PADometer Issue No. 2 : Spring, 2018
- Intro Part 1: Camino
- Intro Part 2: This Issue
- Forms: Walkers’ Journals
- Context: Book Review – Flaneuse
- Action: Walking and Recovery
- Theory: A New Trail Discovered
PART 1: GOING ON PILGRIMAGE
In a little over two weeks our Padakun-team will be arriving in Porto, in Northern Portugal, to begin a three week walk to the city of Santiago de Compostella, arguably one of the most important pilgrimage goals in the world. There are dozens of routes leading to Santiago, starting in France, Spain, Italy, Switzerland and Portugal. Our route is the Caminho Portuguese, a more than 600 km path, originating in Lisbon. This route normally takes about a month, though we will be following a smaller sub-route, known as the Caminho da Costa, the Coastal Camino, which begins north of Lisbon in Porto and follows the Portuguese coastline north to Santiago, a path of 275 km.
Some people have done the Camino on the spur of the moment, with little advance preparation. My version is more the opposite. I had originally planned to do the Camino last September, but, for health reasons, needed to postpone it to this Spring. That has given me nearly a year to prepare, not that one really needs that much time. I’ve used this time in a few ways.
Firstly, I have studied maps and guidebooks to learn about the route – its topography, weather, food and cultural highlights. Having visited the Duoro region (which includes Porto) a few years ago, on a river cruise, there wasn’t that much tourist detail which was new or surprising. The more challenging aspect of preparation has been diving into the language. I have learned French and Italian in the past and they seemed so similar, it was almost like learning a single one. On the other hand, Portuguese, while a distant linguistic cousin, is different enough in sound and vocabulary that it has been more difficult. Some travel commentators advise that Portugal is the most English-speaking of the non-UK countries and that language learning is less important. Be that as it may, a major part of my reason for going is to engage with the culture more deeply than I could on the river cruise. I want to feel immersed, not just a witness. Language is part of that bridge.
There are many minor other preparations, like choosing what boots to bring, how to avoid looking like a turista and sustaining my daily walking regimen to ensure I can walk the necessary 18-25 km daily.
The greatest challenge has been my inner preparations. As the great Camino expert, John Brierly advises, it is the inner Camino which places the largest demands. He writes:
Start from the basis that you are essentially a spiritual being on a human journey….We all have a different Way and what is right for one may be incomprehensible to another…We both give and receive healing on the journey… Why am I doing this?
As someone deeply invested in the contemplative aspect of walking, I am directed to view this Camino less as an accomplishment, another walk to add to my trophy-wall, than as that inner journey, one which takes me into my own contemplative spaces. In our July issue, look for our reflections on this life-altering experience.
PART 2: THIS ISSUE
In this, our second issue of The PADometer, we continue with another broad sample of writer-walker offerings. We begin with a set of journal entries from the university course we introduced last issue. These are the more intimate insights of young walkers. Next, we crack open a superb book for walkers, Lauren Elkin’s Flaneuse: Women Who Walk. This is one of those “couldn’t put it down” volumes which introduces us to a set of amazing women who affirmed the importance of women’s experience on the path. Coming back to another personal story, we meet Esther Hladkowicz who writes about how her walking regimen played a central part in her recovery from serious back surgery. The issue closes out with an update on a critical change of direction for the Padakun project. Ray explains how recent exploration in unexpected side-trails will alter the course for our work.
As always, we welcome your feedback.
In the last issue of PADometer, Frances Garrett wrote about the class which she gave at the University of Toronto called “On Foot: Cultural Histories of Walking”. Frances asked her students to maintain walkers’ journals throughout the course. Here are some excerpts from students’ Walking Journals
Student A: “If I didn’t have this walk scheduled in I probably would have only gone outside to go to my lectures. Having some time set aside to go on a walk has been very valuable to me. I think it is important to have time reserved to be outdoors with your own thoughts. Things can get pretty overwhelming at times, so having personal, active time gives an outlet, and walking is so meditative and reflective by nature that it clears the mind and helps me refocus my priorities. It’s like I can reset my mind. I always feel like I have more of a handle on my personal and academic lives and how they fit together. I plan on continuing to schedule in long walks outside throughout my time in university. I’m sure that having this ritual will be good for me as a form of reflection. When I think about ways to reflect, I’ve never thought about walking. However it’s starting to see to me like the most effective form of reflection. When I try and write about my thoughts or feelings I tend to overthink and question my own feelings, but that doesn’t happen when I walk….. Whatever is on my mind I can think about more clearly and with less judgment while I’m walking.”
Student B: “Walking is easy but not simple. It connects with everything we do and tells others who we are.”
Student C: “When signing up for this course I had no clue what to expect, …however, I am so grateful now having gone through it, as it has politely forced me to continue to go on walks for pleasure throughout this stressful time of starting university. I do believe that had I not take this course, … that really would have taken a toll on both my mental and physical health. Especially since before analyzing my walking habits as I have done through this course, I never really realized how much significance and importance walking has had on my life…. Along with this I have also gained in a simplistic sense, a much greater appreciation for the world surrounding me. Not just the small town of Mississauga and Toronto that I live in, although I have learned much more than I could have ever imagines about these as well, but also an appreciation for the entirety of the planet.”
Student D: “It’s deeply saddening to see the conditions we let others endure because or our selfishness and refusal to act. When looking at those in need, look into their eyes. Replace their space with that of yours or a loved one and imagine the internal complexity of their situation. These people are our family too.”
Student D: “The places the requirements of this class have pushed/motivated me to go have profoundly influenced my beginning university experience in an immeasurably positive way. The teachings of our readings have permanently effected my perception on the act and opening up the doors to the endless literature to learn more about walking, and I hope to continue growing in my knowledge of it, enrich my experience and allow it to shape my thoughts and writing.”
Student E: “This walk, in fact these collections of walks, contains all that makes me happy; alive. I will continue to walk throughout the next semester – even in snow! And throughout the rest of my life. Maybe I’ll even journal the odd elucidating (or maybe even the mundane… everything has significance) walk now or then. Thank you… for a truly wonderful, thought-provoking, engaging course.”
Student F: “This class has made me take into consideration all aspects of walking as I live through new experiences. I didn’t realize how such a simple movement can play a large role in the way we feel. I am amazed to think how much this class has changed or developed the way I think. …. As I talk to people back home about my university experience, I find myself talking a lot about this course. I am so glad I signed up for this class.”
Student F: “As I walked down Spadina today I thought of how one could only walk in order to experience the sensory details that I was experiencing – the smell of Asian food coming from the shops, the sound of the streetcar and the people talking to teach other and to their mobile devices as they walked by.”
Student F: “I wish I could major in walking. I love talking to others about the class and what I’ve learned and the material is actually quite fascinating! If you asked me in August when I was choosing my courses, I don’t think I would have ever expected this outcome.
Student F: “As this semester comes to an end, all I can think is how much I wish this was a full-year course.”
BOOK REVIEW : WOMEN WALK THE CITY
Flaneuse: Women Walk The City in Paris, New York, Tokyo, Venice and London, by Lauren Elkin
After going into the first 50 pages of this a few months ago, I blog-posted a strong recommendation for this book. I assumed the work would be as good, if not better, after that. I subsequently took it along as one of my two reading choices for a Cuban vacation and it proved to be the perfect travel book and a wonderful complement to my explorations into urban walking. I still recommend it, only now even more so.
Elkin is a walker-writer writing here about other women walker-writers in a semi-autobiographical style that is charming and disarming. Originally from New York City, she traces her own travels across the world, and in doing so introduces the reader to a sampling of well and little known women writers who walked the same streets of the cities where Elkin finds herself.
Each chapter of the book introduces a new writer-walker and a new city. A reader could probably jump in anywhere, since the stories are independent and the historical sequence is the sole thread. She begins with some explanatory detail, some about herself, some about the whole concept of flanerie, from which we get the early term, flaneur, and her more recent twist, the feminine flaneuse. It becomes the lens through which we come to meet and know the women of the book. Flaneur is a term that arose in the late 19th century to describe a new kind of man, the aloof and somewhat affluent urban dweller, who wandered the major streets of Paris, in particular. He was there to see and be seen. He witnessed the emerging social and cultural scene of Paris, such as was being portrayed by Parisian painters, writers and musicians. And he was on the street to play the peacock himself, letting the world know he was part of the avante-garde. As Elkin correctly notes the flaneur could only be a man. Women in turn-of-the-century Paris, as in London and elsewhere, were on the threshold of redefining their social presence, especially through the arts and the suffragette movement. Therefore, for Elkin, a flaneuse is not just a female version of the flaneur, she walks as a woman must walk and experience cities where women are supposed to be passive, delicate child-like creatures of home and hearth. These are assuredly not delicate child-women, Elkin writes that the flaneuse is:
a figure to be reckoned with, and inspired by, all on her own. She voyages out, and goes where she’s not supposed to. She forces us to confront the ways in which words like home and belonging are used against women. She is a determined, resourceful individual, keenly attuned to the creative potential of the city and the liberating possibilities of a good walk.
Through the chapters we meet extraordinary and accomplished women. Some were familiar to me already, like Virginia Wolff, Martha Gelhorn and Georges Sand. Most were new – Jean Rhys, Sophie Calle and Agnes Varda, and others. And in the process we become intimate with Elkin herself, as she shares her own difficulties adjusting to each of these cities. Writing this kind of confidential, self-disclosing work can be precarious. Auto-biography can be narcissistic, disingenuous and creepy. Elkin’s is none of these. I enjoyed meeting her as much as any of the other flaneuses she describes.
If I had to pick a favourite, it would have to be the amazing Martha Gelhorn, the mid-20th century journalist and novelist whose front-line reporting from the battlefields and barricaded streets of Europe defined a genre of reporting. Dwelling much of her life in the looming shadow of Hemingway, she seems someone who rarely shied from an adventure or a walk. Elkin says of her:
Gelhorn was one of those travelling, wilding, writing women, driven to see more of the world and what’s in it. Many of the other (..women writer-walkers..) were travelling with or in the wake of their husbands, who had been posted abroad .. Whereas Gelhorn was often more daring than her husband.
Flaneuse is about 300 pages and available in paperback and in e-book formats.
WALKING AND RECOVERING
When I was asked to pen a few words of reflection on how walking has played a role during my post operative recovery from spinal surgery, I knew it wouldn’t be a textbook version of following normal post surgical protocol. To put that into context, I’ll have to start at the 72- hour mark after my surgery. I wanted to walk, I needed to walk, I HAD to walk. I asked for all my IV’s and the like to be discontinued so I could go for a walk. They brought me my brace and to my consternation, even with four people to help, this veteran walker couldn’t walk.
For the rest of that day I ruminated a great deal about this unacceptable development…..and started thinking about all the world walking that I’d done. I allowed myself a moratorium of wallowing in this for a couple of hours. …..but it was perhaps the most productive and succinct brooding I’d ever done. A mere thirty minutes later I was up with that walker and my medievalist back brace and circling the nurses station. Even going for such a short walk felt like a grand act of self nurturing and I felt such a sense of finally moving forward , step by step.
Remembering my year of chronic and acute pain severely limiting my mobility, I had a visual of myself walking backwards, sidewards, crosswards but never able to walk forward through my pain. I remember trying to navigate through that with a calm detachment and hopefully no reactivity in terms of taking an opiate or hours of unrelenting neural pain. I felt with every step I took post-operatively, I was becoming unstuck from everything. Movement of the body is the best analgesic for the mind. When it was time for 2 pain pills, I took only one and the other I took in the form of a ten minute scoot around the halls. When I was discharged from the hospital, the Acute Pain Service said that they had never had a patient that left with such a low prescription.
For the next seven weeks I was unable to walk outside because of inclement weather. This was indeed a struggle for me as I am a total outdoorsy person. I walked in my house in circles for over a month and a half. Walking doesn’t have to be gruelling or demanding in order to be physically therapeutic at stages of life, it can help focus, re-centre and quiet your mind. As I walked around this aimless circuit, I was, in fact, walking through some of my more memorable hikes. I would walk through the Tuscan hills, the back roads of Kraków, the Bohemian district of Prague, the Rhine, and countless castles and monasteries.
Every walk was a learning experience. I found myself walking with a more natural gait -not as guarded, not as fearful. It was time to recover and reward in a warmer clime! At seven weeks post op, my surgeon approved my plan of flying south, albeit with a stern admonishment of doing nothing else but walking. No problem says I! The first few walks along the ocean were a little disconcerting in the sense that I was back to walking with what I felt was an abhorrent gait. The sand was constantly shifting and I felt I felt constantly off balance after having walked on hardwood flooring for weeks. I took off my sensible shoes and started walking barefoot. What a revelation! I felt connected to the planet, the waves washing over my feet and ebbing all my anxieties and stresses out to the ocean. I was becoming myself again.
For the next six weeks, I walked 25 km every day. I wasn’t even 3 months post-op. I would go to spinal surgery forums to see what other people were doing at this stage. It was with incredulous disbelief that I read over and over about people who were still on heavy medication and not moving! I felt compelled to leave a comment about how I emphasized with their predicaments and shared a little bit about how a simple, short walk could be the start of a new recovery. The backlash that I received from most of them were so negative and angry, I realized that a lot of people weren’t willing to deal with their emotional / physical issues through action, but seemingly preferred to root their reflections through emotional disclosure with like minded people only.
THEORY: A NEW TRAIL DISCOVERED
Over the past few years, in conversation and through presentations, I have had the pleasure and challenge of explaining what Padakun is and, in particular, what this phrase “contemplative walking” might mean. Even for us closest to the project the meaning has evolved. It began with the study of Buddhist walking meditation and focused primarily on forms. That is, our interest was in identifying forms of meditation, then assembling and describing them as an integrated phenomenon, rather than viewing them as simply meditation done while moving. In that narrow study, limited to one faith tradition, new questions emerged. What other faiths use walking? Is walking contemplation identical to sedentary practice? Does the fact that walking occurs in a changing environment effect the act of contemplation, and how?
On our website, we tried to offer some preliminary answers with proposals that this thing we called contemplative walking:
- Requires that our contemplative process be grounded in our physical experience, and be interactive and negotiative with the physical space and other beings;
- Proposes that contemplation in motion, such as walking, allows us to discover meaning in and through our experienced and embodied practices, and not be imposed on them; and
- Proposes that we go beyond merely accepting walking practices in a collection of contemplative acts
The exploration of the topic has, as would any interesting hike, taken me into unexpected but instructive tangential fields – cartography, architecture, urban planning and contemporary visual arts. This has brought even more questions and re-focused the exploration more on contemplation than walking. In particular, since we are concerned with walking as an activity that moves us through space, the emerging questions relate to the spaces or landscapes of contemplation.
In the fascinating work, Walkscapes: Walking as an aesthetic practice, architect Francesco Careri reminds that human presence and movement has refined raw nature into “landscapes”. This means that the very action of human movement, such as the wanderings of nomadic peoples, leaves an expressive mark in undifferentiated nature. Therefore there is natural space and then there is landscape. From landscape emerged structure and eventually our fabricated landscape of buildings and cities.
It hardly needs saying that contemplation, like any human activity can and often takes place in a fabricated space – a chapel, a room, a meditation hall. In the physical sense, this is the space of contemplation. However, contemplation is also a non-physical event, which takes place within a non-physical space. This we may define simply as a mental space, like our thoughts, memories and imaginings. There are those who take contemplation as simply one special category of our consciousness. For them contemplation is another aspect of brain activity, and can be examined as a neurological event. Other recent views suggest that our cognitive activity, our thoughts, memories and emotions emerge from an interaction of brain, body and environment. Thinking, then , is a whole body and whole environment event.
Bringing this back to walking and contemplation, and the concerns of Padakun, we are coming to appreciate that contemplation is not just something that people do and that they may opt to do that while they are walking. Rather, we are understanding a reciprocal relationship between movement and contemplation. That is, we take walking as an activity prompted, in part, by a fundamental human need to reflect. For Padakun, contemplation both drives us to walk and grows from the movement of walking. In short, there is no subset of contemplation called contemplative walking, this seems o be a dead-end for us. Contemplation and walking appear instead as this interconnected expression of human action. We contemplate, and this gets us walking; when we walk we become reflective.
Above, we drew on Careri’s ideas of how human movement came to define physical space. For him this has vital importance in the practice of architecture. What we are coming to appreciate is that walking similarly expresses a contemplative space, which is non-physical, of course, but also not confined to the space of the brain. We suggest that contemplative space is actually many contemplative spaces, a full geography of contemplative opportunity. Where Padakun wants to go now, as an investigative endeavour, is beyond the limits and processes of cognitive study. We take the task as more related to explorers like Champlain or Columbus, moving into a little understood landscape and beginning to map the space exposed in the meeting of walking and contemplation.
As with any walker, we can come across a previously unknown trail-opening or alley-way. The true spirit of the walker is never to stick with the known, the grid or the pavement. We always want to play with “I wonder where this goes”. Such is this turning point for Padakun. In our next few issues we will try to articulate this in more detail, and re-formulate where this adventure will take us in the future.