Yesterday the 19th June was the world sauntering day.
I think I wrote about it last year too. Sauntering the lost art of just walking.
Sauntering is a beautiful word, before long ago in the middle ages of history when people went on a pilgrimage to the Holy land, and people in the villages that they passed asked them where they were going, they would reply, “A la Sainte Terre” that is to the Holy Land, and they came to be known as Sainte-Terre-ers or saunterers, so no longer saunterers people walking aimlessly in a slow relaxed manner, now they are people on a pilgrimage.
In a way this kind of works as objectless meditation, walking. Actually Henry Thoreau in his essay walking (1862) actually gives a focused reflection on sauntering as a spiritual discipline. In this essay he points out what comes to us when we let go of expectations, hopes and fears, as he ends the essay he writes, “we walked in so pure and bright a light gilding the withered grass and leaves, so softly and serenely bright, I thought I never bathed in such a golden flood, without ripple or murmur to it. The west side of every wood rising the ground gleamed like the boundary of Elysium, and the sun on backs seemed like a gentle herdsman driving us home at evening.” It is interesting that he returns to the metaphor of walking to the Holy land. “as we saunter towards the Holy Land…”
During my teens I used to Saunter down the hills of Manipal, those have now vanished. I loved this ancient practise that I could carry alone, it was easy, free and in a strange way it was also an antidote to loneliness that I definitely experienced.
Sauntering is very different from walking to get from one place to the other, or walking for the sake of exercise. It is like a crusade. I have given up the crusade. Though I did do it once again in Hyderabad, but having to watch constantly for the vehicles disturbs the crusade. Our engagement with the screen has lead us to be disconnected from our bodies, from our self generative imaginative capacity.—which has been invaded by the chronic bombardment of pre-fabricated imagery. Walking be it country rambling, or an urban park, presents us a potential pathway to reconnect.
Actually Virginia Woolf has an essay called Street Haunting. It must have been writing in late 1920’s the essay is about a woman’s walk through London to buy a pencil. Though the saunterer here has an destination and an intention she keeps her eyes open. Her senses get alert and attuned to the environment, she vivid streets enchant her. Everything seems so magically endowed with the beauty of the night. She exclaims, “How beautiful a street is in the winter!”
As she walks she is so taken by what she sees, smells and even her skin perceives, it transforms to an exercise in sensation and perception it awakens her to enter more fully into the stream of life. slowly she allows her mind to wander and wonder, being sensually attuned to the environment, she imagines how her life might look if she were to wear a particular strand of pearls displayed.
As she traverses the street, she wonders of about the lives of others that she passes, the possible going-ons behind the shutters of the houses that passes, she fantasises their lives. Though that is an exercise I never indulged when I walk, I definitely do it in a train,particularly as the train approaches Dadar station and open windows allow me to voyeur into people’s home.
Actually walking fosters self forgetfulness. Particularly if we were walking in the streets of busy town or city, we become part of the great anonymous ocean of people, that in itself is a great relief. As I used to saunter the slopes of Manipal I began realizing the real neighbourhood, the real neighbours, like the little squirrel that lived in the tree trunk, the old lady who lived alone by the culvert. I never knew her but she smiled at me every time I went by. Then there was another elder who would ask me to post her letter. I don’t know her name either. But they were all part of the great connect. I was no longer the entitled separate entity, I belonged to the vastness.
Of course my walking alone, did raise a lot of questions, probably labelled me a tramp, I know teacher actually said I did it attract attention. Looking back I realize woman walking particularly alone is a social bias, and associated with streetwalker maybe because women are associated with home and men with public spaces.
There was a patient in H3 ward of Manipal, elderly man, he could not walk, but he would sit in the wheel chair and ask to be wheeled around until he managed to find a wheelchair that he could manipulate. He used to tell us, his legs were bad, but not his sight or other senses they required the walk and the connect.
Do step out and saunter, you never know what you will discover.