Montaigne, “back to the walk… to me”

Michel de Montaigne, the great (and first) essayist,  preceded his countryman Descartes and should have inoculated philosophy against the quest for certainty ever after.  He is unjustly omitted from too many histories of philosophy. Descartes merely pretended to philosophic humility and noble epistemic ignorance, Montaigne embraced them.

Que sais-je?What do I know? So much more profound than Cogito, ergo sum. Montaigne’s meditations, motile and circling and habitual, so much more incisive than Descartes’s stationary solipsistic ruminations.

What did he know? Well, he knew that ever-elusive self-knowledge must be tracked daily, and that it is not the sole or the exclusively-cerebral product of the ratiocinating res cogitans. He did not have to prove mind-body duality (as distinct from metaphysical dualism) to himself, he experienced it immediately and constantly. It was implicated in his every thought and act, no matter how mundane.

So he walked.

And the mind-body complex was implicated in every thought and act of his readers, then and now.

So he wrote.

 “My body is capable of steady but not of vehement or sudden exertion. These days I shun violent exercises which put me into a sweat; my limbs grow tired before they grow warm. I can stay on my feet a whole day, and I do not weary of walking… My walk is quick and firm.” Montaigne in Motion

Sarah Bakewell records Montaigne’s approach to walking as meditation:

When I walk alone in the beautiful orchard, if my thoughts have been dwelling on extraneous incidents for some part of the time, for some other part I bring them back to the walk, to the orchard, to the sweetness of this solitude, and to me.

The sweet simplicity of a good walk is ingredient to a good life. “When I dance I dance. When I sleep I sleep.” Zen masters spend a lifetime meditating their way to such  presence of mind, body, and spirit. Walkers too.

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