear to be enjoying themselves. I think this is great and, when I am alone, some part of me envies them their company. Another part of me thinks maybe they are missing out on the solitary, meditative impact of a walk, during which an expansion of one’s experiential awareness becomes possible—from a myriad fantastic perceptions of the surrounding world, to one’s bodily sensations of breathing and walking, to the liberated flow of inner thoughts, inspirations, feelings, and imagination that is brought about by a steady movement of the body and mind.
In his book The Miracle of Mindfulness, the Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hahn writes about awareness of one’s breathing as the vital connection between the mind and the body. He suggests that when walking with a friend we resist the temptation of continual talk and instead remain mindful of our breathing, as well as our in-the-moment sensations which connect us with the world. I agree with Mr. Hahn that talking too much on a walk can greatly distract us from the wonders of the walk itself.
When we’re caught up in too much thinking, we leave the realm of the body and the moment of our contact with the living, physical world—which is our most direct experience of being alive.
Instead of walking outside, many people go to the gym for physical exercise. They walk or run on treadmills while watching a television or listening to their iPod, thus more completely distracting their minds and disconnecting their awareness from their bodies—while also disconnecting their bodies from the natural surrounding environment. They also engage in other forms of fitness training activities such as lifting weights, swimming, and aerobics. While all these kinds of exercise are wonderful for the health and conditioning of the body, I am quite certain that none of them are adequate substitutes for activities enacted outside, in a natural environment.
In the man-made, enclosed box-environment of a fit-ness center or gym, the body becomes more or less abstract; removed from its natural environment, it is thus placed in a laboratory in which it is viewed as a sort of experimental object that must be worked on in certain ways—like a car—to achieve certain results. While this is completely valid and effective according to our aesthetic and health goals, this attitude towards the body is rather mechanical, lacking the pro-found dimensions of interaction with nature wherein the body is immersed and engaged through all the senses with a living, spirited world that feeds the deeper portions of our souls.
Over the years, alongside our technological developments, we have radically diminished our contact with the earth and profoundly reduced the effect the natural world has upon our bodies, minds, and souls—but on those occasions that we go outside and remember our primal connection with the earth through a direct embodied encounter, we are often, once again, awed. This is why it is so extremely important to get out of the box of our culture, out of the house, car, building, and limited mind-space in which we habitually dwell, and into nature from time to time.
The truth is, we came from nature, we are nature, and we experience ourselves more fully and fulfillingly when we are engaged with nature. As children we were instinctually aware of this, but as adults we need to consciously remember it.
WALKING ALONE PRESENTS an opportunity for the perfect intersection of self and world, like two circles that partially overlap one another creating a third elliptical-shaped space like an eye, by which the merging of the two worlds envisions a third. Walking alone provides an occasion for both adventure and meditation, an activity whereby continuous, ongoing, in-the-moment sensory perceptions and self-reflections are developed through direct contact of self with world.
In this day and age of the “auto-mobile,” however,—in which we automatically mobilize ourselves, thereby entering a state of auto-pilot that anesthetizes the body—walking is usually a choice and not a necessity. In reality, travel by car is both a luxury and a torment. We drive the car daily, or take the bus, train, or airplane, covering such large distances that most of us no longer think about walking as a valid form of transportation. Because nearly everyone in the United States relies regularly on some form of engine or motor-based transportation, we take their very existence for granted. And because we grew up with cars, in a car culture—you have only to recall how many thousands of commercials and ads you have viewed featuring the sale of cars—we consider cars as just another normal everyday aspect of our lives.
In addition to relying on cars daily, most of us also live near a road, from which the sight and sound of cars is ever-present. In this way, cars function as part of a taken-for-granted background against which we live the bulk of our modern human lives.
From the time we are small children, we’re told to watch out for moving cars when we cross the street or go outside to play. We grow up riding in cars almost daily as passengers—to the store, to school, and to visit our friends and families—for a full 16 to 18 years before we ever get a chance to operate one. We’re lectured by parents and teachers that safety is of utmost importance, and we have to study and pass a test to acquire a license to drive legally. When we first learn how to drive a car there is great novel amusement, as well as focus on driving correctly. After a couple of years, however, driving becomes second nature, as we drive almost every day.
Because cars have become such an ingrained aspect of our society, we rarely consider the complexity and magnitude of our dependence on cars until ours breaks down or we get into an accident. We rarely stop to consider the rather absurd fact that whenever we go somewhere in our car—which is typically whenever we go anywhere when we leave the house—we enclose ourselves in a tremendously massive hunk of steel, glass, plastic and rubber, a contraption that employs an engine which burns up ancient fossil fuels that have been sucked out from very deep inside of the earth and that, when burned, are emitted into the air as toxic fumes.
The car is a kind of mobile vault, a room with a view onto the moving world, upon which we are utterly dependent because our world does not value the capacity of our own bodies as adequate vessels of locomotion. We rarely stop to consider how much drastically more is involved in driving a car as compared with walking. We rarely stop to think about the fact that when we drive our car on the free-way we travel at speeds much faster than any one of us can run—we’d rather not think about the dangers involved with traveling at such high speeds and velocities.
We rarely stop to consider that we are the only species on the planet that has devised a second body which we regularly inhabit and operate from within, while being trans-ported at incredibly high speeds and negotiating complex adaptations to other cars and their drivers.
Driving a car on the freeway at full speed feels very normal to us; however, if you’ve ever broken down on the side of the freeway you became quickly aware of the very tremendous and frightening force of all the other cars roaring past you. You also probably became aware of the fact that, should any of the cars suddenly swerve and hit you, your life would surely come to an end. It is during moments like these that the distinctly non-human quality of motor vehicles be-comes overwhelmingly apparent. The cars noisily pummeling by you appear to be some form of alien creature with absolutely no capacity for feeling or empathy regarding your pre-carious situation.
I ONCE ATTENDED A WORKSHOP led by Malidoma Somé. Before arriving at the site in Boulder, CO he traveled by car from the airport in Denver, about an hour’s drive away. He mentioned that during his ride in the car, as he looked out at the other cars on the freeway, he had to remind himself that each car had a human being inside who was driving the car. In his mind, a car was something really unrelated and foreign to a human being. He saw the crowded swarm of cars on the freeway for what they were: machines. In and of themselves lifeless, unfeeling, inanimate, and utterly strange.
Malidoma told us that from an indigenous cultural point of view, the world of machines epitomized by cars is a very weird world in which one’s humanity may be lost. In his own words, “Indigenous people are indigenous because there are no ma-chines between them and their gods.”
Although he has lived a good portion of his life in the tribal village of Burkina Faso, West Africa, Malidoma Somé is not a naïve newcomer to modern society—he has also spent many years in Europe and the United States, and attained Ph.D. degrees at Sorbonne and Brandeis University. However, throughout his teachings, Malidoma warns that modern technological society maintains the propensity to devour the soul and the spirit of our humanity by its extensive focus on the very machines and devices we have made essential to our way of life.
Those serving the culture don’t have the option to slow down and address the issue of what to do with their own needs, or how to get in touch with their own unexpressed powers. For they are too caught up in the speed and motion that is required by the Machine to feed its overt power. But some ultimately become so distraught that they figure out a way to take care of themselves rather than to take care of something that can never be satisfied.
Although this quote is directed at the whole of modern technological society, it can also be used to understand our relationship with cars as a sort of epitome of the modern person’s experience of our machine-based way of life. Are we driving the car or is the car driving us? Are we in control of this world of technology or is the world of technology now controlling us? Who is really at the wheel?
What has happened to the soul of our humanity which has been forced to live within the demanding confines of a mechanized, machine worshipping world? A world in which cars are both mandatory and menacing—destroying the environment while also destroying many human lives, in-stilling chronic anxiety, frustration, and rage into our daily state of being.
We say that cars are indispensible to our way of life and future progress, but what we really mean is that traveling large distances as quickly as possible is indispensible to us. And in some way, this overwhelming need to remain in perpetual motion belies our discomfort with being still. Mali-doma claims that “speed is a way to prevent ourselves from having to deal with something we do not want to face.”
In our obsession with speed, movement, and velocity, what is it that we are avoiding? Perhaps it is our weak-ness, our vulnerability, our helplessness in the face of a mechanized culture that largely has no interest in our personal concerns. Our bodies are composed of flesh, blood, and bone, not steel, glass, and rubber; they are animated by the mysterious forces of creation, not by fossil fuels. Yet, through cars and other man-made technologies, we have created a world of machines that is ultimately non-human and, in many ways, is physically, emotionally, and spiritually destructive.
When driving or riding in a car, it could be said that one’s body is not really moving through space, as one is encapsulated in the spacial domain of the car. One sees the unfolding sensory world passing by, but is not in direct con-tact with that sensory world.
I do not think that life was originally designed to be experienced in a sitting position, encased in a steel machine, and viewed from behind a windowpane, “through a glass darkly.” Yet how much of our lives is spent in this manner, whether in the car, the office, the airplane, or the living room?
When walking, one’s body occupies the natural, open, universal space that connects all living beings. When traveling in a car, one is removed from that space, enclosed within another, infinitely smaller space from which one may objectively view the surrounding world. This is just another way in which modern technology distances human beings from the earth and the body from nature, enforcing upon us greater and greater separations from an original, firsthand, direct, and engaging contact with life, which—up until just about a hundred years ago—we had retained for thousands and thousands of years.
Although I prefer walking over driving whenever I can, I realize that we live in a world that necessitates machine transport in order to participate in many social activities. However, as a culture, I believe we would benefit by remembering that our own legs are often times the best way to travel. I hope one day we are able to reshape our lives, through reshaping our towns and our relationship with our bodies, in ways that respect our instinctual needs, the diversity of our bodily senses, and our innate connections with planetary life.
By Salvatore Folisi
Xander Stone Ink