An Experiment in Walking

Primrose Hill

Experiencing both worlds, the inner and the outer

“Become passers-by.” Years ago, someone quoted these words (from the Gospel of Thomas) to me. I knew at the time that I didn’t really understand them, but I felt touched, and they have stayed with me. I am now the age that that person was when he quoted this phrase, and I feel moved not so much to “understand” it as to try to live it.

Quite often, I go out for a walk. I don’t intend to go anywhere: the intention is just to “go out for a walk”, to be in the act of walking. It is not so easy. It is almost Spring, and the morning is fresh but extremely bright, so I take a walk in a nearby park. Apart from a few joggers and some people walking their dogs, there is little to distract me. How is it with me, as I walk?

One thing I notice is a tendency to look down, which goes with a turning away from what is immediately present to the movement of my so-called thoughts, and their familiar sluggishness. So I deliberately try to look up and around me. Yes, everything is in movement and for brief moments I can simply take in how the perspectives shift. I reach a point where I can see further into the distance: tiny figures on a distant path, but at the same time branches and sky. I can include more, when I try: from moment to moment I can sense my feet on the ground, and the chill air on my face. For very short periods I can sense my back. My eyes are at in the front of my head but there is something behind them ‒ my body has depth as it advances.

Then I notice that I’m looking down at the path, and that I’m lost in memories. I can see a familiar tendency to “categorize” everything: “tree”, “branches” “sky”: and I’m no longer there, with this particular, this unique moment. But instead of feeling dejected, I try again ‒ and again. Gradually, from time to time, something else begins to emerge, rather faintly: it is possible to be a witness of the world beyond me, and its movement and, at the same time, of the movements that take place within me. Just occasionally, I have a different relation to what is there in its wholeness, and I am in a different time ‒ a moment: I am free from the temptation to “make it last”.

When I walk in this way, another interest emerges ‒ and “interest” means precisely to be between ‒ moment by moment I can become a “passer-by” ‒ not only of the outer world, but of myself.

Julian Arloff