I have never owned a car. Coming from a 33-year-old woman, I get that this probably seems pretty weird to most of you. But let me clarify.
It’s not that I can’t drive or that I don’t drive at all. I’ve had a license for five years (I was a late bloomer behind the wheel) and drive about once a fortnight. Most of the time, though, I choose not to.
My reasons? Well, there are many. Lots of them centre around the idea that our overburdened planet could do with one less vehicle belching pollution out into the atmosphere. Some of them relate to the panic attacks I suffered from in my early 20s that stopped me from driving years after society said I should. There are financial reasons, and the fact that I’m not in the country for chunks of the year, making a car largely unnecessary.
The biggest reason, though, is my love of walking.
Maybe I was a wandering sadhu in a past life, but walking has always brought me so much peace. My friends find it pretty freaky, but I’ll often walk an hour to get to dinner, and arrive at the restaurant with a pair of sneakers poking out of my bag.
To me it makes complete sense. Instead of spending half an hour in a car, fighting traffic and worrying about where to find a park, I’d rather spend an hour walking to my destination, letting the day’s problems and anxieties drip out of my soles with each step. Not only do I save on fuel or an Uber fare, but I also get my day’s exercise done along the way. And by the time I get to my destination my worries are calmed, my body’s feeling great, and I’m a much nicer person to dine with.
Walking has become a major daily ritual for me. By the sea, in the bush with the dogs, through foreign cities when I’m fighting jet lag, to the shops to do my groceries – wherever I am in the world, I fit wandering into the schedule. Sometimes I listen to podcasts or make phone calls as I go, but usually it’s just me and my thoughts.
As I learnt from Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh a few years back, walking just to walk is one of the greatest mindfulness practices there is. Being present with each rhythmic step can become a moving meditation (which is great for anyone who, like me, struggles to sit still for twenty minutes at a time) where we’re free to take in life just as it is, and to connect to our deeper selves. To listen to the sound of the breeze in the trees, to take in the chatter of the birds, to actually notice how vast and limitless the sky is, and to let the mind roam. Which, as we all know, is how some of our best ideas come to us.
I truly believe that it’s only in this silence, only when we’re really in the moment, that we have a chance of brushing up against a sense of mystery and inspiration in our lives. And at the risk of sounding woo-woo, a chance of drawing a bit closer to the source, the universe, mother nature, God… or whatever you want to call it.
That, my friends, is why I love walking. And if we ever get the chance to dine together, you’ll now know why that pair of sneakers is sticking out of my bag.