walking and the everyday

On functional and recreational walking

At the event last Monday 25th at the Aquarium for this project, someone spoke of differentiating between walking as functional and recreational, and how all the walks taken were recreational. I don’t think that’s accidental for the disabled people involved.

Speaking personally, so many years of medical history have been of doctors telling me I should walk – that is, functionally, place one foot in front of the other in order to move from one point to another. In almost 30 years of using a wheelchair, I’ve never yet seen a doctor who understood that that’s not what walking ever represented to me. It was moving through space, connecting with natural and social environments, relationships, meditation, relaxation, pleasure, mental health, tactility, and more. Those are the really important features of walking and it remains all of those things when I ‘walk’ with wheels.

More than that, in the context of this project, I chose the recreational focus for good reasons. A few people mentioned how widespread barriers mean that planning become central to disabled people’s lives. My whole life feels like planning: can I get into a place, move around, participate, be amongst people equally, what are the energy/health demands, what will be the energy/health consequences, etc, etc. It’s about all the dry stuff, the equivalent of placing one foot in front of the other in order to move from one point to another (routine, joyless). The point for me of Walking Interconnections was to explore liberation from that; it was about reconnecting with all those other things that walking always represented to me and that the medics never knew.

Liz Crow

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Walking and Locating the Self

Walking….as soon as I read about your project I thought about a conversation I had had with a friend recently. We talked about the space in between one place and another and how good it was to be aware of experiencing that interstice. I thought about how I had deliberately got off my bike lately to walk because I needed to think before arriving and was speeding along faster than I wanted my thoughts to go. This need to create a coincidence between interior and exterior reality was significant when I first came to Bristol.

Each time I have relocated I have felt excitement but also a fair amount of anxiety. Someone talked to me once about culture shock and I realised that my initial emotions mirrored the description of culture shock: disorientation, rejection of one’s surroundings, anxiety.

When I first came to Bristol walking the same routes every day became very important. It was only by laying down – sedimenting – layers of familiarity each day that I could calm these feelings. I was literally constructing my new reality in increments by habitual walking. With this ‘map’ established I could vary it, branch off at tangents, make discoveries, alter my routes, but I had to walk my own city skeleton before experiencing the tangible luxury of fleshing it out, before enjoying its more generous dimensions.

I’ve almost forgotten now that compulsion to tread a sense of reality, step by step. You can run a place, swim a place, dance a place and once you feel like you ‘belong’, not belonging seems less imaginable. However, I know that if and when I make move again walking my trajectory in that new place will be necessary.

Guest blogger

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Staying in the moment

About seven years ago I was recovering from a second episode of what was later diagnosed as Relapsing Remitting Multiple Sclerosis. I had become so unwell and weak that I had limited mobility and would tire after five minutes on my feet. It felt as though I had been run over by a bus. It had even become a struggle to get across the street to collect my son from the nearby primary school and I couldn’t imagine ever riding a bike again. Before this point I took it for granted that my strong legs could take me anywhere. I felt invincible and was even jogging before I got ill. It took me a long time to regain strength and confidence after this. When I did finally begin to build up my capacity and walk more I relished the moments and felt more thankful than ever. But MS has also been compared to an ‘unwelcome visitor’ who can come knocking and barge in at any time. While this can feel uneasy and provoke anxiety, I’ve also thought that the last thing I would want to do is stop myself from getting out there, smelling the flowers in bloom, breathing fresh air and feeling the wind on my face. It’s the pleasures of being in the moment of ‘the walk’ (countryside or other) that I’ve embraced. It helps take me out of the space of worry about the past or the future.

Guest blogger

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Between aimless and concrete

by Dr Suze Adams

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I walk for many reasons – I enjoy walking, it loosens by mind, my body, my being.  I am told it is good for my health (although I wondered when walking along Marylebone Road this week whether that is always the case) and that it helps the brain keep active.  Walking away the years … is it really that good?!

I work from home most of the time and punctuate my working hours with regular walks – not that it always easy to stir myself , to make the effort to ‘go on a walk’ when part of me is telling me that I should really be finishing this piece of work or doing the paperwork on that project (and what about a cup of tea first?) but I know I need a break and that even a short time spent away from my desk will be beneficial – not only to how I feel but to the work I am engaged with.

I walk to gain distance but simultaneously to become close to, to be proximate to my surroundings and my body, to break away from distractions and the habitual.

I walk away: from routine and domesticity, from my office/studio, from the computer, the telephone, intrusive noise, from interior spaces and often from others …

I walk to: wake myself up, get some air, stretch my legs, listen to the wind, open my eyes  and to free my mind from words or images that are going nowhere, projects and ideas that are no longer flowing … walking is movement, the body in action; walking, as I see it, is an opportunity to both recover and discover.

These are not walks of necessity: they are not aimless, neither do they have a concrete purpose – the aim is to get out there, the purpose unknown.  The pleasure is a slow shifting (and sifting) of perspective as I become aware of new surroundings, different sounds, altered light, the air and sky above, the ground under my feet … the body settles into a pattern, an alternative rhythm, slowly up the hill and then more easily along the tops.

I usually take my camera and sometimes I take photographs (but this is not a given).  I take a sound recorder, often I don’t get it out of my bag.  I have a notebook and pencil in my pocket but seldom make notes.  But always I return changed – more aware of body and environment, mind loosened by some small discovery en route; today the hedge filling with foliage after the winter, the ground greening, the regular cry of new-born lambs bleating for their mothers, a pair of pink gloves placed on the gatepost (up-turned udders for all to view), the sun chasing shadows across the valley.

Walking happens at a relatively slow pace so there is time to notice small things, both internal and external.  I become conscious of the air I am breathing, it catches in my throat when it is dry or cold and becomes thick when humid.  As a wise friend noted: ‘Every breathe we take is an exchange with our environment’.

Awareness sharpens, observance of slight differences in ground surface, the crunch of dry leaves or the swish of long grass, the squelch and splatter of mud; muscles that tighten then ease, knees that complain and ankles that threaten to twist; arms that hang loose, hands that fall out of pockets; and there is a slowing of thought as my gaze rests on distant horizons … the aim to walk, the purpose as yet unknown.

 

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