It is a country of many things.
It is the land of the free, the home of the brave, and winner of 121 Olympic medals.
It is also a country of overworked, overstressed, overstimulated high achievers.
When I am not at my full time job, I am writing or throwing pottery or training. I fill my days with meetings and emails and whiteboard sessions and I fill my evenings with building and creating and brainstorming. And in the days or mere hours that I take a break, I feel guilty. Guilty for missed opportunities, missed productivity, missed moments of brilliance.
It seems that if you are not working then you are not driving yourself, your career, your place in the world forward. If you are not driving forward, then you might as well be falling backwards. There is this pressure, in career and in life, to put your head down and trudge your way towards the light just around the bend.
There is no wandering. There is no meandering. There is no discovering and exploring and experimenting to find your own self. There is only forward. Always forward. Always down the path worn well by the plodding footsteps before you.
But this belief, it does a disservice to our careers, to our creativity, and to our potential as a country as a whole.
I wonder, as I reflect on another week flying by, what Emerson would have said about the lives we live, day in and day out. Filling our hours with endless to-do lists in order to reach the next big goal. Get the car, land the promotion, buy the house, put the ring on it.
“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds,” he might remind us, “With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with the shadow on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day. —’Ah, so you shall be sure to be misunderstood.’—Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.”
So what would Emerson say to us hobgoblins of today?
I think he might just tell us to take a hike.
Get out there and take a hike.
I think he would tell us that we work too hard and think too little. That our minds are busy but our imaginations are idle. That our bodies are active but our souls are still. That we are blind to the spectacle of life and have forgotten that beautiful language that is nature. The language of the fields and forests and oceans that grow vocabulary daily and speak new words in every visit.
One of the differences I found most compelling living abroad was the pace with which people approached their lives. Pastimes were not, as they so often seem in the US, a thing of the past. Here, in the land of the free, free time is anything but.
But life in Europe seemed to move just a bit differently.
It baffled me at first.
We are going to Wales to…walk? Well, why would we do that? We can walk anywhere.
Yes, but do we? Do we take that time in our daily life to put down our phones, put down our lap tops, put down our burdens and just walk? To think and be calm and feel our bodies moving through a space of stillness.
Walking in Wales was much like walking in England and walking in Germany and walking in France. It was ambling and peaceful. It was unhurried and uncomplicated. It allowed my imagination to soar and float and explore. It was an active body and an untroubled mind that made space for new ideas and creativity to blossom.
This is not walking to the market or to a meeting or to lunch. This is not going for a run or climbing a mountain. This is walking for the simple goal of feeling air passing through your lungs, stress floating from your shoulders, and the joy of time spent in your own mind. This is taking off in a countryside, down a meandering path, away from your daily life and the confines of the world around you.
I felt a unique freedom as we walked up hills and through gullies and across sweeping expanses of heather and hedgerow. We walked and stopped and enjoyed and kept walking. And as we walked my mind unburdened and my appetite blossomed, for more nature and more footsteps and more freedom.
It showed me how deep creativity can run, when you just give it a moment to develop. It is in these moments of quiet that true brilliance shines through, not during the hurried evening hours. And when we deprive ourselves of these moments, we deprive ourselves of our full being.
When you go walking, the journey truly is the destination.
Wherever you walk, there you are.
I vowed, after that trip, to walk more. To walk away from my daily pressures, if just for a minute. To keep this sense that there is a world outside the 9-5 and the side hustle and the to-do lists piling up. To clear my mind by putting one foot in front of the other and watching the buzz of life around me.
And then I returned.
I write this blog to remind myself of all that is out there. I write to remind myself of all that I learned, all that I vowed to remember, and all that I have already forgotten.
When I was gone, I didn’t have a computer and I didn’t have a phone and I didn’t miss either. For I found that when you gaze too long down the black hole of a computer screen, your sight changes. You begin to see only what is in front of you and forget to see the expanse of life pulsing around you. We look and we look but we never see.
I still walk sometimes. When my mind is bursting with unending tasks, it relieves me. It frees me.
I walk and I walk and I walk and I hope that some day I may too join those misunderstood minds who surely walked their own paths to greatness. Those pure and wise spirits who recognized that each step on each day, whatever the direction, was bringing them towards an ultimate being.