Archive for the ‘walking’ Category

Catching days

June 10, 2013

You can’t rush the dawn.

Especially not after you’ve stayed up late watching the Cards pound the Reds and then Don Draper “comfort” a draft-dodger’s mom. I enjoyed both spectacles, but they kept me up after midnight and have disrupted my morning routine.

Routine is crucial to creative success. I was reminded of this by another of Maria Popova’s endless succession of instigating brainpickings. She cited some of my favorite Annie Dillard lines, from The Writing Life .

How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time.

And then she recites Wallace Stevens’ splendid daily routine: walk an hour to & from work (each way), plus another hour at noon. I’d love that routine, if only my work were an hour’s walk (instead of drive) from home. I’d hate the insurance selling in between walks, but we must all make our compromises.

Popova has lots more on the daily routines and daily rituals of successfully creative people. I’m especially envious of Darwin’s.  (He of course worked from home and so did not have to commute, vehicularly or otherwise.)

Darwin rose, walked, worked, took a mid-morning break in the parlor with Mrs. Darwin (who would read aloud from something diverting, typically personal correspondence and something fictional), worked some more, walked some more, declared it a good day’s work by 1 pm or so, hung out some more with Emma, read, replied to his correspondents, enjoyed his family, and in the process eventually gave us the greatest idea anyone ever had.

Really nice work, if you can get it.

You got to move

June 8, 2013

I’ll have to keep on getting up and going, even when my get up and go has got up and went.

That’s because my two docs aren’t podiatrists (though their practice is of course grounded in the feet). Nor are they physiologists, or internists, or general practitioners.

No, they’re mainly emotional and spiritual counselors. They know that I go not to get anywhere but to move, to seek the nectar in the journey. “The great affair is to move,” as Robert Louis Stevenson (another great British rambler) also knew.

Motion and movement do have a tremendous physiological impact, of course, releasing all the right feel-good brain and body chemicals. But that’s not the headline.

The headline is: moving, unlike staying put, generates experience. Scenery, both exterior and overt and mental. Circumstance. Provocation. Opportunity.

So if I couldn’t walk I’d pedal, if I couldn’t pedal I’d Segway (they still make those, right?) or in some other non-combustively-automotive way roll.

That looks boring, I know, but so does most everything from the outside.

I can sorta see an alt-universe version of myself in those fearless guys you see in intersections in their motorized wheelchairs, if it ever came to that. But I wouldn’t be wasting my time going to the mall, I’d be in Warner or Centennial Park.

Worst case scenario would be some sort of merely virtual locomotion. Maybe Google Glass, programmed to deliver the illusion of moving. (But they keep crossing things– face recognition, porn– off the app list.)

It wouldn’t be the same, obviously. But I’ll take an Experience Machine over nothing, Professor Nozick, if those are my choices. There’s more reality in pretending to go, than in really staying put. If you ask me.

Thankfully, I can still really go.

Doctors’ orders

June 7, 2013

Having quoted George Trevelyan on his two doctors, and applauded Michael Milton on what he’s done with just one, and now regrettably recalling another Michael Milton who lost an appendage (readers of John Irving’s Garp will know what I mean and share my regret), it would make sense to write about the encroaching infirmities of time.

I’m not planning to lose any limbs, or anything else. But aches and pains that didn’t used to be there must now be acknowledged and subdued, before just about every walk. Some mornings are better than others. Fortunately, I can still put them entirely out of mind and beyond the veil of perception within ten or fifteen minutes of purposeful striding.  Like Trevelyan I do credit Drs. Left and Right with the daily cure.

But what if the day comes when I require a referral, and I’m instructed to give it a rest?

Well, I don’t intend to cross that bridge unless I have to. But of course if that day comes I’ll seek another opinion.

My Dad used to say we’d know his time was up, if he ever voluntarily relinquished his car keys. That day eventually came for him, and he handed them over with grace and acceptance. That’ll be my model, if ever I’m credibly urged to hand over my sneakers and sit back down at 7 am.

Meanwhile, I have to get up and go. Doctors’ orders.

Wag more

May 24, 2013

When you talk dogs and philosophy you really have to begin with Diogenes of Sinope, don’t you?

DiogenesSolvitur ambulando* (“it is solved by walking”) is often attributed to him. Don’t know why canes is typically omitted from the phrase, since the philosopher whose full nominal designation (“D. the Cynic”) practically means dog, knew the  ultimate solution almost always involves a second or third set of appendages. Preferably a quadra-set, and canine.

(Actually my Latin teacher, Ms. Google-Translate, prefers *solvendum est per ambulationem canes. Write that on the board a hundred times! Tense is tricky. But cynics do not cavil over convention.)

Unless they’ve been “trained”, dogs and Cynic philosophers do what it occurs to them to do when it occurs to them to do it, without regard for local custom or popular propriety or (especially) the presence of commanding authority. Diogenes told Alexander to step out of his sunlight. We’re told Alex was impressed. The dog was not. But why does that make either Diogenes or his dog a “cynic”?

There are four reasons why the Cynics are so named. First because of the indifference of their way of life, for they make a cult of indifference and, like dogs, eat and make love in public, go barefoot, and sleep in tubs and at crossroads. The second reason is that the dog is a shameless animal, and they make a cult of shamelessness, not as being beneath modesty, but as superior to it. The third reason is that the dog is a good guard, and they guard the tenets of their philosophy. The fourth reason is that the dog is a discriminating animal which can distinguish between its friends and enemies. So do they recognize as friends those who are suited to philosophy, and receive them kindly, while those unfitted they drive away, like dogs, by barking at them.

AngelPupMy dogs are actually much sweeter and more compliant than that. They’re waggers, not barkers. They don’t even hassle fundamentalists or Platonists. (Squirrels & chipmunks are another story.) One’s an “Angel,” not a “Cynic,” thanks to Younger Daughter’s inspiration at the puppy pound. But wouldn’t Cynic and Diogenes be perfect names for a pair of pups? Their eventual successors perhaps, should I live so long.

But not so fast, they’d say if they could. These two are still fabulous walking companions and they’re infinitely patient. I won’t keep them waiting another moment.


Montaigne, “back to the walk… to me”

May 20, 2013

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.

Russell’s delight

May 18, 2013

More walkers of note: Erasmus, Hobbes, Montaigne, Jefferson, Kierkegaard, Bentham, Darwin, Twain, Russell, Einstein…

Some walking quotes of note:

  • “Walking is the best medicine.” Hippocrates
  • “Walking is the best possible exercise.” Jefferson
  • “My mind only works with my legs.” Rousseau
  • “If I could not walk far and fast, I think I should just explode and perish.” Dickens
  • “Walking is good to time the movement of the tongue by, and keep the blood and the brain stirred up and active.” Twain
  • “All truly great thoughts are conceived while walking.” Nietzsche
  • “I delight in long free walks. These free my brain and serve my body.” Emerson
  • “It was easier to think if I was walking and doing something or seeing people doing something that they understood.” Hemingway
  • “You know you’re alive. You take huge steps, trying to feel the planet’s roundness arc between your feet.” Dillard
  • “I used, when I was younger, to take my holidays walking. I would cover twenty-five miles a day, and when the evening came I had no need of anything to keep me from boredom, since the delight of sitting amply sufficed.” Russell

Like  Russell I’m hooked on morning rambles. “Every morning Bertie would go for an hour’s walk by himself, composing and thinking out his work for that day. He would then come back and write for the rest of the morning, smoothly, easily and without a single correction…”

I’m already clocking an hour a morning. Now, to master the rest of that routine!

Bertie lived to 98. I choose to see a connection.

The sufficient moment

May 17, 2013

In 1870 a young and previously-irresolute William James confided to his diary,

“I think that yesterday was a crisis in my life. I finished the first part of Renouvier’s second Essais and see no reason why his definition of free will — ‘the sustaining of a thought because I choose to when I might have other thoughts’ — need be the definition of an illusion. At any rate, I will assume for the present — until next year — that it is no illusion. My first act of free will shall be to believe in free will.”

Within the decade, the vacillating, self-doubting, despairing young man had given way to the confident philosopher who would vigorously defend “the sentiment of rationality,” a diverting phrase that was really his own masked synonym for happiness.

When enjoying plenary freedom either in the way of motion or of thought, we are in a sort of anaesthetic state in which we might say with Walt Whitman, if we cared to say anything about ourselves at such times, “I am sufficient as I am.” This feeling of the sufficiency of the present moment, of its absoluteness,–this absence of all need to explain it, account for it, or justify it,–is what I call the Sentiment of Rationality.

Just as I am, sufficient unto the moment: it’s a condition and a state of mind an honest and ambitious person can’t reasonably hope to sustain indefinitely, but James learned and taught that it can be recaptured frequently and regularly throughout a lifetime. Different strategies serve different people. One of mine, like James, is to walk.

Free attention

May 16, 2013

The Philosopher’s Walk in Kyoto, Japan commemorates the Japanese Jamesian Kitaro Nishida.

File:Path of philosophy.jpg

And so does San Francisco’s Philosopher’s Way, in McLaren Park.

A virtual walk engages the imagination but not the senses, and not that vital sense of the ever-fleeting “nick of time” that Thoreau toed. So, it’s no substitute for the real thing. But this is still terrific. I’m going to SF, as soon as I can. It’s been too many years since my last Giants game anyway.

Meanwhile, I’m adding Nishida and his philosophy of attention to my stable of pedestrian philosophers. His “musing” plaque in the park, if you missed it:

Thinking has its own laws. It functions of its own accord and does not follow our will. To merge with the act of thought – that is, to direct one’s attention to it – is voluntary, but I think perception is the same in this respect: we are able to see what we want to see by freely turning our attention towards it.

Increasingly I am persuaded that controlled attention may be as close to the secret of life as we’ll ever come.

“The nectar is in the journey”

May 14, 2013

That’s John McDermott‘s slogan. It’s also a walker’s.

A walker, by my definition, is one who makes a habit of setting aside at least 30-60 minutes a day for ritual perambulation.Thoughts trivial or profound may or may not be entertained during this daily transit. The point is to move, eventually to return to one’s starting place refreshed, renewed, buoyed, lightened of heart, enlightened of mind. A good walk returns us to the place we started but with an advantage, possibly with a bit more understanding and perspective and a bit less weltschmerz… like T.S. Eliot in Four Quartets.

“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.”

Some eminent walking philosophers: Thales, Aristotle’s Peripatetics, Rousseau, Kant, Nietzsche, Emerson & Thoreau, James, Nishida… and then there are all those poets and writers: Blake, Keats, Wordsworth, Hazlitt, Whitman, Dickens, Stevens, Frost, Abbey, Berry…

Walkers typically conclude by coming home (or back to the office, hotel, camp, whatever). We don’t call our accomplishment a “run,” as ballplayers do when they come home. Nor do we think we’ve merely circled the bases. We notch each walk on our figurative (and in Thoreau‘s case literal) sticks. It’s not that we’re keeping score, exactly. We’re keeping time.

In any weather, at any hour of the day or night, I have been anxious to improve the nick of time, and notch it on my stick too; to stand on the meeting of two eternities, the past and future, which is precisely the present moment; to toe that line.

My Philosophy Walks project is to assemble a stable of walkers, highlight their journeys, and plug in a few of my own. I’ll meander some, but with a purpose. I do have a destination in mind, and a soundtrack beginning with Dire Straits’ Walk of Life.

It should be fun. It should. 


Congrats to Older Daughter, last night awarded the “Golden Bat” and named again to the All-Region team… joining Younger Daughter, last week a “Golden Glove” recipient. It’s hard to be humble when you’re golden. To the journey! And, to coming home. Don’t forget, a walk’s as good as a hit.

“A professor has two functions”

May 13, 2013

Grades reported!

I hate issuing grades, except well-earned A’s. Had more than a few of those this term, so I’m in relatively good spirits this a.m.

But, I’m also in that typical post-semester, tired-of-professing state of mind displayed by William James when he complained about his vocation,

…paid to talk talk talk. It would be an awful universe if everything could be converted into words words words.

I feel a touch of what he must have felt on retiring from Harvard in 1907:

I thank you for your congratulations on my retirement. It makes me very happy. A professor has two functions: (1) to be learned and distribute bibliographical information; (2) to communicate truth. The 1st function is the essential one, officially considered. The 2nd is the only one I care for. Hitherto I have always felt like a humbug as a professor, for I am weak in the first requirement. Now I can live for the second with a free conscience.

For a few weeks, anyway, my posts to this and other venues will be entirely in service of “communicating truth,” specifically in the form of a work-in-progress I’m calling Philosophy Walks. I’m going to resist the habitual urge to reflect overtly on whatever crosses pre- and semi-caffeinated consciousness, and stick to the business of philosophers who’ve walked and philosophy that’s emerged from walks of my own (with occasional “Happiness” and “Humanist” posts thrown in, just because my self-control is only human).

I’m guessing that might mean fewer pre-dawn posts in the days and weeks ahead. We’ll see.