‘Purposeless walking’ motivates mind

“As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives.” – Henry David Thoreau

The snow has melted, the crocus, daffodils and tulips have begun to dapple the countryside, and the robins and blue jays are pecking worms from the newly thawed earth. People are smiling again. They are opening doors for one another and the sound of children playing outdoors fills the air.

Spring couldn’t have come soon enough.

I have been writing full time for a year now, and although it is absolutely fulfilling to do something I’ve dreamed about since I was a little kid, it can be a lonely endeavor. Brian supports my craft. Not a day goes by without him telling me to “keep going.” All artists need this kind of encouragement, but I think especially writers; so much of their life is spent alone, inside their own head.

Now that the nice weather is here to stay (knock on wood), I’ve been trying to counter my Doldrums by “purposeless walking”: hours and hours of uncharted, soundtrack-free, solo strolls.

This kind of walking is a Western luxury, and yet very few people are compelled to do much of it at all. Cars, bicycles, buses, subways, and trains all summon. And people are plagued by guilt too: if they have extra time, they think it should be spent with family or friends, working or, otherwise, doing something. It must be categorized as a leisure activity, or a health aid, or a chore (i.e. walking the dog)

But it’s not dead or wasted time. It’s a time to do inner accounting, shed worn skin, reflect, and dream. As a writer, it’s a form of problem solving, a time to be filled with random inspiration.

Wearing a baseball cap helps. When my face is hidden, I feel like I’m strictly an observer rather than a participant. A peaceful excitement swells in me when I do this, not unlike my childhood voyeurisms of hiding beneath the long tablecloth of the hors d’oeuvre table during family functions so that I can watch guests and listen to their private conversations.

It was 75 degrees on Wednesday, and I decided to dedicate the entire day to this kind of walking. I forced myself to leave my cellphone behind; I didn’t want to be a “smartphone zombie,” only taking occasional glances away from my electronic map (usually to avoid stepping in front of a car.) I wanted to get lost (safely), letting my impulses be the guide.

I ended up wandering downtown through the bustle of Manhattan, over the Brooklyn Bridge, through the hamlets of Cobble Hill and Park Slope, and eventually found myself standing outside of the Botanical Garden; I had walked over 10 miles, hardly noticing.

Upon entering, everything was coated with the petals from last week’s cherry tree bloom, making it look like a fine layer of pink snow had fallen. I took a seat next to a wide trunk on Cherry Tree Lane, and under my hat, watched and listened, and even shared stories with a few strangers who had decided to take a purposeless walk as well.

Later that afternoon – after giving my legs a rest by taking the subway home – I went back to our quiet apartment and sat at my desk to continue with the play I’ve been working on.

My mind was a swarming hive of ideas, and although I was fatigued, my body felt strong, capable; my fingers wouldn’t stop typing.

There is a large window in the office where I write, out which I can look into our tiny backyard. Unfortunately, because we’re on the bottom floor, there are bars on the window. Normally this bothers me. But for the first time in a long winter, I knew those bars weren’t locking me in. Those bars didn’t mean a thing.

Sarah T. Schwab is a Sunday OBSERVER contributor and Fredonia State graduate. Send comments to


or view her Web site at www.SarahTSchwab.com