Burnout and relaxation: The lost art of walking

Not long before the pandemic broke out, someone reported me to the police. He wasn’t selling drugs, or stealing a car, or making noise in the middle of the night. I wasn’t even breaking the law. My only crime was walking through a neighborhood in the United States, where walking is not usual.

“People here drive everywhere,” the policeman told me. «Walking sets off alarm bells.» A joke, right? Wrong. In a world enslaved by cars, walking is often considered deviant behavior.

No wonder the World Health Organization described walking as «a forgotten art.» To make matters worse, when we walk, we often do so with a very modern mix of impatience, absent-mindedness, and goal-seeking. We use apps to count our steps. We curse anyone who dares to waste time in our way. We spend a lot of time looking at our smartphones.

The truth is that we need to walk more, for our health and for the good of the planet. But we also need to walk better. The French have a wonderful word: flânerie. It is walking with no objective in mind, beyond exploring, observing and savoring. It is the opposite of a power walk.

Walking can be part of the path to enlightenment. Thich Nhat Hanh, a Zen master, said that a mindful walk can bring spiritual clarity and heal both the walker and the world. And this is where the prevention of burnout comes in, the other current pandemic that is attacking us, which I will refer to at the First Ibero-American Congress against Burnout, to be held in the Dominican Republic next summer.

Great thinkers, from Aristotle to Virginia Woolf, have praised the creative power of a good walk. «All truly great thoughts,» said Nietzsche, «are conceived while walking.» Nikola Tesla agreed. The inventor of the induction motor had his eureka moment while he was wandering around Budapest. “The idea came like a flash,” he later recalled.

One silver lining to the pandemic is that walking has come back into fashion during lockdown. With normal life on hold, people around the world have embraced it as a way to exercise, relax, or just get out of the house.

* Carl Honoré is a Canadian best-selling writer, speaker, and global voice of the Slow Movement. His message is simple, yet innovative: «To thrive in a fast-paced world, you must slow down.» https://viahr.org/congress/