I have a love/hate relationship with walking. On the one hand, I see the benefits of walking to help solve a creative problem. On the other hand, I often feel like walking is frivolous — or worse, a distraction. And anyway, isn’t it better to go on a run or bike ride, a more rigorous workout? This was my thinking.
Then I read up on the strong connection between physical activity and creative thinking, specifically walking. A brisk walk serves as a bridge between the physical and the mental. Studies show this link is real: walking is not a waste of time. The act of walking itself is a meditative and cleansing act, and it’s something almost anyone can do. It takes very little practice, and yet, walking is a philosophy unto itself.
French philosopher Frédéric Gros establishes his philosophy of walking from the perspectives of the philosophers who swore their daily walks were antidotes to and escapes from the work of the mind. A Philosophy of Walking is an essential book for anyone who believes in the meditative properties of walking, and it’s a must-read for creatives seeking out new approaches to their work. As Gros says, “when you are walking, there is only one sort of performance that counts: the brilliance of the sky, the splendour of the landscape.”
We learn from Gros that when Nietzsche walked, “he walked as others work… he worked while he was walking,” and that Rousseau’s long walks were where “sentences would spring to his lips, as a light punctuation of the movement.” It’s clear right from the beginning of Gros’s book that walking and philosophy are interlinked.
A Philosophy of Walking is both a history of walking and a spiritual guide to the power of walking. He covers some of the “giants” of Western philosophy and literature – not only Nietzsche and Rousseau, but also Thoreau and Ghandi – yet he doesn’t lose sight of his own philosophy of walking. Gros fights against passivity and urges us to get back to a connection with the natural world:
In walking, you find these moments of pure pleasure, around encounters. The scent of blackberries or myrtle, the gentle warmth of an early summer sun, the freshness of a stream. Something never known before. In this way walking permits, in bright bursts, that clearance of a path to feeling, in discreet quantities: a handful of encounters along the way.
Passages like this are littered throughout the work, revealing that Gros’s philosophy is really a return to experience, akin to 19th-century Romanticism.
At times, Gros leans too much on aphorism. Some of his points seem too reductive: a line here or there meant to urge us toward action falls short. Points made become repetitive. For example, late in the book, he writes, “Basically, walking is always the same, putting one foot in front of the other.” But that point is made in almost every chapter. It’s worth noting, however, that I’m reviewing a version translated from French to English; it is possible some of these ideas were lost in translation.
Overall, A Philosophy of Walking is an excellent read. It’s short, but it will make you think. It’s philosophical, yet simple to understand: we all walk or see or hear, and we can get out of our head and our home to enjoy nature. In essence, this book brings us back to what matters and urges us to filter out the noise. This is a good enough reason for me to get out and walk every day, and I have this book to thank for the motivation.