A Case for Wandering
Issue   |   Tue, 03/20/2018 - 21:56

One fine afternoon at Amherst (seldom found nowadays), I took a walk in the wildlife sanctuary. I was just heading out from lunch, and the idea of strolling around for a while suddenly struck me. I went through with this moment of inspiration, and I eventually ended up relaxing at a damp, wooden bench in the bird sanctuary, looking out into the frozen creek with long, calm breaths. Let me tell you about how I got there.

To kill the suspense, nothing crazy happened on the way there. But it was quite different from all the other times I would walk around Amherst, because this time, I decided to wander for a little while. Why did I do this? Well, think about when you’re headed to class. You have a certain destination in mind, and if you’re about habits at all, you have a routine path that you follow to reach that destination. Val to Frost, Frost to class, class to the dorm … you get the picture. So much of your focus is on getting to that place, that most of the time, the actual process of getting there is forgotten. Our memory fails to catch all those routine episodes of walking from A to B, because the motive is fixed; you want to get somewhere, and that place is all you have in mind. So I switched up my motive, and decided that I could walk as fast or slow as I wanted without a destination. The cool thing is, I remember most of my walk.

I won’t take you through what I saw step by step, but I will tell you how I felt. Almost immediately, when I firmly devoted myself to the act of wandering, I slowed down. I felt no need to exert myself more than what I was comfortable with, and for the first time in a while, I felt unchallenged by the constant pressure of having to walk against time. I swiveled my head around and up, taking in the sights, with my focus on that walk and nothing else. I felt like nothing was required of me, and frankly, it’s a weird feeling to have. You’re not bored, nor unmotivated, nor gloomy. You’re just on a smooth and steady plateau, your body moving along in cadence, and your mind free from all the nudges and pokes of life’s responsibilities. You feel clear-headed, but not spaced out.

Yet, all these descriptions of sensation and feeling are boring, sterile and static. So, I implore all those weighed down by the monotony of habit and routine to wander. This doesn’t mean you have to go somewhere you haven’t been (though it’s likely you might end up at such a place), but precisely that you walk without a strict destination. Set a time limit, put on some comfortable shoes, and see how you feel in your stroll. By the way, it only seems best that you wander alone, for if you tag along with someone, you may feel forced to follow them and vice versa. And at that point, it’s not really wandering, is it?
As a final piece of advice for all you would-be wanderers, don’t fight the urges that come to you. If you feel like taking left over right, one street over the other, do what you feel. The whole point is to feel unpressured, to feel that you can make a decision on the fly without school and life looming over your shoulders. Wandering is like buying a precious block of freedom by changing how you think about something routine. Thus, it doesn’t even have to be about walking, for that matter. Switch up your routine plate at Val, or brush your teeth after you shower if you do it before (don’t not brush your teeth though). If you can keep it improvisational and unburdened by habit, I promise that the day will show you something new. After I walked and relaxed for a bit at the bird sanctuary, I was feeling a quite tired from all my wandering, so I decided to take a nap. I went to King Hall and dozed off in one of the couches in the common room. I actually don’t live in King Hall, but after that nap, I certainly would. Cheers to wandering.