Friday, July 29, 2016
Walking: A Personal Journey
Walking: A Personal Journey
The Tennessee sun radiating off the concrete sidewalk felt like an unguided July tour along the front lines of hell. Red brick stone showcased the ornamental granite inlays constituting the enormous pathways that provide students with an urban ambulatory experience among the beautiful campus green-scape. Freshly-cut grass dashed across my path, dancing in the lone-breeze blowing through the common. Summer school was in at Middle Tennessee State University.
The usual bustle of students rushing to classes during the fall and spring semesters was eerily absent. The only audible sounds were the drone of a distant leaf blower and the chime of the campus bell marking the half-hour. Sweat beaded up on my brow from the heat as I walked towards my first Master of Liberal Arts class. Walking—putting one foot in front of the other would soon prove more than getting from one place to another, as an act of perfunctory necessity.
Although our stroll through Western civilization would mark philosophical footnotes along our worn pages of rote memory, the true edification sprang from the pages of an unassuming text entitled Philosophy of Walking. Suddenly, the conceptual Platonic Forms came crashing down to the ground like a Raphael painting hung on a loose nail; into an Aristotelian reality, where the class made contact with the natural grounding essential to evolutionary bipeds: both feet planted firmly on the Earth’s soil—where progress is made by putting on foot in front of the other. The progress of a well-examined life.
As an undergrad, I learned that one must not only be a student of philosophy, but one must “do” philosophy. Whether this “doing” is framing cogent arguments, asking questions, reading critically, or asking ‘how should we live,’ etc., what better way to “do” a “Philosophy of Walking” than actually do some walking. Boots on the ground, to borrow a loaded phrase. So, from page one, I set out on a literal and figurative journey to “do” some philosophy of walking.
What I found along that path was much more than I bargained for.
Life Driven Purpose
Sometimes the answer is right in front of us, but for some unknown, reason we refuse to acknowledge it.
After decades of doubting my intuitions, confusion, and confirmation bias-based denial, I realized that I was involved with a sociopathic person with manipulative narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). Earlier this year I began reading medical literature about pathological NPD and sociopathy. This person checked every box on the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition) under NPD, and displayed all the signs of sociopathic behavior. A person with NPD is highly manipulative, and the tactics are horrendous. Nearly every professional and non-professional victim of NPD stressed that the only thing to do was cut off all communication. After many discussions over the summer with my wife, who was in agreement, we decided to walk away.
Then the prisoners would in every way believe that the truth is nothing other than the shadows of those artifacts. --The Republic, Book VII
I felt an immediate sense of relief—like the prisoner in Plato’s Cave who broke free and turned around. At that moment, one has to assume, prior to the assent, that she discovered that the shadows on the wall were merely images of falsehoods manipulated by puppeteers. At this point, one doesn’t even have to venture out of the cave towards the light of knowledge to see the perpetuated fraud. Simply a new perspective changed the prisoner’s paradigm. The whole charade was erected to keep up the appearances. The shadows are lies passed off as truth. But what to do with the new ‘seeing.’ Once enlightened, there’s no turning under the same pretenses. Change is inevitable.
True freedom lies beyond the cave, and the sight of the light against the dark, damp surroundings commands a journey into the unknown. There’s a burning desire within; steps must be taken.
“Once on his feet, though, man does not stay where he is” (Gros 2).
Arthur Rimbaud’s journeys in Chapter 6 were paced in anger. I understood this on many levels, mostly a passion to escape. But the metaphor of “on your feet” takes on many passengers. It’s a starting point because you have to get on your feet before you can walk, whether it’s literally or figuratively. Underneath it all, there’s that deep instinct to move away from the subversive. Rise up!
So the first steps taken were in the form of a morning 5-mile walk. Like Nietzsche—walking alone. Walking, thinking, and walking, where that ‘light pause’ of writing would converge on the page in carried thought and steeped in decisiveness. The feeling of walking away is both anger and joy, simultaneously. The anger from doubting intuitions, and the joy of finally doing something about the situation. Gros described it as such.
“To walk, to make progress, anger is needed. With him there is always that parting cry, that furious joy” (Gros 47).
That ‘parting cry,’ that first step, is the best! It’s the moment of truth. Rimbaud’s thoughts are short and sharp—all that it requires.
Let’s go, hat, greatcoat, both fists in pockets,
and step outside.
Gros noted that it’s not the idea of going somewhere to explore, it’s the impossibility of enduring the present state of affairs.
“And he walked. Anger is needed to leave, to walk. That doesn’t come from outside. In the hollow of the belly the pain of being here, the impossibility of remaining where you are, of being buried alive, of simply staying” (Gros 48).
Every morning, each step taken felt like progress. The sheer act of movement towards something better was a gift. Each day brought new thoughts and new ideas—new possibilities. The puppeteers scattered in the reflected light, where the shadows of the imagination disappeared under a rude awakening. For the dearly departed, there’s no going back.
But there was something else happening. After two weeks of walking, I felt physically and mentally revived. A new me. I wasn’t just a neighborhood pedestrian wandering aimlessly in the street.
A Strange Pilgrimage
For the first two weeks during my walks, I never ventured beyond the boundaries of my subdivision. My urban encounter with the mild streets of Smyrna, Tennessee, seem like a superficial excursion compared to a Muslim’s once-in-a-lifetime Hajj—a journey to Mecca. But I was putting one foot in front of another, where time was more important than distance. And the need for change was not in the external, but the need for mental reckoning.
“Internal transformation remains the pilgrim’s mystical ideal: he hopes to be absolutely altered on his return. That transformation is still expressed in the vocabulary of regeneration: very often there is a spring, stream or river close to holy places, the lustral element in which pilgrims can immerse themselves, to emerge purified, as it were cleansed of themselves” (Gros 121).
Walking brings about definitive renunciation. As the miles mount, the mind clears. There is a cleansing, a cleansing of self-doubt. Putting in the work, walking; thinking things through gives the self a new purpose—a new direction. Towards the end of the journey, the path becomes clearer; the exit of the cave a little nearer. Progress is made. The feeling is rewarding.
Once you come out of the other side of a pilgrimage, you start looking for the next step. And there are steps, but they are no longer manipulated by puppeteers shadowing your path with illusions. They are brighter steps, brighter days, and clearer thoughts—all discovered by thinking and walking.