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On Solitary Walking

Updated: Dec 22, 2021

Like ibn Battuta, I have come a full circle.

He, a Tangier lawyer, having set off on the Hajj, once he got moving, suddenly discovered he could not stop until he has ranged the entire dar-al-Islam. And then, having done so, returned home, settled, and never again left Tangier. Truly, you don’t know how to treasure what you have until you have compared.

My place of origin is not a city, but the state of solitary walking. I did a lot of it from ages 12 to 20, until women entered my life and muscled in on my walks; and then, to replace their bother, the dog.

Here is the chief life lesson of my last 40 years: never walk in company.

Not even with a dog.

The dog will distract you. She will come close to you, panting loudly and seeking attention just as you become totally absorbed in the movement and sound of aspen leaves fluttering at distant treetops. And she will frighten forest creatures into silence just as you notice them.

Further, when walking, walk quietly — avoid noisy clothes or shoes. By doing so you will discover how much hidden life is about you: rustlings, dartings, flutterings, chirpings, scratchings, whistlings, hissings. All this comes to deathly stillness when a dog comes around. Don’t bring one.

Then there are the myriad sounds of wind, water and weather. Unless you are undistracted, you will not notice.

Finally, walk slowly. Perhaps because walking fast obliges you to pay attention to your movement, where you place your feet; or perhaps because it puts a purpose into your stride: you are going somewhere, there is a goal, a place to reach and distance to cover; for whatever reason, the way you think changes with the speed of walking.

For me, solitary walking is best used for deep, slow thinking.

And this requires slow walking.

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