Sometimes, when I go walking, an odd thing happens. My mind, so often filled with the daily stresses and tensions we all live with in today’s world, relaxes.
I walk on for some time before I realize what’s happened. Instead of thinking about what I need to do—go to the store, heft groceries inside and put them away, prep and cook dinner, make sure Mom eats at least a little of it, clean up, sit down and pay bills, make sure I get the laundry done—I notice suddenly that all I’m thinking about is my steps.
Meaning that each step I take has moved, unbidden, to the uppermost importance-slot in my mind. I’m not thinking about working. I’m not thinking about what’s going on in the world around me, not rising prices, not the distressing political situation in my country, not climate change or global warming or the potentially grim times ahead.
No, I’m thinking about my steps as I walk.
Maybe I start counting them under my breath: one-two, left-right, three-four, left-right, five-six … and on, and on. Maybe I’ll whisper-sing a little marching tune: “row, row, row your boat” or “the ants go marching one by one, hurrah, hurrah…”
My feet hurt, sometimes miserably, as I walk. Both feel like I’m walking on jagged gravel instead of smooth asphalt. But as I sing about ants or rowboats or Johnny who came marching home, I’m relegating the pain to some other, less important compartment in my mind. There’s a kind of triumphant satisfaction in that.
I sing-chant to maintain that brain-silence I’ve achieved…
…not allowing stray thoughts to intrude into this unique form of mind-body melding. And of course, while I move my mind is still busy even though I’ve managed to convince myself that it’s not. I see houses. I see cars. Dogs. That helicopter. Those flowers. The temperature of the air and how lovely it feels gliding by my cheeks, the way the breeze blows and ebbs, and blows again. Scents: dry leaves, new grass, auto exhaust, roses.
And the ants go marching. Or rowing. Or whatever. How many steps, now? Four-hundred? Gotta pick up some chicken breasts and don’t forget the almond milk. And magnesium for Mom, and … oh, now, stop that. With determination, now: left, right. Left, right, left, right, left. Left. Left … left, right, left. Remember how the drill sergeant hollered it, back in boot camp? When you were barely older than a child? “Lef, lef, lef-righ-lef.”
Take the right turning ahead and walk past the park and creek? Or the left, with just more neighborhood houses but with less traffic? Left, then. Cars are noisy. Too fast and uncaring. Tomorrow I’ll go right and walk through the park. Look forward to it: that park will have its new spring clothes on.
“Ninety-nine bottles of beer on the wall, nighty-nine bottles of beer …”
Eventually, I walk-sing-march all the way home.
My muscles, head to toe, are loose and fully oxygenated. I’m breathing more deeply and much more slowly than when I started. My mind feels flushed and clean. It feels rested even though my body is tired.
But this … this is a good tired. It’s the kind of tired that means when I go to bed tonight, I’ll probably fall to sleep more easily, even though I hurt. I might even stay asleep most of the night. That happens so rarely now that I perceive it as a blessing. This kind of tired is a magnanimous gift.
I’ve been out to see the world today. I’ve breathed fresh air and I’ve seen flowers and felt the cool breeze on my skin. I’ve moved my entire body. I may still have rheumatoid disease, but today I put it where it belongs: behind the 16th bottle of beer on the wall; pitched right out of the rowboat; and left back on the battlefield when Johnny came marching home.