Happy Sauntering!

The Fine Art of Sauntering.

Today is World Sauntering Day, a fact I discovered quite by serendipity. I woke up with that panicked realization that today is Wednesday, nearly halfway through the week and I’ve accomplished exactly zero of my ambitious goals for the week. Though I’ve been cutting back on caffeine (much as it pains me), I made a deal with the coffee devil, to lure myself out of this nonproductive funk. “I can have a small, half-caff latte IF, and only IF, I walk to and from the coffee shop.” Naturally, I leaped at the opportunity. Bargaining with myself is how I navigate my most days, my inner sloth making deals designed to chip away at my lofty goals.

The overcast morning had given way to the noonday sun by the time the Sloth stumbled out on the sidewalk. I had to clench the straps of my backpack containing my laptop as I strode past my comfy car. Sloth grumbled about the heat, so I made peace by ambling all the way to the shop. I mean, working up a sweat would totally ruin that lovely rush of a steaming hot latte.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I opened my laptop to discover the news about World Sauntering Day. According to happydays-365.com, World Sauntering Day came about in the 1970s as a response to the growing trend of jogging. First celebrated, perhaps, at the Grand Hotel Mackinac Island in Michigan, which boasts the world’s longest porch, the aim is to encourage people to slow down. Meander. Stop and smell the roses, literally.

I’ve just finished reading an inspiring book about the benefits of running on mental health by Nita Sweeney, entitled Depression Hates a Moving Target. I stand in jaw-dropping awe of her many accomplishments; even just getting herself out of bed was a feat on some days. And still, that inner Sloth has been vociferous in reminding me of utter lack of desire to run. Anywhere. Unless, as the saying goes, a hungry bear is chasing me.

Then along comes this invitation to saunter, and I give drop-to-my-knees gratitude for it. And I also feel a bit rueful that I needed a prompt from the Internet. Don’t I write about this stuff? I can think of at least a dozen times I mention the benefits of slowing down in my book, Love Earth Now, just off the top of my head. I also know that I write about what I most need to learn. Maybe it’s time for me to read that book again.

Better yet, it’s time for another saunter out in nature because that’s in my book, too. Time and again, a simple visit to a park or even my own front yard has saved my own sanity. But you don’t have to take my word for it. Countless studies now demonstrate that time in nature offers real benefits to our physical well-being. Time in a forest can reduce blood pressure and stress, increase energy levels, improve memory and sleep. Some even assert cancer-fighting benefits.  If you’re homebound, a couple of studies found that even looking at pictures of places in Nature provides the same kind of benefits. This news delights my Sloth to no end. There’s a lovely tree outside my home office window.

But there’s another benefit for me, one that’s not on the list. Nature, fully appreciated, reconnects me, cynic that I am, with Wonder. For me, that’s the quickest antidote to rushing around, anxiety, despair and doubt that I’ve ever experienced. Wonder and its cousin Awe give me the spaciousness to reconnect with that deep “peace that passeth understanding.” A few moments devoted to steeping in the miracle of a single bloom slows the pace of the rest of my day. Sauntering becomes, not something to do on June 19, but a preferred form of therapy, one that’s healthier than my partaking of the “medicinal Chardonnay.”

Perhaps it’s no great surprise that being in nature has these effects on humans. Our kind evolved in a world with trees and fish and plants and tigers and fungi, all of which have been on this Earth far longer than we have. It’s only recently, considering the history of our species, that we’ve erected barriers between ourselves and our natural home. Stepping outside those barriers, in a saunterly way, can help reconnect us with our most ancient, collective memories.

Ready to celebrate World Sauntering Day? I am. Even if the walk home is going to be hot, concrete-lined and uphill, I can take it slowly. Stop to smell the blooming sages. Immerse in the wealth of wisdom of our Earth home. Recalibrate my experience of time and loosen my grip on unrealistic expectations. Reclaim my natural place in the world.

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  © Cheryl Leutjen