Perhaps the Truth Depends on a Walk

Truth depends

My friends have just completed a 400-mile long walk in Portugal and Spain – in 26 days. I quickly do the maths: an average of 15+ miles a day. I’m impressed. My friend says it’s wonderful – “We just get up each day and walk: no deciding what to do, where to go, what the weather’s doing, what to wear, what to take, we just up and go.”

Now, there is a kind of walking that is focused – I’m sure my friends had their minds fixed on their goal as well as enjoying the scenery. But walking is more often an activity where conscious mental activity is absent, and that is its joy. It often represents a gap between activities – the lunchtime stroll through a park, the walk from the train station home, the quick once-up-the-local-hill with the dog.

And in this gap, good things happen.

Someone tells me that when she goes for a walk with an awkward friend, conversation that might be stilted in the house begins to flow with the rhythm of walking in the open air. Back in the day, I’d walk to an activity with my teenage son and he’d turn from taciturn into talker. (The same happened sometimes when he was sitting beside me in the car, both gazing forward).

When I am coaching, my client and I typically sit at 45%, considered professionally to be a non-threatening and equal arrangement – but some clients feel self-conscious when looked at, even at an angle – maybe walking side by side would work better for them? Certainly, there are coaches who specialise in coaching walks – walk and talk and silence, silence, talk and walk.

When I got angry one day and marched out of the house, a two-hour walk completely dissipated my anger – I could scarcely grasp the reason for it by the time I got home again with renewed energy and optimism.

So walking conversations can be in communion with someone else and sometimes they are conversations with yourself – both produce something new.

It’s fine to use a walk as thinking time, but I’m reflecting particularly on walks where there’s nothing to be accomplished, no goals, no decisions. You give your foveal vision a rest – delights spring up at the periphery – a half-hidden flower, a butterfly, a pleasing pattern on a tree trunk … Walks in the town are okay too, but a walk in the countryside puts human presence more on the edge of things. Nature impresses with its permanence yet is always different. Today sunlight is creating dappled sun and shade under the trees; a few months ago, tree trunks stood out against the hill in dark silhouette. The day you venture out in wind and rain against your saner judgement, you come back wet and wind-battered with adrenaline coursing through your veins and you think, “Wow! I’m glad I did that,” thrilled that you have a wild side after all.

The physical act of walking affects your mind, of course it does. When the writer Margaret Forster was recovering from cancer, she noticed particularly the connection between walking and writing. “It was remarkable”, she writes, “to find that walking must be somehow related to writing, that it somehow fuelled it. I’d always enjoyed walks, and seen them as an essential part of each day, but I hadn’t appreciated this strange connection. The walking loosened the writing.” (I recommend Forster’s My Life in Houses).

In last year’s Wimbledon tennis, I remember a match in which Andy Murray was visibly suffering from a hip injury. This of course affected his speed and flexibility of movement. But it clearly affected his thinking and judgement too, much more than you could attribute just to his physical state. Lack of physical balance and wellbeing affect mental and emotional wellbeing too. When I had a bad back I discovered the truth of this for myself; when I couldn’t walk I couldn’t think well either.

Sometimes these days I’m surprised to spot a piece of new research that proves a connection between mind and body – as if it were something new. Who could ever think that mind and body were not connected? Often physicality unlocks something that was stuck, where any amount of thinking and feeling has failed.

So here’s something you might like to try:

Think of something that you want to be able to do or something you’re struggling with, and consider separately the thinking, feeling and physiology of it. Then change your physiology.

For example, feeling daunted? Stand up tall and strong but relaxed, and breathe fully for a few moments; notice how that introduces something new into your feeling and thinking.

Is your brain bursting with too much to think about and decide? Feeling overwhelmed? Go walking in nature for at least an hour, preferably two, putting one foot steadily in front of the other, and pay attention to your surroundings. Notice how different you feel on your return.

And here’s a speaking tip:

If you lose courage for a moment on the platform or make a mistake, move a few steps away from where you were standing and take a deep breath. You’ll find that your brain resets and your poise returns – even perhaps your sense of humour.

Feeling under the weather, walk; in any weather walk; if you are able – walk. But don’t set conditions on it. In life’s paradoxical way, walking is most restorative when you don’t demand that it restores you or cures you, or fulfils an aim. Don’t ask anything of it.

The early 20th Century American writer Alfred Kazin sums up the power of walking most beautifully in Open Street:

“Walking I am unbound, and find that precious unity of life and imagination, that silent outgoing self, which is so easy to lose, but which at high moments seems to start up again from the deepest rhythms of my own body.  How often have I had this longing for an infinite walk – of going unimpeded, until the movement of my body as I walk fell into the flight of streets under my feet – until I in my body and the world in its skin of earth were blended into a single act of knowing.”

It’s a grand time of year for walking :-)

Go well,

Judy

You are warmly invited to my
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Coaching and the HeART of Conversation

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What does new information emerging from neuroscience tell us about the different attention of the two hemispheres of the brain and its urgent relevance to our communication with each other? And how do we bring the full presence of our humanity with all its frailties into our coaching and conversation so that something new and miraculous can be born?

A rich day of lively exploration and personal experience with the aim of allowing something new to emerge in each of us

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A Walking Coach

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