Posted: 12 May 2014 05:00 AM PDT
Solitude is an important aspect of creative thought. You could make an argument that in our information overloaded world where our senses are stimulated nearly 18 hours a day, solitude and calming our minds is more important than ever. Walking allows us time to play with ideas, explore concepts, and be wrong in our thinking without worrying about others seeing the rawness of our thoughts.
I’ve never been a big walker, but after reading Frederic Gros’ A Philosophy of Walking, I think I’ll start walking more. In the book Gros explores people and lives that were shaped by walking. He ponders Thoreau’s seclusion, why Rimbaud walked in fury, Nerval and his cure to melancholy. Rousseau and Nietzsche walked to think. Kant walked through his town at the same time daily to escape the “compulsion of thought.”
Walking is not a sport.
As you would expect, the book explores philosophers and their relationship to walking. Nietzsche was a walker. He wrote:
When he wrote, The Wanderer and His Shadow, he walked, alone, for up to eight hours a day. Nietzsche would stop to scribble notes in small notebooks with a pencil. The entire book, except for a few lines, was thought out and composed en route.
Walking is different things to different people. To Nietzsche walking was more than relaxation, it was where he worked best.
“Think while walking,” Gros writes “walk while thinking, and let writing be but the light pause, as the body on a walk rests in contemplation of wide open spaces.”
While Nietzsche walked to work, Kant walked to escape. This was his way to escape — “a distraction from work.”
Rain or shine, Kant had to walk.
Many people think that walking fast is the key. We’re driven to get from point A to point B and we need to get there as quickly as possible. This is not leisure. Nor is it restful.
Gros claims the lesson, “in walking,” is that “the authentic sign of assurance is a good slowness.” He later continues:
Nietzsche, Thoreau, and Rousseau think we should walk alone.
So, Gros concludes, “it’s best to walk alone.” But we are never alone. Thoreau wrote: “I have a great deal of company in the house, especially in the morning when nobody calls.”
A Philosophy of Walking explores the purpose walking served to Thoreau, Rousseau, Kant, and more.
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