Walking briskly, pushing the blood to your extremities, alone and with minimal distraction along the path, concentrating the mind on the thighs’ movements, you trigger imagination and focus. In other words, brisk walking is a form of creative meditation. You need a notebook to scrawl the thoughts as they come. After the walk, you need to reassess your scrawls. I like to clarify them in my laptop. I put my really stupid thoughts into trash, but I don’t delete them.
The ability to focus is challenged in our society — not just with the nerve-jangled adults but also with the new batch of kids. Richard Davidson, a psychologist known for his behavioral research with Rhesus monkeys and studies in meditation with the Dali Lama, has made some interesting discoveries. Children (some of them with learning disorders) were invited to lie on their backs with a pebble placed on their tummies. While deep breathing, they were to focus on the pebble going up and down. After this exercise and for a period of time, they enthusiastically concentrated on schoolwork and other tasks.
I haven’t tried watching pebbles going up and down on my tummy, but I sometimes look down at the movement of my feet while walking. It induces a lovely trance. I don’t recommend doing it in traffic.
Brisk walking removes dark clouds, refreshes the artistic mind, encourages the interbreeding of thoughts, and plucks new ideas out of the blue. Walking itself is a time-honoured path to spirituality (think Camino de Santiago across northern Spain). There can be no doubt walking stimulates the imagination. Walking is a readily available antidote to a sedentary life. Different artists get different results. Mine are all over the place. Here are a few purged from my laptop: “The same object seen from two sides.” “A work of art dependent on gradation alone.” “Teaching art by not talking, just showing.” “A way of temporarily gassing fanatics so they just lay down their arms and become nice.” “Encouraging autonomy in others by being autonomous yourself.” “A better way to fix that sky.”
With the brisk walk, you make up your mind. It’s as if someone is walking along with you, helping you with your thinking. No matter how long the walk, the best stuff comes during the second half. You may find the last minute is spent running to the studio.
PS: “She was wrapped up and sold, coming home from an old fashioned walk.” (Irving Berlin)
Esoterica: Dr. Davidson thinks happiness, compassion and a sense of well-being are simply skills learned in the same way a person might learn the violin, tennis or painting. Time and practice are necessary. Apparently, the brain is built to change in response to training and the use of ploys. Whether you are a Rhesus monkey or a student in third year industrial design, focus is key. There are many ways to improve focus. Trusting your steps is just one of them. The system is just outside your door, and it’s free.
Confessions of a long distance walker
by Win Dinn, Creston, BC, Canada
Your advice to walk is so ‘in step’! I’ve spent the last six months walking an average of 160 km per month and can attest that it feeds the soul, trims the body, and boosts creativity in amazing ways. The most appealing aspect is the undistracted time walking gives me to think about the what, how, and why of my creative ideas.
Walking the talk
by Edward Vincent, Sydney, Australia
You’ve probably noticed how, when someone answers a cell phone, if they can they’ll stand up and walk — or pace up and down at least. I believe there’s a direct connection between the act of walking and the brain… it enhances the thinking and (probably) the creative process. And watching your feet whilst walking? A very hypnotic act — trance-like and intense.
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Smart walker’s smart phone
by Mary Ann Archibald, Halifax, NS, Canada
If you have a smart phone with a recording feature (think iPhone) then it is possible to record your thoughts as you walk down the street. In an urban environment, you will just look like you are talking on your phone. In the wilderness, people may wonder how you have reception.
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The title means “It is solved by walking” (St. Augustine) I am founder of a labyrinth ministry and could not agree with you more. Since labyrinths are worldwide and available globally, you might want to check one out on your journeys at the Labyrinth Locator. World Wide Labyrinth Day is May 5, 2012. The globe walks together at 1pm.
(RG note) Thanks, Tri-Unity. Last year at this time I walked a labyrinth in Sedona, Arizona and wrote a letter about my experience.
Early morning walker finds joy
by Barrett Edwards, Naples, FL, USA
I heartily agree that brisk walking often triggers the creative muse. I would like to add that, at least for me, it brings an awareness of joy, which I need to paint well. Joy in the little things: a cardinal’s song, the overhead winging of a flock of Ibis lit by the rosy dawn. I find that the older I get (especially during an election year!) the more I need to remain conscious of the beauty, luck and joy that permeates my life. Walking early in the morning does this for me. I walk until I am given at least one “gift” — an especially stunning cloud formation or a rabbit startled by my tread. And then I head for my studio, calmed and more eager than ever to paint. And if I can’t walk… I can always re-read one of your letters, and find my joy there.
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Walking raised to a higher level
by Maryna den Braanker, Pretoria, South Africa
I also found that walking is the best medication for body and mind! I don’t know much about meditation; I always think of it as people standing/hanging upside down or sitting like a ‘masterpiece,’ waiting to be moved to a permanent place for decoration. Now that you call walking as a form of meditation, it has taken my walking to a higher level!
I am a believer in nature and always find all my daily food for thoughts in walking. For living in South Africa and trapped in a dangerous city life, living in security areas during the five-day work week, I walk the same route about every day since 2001, without a single boring moment. The ‘up and down pebble-effect’ must be a good comparison to ‘the same trees and fences flying by’ as I walk.
Guidance from a ghostly other
by Joan Brancale, MA, USA
“It’s as if someone is walking along with you, helping you with your thinking.” Robert’s thoughts resonated with my response to a theatre production I saw recently, “The Shackleton Project at Arts Emerson, Boston. The performance was a visual spectacle creating the Antarctic environment during which stranded men confronted the elements and their plight, and somehow stayed alive to be rescued. I was struck by the imagery of tall spectral puppeteers on stilts, draped and hooded in glacial white robes, gently assisting the stricken 4′ high marionette explorers as they moved slowly and stoically across the isolated wilderness of frozen land. At the time I felt grateful for their benign enabling presence, as I am for those thoughts and ideas that come to assist me in my art when I take long walks in nature.
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How an idea comes to light
by Diane Overmyer, Goshen, IN, USA
I am learning the importance of following my muse, and lately it has been with still life paintings using objects as metaphorical supports to an idea. I try to keep a notebook handy as much as possible to jot down ideas such as you wrote about. I also have realized that if I am thinking about a concept, if I set visual reminders in my home or studio, it helps my thoughts to gravitate back to the idea for the painting. Sometimes those come to fruition and other times the objects are shelved for another day.
I have learned to be patient. Sometimes I toy with an idea for months or years. I recently completed a painting in which final thought for all of the elements came together very suddenly at 3:00 a.m. That was preceded, however, by months of casual thinking and toying with objects with no predetermined method. The painting I am referring to is the image that I am including. It is called Wisdom’s Journey and the cell phone was the missing piece to the puzzle. Once I thought of the cell phone, which of course is often referred to as a ‘smart phone,’ I literally jumped out of bed and ran down to my studio so I could put together the set-up for the painting at that very moment!
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The problems with kids
by Marian Kemp, Powell River, BC, Canada
It has long been my theory that so many kids are hyperactive and have ADD and ADHD because they are grossly over-stimulated. They constantly interact with videos games using their reflexes, they are bombarded with wild colours instead of drab and/or soothing ones, they are never told to be quiet (children should be seen and not heard does have its uses, sometimes!). Television is flash-and-dazzle and constant motion, mostly over-stimulating them with nasty themes, and bad examples. They don’t do nearly enough quiet stuff, like even climbing trees or burying themselves in a book, knitting, woodcarving, household chores or the like. Parents and other adults ought to make a concerted effort to bring in those elements of a normal, sound upbringing.
Helping improve their concentration with the pebble on the stomach is an excellent idea. They should also have quiet/read times where no debate/bouncing around/argument/questioning is allowed, until the quiet time is over, at which time questioning and debate would be useful.
I’m trying to get going on a manual on how to be a good parent, because I had excellent parents who descended from a long line of other excellent parents. I am simply horrified by how many young parents have no parenting skills. I have to do something about it!
Trouble is, I battle and grapple with major writer’s block and hope to work my way through it. Any tips for so doing? I really do have something worthwhile to say, but I have no idea how to start or organize something as big as a book. And I am baffled and intimidated at the thought of tackling such a huge effort.
(RG note) Thanks, Marian. As a parent and keen observer of other parents you are in the best position to write this book. I like to say we are all amateurs while we are raising our kids, and by the time we become pros the little darlings check out. Start your book anywhere. Make yourself do it anywhere, every day. Use ideas that you get from memories of your parents, grandparents, and your own experience. Get these ideas when you are observing the foibles of other parents in child-raising. Get your ideas and solutions in the bathtub, in the garden swing, in bed at night, and while walking.
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Walking away from a gallery
by Joe Hutchinson, Santa Fe, NM, USA
How does one leave one’s gallery and move to another? My gallery informed me that I would not be given a solo exhibit this summer. I was told that the market has slumped and the space, money and time has been given to the gallery’s best sellers, although three of my oils sold in the past two months and one has been juried into a state-wide competitive exhibition. It is true that I have not been a star performer in the eyes of the gallery owner and my work has been delegated to the back room and the storage racks. I understand the rule of supply and demand, the gallery’s need to “sell and survive” and I sense that I am toast. Do I wait it out, continue to do my best, or do I approach a new gallery? In the city where I show, the gallery owners have an unwritten agreement to not contract an artist from another gallery’s stable.
(RG note) Thanks, Joe. Since I’ve been at it, ten percent of the galleries do 90% of the business. This is true even in times of recession. The fact is that this dynamic is always in flux. You need to look out for subtle changes in gallery attitudes and directions. These attitudes and directions may be related to changes in customer preferences. I would look around at other galleries who may be on the rise and more anxious to handle your current art. In the meantime, quietly observe (and get the scuttlebutt from other gallery artists) what is going on in your gallery. It may be that your work is doing as well as it can under the circumstances. Further, I’ve never been one to discourage my work from being in the back room. In my experience, some of the most effective dealers use their back rooms to advantage. There are green shoots in the economy. It looks to me like America may be returning to “business as usual.” I’d give your loyal gallery a bit more time.
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Moon over Masada
acrylic painting, 24 x 24 inches
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