When we walk and breathe, become aware of sounds and smells, vibrations and sights around us, a new experience of body and mind in unity comes into play.
Sitting and working has become a new thing for many people. A swivel chair the new place of labour, and the desk and computer screen a portal into a world of work and stress. We have to get away from it, as often as possible.
Walking is a doorway that opens up an opportunity to allow more creative thoughts to gather on the landscape of our minds, and is always a step away from our desks.
Everytime you walk out of your home, and experience the street outside, your mind wakes up just a little more, the body begins to use those sleepy muscles that sitting never calls upon.
When you demand both body and mind to act, you experience fresh thoughts that create new scenarios out of smells and sounds. Vibration hardly perceived, sights that beckon body and mind to march through interesting gateways, investigate doorways that look promising, and find out what’s at the end of a road you hardly ever visit.
This is the stuff of everyday life. The city or town you live in is goldmine of discovery.
Forget flights to blue watered beaches far away, test the tarmac under your feet and outside your door.
The rhythm of walking without rush, the opportunities to stop and look, to think and ponder, feed the soul with fodder for thoughts far away from computers and numbers. It’s a simple but powerful way to experience those thoughtful moments in life that remind us that there’s more to everyday existence than work.
When was the last time that you sauntered off down a street without the pressing feeling that you need to be somewhere quickly?
The ongoing moments that make up our lives are unravelling themselves just outside our homes. We only need to go and investigate, to wander and discover, and like the shutter in a camera that opens up and captures the light, we can capture intriguing displays of daily life in the streets of our own city. Experiences that become memories, memories that build new perceptions of reality.
The home we live in is designed to our own wishes. Home is a secure place. The streets outside, the buildings, squares and small clumps of foliage and trees, are intentionally designed to create feelings of security and possibilities. A street corner up ahead is an opportunity to discover something you didn’t know about.
A good neighbourhood is an extension of your home.
The square or plaza is by tradition the place to meet your neighbours. Walk onto the local square which is designed to draw people in and create community, conversations are spoken more openly. Exchanges of information are normal, and openly shared. It’s not a formal meeting place, it’s a place of coincidences.
People bump into neighbours they had a passing conversation with six months ago, on the same square. The natural feeling of openness that the town square is designed to create, works well. If you wander around the square and sop up the atmosphere, you’ll hear intimate conversations, notice that many people chatting probably met by coincidence and only know each other by sight. People meet at the village square and enjoy hearing news.
Shopping Malls were an attempt to recreate the village square, and they failed miserably. The only function is to sell goods and this over arching intention overwhelms the village square effect. People are herded and controlled in their movements, funnelled into narrow walkways where they are surrounded by advertising and “special offers”. There’s nothing to see, so move on, and enjoy the tree lined streets and the freedom to choose where you walk.
In cities, the square where people meet is also a refuge and safe space where children can play. No cars or buses disturbed the interaction of adults, children, and pets.
Walking gives you the opportunity to stop any time it pleases you. You see something odd or weird and decided to investigate it, so you stop without much thought and inspect a building or a structure that you’ve never noticed before — try doing that in car.
Driving around, or going for a spin in a car offers only one experience, driving and focussing on the traffic in front of you, behind you, each new corner becomes a source of danger rather than discovery. Driving and bike riding don’t offer the same experience as walking does. Cyclists have to watch their back all the time, too.
The Will to Walk and Experience Life
There’s a common experience that walkers talk of, Will Self, the fiction writer, is a keen walker. He realized years ago that he travels often. He’d go on a book tour and visit L.A., New York, San Francisco, stay in hotels, eat in the hotel restaurant but never venture out into the streets to explore. He knew the names of these places, but had no idea what these streets were physically made of. So he started walking, and looking and discovering. In moments where he made a good discovery, something worth thinking deeply about, he realized he’d experience a “moment”, maybe something like a mini-enlightenment.
I like to think of these moments as an opportunity to exercise creativity. There’s part of my brain that thinks best when unleashed, to go into full gallop, so I can speculate on why an object exists, or was built. I may already know a thing or two about a building, but I can allow my thoughts to wander into that world of magical realism that piques my curiosity, and helps me understand the mad moments of life.
We can’t really claim to know what’s happening in the world. The media splash the latest squabbles and battles across the front page of a very small computer screen. The streets of our cities are full of stories to be discovered and enjoyed. And when we go looking for them, we sometimes involve ourselves in the process of building a story that we can bring back home with us.
In a street close to my home, I found an old building, it’s big, and it appears to be mostly dark — many of the rooms in this large house that sits halfway up a hill, are dark. I did my best to find out who built it, and why such a magnificent house is hardly used. It’s one of those houses that has an atmosphere, slightly spooky, but mostly inviting.
I discovered through reading that it was built for officers of the German Army, the Prussian army first and then officers and families of the First World War lived in several houses in the street.
All but one of the houses was torn down in the 1970s, and today the remaining house is occupied by a ceramic artist, and a couple of rooms are used as a studio by an independent film director.
The story that grabbed at me like an electrical current that flashes across the walls, is one of love. It seems it was empty for many years and nobody wanted to live there. But one day, a young law student out for a walk, passed the empty house, he was struck by that special feeling that is always only in the eye of the beholder. He immediately knew that he’d found his home. He fell in love, firstly, with a house.
He had no money, and no prospects, but he knew that his life would only be happy if he did everything possible to buy the house and live there. After begging and bothering banks and family, he finally bought the house, and moved in to his new home in the Methfessel Strasse, in Berlin.
That was all I could find out, but my interest stayed with me. As time went by, and my walks past this old house increased, I discovered little things about it that I hadn’t noticed before. There was a pile of old bricks at the side of the house, they were covered in moss, and some of them had been so badly weathered that the bricks were clearly so old that they were of no use to anyone. There had been a plan to rebuild, and to make the place liveable once again, but that plan went to the wayside.
Beams in the walls were rotten, and the facade was beginning to crumble. My thoughts speculated about the present owner; maybe they are in dire straits, or so wealthy that they have no interest or time for a new project.
I did find out one more thing about the house, something much more valuable to know about a street house than who owns it, or what plans they have, a beautiful love story.
After the young law student moved into his new home, there was an unexpected knock at his door. When he answered, a young woman who he hardly knew stood holding a bouquet of flowers. She handed them to him, and told him that she was his secret admirer. He invited her in, they drank tea together and chatted for hours. That was the only time that she had to knock on his house door, she stayed and never left. They lived together, and spent most of their time around the house, living and working. Dividing the large rooms into offices and living quarters.
What became of them, I don’t know. But when I think of this house now, it is no longer a pile of rotting bricks that somebody needs to sort out, it’s a place where solid love blossomed, and two people lived a happy life together.
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