December 4: Go for a walk
"All truly great thoughts are conceived while walking."
Go for a walk today. Not to get anywhere, not because you need to get some physical activity, not because the dog needs to go outside. Just a walk for the sake of a walk.
A walk with no goal, no schedule; just passing time by putting one foot in front of the other and seeing where you end up.
French 19th century literature gave us the archetype of the flâneur, a leisurely stroller who uses the pastime to experience a city (most famously, Paris). Flânerie - the act of strolling - became a way to discover a place, the perfect platform for observation. When you allow yourself to time to stroll instead of "getting things done," you open up to the world around you in a different way. All kinds of things start to happen.
That idea of aimless strolling has value (perhaps even more) today. Bijan Stephen wrote in the Paris Review, "In the ensuing decades, however, the idea of flânerie as a desirable lifetsyle has fallen out of favor, due to some arcane combination of increasing productivity—hello, fruits of the Industrial Revolution!—and the modern horror at the thought of doing absolutely nothing. (See: Michael Jordan’s “retirements.”) But as we grow inexorably busier—due in large part to the influence of technology—might flânerie be due for a revival?"
There might be something to bringing back the idea of flânerie (albeit, a bit more modern and egalitarian version of it). It is, after all, how we spend the mundane moments of our life that matter, not just the flashy, big events that get all the attention. A walk is always a nice reminder of that. It's not anything you're going to send out an announcement about ("Save the date! I'm going for a walk!"), and it's not necessarily something that you would consider a major success like completing a deadline or getting a promotion ("I went for a walk this week, it's time to celebrate!"). But a walk is good for the soul, and your body and brain know it.
I went for a short walk this weekend. It was an "it's about to get dark out and we should spend some time in the forest before it's too late" kind of a walk. Not one that was planned, but one I knew that I needed. I wanted to gather some fir and cedar branches, but mostly I just wanted to walk, to look, to see, to smell.
Traditionally, flânerie was a particularly urban pursuit, but it can be applied in a more rural setting as well. Wherever you're walking, walk without a destination in mind. Walk for five minutes or walk for thirty. Walk alone or bring a friend. Leave your phone in your pocket. Hide a cookie in your other pocket to eat along the way. Breathe in the air. Feel the cold on your face. Let your mind wander.
Simply take the time to soak in the surroundings and let your brain go wherever it wants to go. Stroll for the sake of strolling. And when you're finished, come back and light a candle. It's December after all.