As I sit riverside in Canada, I wonder why life can't always be this gentle and calm. In stark contrast is the other 51 weeks of the year spent weaving through foot traffic at subway stations, adhering to strict deadlines and frazzled by slowpokes. I thrive off chaos but welcome the serenity when it comes.
I love to go for long walks - partially because I'm nursing a foot injury and can't go for substantial runs anymore - but really because it allows for me to saunter. It reminds me of one day during my freshman fall at Carnegie Mellon. Professor Dr. Scott Sandage didn't show up for class but instead left some form of: "Class won't happen today. But, I ask that you use this time wisely and go saunter" on the blackboard. For this reason, "saunter" has become one of my favorite and most-used words.
To saunter is to walk in a slow, relaxed manner without worry or effort. To Henry David Thoreau, it's much more complicated yet paradoxically simpler than that. To him, it's "the art of walking." The word saunterer can derive from "sainte-terrer," which means a holy leader (someone in search of the holy land) or perhaps, from "sans terre" which means without land or home. Both hit at the notion that those who understand the art of walking have no particular home because everywhere is equally hospitable.
So back in Pittsburgh, during the next meeting, my classmates and I were asked what we learned during our sauntering sessions. Did we notice the bas-relief of Benjamin Franklin on the building we pass every single day? No. Did we hear the birds chirping when otherwise we would only notice students bustling on their way to class? Did we smell the fresh cut grass? Or run our fingers along the uneven surface of the bench that overlooks the tennis courts? Did we even use that time to saunter or did we just go back to the dorms to sleep?
After reading Thoreau's "Walden Pond" and Ralph Waldo Emerson's "Self-Reliance," I became fascinated by their ever-present thoughtfulness and introspective nature. I began to make it a priority to view the world through their eyes and march to the beat of their drummer.
When you stop for a moment, and truly take in your surroundings, you realize how much of life you're missing. It's a sad (initially) but then an uplifting realization. I often get so absorbed by my environment and trapped in my own head that I ignore the senses and what they are trying to tell me. Once you start to acknowledge their power and the influence they have on your life, it opens up so many more opportunities.
Not only can nature be reinvigorating, revitalizing, refreshing, it encourages self-analysis and provides opportunity to evaluate everything in life. When you take the time to take in your surroundings, time seems to slow. Your heart rate begins to drop. Your breathing gets deeper. Your thoughts become more insightful, more appreciative. I can only equate it to the instant gratification after long withdrawal, that sigh of relief, that shot of euphoria.