Walking is the ideal meditation

Writer Robert Moor has been a walking aficionado since childhood. During a five-month hike on the Appalachian Trail, he thought about the meaning of the trails in our lives. His conclusion? ‘They create order in the chaos.’

You have been walking almost your entire life. What is it that you love about it so much?

“At the age of ten, my parents sent me to a summer camp for the first time. We were hiking practically continuously there and had to climb the mountains carrying our gear. I really didn’t like my first trip. My shoes pinched, my back ached, and I wondered why you would want to walk at all. But after three days, we were allowed to take off our backpacks and walk in the forest, wrapped up comfortably in rain ponchos.

I was able to move much more easily, and suddenly it felt really good. I had the feeling that I was experiencing everything more intensely, that the forest was greener, and the trees smelled better. That was the first time I really enjoyed it. As I grew older, I took more and longer walks. And yes, that often is hard work. But then you reach the top of a mountain, you drop your pack, you see the view, and you feel so incredibly light and relieved. When you come home after a long walk, your food tastes better and your first shower gives you so much happiness.”

So it’s mainly about the contrast?

“That is a very important part of it. I think there is a kind of baseline in life that stands for how you feel, and sometimes you go over it and sometimes under. And the amazing thing is, if you drop below that baseline and then go back to zero, it feels great. If you stay at zero all the time, life will be gray and dull—and yet as human beings we often strive for that. We try to avoid pain and discomfort as much as possible and always stay in that neutral state. Everything is then as comfortable as can be, but that’s actually not nice at all.

At that summer camp I learned that it’ll make you happier in the end if you first drop below that line. Now every morning I walk barefoot to the sea near my house. I jump in and stand with the water right up to my neck for 30 seconds. In the beginning, it’s horrible, but after ten seconds you start breathing slower, your eyes open wide, you see everything very sharply.

And after those 30 seconds, you get very cold and then you have to get out. Then you put your coat back on and you feel your skin burning, with endorphins and serotonin roaring through your body. I never skip a day, even though every time I think: Today, I’m not going to do it. But I know that I’ll feel so very good afterward. And that’s the way it is after a hike, too.”

In your book, you also look for the deeper meaning of walking on paths. How did you start thinking about that?

“I noticed that paths are not just physical, but also metaphors that people use; all over the world, in all kinds of different cultures and religions. Paths are more than just dry mud; they have a deeper meaning. Paths make sense out of chaos and create order. There are endless ways you can cross a field, and paths give you an answer. This is also the case with your own existence: Paths ensure that all possibilities for leading your life are reduced to a clear number of routes.

Here in the West, the problem is usually not that the road is too fixed, but that there are just too many options. How do you find your way then? You start by figuring out what is really important to you and what you care about. Your values show you the way and lead you onto your path. And if you really don’t know, it is good to try out different paths.

If you gradually find out that the path you are following is not the right one for you, then you come back and try a different path. You don’t have to be angry with yourself because you took the wrong path, because there is no ‘wrong’. It is a matter of inventing and discovering. And in the end, life will reward your explorations, sometimes years later.”

  • You can read the full interview with Robert Moore in Issue 35.
  • You can order Robert Moorse’s book On trails, an exploration here.

Text Sjouke van de Kolk  Illustration Valesca van Waveren  Photography Annie Spratt/Unsplash.com