Every now and then you get an email that cheers you up. I had one recently from a mate which simply asked if I fancied joining him on a day out for a walk in the country. He hadn’t got any work that day and he thought a bit of a ramble would do the world of good. And so it turned out to be. A day gently strolling through fields and woods ending in a pub, and all because someone had the honesty to say they weren’t busy. When I got home I picked off the shelf Frederic Gros’s Philosophy of Walking. It’s a short book, full of insights from some of the greatest thinkers and writers, all of whom shared a love of walking. Walking for the sake of walking. Walking without the distraction of modern life. As Gros says: “You are nobody to the hills or the thick boughs heavy with greenery. You are no longer a role, or a status, not even an individual, but a body, a body that feels sharp stones on the path, the caress of long grass and the freshness of the wind. When you walk, the world has neither present nor future.”
It is odd to find people who are happy to admit to not being busy. It used to be a mark of pride and a badge of success that one was so very busy, so absolutely indispensable. Anything other than totally full on was a sign of failure. But the truth is that the real reason that so many people are constantly running so fast is that it is only by continually being on the move that they can guarantee not meeting themselves. The moment you stop to question why you are being so busy is just one step from asking yourself who you really are. Working hard can be a way of avoiding home truths. And constantly working too hard creates pressures and stress that don’t end well. As a side issue, people in the UK put in some of the longest hours at work but, as a nation, we are in the lower levels of productivity. We would do well to remember that input and output are not the same as outcome.
After decades as someone who lived and worked at 100mph, I’m now a huge fan of meandering. I even recently took my first trip on a narrowboat. So much more fun than a speed boat. Meandering down the river, overtaken by both joggers and dog-walkers. You get there when you get there. Nothing to rush for, just enjoying being outside. It made me think of careers and life in general. Too many of us have had one-dimensional careers. CVs show progression as we move upwards, taking on more responsibilities. Headhunters tend to look disparagingly at careers that meander. But often it is those of us who meander that pick up the richest experiences. Following natural contours as we find our way through life means more chance of serendipity as opportunities and insights appear in view which we’d have missed had we taken the fastest route.
Meandering isn’t living without a purpose. It is not the same as not caring or not wanting to succeed. Rather, it is about making space to allow what’s important to come to the surface. It’s purposeful purposelessness. If we are always at full steam ahead, then we’re likely to miss both our real destination and important things along the way. Kiergegaard said that life must be lived forward but that it can only be understood backwards. Occasionally letting ourselves meander rather than race will allow us to build in time in our lives which, when we look back, we appreciate.
As we meander things which were once important become transient. As Fredric Gros says: “Heard the latest? When you are walking, all that ceases to matter. Being in the presence of what absolutely endures detaches us from that ephemeral news for which we are usually agog. After walking far and long, you can even come to wonder in surprise how you could ever have been interested in it.”
And I know a coach who insists that all his sessions take place whilst walking round a park. Now isn’t that a good i