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BERKELEY'S NEWS • FEBRUARY 01, 2023

Ring in the New Year with our 2023 New Year's Special Issue!

Take a walk!

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SANJANA MANJESHWAR | STAFF

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NOVEMBER 27, 2022

While we’re walking, we probably don’t actively think about the fact that we’re walking. It seems like just a means to an end, something we do to get us where we want to go. Lately, however, I’ve been thinking about walking as an act in itself, and what it reveals about our relationship with the world around us.

Over the summer, I lived alone in Berkeley and worked a full-time remote job, sitting at my desk for most of the day. When the workday was over, my usual forms of relaxation — watching a show on Netflix, texting my friends, scrolling through TikTok — seemed like the last things I wanted to do after staring at a screen for hours. Instead, to clear my head, I started going on long, aimless walks everyday. 

At first, these walks were confined to campus or the few blocks around my neighborhood. But, as time went on, my walks became increasingly unpredictable. I began venturing further and further down streets I’d never heard of, turning corners I’d never seen before. Sometimes I’d listen to a podcast or playlist, sometimes I’d call my parents or a friend and sometimes I’d just walk in silence. 

The walks allowed me to pay attention to the world. I began noticing the tiny details of my surroundings: the lemons hanging from the branches, the rainbows drawn in chalk on the sidewalks, the colorful flowers dotting peoples’ yards, the birds chirping in the trees, the faint outline of the Golden Gate Bridge far to the west. 

My habit of taking long walks continued into the school year and became an integral part of my daily routine. The walks are now a sort of meditative ritual. There’s something almost spiritual about taking an hour out of my day to appreciate the outdoors and deliberately wander with no greater goal in mind. 

There’s something almost spiritual about taking an hour out of my day to appreciate the outdoors and deliberately wander with no greater goal in mind. 

For centuries, writers have explored the relationship between walking and mindfulness. In 1782, French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote “Les rêveries du Promeneur Solitaire” (The Reveries of the Solitary Walker), a collection of anecdotes reflecting on his long solitary walks through the Parisian countryside. Perhaps the most well-known essay on the topic is Henry David Thoreau’s 1862 essay, “Walking.” Thoreau explores the spiritual nature of walking and discusses how walking is a central part of his identity as a writer. In particular, he extols the virtues of sauntering: walking slowly and deliberately, with no final destination. 

Authors have also examined walking as a social and cultural phenomenon. Books such as Geoff Nicholson’s “The Lost Art of Walking” and Kerri Andrews’ “Wanderers: A History of Women Walking” chronicle how, for years, walking has been an empowering source of inspiration for writers, artists, musicians and other creatives. 

This observation has additionally been scientifically proven — a 2014 Stanford study found that walking boosts creative inspiration, while a 2021 study in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health revealed that nature walks have a “cognitive enhancing” effect on college students. 

While walking can be a boost to our work, it can simultaneously be a way to escape society’s demands for us to be constantly working. In her 2000 book “Wanderlust: A History of Walking,” writer Rebecca Solnit reflects on the role of walking in our age of perpetual productivity. She suggests that going on aimless, sprawling walks can be a form of resistance — a “subversive detour” — from society’s unyielding emphasis on production. 

Solnit writes, “Thinking is generally thought of as doing nothing in a production-oriented society, and doing nothing is hard to do. It’s best done by disguising it as doing something, and the something closest to doing nothing is walking.”

I’d never thought of my walks as anything more than a relaxing end to my day. I’m not usually one to ascribe greater meanings to my daily activities, but I’ve recently been considering my daily leisurely stroll as a deliberate rebuke to the idea that we’re always supposed to be doing something

In the era of constant communication and expectations of nonstop availability, I often find myself rushing from one thing to the next without taking a minute to myself. More often than not, I find myself out of breath, speed-walking across campus to make it to my next class by Berkeley Time, or, if I’m at home, jumping between Zoom calls without a break. I’m grateful for all the things I do here at Berkeley — classes, research, work, spending time with friends — but sometimes I feel like it’s all going by so fast and I don’t have time to breathe. 

My walks give me the opportunity to slow down and recharge. When I’m on a walk, I feel distant from my everyday obligations and instead contemplate the fact that I’m connected to everything around me — the leaves changing color, the crisp clear air filling my lungs, the people walking their dogs and pushing their babies in strollers. 

Like many students here, I’ve always been laser-focused on what comes next. I spent all of high school worrying about getting into college. I spent most of my time in college worried about grades and internships and club positions. I’m a senior now, and as my time at Berkeley is coming to an end and I have no idea what my future plans are, I can’t stop worrying about where I’ll be at this time next year. I’ve never been particularly good at living in the moment. 

Going on daily nature walks has helped me live in the moment during this time of transition. I reflect on what’s going on in my life and take a moment to appreciate my surroundings. 

Going on daily nature walks has helped me live in the moment during this time of transition. I reflect on what’s going on in my life and take a moment to appreciate my surroundings. 

Walking forces me to be present and mindful instead of constantly thinking about my future self. I’m at my most introspective and reflective when I’m on a walk — my notes app is filled with ideas from when I’m wandering through the streets of North Berkeley. Most importantly, my walks are the one part of my day that isn’t connected to some broader purpose. When I graduate, one of the things I’ll miss most about Berkeley will be how walkable it is. 

But no matter which city I move to next, I’ll always remember what Berkeley taught me — to approach walking as an end, instead of as a means to an end. 

Contact Sanjana Manjeshwar at 

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NOVEMBER 27, 2022