Walking is man's best medicine
Fish swim, snakes slither, birds fly and humans walk – it's what our ancestors did daily in their quest for food, water and firewood, just as many indigenous people continue to do today.
In study after study, scientists are discovering what our bodies have always known: walking, and especially walking within the loving embrace of the natural world, is a wonderful path to health, happiness and often amazing insights. And it's free and accessible to all able-bodied beings!
Some 25 centuries ago this was obvious to Hippocrates, the father of medicine, who observed: "Illnesses do not come upon us out of the blue. They are developed from small daily sins against Nature. When enough sins have accumulated, illnesses will suddenly appear." Walking is the best preventive and curative medicine, he insisted.
More recently Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods and The Nature Principle, coined the term Nature-Deficit Disorder as he noted that modern humanity's increasing disconnection from nature leads to anxiety, stress, depression, confusion, a sense of hopelessness and even things like obesity.
Children need to grow up in nature with animals around them, climbing trees, swimming in streams and lakes, and ideally feeling the Earth beneath their bare feet.
Solutions are all around us. We need to live simpler, more sustainable lives and find the peace and inspiration that comes from being in nature – from recognising our rightful place not as a controller of the natural world but a strand in the miraculous web of life. We need to learn from the successful blueprint of nature, tapping into millions of years of accumulated wisdom.
Louv suggests: "The future will belong to the nature-smart – those individuals, families, businesses, and political leaders who develop a deeper understanding of the transformative power of the natural world and who balance the virtual with the real. The more high-tech we become, the more nature we need."
We can also learn from research into the concept of 'Earthing' that involves aligning our body to the Earth's surface energies, ideally by walking barefoot outside. It seems that if our energy is resonating with that of the Earth's, our body will be in a more natural state, which is energising and healing. I like to imagine each step as a blessing given and received.
While the physical benefits have long been obvious, a little book entitled Walking Your Blues Away by Thom Hartmann has provided some additional insights into the importance of promoting and maintaining mental health through walking and the ways in which bilateral healing kicks in as the left and right hemispheres of the brain are activated.
Not only are our bodies designed to be able to walk, they require walking to work right, he says. Walking exercises the heart and lungs and stimulates the pumping of the lymphatic system … hundreds of studies have shown that people who walk for at least 15 to 30 minutes a day are healthier than people who don't.
His encouragement is to get out there and walk. "Step by step we will heal ourselves, our friends and family, and, ultimately, the planet."
And he's in good company: philosopher Friedriech Nietzsche believed that "all truly great thoughts are conceived while walking," and cautioned "never trust a thought that didn't come by walking."
Physicist Albert Einstein was of a like mind: "The legs are the wheels of creativity."
Thanks to the encouragement of ecological and spiritual activist Satish Kumar, who as a young man undertook a peace walk from India to the nuclear capitals of Moscow, Paris, London and Washington, I now start every day with a solo walk in nature, the daily ritual bestowing upon me a sense of joy, peace and wellbeing, accompanied by fresh whispers of inner knowing.
On the rare days I don't walk, I feel somehow less capable of meeting whatever challenges arise.
This morning, as feelings of joy welled up in me while I enjoyed the rhythmic contact between my bare feet and the freshly wave-washed sand on Findhorn Beach, I felt excitement building as I imagined the possibilities and potentials for the Walking Water pilgrimage that starts in California on 1 September.
It seems the good things I feel while walking could be magnified exponentially with around 50 of us undertaking a journey from the source of the water to the place of end use – the Greater Los Angeles Area that is home to some 18 million souls.
And elsewhere around the planet there will be many hundreds, and hopefully thousands, of other pilgrims participating in parallel events to raise awareness around the sanctity of water.
The Walking Water pilgrimage will be spread over three years, in three phases, the first following the natural and man-made waterways between Mono Lake and Owens Lake in the Owens Valley. By exploring three sections over three years and only arriving in Los Angeles in 2017, it will allow participants time to interact with the local communities and environments, and to weave in activities that have the potential to create beneficial long-term impacts.
The goal, according to coordinator Kate Bunney, is to contribute to a vision for a cooperative reciprocal relationship between people and nature, and specifically the waters.
"We walk for the issue of water, we walk with water and the communities along this path that are so affected by this issue, and we walk towards a change in our acting and thinking towards water on both a local and global level," she says.
Participants will practise the time-honoured indigenous tradition of truly connecting with the soul of the land and gathering in circles, and bearing witness to each other while offering reflections that serve the needs of Walking Water and our relationship with water everywhere.
Environmentalist Catriona MacGregor says in her book Partnering with Nature: "By awakening a natural connection to the environment around us, we can move beyond simply using nature and into a true partnership with it.
"Ultimately, when we recognise the inherent sacredness of all life, we become forces for good in this world… for everyone who has a sense of something missing, who wishes to make a difference in the world, nature has much to offer to all who will listen."
With California, and many parts of the world suffering crippling drought conditions, there has never been a better time to listen and take individual and community responsibility for stewarding the shared resource of water, which is life itself. It starts with each one of us.