Some thoughts on walking and our ability to cope

Raymond De Young (Associate Professor of Environmental Psychology and Planning at the School of Natural Resources and Environment, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan) sent me a recent paper he wrote called Coping With Environmental Transitions: Some Attentional Benefits of Walking in Natural Settings, published in Ecopsychology, Vol. 2, No. 1, March 2010. For tonight's Campfire post, I thought I would quote some sections from it. The full paper is available at the link above.

Coping with the challenges of global climate disruption and the peaking of the rate of fossil fuel production will require behavioral change on a massive scale. There are many skills that will help individuals deal with this coming transition but none more central than the abilities to problem-solve creatively, plan and restrain behavior, and manage the emotions that result from the loss of an affluent lifestyle. These abilities require a mental state called vitality. Even in the best of circumstances, maintaining this state can be difficult and, to make matters worse, it seems that modern culture is conspiring to wear down this aspect of mental effectiveness. This article discusses mental vitality as being based upon the capacity to direct attention. Functioning effectively despite the distractions and challenges of an electrifying and changing world fatigues this capacity. Restoring one’s ability to direct attention is explained as a likely precondition to effective problem-solving, planning, and self-regulating, thus making such restoration essential for high levels of individual performance in general and for thoughtful coping in particular.

Fortunately, restoring mental vitality requires nothing more than commonplace activities in everyday environments. In fact, since everyday nature is sufficient, there may be no special advantage to time spent in spectacular environments. For instance, the simple activity of walking in natural settings, particularly walking mindfully, may be all that is needed for restoration. The article concludes with a series of specific prescriptions for enhancing our ability to cope with the coming transition, which can be summarized as simply to spend time walking outdoors, regularly, surrounded by and mindful of everyday nature.

Excerpt from Introduction

This transition is crucial and overdue, but hard. The process requires that we think and act in clever, clearheaded, and new ways. Yet such thought and action can wear us out mentally. Burned out people cannot help heal the planet. Thus, we need to know specifically what mental capacity is wearing out, how it wears out, and the conditions under which it can be restored. This article explores these issues and:

1. Suggests that coping with the environmental challenges we face demands a number of distinct mental and behavioral abilities.

2. Suggests that these abilities each draw upon a mental resource defined as the capacity to direct attention.

3. Explains what directed attention is, how it differs from another form of attention, how it fatigues, and the environments that help to restore it.

4. Provides a prescription for maintaining this vital mental capacity. By following the prescription offered, we can restore and better manage our mental vitality. In a restored state we will have a greater ability both to pursue behaviors that heal nature and to learn to live well, within limits, on this one planet.

Excerpt from "A Prescription to Aid Coping"

The general prescription presented here is to spend more time in natural settings regardless of what other activities we are pursuing during our day. However, theory and research allow us to be somewhat more specific. Because at this time most of us would benefit from doing more walking, we can use it as a prototype behavior. Soon we may need to walk not just for contemplation and restoration, but for basic locomotion. The prescription below is likely relevant for either circumstance.

Clearly this prescription contains many researchable issues with important theoretical and practical implications, but they are derived from a central question: what are the conditions under which walking effectively revitalizes the mind? More specifically, where, how, and with whom should we walk?

What to do

The prescription is simply to walk in a natural setting. Nothing extreme, neither grand nor distant, is required. A walk during lunch down tree-lined streets, a restful interlude in a vest pocket park, or an evening stroll through neighborhood nature will suffice. Certainly the choice of what walking route to take does matter. In a study that validated aspects of attention restoration theory, a walking route through an arboretum that was tree-lined and separated from traffic significantly improved mental effectiveness when compared to a route in the same area and of the same length but more urban in character ( Berman, Jonides, & Kaplan, 2008).

Walking is a deceptively simple yet apparently effective means of promoting deep contemplation (Loehle, 1990). Regular walks, which are rare today, were used to great effect by generations of thinkers. Darwin is known to have walked on a planned route while he worked on some of his more difficult problems. The familiarity of the route he walked likely minimized the attentional demands of navigation. The natural setting with its quiet fascination may have allowed him to feel quite far away from everyday concerns and distractions thus allowing for the deep reflection needed to gain his insights. As a result, his name is now given to walks that have a deeply engrossing effect on the mind.

Who to walk with

Generally, solitary walking is preferable to an absentee partner on a cell phone, or to the hyper-vigilance necessary when walking with young children. However, having a walking partner may provide benefits.

Choosing between solitary and social walking becomes easier once it is understood that social interaction can be intense or gentle and can have an inward or outward focus. The first thing to note is that it is a rare walk that consumes no directed attention since basic navigation alone is demanding. The concern here is how to keep the attentional demand from growing beyond basic information processing. If the social interaction is riveting with a lively back-and-forth conversation, then it is likely that additional directed attention will be consumed through the process of ensuring a civil discourse (e.g., not interrupting, following streams of thought, keeping up your end of the conversation). A more gentle conversation, perhaps one that is accepting of extended periods of silence, will make less additional demand on directed attention. It may be that the latter situation is similar in attentional demand to a solitary walk where we carry on an internal dialog.

In contrast, if the social interaction is itself engaged in noticing nearby nature, then the conversation might help both individuals to dwell more deeply in the setting and thus gain additional restoration. Again, the more tranquil the conversation, the less additional directed attention will be needed to ensure civility.

How to walk

Whether walking alone or with a partner, if we seek mental restoration, then we should direct our perception toward the surrounding natural features. Having an environmental engagement plan may help keep our thoughts from taking up the work we would be advised to leave behind. An environmental engagement plan is a strategy designed to influence how we engage in and interact with the physical environment (Leff, 1984; Leff & Gordon, 1979; Leff, Thousand, Nevin, & Quiocho, 2002). They often draw on a variety of senses (e.g., listen for bird songs, sense weather changes, notice scents), involve making inferences (e.g., think how an edible landscape would alter the area), or employ whimsy (e.g., what three things would you change in the setting to ease the transition to sustainable living). Such a plan can encourage greater engagement with nearby nature, enhancing the restorative effect of the walk even in a setting with only modest natural features. The power of an engagement plan is based on the realization that the restorative potential of a setting results from the interaction of our mind with the physical attributes of that setting.

Meditation also has been suggested as an activity that may restore the capacity to direct attention ( Kaplan, 2001; Tang et al., 2007 ). This makes the practice of walking meditation particularly useful for enhancing our coping (see Kabat-Zinn, 2005). However, it raises for us the question of where to look while walking, inward on the body or outward on the environment, and if on the environment, then whether to be vigilant or just gently mindful. Research exploring this issue is needed, but we can speculate that both approaches may work, albeit for different reasons. If we allow the quiet fascination of nature to fill our mind, then the capacity to direct attention can rest and thus be restored. It is likely that too vigilant a focus on the environment will be counter-productive as vigilance is another name for employing directed attention through visual scanning.

Gentle mindfulness might also enhance mental recovery but perhaps in an indirect and delayed fashion. One goal of mindfulness-based modalities is the facilitation of self-awareness. Socrates famously said that the unexamined life is not worth living. This partly may be due to the fact that an unexamined life may be mentally fatiguing. One can be burdened by distractions that are internal. Having to function despite internal anguish and confusion (e.g., muddled set of priorities, nagging sense of helplessness or foreboding, uncertainty about next steps to take) saps mental vitality. Mindfully examining one’s life will consume some directed attention, but for a worthy goal. The self-awareness gained may help to reduce internal noise, reducing the frequency of future internal distractions and thus increasing the possibility of future mental effectiveness.

Finally, walking is unlikely to be restorative if we allow electronic gadgets to interrupt our restorative outing. Neither should we imagine that we can multitask our restorative walk with a phone call or tweet.

When to walk

The capacity to direct attention is diminished continuously by everyday mental activity, which suggests the need for a restoration routine. Furthermore, because we are terrible judges of when we need restoration, we should take regular restorative breaks; since by the time we think we need a break, it is well past due.

Clearly, daily outdoor walking helps as does the ancient notion of following a weekly restorative ritual, particularly those that involve being away from our occupation. But if we accept that year-round mental effectiveness matters, then we also must pursue outdoor revitalization year-round. To the extent that we follow this prescription of getting a frequent dose of nature, we encounter difficulties in most parts of North America where signs of nearby nature diminish in winter. While two small studies suggest that people do find winter walks restorative and can find signs of nature even in the dead of the season (Metz, Boggs, King, & De Young, 2002; Pine, Thomas, & De Young, 2001), this is clearly a difficult task.

This brings up an important subject: what quality and dose of nature is needed to restore directed attention. More research is needed to answer this question but findings suggest that restoration may result from exposure to very limited amounts of nature. Kuo has suggested that isolated pockets of nature may suffice (Kuo, as cited in Clay, 2001 ) which might make possible the full restoration of directed attention in stark winter environments. Nonetheless, it would be important to seek out the many veiled forms of winter nature and to appreciate its more ephemeral character, and for this the engagement plans mentioned earlier would help.


What are your thoughts about walking? Have you found it helpful in your ability to cope? Do you have any specific recommendations?

A timely post. I had a lovely long stroll by the river Severn this afternoon. I tend to walk a lot by water, be it the river or canal here.

As you say, solitary walking is the way to go. No iPods allowed. Or cellphones.

Also in the UK, I daily walk the promenade in Aberystwyth. Very therapeutic. Often there is a cormorant flying low over Cardigan Bay or diving for fish. Magical and invigorating...

My wife and I have taken nightly 50min walks for 30 years. I love it and would never stop for anything. I can tell you that meeting another couple walking is an extremely rare experience.

The Isle of Wight has some of the most beautiful walks going. The walk from St Catherine's Point along the south coast of the island, heading west all the way to the Needles is a good 15ish miles. Very, very beautiful.

Just finished a walk on Mt Tam, down through Muir Woods. Redwoods and streams, lots of up and down.
I need to do this daily to stay sane.

…Also in the U.S.

I just biked down the lazy river-walk trail (nine-plus miles) alongside the Chattahoochee River in sleepy old Columbus, Ga. DON’T FORGET BIKING! For fat folks, older folk or those handicappers who have replaced knees or hips with titanium (me), a bike can give cardiovascular and muscular exercise without the load-bearing pounding that walking gives you.

And in the solitude of pre-sunrise biking alongside a quiet river, with mist floating low and birds stirring in the springtime smell of wisteria …ah …that stirs your recent dreams for proper musing.

Cap’n Daddy

I spent an hour sketching up a Pedal-trike for my dad today, to get him out more.. (and beyond the car, which he shouldn't be driving any more..)

I know, they do sell such things, but I seem to have to design anything I want from scratch.. the off-the-shelf model is never good enough.. and my improved homebuilts are never finished!

So maybe dad and his Ti Knees should try walking in the meantime.. but yeah, the belly makes this prospect unlikely.

I’ll wager that trying to set him a-walking on Ti Knees with a belly is doomed to failure. And my family is rife with “off-the-shelf model is never good enough” syndrome. (My own father once built a 47 foot shrimp boat in a cow pasture miles from the water to test a patent he had gotten on a shrimp trawl system. It took him years and moving it was another adventure.) Settle for less-than-perfect. Shop it online. Then find a local bike dealer, let him try one out and “settle for as good as you can get.” The important thing is to get the old guy moving.

(This advice is worth what you paid for it.)

Cap’n Daddy

Good enough will be "good enough" because you will be able to use it.

If you go with a 3 wheel recumbant you can add an electric motor to the 1 wheel and thus he can pedal as much as he can and go 'letric for the rest.

He missed one good way to "get one's attention out", and enforce the discipline of daily walks: get a dog.

"Dogs Better Exercise Companions Than Humans

The University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine Research Center for Human-Animal Interaction (ReCHAI) finds dogs do a better job of getting older adults out for exercise.

ReCHAI sponsors several projects that attempt to further the understanding and value of the relationship between humans and animals. In 2008, ReCHAI sponsored the “Walk a Hound, Lose a Pound and Stay Fit for Seniors.” In the preliminary program, a group of older adults were matched with shelter dogs, while another group of older adults were partnered with a human walk buddy. For 12 weeks, participants were encouraged to walk on an outdoor trail for one hour, five times a week. At the end of the program, researchers measured how much the older adults’ activity levels improved.

“The older people who walked their dogs improved their walking capabilities by 28 percent,” Johnson said. “They had more confidence walking on the trail, and they increased their speed. The older people who walked with humans only had a 4 percent increase in their walking capabilities. The human walking buddies tended to discourage each other and used excuses such as the weather being too hot.”

This bit about humans discouraging each other contrasts with my own experience with dog walking. They are not interested in excuses. They want to go galloping up the road. They think exercise is just plain great. A good dog is a great professional trainer."

I second this advice. Without my dog whining, I would not make it out for walks in the sub-zero Minnesota winter.

Absolutely! A long walk is not the same without a whippet by one's side!

Man's best friend indeed. And then after the walk, home for tea and crumpets for the hound and a bowl of rabbit and tripe for the Master. Oh, hang on, that might be the wrong way round!

I personally think a lot of people I know got a dog just because it forces them to go for a walk every day. Otherwise, they'd never have any excuse to do anything other than drive everywhere.

A human being who doesn't get his/her daily walk will just sit around the house and mope until they turn into a lump of fat, whereas a dog will whine and whimper until its human finally gets off his/her butt and takes it out. Humans who don't won't to turn into a lump of fat get a dog to motivate them into doing what they know they should do.

There are a lot of different ways to handle the angst that may arise from confronting the future. Walking is one of them but I don't think it's a very good one because it doesn't have a lasting effect, much like meditation.

In my view, for a person to have a lasting sense of peace they must fundamentally alter their view of the future. If the future they are living into before the walk is that all will come crashing down and the future they are living into after the walk is still that all will come crashing down, no lasting peace will occur and they will find themselves on the trail again the next day.

It's for this same reason that "positive thinking" doesn't work. All one gets is a very nervous person thinking positive thoughts while in the background the context that they view the world hasn't fundamentally altered i.e. they still don't have a very good future in front of them.

Said more rigorously, a person must alter the context in which they view the world. First they must fully and deeply see the current context. Then they create a new context that provides meaning they hold as important.

That's why the Transition Initiative is so valuable. If a person starts with the future (context) of "Mad Max" but through some internal work they begin to see "a community of thriving individuals supporting each other," that will provide more peace than 100 ten-mile walks.

For more, see "Creating a Post-Peak Future Worth Living Into."

If people want to walk, that's great. It's good exercise and as a treehugger I love communing with nature, too, especially in forests. But there are (again, in my view) more effective ways to bring oneself lasting peace.

I'm having a Transition meeting at my house tonight--
Contact me if you are interested.
We are having as event at the Throck in May that you may wish to attend.

Hi, Scott. Thanks for the invitation. I would have gone had I not a birthday dinner to attend. Please let me know about the May event, though!

"I don't think it's a very good one because it doesn't have a lasting effect, much like meditation."

You either have never meditated, were doing it wrong, or not enough.

The biological changes that meditation makes on the brain is well documented, scientifically.

Meditation alters your view of the future because you realize the future is only a story. Meditation and walking aimlessly are not the same.

I agree, however, regarding your statement on positive thinking. Pick up a copy of "Bright Sided", but she only tells a story the Buddhists have been telling for a few thousand years.

Hi, Christian. This is a very interesting conversation to me.

I don't have much (ok, any) experience in meditation since I couldn't manage to calm my mind when I attempted it. I'm sure a more disciplined approach would have got me further. (In other words, I don't think I have some fundamental barrier to becoming proficient at it.)

I'm curious about what you would say about the following.

I value being present. I understand that the past and the future do not actually exist but our brains dwell there because they think they do. Meditation seems to be a good way for some people to distinguish that all there is is Now.

However, the drawbacks to meditation seem to be:

  • meditation seems to involve a great deal of effort before one is good at it. I'm sure many people can eventually get good at it but that is still a significant barrier.
  • being a practice, it requires that it be done continually because the effects don't last very long. I haven't read all the papers at that link so perhaps you can speak to this. Is meditation "good for" one day? Two days? A week? Can't a single event disrupt the beneficial effects rather instantly?
  • meditation doesn't seem to be a tool that can be used without specific environmental conditions i.e. very quiet and preferably with very little outside distraction. Or at least only the most proficient can meditate outside of those parameters.

With all those items in the "cons" column, you can see why I'm skeptical of the value of meditation when compared to other approaches.

Last week I had an initial conversation with the author of Zen and Psychotherapy: Partners in Liberation in which I described my interest in his area of expertise. He is successfully using a sort of "zen light" with returning soldiers from Iraq and their families. We will have another conversation in the next few weeks to explore the applicability of his approach on the angst from a collapsing society. My take so far is that he actually doesn't offer meditation but uses the other excellent aspects of Buddhism instead.

I would appreciate any further education you can provide.

Meditation conditions the mind as exercise conditions the body, and I agree with the OP that walking accomplishes both.

I don't think its possible to underestimate the mental capacities of individuals in today's distracted environment of continual entertainment, and you might note that the transition movement you are involved in is tiny. Why is that - why are so few people interested in getting involved in something so vital? I'd say the general inability to put two thoughts together, the inability to focus effort on anything or to effectively engage a world outside of artificial reward systems is to blame. A general respect for meditation as a means of "growing minds" would useful. I wouldn't worry about how long the effect lasts, any more than I worry about how long the effect of exercise benefits the body; what you do, and particularly what you decide to do deliberately, changes who you are at every moment.

HI, Daxr. Thanks for chiming in. I agree that a big part of people not getting involved in the Transition Initiative is what you point out. I think there other causes, too, like the purely mechanical fact that many people simply haven't been introduced to the idea that we are at "peak economy." It does take time for young conversations to become mature ones. Once someone does get introduced, then I think your point really comes into play, though. Or perhaps their inattention has the Transition message bounce off them. But I would say we are still very much in the "get the message out" phase of things.

Hi Andre,
what seems to be getting in your way of making friends with meditation - or walking as meditation - is a common Western trap: You are judging your meditation.

This is basic to what is sometimes called bringing a "project mentality" to the practice of meditation. Part of that judgment is the idea that the purpose of meditation is "calming" the mind, some idea that implies good meditation is indicated, measured by an "empty mind". A more helpful attitude to cultivate is a habit of bringing mindfulness to the endless process of thinking. And don't beat yourself up for this judging. Notice it, make it part of the practice. It matters less what you are paying attention to. More important is to bring mindfulness, attention to as many aspects of your experience as possible, including your thoughts, rather than being identified with them. Every time you can interrupt that identification, your practice improves - imperceptibly to you - but it does. Trust. It has worked for millions of people for 2500 years. trust the bumper sticker: "Don't believe everything you think".

Reflect on this question: can you see the distinction between the flow, the process of thinking - and the content of the story your mind is telling?

You don't need any special environment, condition to meditate - or to walk. Special environments can help, and they can reinforce the belief that they are necessary. They are not. Meditation - or walking - is the most portable of relaxation techniques. The paradox is, in order to relax you have to pay attention to relaxing. Much of what we call relaxing is actually distraction, which is not the same thing. When you notice that your mind has wandered, notice that that is the case, bring your attention to your breath - nature in action, the movement of walking or whatever, driving, feel your hands on the steering wheel, notice "driving, driving", seeing, thinking. You can use any activity as a way to deepen your attention. Notice the distinction between "noise", "music", listening, hearing. You can do this anywhere, anytime. Where is hearing taking place? Notice that your mind has an analytical opinion about that. Notice analyzing, thinking, breathing, walking, sitting. Feel the contact between your body and the object your are sitting on. Notice what is so, pay attention. That's all there is to it. No need to make it complicated.

"We live in a world of illusion and appearances.
There is a reality.
You are that reality.
When you understand this, you see that you are nothing.
And in being nothing, you become everything.
That is all."

Kalu Rinpoche

The goal is not an empty mind. More important is to stop identifying with your thoughts, the content of your mind. Let the thoughts do their thing. They have their own momentum. Your job is to pay attention. If judging is going on, notice judging, thinking. The story is the story. Who are you? Just watching, paying attention.

This is not the place for complete meditation, walking instructions. Your misconceptions are normal and very common. But you have no excuse to hang on to them. Unless you want to. You are 20 minutes away from one of the best Meditation Centers in the World, catering specifically to busy Westerners. Check out Spirit Rock, SRMC, in West Marin on Monday nights. Do a basic one-day, and you are on your way. Forget meditation. Start calling it "practice", and start practicing paying attention right now.

Over time, this will do exactly what you are advocating. Your worldview will change. There is a price. You will take yourself less seriously.

Meditation is not what you think, Andre. A teacher of mine likened meditation to growing a tree. When we grow a tree we don't dig it up every day to check the condition of the roots... Also he said, in response to people worrying about making progress, "what makes you think you are competent to judge?" So just go with it. Step outside the mind chatter and go for a walk.

Hi, BlueMoonChimneys. I do think there is value in what your teacher has said. In my case, however, I'm less interested in becoming personally competent at meditation than understanding its relative merits compared to other techniques one might use.

rumpelstilzken, thanks for your considered reply.

I have had some training and experience in being present and I'm very familiar with the practice of distinguishing oneself from one's thoughts. I know that "having thoughts" is not the same as "thinking" though most people confuse the two and blurt out whatever thought is laying around when some event triggers it.

I'm actually reasonably proficient at this practice. I employ it every time someone throws an insult or dig my way when I'm introducing an idea that is foreign to them. I stop, identify what the reactive thought is, remind myself that I have choice in whether to respond that way and then choose a different response. In professional settings I'm very good at that and less so with my wife, but still much, much better than if you had seen me 15 years ago. :-)

I've also found that this is a good technique to be present with people during conversations. I would say that 95% of the conversations in which I engage I'm consciously practicing being present with only the person I'm speaking with. The result is more fulfilling conversations for both of us because listening on this level draws more out of the other person, as well.

However, despite your warning not to judge, I'm going to keep my interest in distinguishing the benefits and drawbacks of meditation because I am in a position to make recommendations to people and am committed to doing a good job with that. Right now in my courses I get questions asking what the "best" way is to face our future so this isn't idle chatter to me. I haven't been able to say much about meditation thus far and want to change that.

Hah! You don't need any advice...


There's a wide range of kinds of meditation, anti-stress methods, mind-body practices, etc, etc.

You might want to review something called Focusing.

Thanks, Nick. I'll check it out.

I admire your commitment to help the rest of us dealing with the amazing challenges ahead. I am very familiar with your work, did the Un-Crash Course last fall. And I am recommending it to others regularly. The process you describe with respect to conversation sounds very helpful. There seems to be a misunderstanding though. I didn't say "don't judge". The mind is designed to judge, make distinctions. It's a major part of what keeps us alive and from doing stupid things. A better way to say it, might be, "be aware when judging takes place, and use it as a way to deepen your mindfulness practice". Try to be aware of the automatic pilot trying to bring judging into everything, without a conscious reflection of whether that is what you want to be doing at every turn. Some people claim to have given up judging. I think much of that is delusional. Often the same folks will go right ahead and judge you for not following their example. Judging happens in the mind, whether we like it or not. The best we can do is be aware of it, and use the judgment voluntarily, if and when it seems appropriate.

I'm not sure where you see "drawbacks" to meditation. Keeping in mind that there are as many brands/flavors of meditation as there are cereal boxes on the shelf at Safeway. The meditation I am referring to is the one taught by the Theravadan branch of Buddhism. One of the main goals and results is bringing awareness, mindfulness, attention to every moment, every action, every decision - as an aim, not a guarantee. I don't see how any activity could be harmed by paying more attention to it. AND, this is different from analyzing.

If you are still concerned that there might be "drawbacks to meditation", I think you could benefit from some coaching. Some contact with the folks at Spirit Rock would be infinitely better than my trying to explain it here. And since it is that close, that convenient to you, what have you got to lose? I have been involved in this practice for 30 years. I would be hard put to identify a single instance in those 30 years of where it manifested "drawbacks". Meanwhile, Spirit Rock could probably benefit from contact with you and your technical understanding of the Post Carbon World.

Hi, Rumpelstilzken. I don't know who you are based on your handle but it's good talking to a graduate of the course :-).

Your description of the judging mind is similar to or maybe even exactly the same as how I have learned it. The thoughts that occur when "having thoughts" as opposed to "thinking" (a distinct mental process in which thoughts are directed) usually come in the form of judgements. My experience is that it's possible to reduce the judgements significantly but impossible to eliminate them. Usually managing them is possible (most of the time!) and I've found very valuable.

I have thought of visiting Spirit Rock. I've also been invited by another graduate to visit the Zen center in Mill Valley. I've committed to the Zen Center and I think you've inspired me to visit Spirit Rock, too!

Christian, whatever good effects meditation has for some people, we humans are not all made the same. Consider the possibility that just like some people are not good a physics, or some people are not artistic or musical, or athletic, some people might not be able to meditate in the same way as you or even at all. Since the only human who you can know on the inside is you (and even parts of you are likely hidden no matter how deeply you meditate) you cannot know what someone else is like inside.

It is convenient to make the judgment that if someone doesn't get the same result as you they are not doing it right or long enough. That judgment of course elevates you to being a "good" meditator. Yet in so saying you reveal pride and judgment, hardly the things I think should emanate from someone who meditates successfully.

Christian was replying to a poster who was complaining that meditation does not have "lasting" value.

Christian's point is that meditation is an on-going process, in fact a practice, and not a one-shot quick fix for whatever ails you.

Meditation is much like getting rid of bad habits by developing good habits. Over time, the good effects persist, but you don't get to that point by being lazy or trying to take shortcuts.

Many people will claim they want to get rid of a bad habit but will actually do nothing to change it. Similarly, people will make endless lame excuses not to meditate. Well, if meditation is not working for you, do something that does! Either way, lame excuses are a waste--for yourself and others: You are either doing something or you are not. What you say about what you are doing does not signify. Only what you are doing signifies.

And yes, walking a beloved dog, in a pleasant and peaceful--for example, woodland setting--also works for many people. But this too must be an ongoing practice to be most effective.

Nick and Aangel put their fingers on two crucial elements of your walking regime, if you really want to enhance it: dogs and forests.

I always knew that one of my mandatory daily chores (essential no matter how rough and fed-up I may be feeling) was a lifeline. This post makes me appreciate just how much.

Every day, particularly in Winter, I have to go out into the local woods and walk about. Have to, note; I have little option to say no. I have three dogs who live mainly in a fair-sized (but still restraining) pen, and I can't escape the overwhelming sense of guilt that hits me if I don't take them out for a least two hours/three miles every day, rain or shine; preferably two walks/three hours total.

In Winter I must, and in Summer I should, use this time also to collect fire-wood. One of the big advantages of my semi-off-grid lifestyle on my boat+plus mooring homestead is that all heating and almost all cooking in my place is done by successive models of woodstove (increasingly fuel- and heat-transfer efficient, as I've learned the mysteries of the craft by study, trial and error, and welded up ever more exotically-designed stoves to embody what I've learned).

So walk the dogs; gather a modest bundle of thinnish sticks (Summer) or the heaviest single seasoned off-the-ground dead stem or shed branch that I can still carry at seventy (Winter): daily discipline. A constant mild physical exercise, especially in Winter, when the billet must be sawn chopped or split into stoveable sizes when I've got it home. But also, I've long understood, a sort of heavenly soul exercise too.

Never, ever, underestimate the power of the dog. Dogs are such innocent, fun-dedicated creatures, and also so extravagantly capable of uncritical, unwavering love and loyalty, given absolutely unconditionally for life, that it's not possible to associate closely with them for any extended time without having the same love-and-loyalty induced in yourself; without having your life very deeply blessed and healed. If you've believed up to now that you 'hate' dogs, discipline yourself and try it and see. But remember that this is another living soul that you're dealing with, with a lively capability for acute distress if mishandled. Deal kindly, whatever happens, whether you stay together or have to part. Watch avidly Cesar Milan's absolutely extraordinary 'Dog Whisperer' series, and learn from an extraordinary man who is a master of both martial arts as a supreme physico-spiritual discipline, and of dog psychology -- indeed, of the dog soul.

Something closely similar happens to you from constant close communion with trees, too. This is so true that, for me and my partner, it's become an essential not just to walk in the small, remnantory, (but nevertheless life-saving) woods of this rather heavily human-battered neck of the British landscape, but also to travel further afield from time to time (with dogs) to visit the big woods now re-coalescing slowly in other parts of this island. (Scotland in May, to stay for a week in one of the big forests that are getting re-planted there now: a real, life-restoring blessing!)

Walking, with dogs, in those forests, with a loved partner who understands as you do that it's OK to not talk +all+ the time: that heals your soul -- and helps the world therefore -- as much as anything that I know. Bliss, literally.

We are in the process of getting a new dog after our old German/Belgian shepard cross died last month. We're looking at a Saloos Wolfdog which is approximatly 30% wild wolf, 70% German shepard. Contrary to what most people believe, that having an animal part wild would be dangerous and agressive, they are in fact very shy and will always run from a fight with other dogs. This is because their instictive behaviour tells them that a wound in the wild would most likely be fatal. They are also more communaly orientated than other dogs and its important they are not left alone otherwise they suffer mentaly.

A wild wolf is much harder to live with.

Domestication selects for animals that respond to humans - a wild wolf won't listen to you and interact in the same wonderful, intuitive way that a domestic dog does.

I know someone with a coyote cross - they were never successful at house-training: a real disaster.

Something closely similar happens to you from constant close communion with trees, too.

I read in New Scientist magazine that humans, because they evolved from a tree-dwelling species, are comforted by the smell of certain chemicals given off by trees. In a sense, they think they are "home."

At the time I worked in an office building near a dirt parking lot with a small grove of nondescript trees. When I read this, I made a point of going out at lunchtime and standing in the midst of the trees, with my chips and cooldrink. It was true about the effect of being in the trees -- they had an immediate calming effect. I kept up the practice every day for the year I worked there.

I've noticed the *exact* same effect.

A person is not going to be able to effectively/viscerally "alter the context in which they view the world" without walking. The might be able to do it a bit but to really intenalize the new view it will need to be hardwired into the body by walking, squatting and other primal movement patterns.

The crossover "X" pattern present in walking and other rhythmic activities like african dance/drumming is what:

A) clears out the old energy patterns and psychological complexes (thought patterns equate to energy patterns within the body, chronic psychological states to chronic physiological postures)

B) allows for nascent new view to be hard wired into the physiology and energy-body.

C) allows the two brain hemisphere to link up so the new belief can be integrated into both the logical and creative parts of the person.

We're bipedal creatures, we evolved to walk so that it is crucial to mental and psychological functions shouldn't be too much of a surprise. My chiropractor has a textbook that details links between lack of rhythmic movement and developmental disabilities like mental retardation. In other words, walking is much more than just good excercise.

Try it barefoot to really get an effect. The gait will improve, pressure will be taken off the rest of the body, and the energy/blood will go from the head down into the lower body.

Two books for you that go into this in more detail:

Walk Your Blues Away by Thom Hartmann (Who also wrote a Peak Oil book)

Embodied Wisdom by Joy Congelo (sp?)

If you believe the Chinese were on to anything, you'd also run to get the lungs going. Or maybe walk uphill if not able to run. In the TCM model, lungs rule (among other things) clearing out the old and bringing in the new on the mental and emotional planes.



Matt from LATOC

Hi, Matt. That's an interesting point of view. I don't think it's true myself but I know a lot of people believe it.

Changing the context one views the world happens through conversation, even if the conversation is just in one's head. Walking might give a person a clearer opportunity to do that thinking but I don't think it "bakes it in" or any such thing. The view "a community of thriving individuals" is held in electrical patterns in the brain, not in the body (though, again, I know a lot of people believe it is).

Good to hear from you,

Changing the context one views the world happens through conversation

Yes, but not just any kind of conversation - it has to be one where the speaker is thinking creatively. Scientists find that they often come to new insights when they have to explain what they're doing to an educated layman - it requires a larger view of what they're doing, the use of metaphor and analogy, which may not happen when one is talking to one's peers, using professional jargon and common assumptions.

Probably it requires the use of both sides of one's brain, and I think focusing is helpful here.

The arrival of the Peak Phase of oil production has given me the opportunity to evolve in mysterious ways.

Since I no longer have to sit in the cockpit for long hours I enjoy it more when I fly because I choose to.

Since I no longer commute by aircraft from state to state, I found that I didn't need multiple ICE vehicles in each state either, so I sold them and choose to spend more time walking and enjoying the schedule freedom of self-employment.

I learned how to adjust my work duties so I can maintain my preference to do 5 hour aerobic exercise evolutions 3 to 5 days a week so I can achieve and maintain the athletic performance levels I couldn't when I was commuting all the time and sitting in cars, cockpits and airports.

I've learned that I have better exercise recovery and I am not so sore from working out if I do long warm-ups and warm-downs that I never had the patience for before when I was commuting all the time. I sleep better when I exercise hard and then walk it off.

I spent some time a few years ago setting goals for my self employment and figuring out what tasks I could do effectively in the home office and which I could do while walking around and purposely arranged to turn the phone off during my extreme exercise so I could have the satisfaction of knowing that I had done my best on my workout and the silly cellphone was not allowed to interrupt my health goals. Some stuff I have to do while sitting at the computer but now I do most of my email management while walking around and I don't let my back and body get stiff like it used to when I had to wrestle emails and files in the office chair everyday.

It is a subtle difference that I didn't notice for a couple of years, but now I can recognize that I have learned how to just relax and "engage" in the environment through a part of each of my walks. I prefer to listen to intense music when pushing the aerobic limits during the "training" part of my fitness evolutions but I switch to more soothing vibrations when I am warming down and most importantly I turn everything off and absorb the natural sounds for a while on each walk.

Some days the stress from thinking about solutions to Peak Oil sort of creeps up on me and I forget that I need to get out and walk. That is the danger of self-employment, it is easy to convince myself that I need to keep working and I can walk or exercise later. I sort of solved this problem just by setting alarms on my calendar program that prod me and get me out walking before too many hours of concentrated slavery go by.

Most of all, I get a great sense of gratitude when I am walking because I am very well aware that many people are not as fortunate and are still stuck commuting. When I walk in the rain forest I feel grateful for the peace and solitude but I often don't recognize I have accumulated that peace and solitude until I walk back to "civilization" and I see a distracted driver sending a text message blow through the crosswalk without looking. I know one person who was riding his bike and was killed last year by a texting driver and another one I didn't know was killed crossing the same intersection I cross many times a month when I am in that state. Instead of getting angry and resentful about these clueless, dangerous motorists, I choose to use those moments as reminders of how grateful I am that I am fortunate to have the freedom to walk much more than I ever would have thought I would want to.

I remember reading about Kant walking around Konigsberg (Kaliningrad) for hours and hours and when I was younger and much less patient I just couldn't understand and identify with that. Now I have survived long enough to comprehend some of the pleasure Kant must have gotten from those long walks that presumably contributed to his philosophical works. Sometimes while walking I find that I can concentrate and press forward on solutions that I couldn't create trapped in the office and sometimes I just walk and relax and recuperate so when I go back to the office I am refreshed.

We walk around our beautiful local river (in Melbourne) for about 90 minutes each morning - from dawn onwards, so the time varies with the season. It is a highly developed urban environment, but there is still a lot of "nature" out there, including impressive levels of bird-life ... and I love watching it all change and mesh together over time.

However we both listen to radio - intelligent, thoughtful, relaxed (commercial-free) public radio - news, current affairs, documentary and lifestyle programs. This does not inhibit my ability to be very observant of the world about me, and quite often a news item will trigger off an intense period of thinking about some aspect of life.

We are close to retiring, and therefore also close to moving from Melbourne to a warm northern beach area ... and one of our main requirements (after having all services within walking distance so we do not have to have a vehicle) was the quality of the walks in the region, and this beach area has those in spades - along the beach itself, around the river, and through the rainforest hinterland.

Walking is wonderful, and while I share some of the scepticism noted above about its actual usefulness in peak-oil transition and preparedness, I think it is invaluable in terms of bringing one's neighbourhood down to the pedestrian scale, and therefore brings into sharper focus those essential changes our towns and cities will have to make when car journeys for basic living will be unaffordable, and hopefully, seen as something antisocial.

I spent about 16 years working in various places far from my home, or at least far enough to have to rent a place to live during the week and commute home on the weekends. In each place I lived, I spent some time on my bicycle getting the lay of the land, in a manner of speaking. I would get to know the neighborhood and places that I needed to go to for groceries, and in some cases, chatted with neighbors.

I think this sort of connecting to the local environment, whether on foot or on bicycle is a good way to maintain a fresh and positive attitude. I also learned pretty quickly the places that I'd rather be living, even though I almost always found something to value in each place I lived.

Edit: One time, on my bicycle, waiting for traffic to clear on a cross street, there was a young black kid, maybe 12-13 years old on his bike. Walking down the sidewalk toward us was a man who had the homeless look about him. Scruffy unkempt beard, vacant look, scruffy clothes. When he got to the intersection, the black kid put down his bike and went over to the homeless guy and handed him a dollar bill, completely out of the blue. The homeless guy was overwhelmed and thanked the kid profusely.

This kind of life vignette one simply won't see from the shell of an automobile.

At least most posting here live somewhere near nature. I am in downtown/South of Market in SF, and all I see is cars, asphalt, buildings, people scurrying about and virtually nothing green.

Antoinetta III

For you in particular,heartfelt advice:
Get the hell out if you can.

I once felt a need for the amenities of the city and had an apartment in an uber cool nieghborhood within easy walking distance of a large urban university.For a while, it seemed the place to be-lots of bars and restaurants, a very nice park right down the street, and so forth.

But it didn't take too long to wear thin, and after that I got a place in the country and gladly paid the price of the daily commute.

Now I am back on the mountain side farm where I grew up,and I can still walk some paths thru the forest that were used regularly by the folks who lived around here a few decades back as a part of thier daily lives,although they are now grown very faint and can barely be followed by eye, and then only if you know how to see such things.

It takes me a while to climb to the highest point on the farm these days, but the walk thru the woods is worth it. The exercise relieves the accumulated stress and induces a pleasant euphoria. The view is not spectacular by any means, but it encompasses more than enough to provide ample substance for contemplation.

A mile away and five hundred feet lower down (we do not own the mile, but most of it belongs to various relatives;our farm consists of several small parcels) I see that our apple orchard will be in full bloom tomorrow, and the fields are greening up nicely.I can literally watch spring climb the slopes of the mountians from day to day , sometimes even from hour to hour.

I can see the outlines of former fields and orchards where I used to work as a child with my Old Pa, which have been recently reclaimed by the forest,and the homes of many friends and relatives.

With the aid of good binoculars, I can observe quite a bit of the daily doings on the half dozen farms within easy viewing distance, and little kids playing on thier thier grandparents lawns sometimes.

I can see the church and cemetery where most of my immediate ancestors lie,and where we buried my mother the week before Christmas.I was there for another funeral just last week, and somebody casually asked an uneducated old man what he was up to recently, and he said he was simply passing thru for a last visit with his departed friend, but that he would presently be back there -permanently.

There is nothing so good for arrogance and hubris, for an uppity worldly attitude, as the frequent contemplation of the cemetery where you will spend eternity, in the company of those who brought you into this world, and have departed it.

The generations come, and the generations go;the earth abides.

Most of the supposedly successful people I have know have spent thier lives chasing after things of little or no intrinsic worth-a nicer car, a bigger house,a more prestigious position on the totem pole.Chickenshit, mostly.

I have very little money, but I will never regret the thousands of days days I have spent walking in the woods or wading in the river with a serious book and a couple of apples in my pockets.

Take the N Judah out to Ocean Beach, or go over to the Park, or the Ferry to Marin and the Stage Coach to Pt Reyes (bring a backpack and stay a few days).
You are close, all by public transit, to some of the most spectacular geography around.

A walk across the Golden Gate Bridge can also be invigorating.
But dress warmly. It can be chillingly windy at times.

Our son & family used to live 2 blocks south of the ballpark. If it's not too far from your place, there is a great walk along the east side of the ballpark along the water, and further up the Embarcadero the path is separated from the street by quite a distance. I've found that the view out across the Bay to be quite restorative, even though you are walking on concrete instead of dirt.

One of the sad things for many city-dwellers (but not all) is a dulled sense of the changing of the seasons.

They miss, for example, the seasonal progressions of wildflowers in the fields or woods.

I'm a fortunate inner-city-dweller, living right next to the Worcester (UK) to Birmingham Canal.

Less than 100 yards from my front door there's a mute swan sitting on her nest, within half a mile of Worcester city centre.

In the first weeks of May, the swifts will return to nest in my loft. Annoying little screechers they may be, but they help keep my soul in connection with the rhythms of nature.

I think I was fortunate in NYC, where a regular pair of routines was the 4/5 mile walk over to the UU church on the west side. It would take me through Central Park, which has an uncommonly high amount of migratory bird activity (since the surrounding areas offer so little..) .. I would also take rec time with a friend and play a LOT of frisbee and such in Central Park.. XC Ski when possible, etc.. A lot of walking there, a lot of 'Seasonal Reality'.. a somewhat conditioned contact with nature.

PhilR said "One of the sad things for many city-dwellers (but not all) is a dulled sense of the changing of the seasons."

I second that. As much as I like living in a town of at least several thousand folks, the dark side of apartment dwelling is being cut off from weather. I have missed whole thunderstorms and never knew they occured and hunger sometimes for the sound of rain. I will return to this in a later post, but humans must build in such a way as to be at least somewhat in touch with the natural seasons and weather. Much of our modern architecture is purposely designed to cut us off from it.


I find myself very much in tune with the seasons here in New Orleans.

Of course, the old joke is that we have shrimp season, oyster season, crawfish season and crab season :-) But eating is very much part of the seasons here.

Best Hopes for Watching the Seasons go by,


I have spent all of my working life outside, a lot of that on roofs, lightning and high winds tend to keep me on the ground, but I feel good about being able to be outside as much as I am. I hope I have some more years of roof climbing in me. My wife is a professional organic gardener and I have not met anyone who is as much in tune with nature as she is, though this year we grew vegetables all winter in a wood heated dome greenhouse and she said it was a little disorienting, even if it was a joy.

I'll toss in a twist that I've been really impressed with lately.

My daughter is six, and if she can forget for a second or two that she is feeling 'TOO TIRED' to walk.. as she and I walk her to and from school every day, then we'll almost invariably end up skipping or galloping there, or immersed in some other form of lively, physical play.

If you haven't skipped/galloped uphill for two or three continuous blocks lately, don't knock it. It's truly aerobic, AND it's silly and completely in the moment. Beyond my middle-aged, PO-Aware ennui, it seems to be helping my 'core strength' as well.

We also had a neighborhood cleanup today, and Lorelei and I went and picked up yucky, post-winter trash for an hour or so.. walking, observing, caretaking, carrying.. doing hopeful stuff for our neighbors 'just because'..

What's REALLY going to be fun with her is building my dad's 'Pine Handlaunch Glider designs' with her and going out into a field and chasing those puppies around!

.. maybe they'll do a study on its benefits, but I won't need to read it. I'll be outside measuring it Heuristically.

But thanks Gail for another great topic! Truly Appreciated.


Walking, skipping, galloping, two-step, moonwalk, and whatever else. We are getting into the realm of dancing here. My spouse and I regularly go to local Contra dances. What fun.

Old African saying:
If you can walk, you can dance.
If you can speak, you can sing.


And similar to what I was pointing towards, is that dancing, or playing with a jumprope like we did just before dinner, there are activities that are decidedly putting you into another frame of mind, removing you from 'real world stress', which has real health detriments, as we've all learned.

Sometimes it's a timelessness accessed through connecting your body to make-believe, or a song's rhythm, or the unhurried rustle of wind and water.. it lets some outside system put you into a time frame separate from 'I have to get dinner on', 'This project is on a deadline!', 'Why is that guy slowing down at every turn in the road, I'm late!' .. all that stuff.

i think walking is not the 'key'; it is being out in nature, & getting exercise that improves our ability to cope.

i used to do 1-2 week wilderness trips. i found that it took me about 3 days out to reach a different mindset. no billboards, motors[occasionally view a plane trail], etc. Focus became immediate needs, & enjoying nature; smells, sounds, breezes, sun, etc. relaxes me to remember/think about it. we aren't hardwired for lots of what we experience.

repetitive mundane tasks, carrying water, walking, shelling beans, peeling apples, washing dishes, knitting, paddling, swimming, etc. allow us to relax/meditate as we exercise & accomplish tasks. there used to be lots of these, almost constantly in our lives. when not done hurriedly or in a strained manner i think these activities are soothing to most of us.

of course we will eventually be forced by PO to do these 'peasant lifestyle' type of things--drudgery, or worse we worry. probably will be when done with a mindset of wishing for something else, or alone, or over worked; especially if worried/scared about food, security etc.

hopefully i/we'll be lucky as decline hits. somewhat bored[coming down from our electronic marvels' stimulation] having/getting to do these menial tasks [i'm choosing to do them more], but in good company as we do our best; like andre[aangel] says to 'make our future'.

"i found that it took me about 3 days out to reach a different mindset."

i also find it takes about 3 days in the backcountry before things settle in, and the movie slows down.
And I have spent thousands of hours on the cushion watching my mind.

I walk a lot but I generally don't find it very soothing. Maybe I should try it without listening to Jason Bradford interviewing Jay Hanson. Have listened to that interview many times and get something new from it each time.

Just finished John Michael Greer's audiobook The Ecotechnic Future. Now that's depressing on a walk... (but a brilliant book).

Maybe I should try it without listening to Jason Bradford interviewing Jay Hanson.


You may be onto something!

Hence my "no iPods" injunction at the start of the comments :-)

I tend to listen to my favourite podcasts on my (way too long, oil-wasting) drive to work.

If you must listen to podcasts, here's a good place to start:

edit: That "Reality Report" Jason Bradford interview with Jay Hanson is here:

Don't listen while out walking! :-)

I'm seeing this environmental fatigue on two levels. The first is amongst the other students on my environmental studies course. People who began the course upbeat, and with a positive attitude that things could be done, are being worn down by the constant inflow of bad statistics when it comes to rates of resource use and waste generated. The second is amongst the transition towners who after watching the film 'Home' almost to a man expressed their depression over the situation. One even said she didnt want to watch films like that and wanted to see more constructive films about gardening.

I live with a girlfriend who has ADHD and a son who has ADHD and PDD NOS. Last year a report came out over the calming benifits of natural environments for ADHDers. Luckily we already live in a very natural environment. Living in the last houseboat on this section of the canal means that after walking out of our mooringspot gate we walk straight into nature along the canal path. It gives the feeling that this is just an extension of our garden and therefore we have a good connection with our surroundings. I often wonder what my boys behaviour would be like if we lived in an inner city council flat like I used to live in on the Isle of Dogs, London. He is a handful now, so in an urban environment would probably be a nightmare to live with.

Our cities transition towns movement has only this year begun to organize. I have proposed the first project which is a short bike ride once a month for a couple of hours identifying edible, medicinal and other useful plants. Concidering the above paper this could then have a double benifit of both providing some resilience for the community in the form useful suppliments and also alieviate the stress of facing up to environmental problems perceived now and in the future.

"People who began the course upbeat, and with a positive attitude that things could be done, are being worn down by the constant inflow of bad statistics when it comes to rates of resource use and waste generated."

You can only save what you control. Your students have naive expectations and are duly deflated as reality dawns on them. They're wasting their time and should move into skill based occupations for their own sakes.

I like the concept of transition towns, but I think in reality anything successful will be pillaged by our crumbling State and Institutions. Success will be mercilessly taxed and the elite will push the less wealthy out to make room for themselves to the point that transition towns will resemble medieval feudal estates.

Success must be invisible.

"You can only save what you control."

This statement is not only wrong, it's dangerous. Control is a seductive Western illusion and folk theory of human social behavior that breaks down under the microscope of organizational and psychological research. See the many posts here regarding meditation for similar themes.

And that assumption leads to the equally dangerous corollary, "I must gain power or status in [insert organization here] recognized hierarchy before I can make a difference." It reinforces inertia and provides even more rationale not to act.

Here is a better rubric: "You can change what you influence." Pick up the book "Switch" by Chip and Dan Heath at your local library or bookstore, and be prepared to learn how to be a much more effective change agent - especially when you have "no control" and seemingly limited influence, too.

From the promo blurb at that link:
"In Switch, the Heaths show how everyday people—employees and managers, parents and nurses—have united both minds and, as a result, achieved dramatic results:
● The lowly medical interns who managed to defeat an entrenched, decades-old medical practice that was endangering patients.
● The home-organizing guru who developed a simple technique for overcoming the dread of housekeeping.
● The manager who transformed a lackadaisical customer-support team into service zealots by removing a standard tool of customer service
In a compelling, story-driven narrative, the Heaths bring together decades of counterintuitive research in psychology, sociology, and other fields to shed new light on how we can effect transformative change. Switch shows that successful changes follow a pattern, a pattern you can use to make the changes that matter to you, whether your interest is in changing the world or changing your waistline."

Note the emphasis on 'everyday people'.

We can all learn to use human psychology to our advantage, despite years of 'getting it wrong.' I willingly admit to fighting human nature for years, and having limited success in such change efforts. Now that I come at this work with an entirely different perspective, it is much more fun to put efforts into approaches that work, even deep within a seemingly entrenched institution that is very vulnerable to PO, climate, and energy disruptions. It's also a lot easier to have compassion for fellow humans who otherwise seem like "The Problem."

I also work closely with university students who want to make positive change, are saddened and fearful of the world they are inheriting, and prefer to do something "hands on" like working in the student garden rather than engaging in policy and process work. That is a great way to engage them, and a chance to informally coach them along a broader path.

I have been commuting to and from work on foot for almost two years now. It is really more of a short hike than a walk, 1.7 miles each way. Observations from my experience:

- It has definitely improved my health. Building this exercise into my daily routine was the best way to assure that I actually did get exercise, which was one reason why I started doing this.

- It has had benefits for my mental, emotional, and even spiritual health as well, along the lines that the author suggests. It is a good thing to be able to clear the mind before and after work, and I do often use the time to meditate. While my route is not ideal for this - I am walking alongside streets, although not super busy ones - there is still plenty of fresh air, sunshine, and connection with the natural world. Note: I do not have some electronic gizmo plugged into my ears, and rarely use the cell phone during my walks. You could cross off all of the above if I did.

- I have found my daily walks to also be conducive to community- building. I know several people along my route, and have made acquaintance with several more over the past couple of years. I often exchange greetings with people and sometimes stop to talk for a minute. Needless to say, this sort of thing is totally impossible in any type of motorized vehicle, and is not even commonly done much on a bicycle.

- Walking to work has even increased my value to my employer a bit. They know that no matter what the weather or circumstances, I'll be able to make it in to work. Even if trees are down blocking the road, even if there is no fuel at any of the service stations, I'll be there.

- It obviously saves on my fuel consumption and on the wear and tear to the car. To be fair, at 1.7 miles each way this doesn't amount to a lot. Yet, every little bit helps - me, the nation, and the planet.


- Obviously, walking to work is only feasible for those within reasonable walking distance. As it is, I am probably at the outer limit of what most people would consider reasonable. Nevertheless, I think it would be a very good idea if most people would try to make every possible effort to co-locate their homes and workplaces as close together as possible. A long-term commitment to walk to work, and to thus live within walking distance to work, also runs counter to the idea of changing jobs every few years. To my way of thinking, having a job that is stable and secure, and that enables you to walk to work for years to come, is worth a lot. I'm not sure there is any amount of money that anyone might reasonably offer me that would convince me to switch to a job where I must commute by car.

- My routine is that I dress for a hike, and carry my work clothes in a daypack. I then change when I get to work. It is more comfortable hiking that way, and is more comfortable for both myself and my co-workers for me to be in clean, dry office-appropriate clothes. I also pack in my lunch, because there is no food service nearby. If I'm not wearing it, a rain parka goes in the pack as well.

- Safety is important. My rain parka is bright yellow, and is worn unless it is warm and sunny out. There is a reflective stripe on my backpack (which is colored red), and on the strap of my backpack (and thus facing traffic) is one of those red clip-on flashers that they sell in bike shops. I am constantly aware of my surroundings, and look all ways before steping out into the street. Situational awareness is a big reason why I strongly recommend against having electronic gizmos plugged into your ears - you need to hear what is coming up behind you!

- I speak softly, but I carry a big stick. Many people do not appreciate the many uses and values of a good hiking staff. When you are carrying a pack, your center of gravity is higher than usual, which means that you may be more prone to lose your ballance and fall than you would suspect. A staff becomes a "third leg", and thus effectively makes you a tripod, thus giving you a lot more balance. A hiking staff can be very useful when going up or down hill, or hiking along an incline, or crossing a ditch or mud puddle. A hiking staff can also be valuable for self protection if confronted by a dog, or even another person. I don't live in a high crime area, so I don't need to worry about personal security very much. However, I suspect that even if some potential perps were about, seeing someone with a big stick in their hand might give them a bit of a pause, at least.

- Obviously, you need good walking shoes or hiking boots. Don't skimp on these.

I have found my daily walks to also be conducive to community- building

That's one thing I think about a lot - cars are more like little enclosed private spaces, and there are whole cities of people moving around in proximity, but neither seeing nor being seen by each other. When we walk (or bicycle), we are out in the world and part of it, and at least seen by our neighbors. So many times I've had conversations with people I don't even know, but in a friendly way, beginning with something like "I always see you walking with your kids" or "I know you - I see you on the bike trail a lot - I wish I could do that"...

Something as simple as just going outside and being seen builds community.

Very true. I expect community building to remain difficult as long as so many people are still using their cars as a primary method of relating to the environment.

Perhaps it will take shockingly high gasoline to jolt people out of this paradigm which says, "How can I move w/o a car? How can I be safe and warm and dry w/o a car? How do I express who I am w/o a car" Sometimes they only meet their neighbors if there is an emergency out there. Will this emergency bring people out to converse or to confront?

The conversations you describe are nigh impossible to have from inside the metal cocoon. And yet soon this luxury may be ill affordable for many so accustomed. I wonder if they will just hold up inside their homes instead? Probably many will but some will come back outside. It does not cost much and how the hell else are we going to have that talk we have all been needing.

I will agree with the need for a hiking staff. Back in 2007, my husband and I went hiking wearing backpacks in a State Park but without staffs. We were about three miles away from the car, when I fell and broke my wrist, after tripping over a root and losing my balance. My husband and I first had to first walk back to the car. Then he drove me to the nearest emergency room, which was 20 miles away. I typed a lot of posts with one hand for a while after that.

Now I use a staff, and haven't fallen down since (knock on wood)!

I do a fair amount of "transportation walking" (enough to exhaust EU visitors), going to the stores, restaurants, French Quarter Fest (streetcar + Walking) this weekend and relatively little exploration walking and virtually no recreational walking on a set route (a la Darwin above).

Still I find it invigorating mentally and physically. The planted landscape, the built environment and even the weeds are all equally engaging. I welcome the social interactions as part and parcel of my walking and would actively avoid isolated walks in nature alone (quite frankly, these bore me). I simply prefer my urban landscape (mainly in the Lower Garden District, also French Quarter and several other neighborhoods) to possible alternatives.

I think that I display enough mental vitality and this sort of walking suits me.

Different Strokes for Different Folks,


I think walks are fine, but not as a substitute for action. I think preps are more satisfying than walks. The more I do preps the more cognizant I am of the glacial pace of individual action. Preps are like building the great wall of china brick by brick with only one person. We live in a world that offers instant gratification in all things and preps are the antithesis to this. Preps are things that one can really be proud of because of the huge time investment. And since preps are never truly done, it always gives you a goal to work on in the future.

I am unable to walk/exercise most of the time unless I have something to listen to. Something musically upbeat, or something funny and casual. Comedy routines are great, I recommend George Carlin, and Marc Maron's WTF podcast.

Considering that most humans throughout our evolutionary history transported themselves exclusively (or nearly so) through walking, we should keep in mind that walking connects us to something deeply natural for us, I might even use the word blessed. A day when I spend no time in a car or other fossil-fuel burning machine is a day I consider blessed.

From the title, I expected a more metaphorical article. I think starting to live as a society in a sustainable way will be similar to someones whose leg muscles have severely atrophied from disuse learning anew how to walk. What should come automatically will require careful and purposeful self instruction, with many stumbles along the way. But ultimately, the new way to live will seem as natural and fitting as walking is to most able humans.

Also walking gives you a chance away from family time! Too much time spent with family can bring arguments and bickering. I have a dog (a little Yorkie) just so I have the perfect excuse to leave everyone and get away by myself for a breath of fresh air! This clears the brain and gives everyone a rest....Actually I far prefer cats (we have some of those too) to dogs and the Yorkie has a silly doginality. His job duties are forcing me to walk him no matter what the weather and playing with children. He`s very useful for someone who weighs only 2.5kg!

Maybe walking increases blood flow to the brain? Many times I notice its cognitive benefits....I come up with ideas I use later at work, for example.

I wish we lived with more`s rather minimal here, but it exists in a few small parks. There are too many cement buildings and cars and of course I love to go out and conduct unscientific and off-the-cuff peak-oil related "surveys" of traffic (as I`m walking the dog).

Take a walk through the forest after eating some homegrown mushrooms. That will give you more than 50 yearsworth of walking.

I walk daily, sometimes more than other times and my walk is stunningly beautiful along the northern California coast in northern Sonoma County. But even when I lived in less sublime locales I benefited greatly from walking and always found some part of nature to appreciate.

But I also run and find that to be at least as beneficial as meditation, maybe more so. But then my running is often explicitly a form of meditation through focusing on my breaths through breath counting.

While walking and running enhance my appreciation and love for nature, they don't do much to lessen my anxiety about the future of the planet. They might even enhance my anxiety since I am fairly attuned to the changes in nature that have occurred over the last few decades. I feel and see the effects of global warming directly and I cannot hide from that reality.

No doubt, the vast majority of people are divorced from nature as they are buried in their ipods, computers, TVs, and jobs. Children, especially, have changed radically in their propensity to get outdoors and just play or otherwise appreciate their environment. I think we are headed over the cliff with almost a complete lack of awareness and concern for consequences.

Drinking heavily works fairly well for a time if one wishes to divorce oneself from reality. But I would not recommend it because of its other consequences, including making reality all the more painful later.

Fishing can also offer a good opportunity for relaxation.

Moving to central Michigan for grad school, it took me a while to adjust to the flatness of the land and lack of old-growth forest. But stream fishing seems to provide me with the "restorative effect even in a setting with only modest natural features."

I suppose fishing could be thought of as an Environmental Engagement Plan of sorts, as it definitely affects how I engage in and interact with my physical surroundings.


Came across your blog today and thought your traders may have an interest in our latest analysis on crude oil pries and the Energy Sector.


John Kosar, CMT
Asbury Research LLC

Meditation also has been suggested as an activity that may restore the capacity to direct attention

There is also a rabbithole to go down of neural-linquistic programming. No idea if it works - to me it sounds like hockum - but some may find it effective.

Just came back froma three mile walk. It was nice and relaxing. I did do allot of deep thinking on that walk but, it was in a Los Angeles suburb.....

oh well..., can't win 'em all.

A walk in my garden each evening --even weed-infested garden--, yes with a glass of wine, is all that keeps me sane some days.

"In all things of nature there is something of the marvelous." --Aristotle

"Kiss of the sun for pardon. Song of the birds for mirth. You're closer to God's heart in a garden than any place else on earth." -- Dorothy Frances Gurney

My mother, a centenarian, observed (a dozen or so years ago):
"When people need to get in a car and drive to the health club to get exercise, it's no wonder the economy, the environment and peoples' health are all suffering." She remembered that when she was a teenager (in rural Michigan), a typical Saturday afternoon-evening comment among her friends was "Now what are we gonna do or eat?"

Besides walking, another highly beneficial activity is reading. Novels, plays, romances. And Scripture.

I agree with those who would add bicycling. Not doing a Turdy France on shared roads, but being mindful of and respectful toward surroundings, fellow travelers, etc.

David F Collins said,
"Besides walking, another highly beneficial activity is reading. Novels, plays, romances. And Scripture."

Thank you for the great segueway to something I wanted to talk about for a few moments.

I agree with your recommendation of reading but I would go further. I think a return to the larger picture provided by reading, art, music of ALL types including classical and music from other cultures, etc., would do so much to improve the human outlook.

Viewing the larger canvas of our history, we realize that humankind have experienced great transitions, great catastrophes, great tribulations. Through them all, the writers kept writing, the composers of music kept composing, the painters and sculptures continued to be produced. Why? What is the EROEI of a painting, a sculpture, a musical composition, a book of poetry? Why would people continue to produce these things in the face of catastrophe, in the face of declining empires, in the face of uncertainty? Why waste the mental effort and time on this trivial pursuits?

Someone said up the string that walking was the way humans got around for most of our history. True, it can be said that walking is an endemic behavior for humans (but not exclusive to humans)

So it can be said of art, of music and of the things we call "culture" or liberal arts...humans have done it in some form for at least 40,000 years, perhaps longer, and it does seem to be exclusive to humans. I recently heard a music professor and classical pianist recount that soldiers who had played actually made wooden piano keyboards while in captivity as POW's in Vietnam so they could practice their piano exercises. The very thought of that moved me to tears.

In times of economic difficulty, as in the recent economic crash, many schools and even colleges make their first cuts in the oldest of human arts...the liberal arts, the literature departments, etc., are the first to be sacrificed or at least injured by economic difficulty. I say now that I believe this is a mistake. We need the long view, the bigger picture of the great story of the human race, it's errors and also it's triumph, it's ability to face horrific circumstances. Some say we should be horrified or terrified of the prospect of "peak oil". Why? Did we not know this time would come? Why would be more horrified by peak oil than by a multitude of other future challenges the human race faces, and has always faced. It is good for the positively working mind to be aware of the many challenges and dangers that have always been with us, and the challenges the human race has overcome. We need to look at the human story on a grander scale than just the most recent moment, and teach our children to do likewise.

To another point mentioned on the string above, I have been recently studying the idea of "centering meditation" and centering prayer. I am not yet able to pass judgement being a newbie at this.

On physical exercise, for those fortunate enough to be near bodies of water, how many here have had any experience with rowing? I have always thought it should be particularly settling to the mind and soul...

Now for a bit of food for the soul: A young artist depicts the destruction of her homeland (Ukraine) and the redemption of the human heart. Blessings to the young artists of the world:



I agree on the music, but regarding Gail's subject essay, I'd prefer that the music be one's own. Sing. Play your guitar, harmonica, concertina, whatever. There is always a place for professional performers and high-level composers (I particularly love the sextet from Donizetti's "Lucia di Lammermoor"), but we let others sing for us at our peril.

Back in the 1950's, my Dad used to rail against electronic entertainment and the rising tide of passivity. "Why dance? Turn on the Magic Box and watch the professionals do it better. Why play touch football or work-up softball? Turn on the Magic Box and watch the professionals do it better. Why sing? Turn on the Magic Box and watch the professionals do it better. Why even make love..."

Serenading helped me achieve success in courting a lovely Honduran lass (a goodly while ago).

Did anybody ever hear people singing in harmony, the voices carrying across the water? I heard "Santa Lucia" drifting across a quiet anchorage in Georgian Bay:

Sul mare luccia l'astro d'argento,
Placida è l'onda, prospero è il vento
Venite all'agile barchetta mia...
Santa Lucia! Santa Lucia!

That song was intended for singing by people, for being heard by people who hear it drifting across the water (not necessarily il golfo di Napoli).

Singing and hearing both transport our awareness.

The perfect answer: The Ukulele. Small, relatively cheap, get some spare strings and you should be able to ride the peak through with music at least!...endlessly fascinating little instrument!


I get my relaxation and meditation by running. Three or four times a week, at least 35 min. I will try walking when the going gets though (I just celebrated my 50th birthday)