Wrought iron gate latch. Into the arboretum, Hergest Croft, Kington, Herefordshire. Photo by me.
Unwellness has loomed heavily over me for the last few weeks. I have been awaiting test results for uterine cancer; so tired lately that I have almost come to halt. But I love to walk. It has been something in me since a small child. I have explored and ventured, with or without parental permission.
As an adult, come rain or shine, daily bounds of five miles or more were the norm until my Ben-dog grew blind and arthritic. Now, he’s gone, and with anemia and hormonal treatments which bring on oedema, I’m lucky to go out for a stroll in the park. But I try, because it’s in my blood. But now I know there is more to it.
Yesterday, I heard. I do not have cancer, unless the total hysterectomy with bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy due at the end of the week reveals otherwise (I’m basically being spayed*). I’m moving forward on the basis that I am clear, planning my healing with a definite effort to begin distance walking once more. It’ll be gradual. But walking is my wellbeing. There but for the grace of Gaia go I.
Whether sloping along an ancient trail, a green lane, or an ankle-twisting verge by a busy highway, going for a walk is usually allied with going outside. We say we “go out” for a walk. We move from our enclosed home, under the shelter of a roof, through openings in walls, through gates in fences, to someplace out under the skies. We venture another kind of existence from which we will return, all going well. We also expose ourselves to additional life, including new microbes. And dust. We are essentially blending with the flow of DNA and elements instrumental in Earth’s dynamic multi-directional web of interconnectedness. And we leave part of ourselves out there. Sometimes, a long way away. Thousands of miles.
Non human beings do this too, though with more danger in open food chains. They emerge from the nest or home of relative security and protection from the elements, to move through to the opposite ~ to forage food and claim territory. Sometimes, for thousands of miles. Sometimes, if they have the energy capacity and sense of security, they wander simply for pleasure or curiosity, just like us. With additional wings or fins, they blend through different mediums – air and water, as well as on terra firma. The idea that we stand alone from all other animals by walking or playing for pure pleasure is an assumption, rather like assuming all other animals are not affecting. Ethologists are learning every day in their research this is just not the case.
Home is not always a sanctuary, for humans and non humans. For some, going outdoors may protect against emotional heartache, physical or energetic hardship. All the while, rumination or meditation, exercise or rest, many reasons persist to go for a walk outside. There’s also the “flywheel effect” ~ no reason to walk, just a storage of rotation energy, a nothingness in the Dao sense of somethingness. Who knows how many beings can afford to be simply meditative. Perhaps, more than we imagine. For other beings, home has been spoilt by humans, either toxified by chemicals or cleansed of essential microbes. Worse, some have no home.
When we go out, we encompass all inwards. We have sense organs and brains, and we process all internally. But there is also flow, and in many directions. Life’s comet-tails of biology and culture are exchanged at the touch of an old wrought iron gate or the bark of a tree, or a water drop falling from a low lying leaf, or a dead hair dislodging from our scalps and falling to the soils. Think of all as rawly exposed and sponge-like. Ingestion is not the only point of intake. Think about breath. And yes, think about skin. There are other delicate mebranes too; apertures, orifices, cuts and vulnerable spots. We are porous beings even if we think we are solidly contained individuals. We are also holobionts, hosts to multiple species. Our own species is reliant upon others both within and without.
So, when we “take in the air,” we are doing so much more. Maybe this offers a way of becoming aware of what we dispose of and spray, emit and pollute. Nothing should remain hidden. We can no longer be blind to the discardments and waste of others. We have to be watchful and methodical. We are more than what we eat. We are our environs, our neighbours, our fellow non-human beings. In a sense, we are what we eat.
There’s a natural immunity, resilience, caused by continuous exposure to the good forms of life. Our cutaneousness; our skin and membranes exchange chemicals and water too. We respire through it, absorb and excrete. But our porosity and microbiome can be harmed too. Great care is needed now more than ever in what we invent through technology and release into the biosphere. Amphibians have such delicate skin that so much of their immediate environment is pulled in to their being. Their skin is also their main plane of immunity, covered in a microbiotic community which defends and repels. This is why they are so vulnerable to environmental impacts. They are their environment, canaries of the mine, and we are not so different.
Writers and philosophers have extolled the virtues of walking as a form of either escape or work, meditation or exhiliration. The choice of solitude has been expressed by deep thinkers; unfettered by the rythms and meditations of others. Socially, walking may strengthen our bonds by the mere act. When we go out for a walk, we may be on some kind of transformational journey or thrown into novel and challenging thoughts and feelings. A unity of opposites exists; the novelty and/or the sameness of the ‘other’ place is compelling. Knowing the tread, the feel and the angles of the lie of the earth, the senses flourishing, all helps to put us in mind of the why’s and the wherefore’s of the ancient, non-technical, bipedal act of walking. But, as I have said, there is so much more. Remember, we are also going in for a walk.
So on my walking path to recovery, from a place of facing a positive cancer result, to finding I am clear, to recovering from my operation and the huge shot of anti-biotics I needed, I know I am as much going in for a walk as out.
I need to rebuild my microbiome, in human solitude or in the company of others. There will be exchange. Sanguimund is more than just a consciousness. It is also a bodily exchange as well as a belonging. And floloca is the belonging of all life. I’ll feel less separation from indoors to outdoors; raw to what is flowing across me; mindful of what may be flowing through me and, therefore, all other life. I can engage biologically, mentally and spiritually with the living beings and their signs, communications and devotion, within all the elements, and in all the flows.
As I walk, one step after another, there is no real separateness between myself and other beings – our individual selves are ‘we,’ and we blend with others. Their health is my health. And this is true wellbeing.
* Operation went well.