“All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking.” ~Nietzsche
A recent study by the National Academy of Sciences found that a ninety-minute walk in nature slows our worried, troublesome thoughts about ourselves and our lives. Even better, it reduces the neural activity in parts of the brain linked to mental illness.
On the other hand, if you spend your time walking down city sidewalks, don’t expect much. The science says you’ll have no change whatsoever in your neural activity. Or even in your thoughts about yourself.
This means that if you’re inclined to be anxious, depressed, grieving, or harried, go find the nearest nature trail.
But I could have told you that.
I road tested this concept at the very worst moment in my life, in the year following the sudden death of my daughter. At the time my life had fallen apart completely. Not only had my daughter just dropped dead from a medically unexplainable cardiac arrest, but a few months earlier I lost my relationship and the home that came with it.
I’d also recently closed a successful business that had pushed me to the point of burnout. So not only did I need to grieve, I needed everything to grind to a halt. Then I needed to do a radical reboot of my entire life.
Unable to fathom how to even begin, I found my way north to the country. Once there, I moved in with a friend.
A nearby park with rambling blackberry lined paths beckoned to me—even in the rain soaked northern California winter. Unable to even keep two thoughts in my head at the time, the only thing I could do was to walk.
Every day, I would pull on my rain gear and my big rubber rain boots and walk along the park’s muddy trails for hours. It was a rough and tumble place, but it was beautiful, as well. More importantly, I was alone out there as I slowly memorized every dormant blackberry bush, every rain puddle rut, and every sweeping field of grizzled grape vines.
Sometimes I sobbed as I walked. Sometimes I smiled at the pileup of bittersweet memories that poured through my body. Sometimes unexpected ideas would pop up for things I wanted to write, or places I wanted to go. Sometimes I’d remember lost wisps of memory from my childhood, things once said to me or stories I’d been told.
These walks became nothing less than a time of reckoning.
Most of the time, I just needed the active motion of my legs pumping and my feet moving through the mud. I needed to feel my feet on the ground in order to somehow get a…