Two Things: Walking and Reading

Written by: John Currie, Professional Writing Program UTM

“You need to take care of yourself before you can take care of others.” This was not my insight, but a family member’s who knows me well. I am raising a young child and a fresh new teen with my partner, teaching three university classes, taking one, opening a business, navigating finances, and reworking a manuscript. Do I sound like you?

Yesterday, my mother called while standing outside the office of a government official. Her group was advocating for rapid climate change action. I said to her, the world needs retirees to be doing this important work. I’d love to, but I’m just too busy. Don’t worry, she said. We’re doing it and we’re having fun.

Two things have really helped me lately. Walking and reading.

I take two to three twenty-minute walks every day outside. One in the morning. One in the evening. If I can, I’ll squeeze on in the middle. I’ve noticed the trees in my neighbourhood. Not just the changing leaves, but their age, their magnificent height and presence—unique trees I’d never noticed, like the one that must be eighty or more. Among the fifty-year-olds, she stands out. An ox of a tree. She was in the right place when they planned the subdivision, centred on city property just before the curb. One large right-angle branch shoots out and up, suggesting there are more always more possibilities, more paths to take.

My walking circuit is a spiral. I can do a short loop or an extended waltz. From walking, I see that I am now in more control of my moods. I can better handle the unexpected, which presents its own new dance every day.

Good ideas come to me when I walk. Fresh thinking sprouts, answers I didn’t know I had within. And if I miss a day’s walk, I feel it.

Environmental educator Mitchell Thomashow, in his new book, To Know the World, writes about the deliberate pause. A deliberate pause involves “taking the time to slow down, reflect, and redirect one’s gaze to biosphere processes along with the more-than-human world.” He asks us to consider: how do we promote deliberate pauses in all aspects of our lives? We can make time for them while teaching, while with our children, while alone.

Reading daily has reminded me that I need this type of nourishment—things I want to read and have been putting off. Having an idea or a passage or a story or an insight I can chomp on while cooking or shopping or doing the dishes takes me out of these activities but, at the same time, into them.

I read a book in an online class with an outstanding small group of people. Having those weekly meetings facilitated by the author was amazing. Like most, I didn’t always get all the reading done. The last meeting, I chose to plant garlic rather than finish the last chapter. And it didn’t matter. A book had brought us together.

Making time for a pause is similar to thinking about money. If you have no income, you must pay the bills from another pot. You must take time away from something you’re already doing to give that time back to yourself.

I admit I can’t always escape the guilt of giving healing time back to myself. My children are around, growing up fast, and I’m not always with them. But I’m starting to see the bigger picture. I’m starting to see that the time I do spend with them will be of higher quality because I’m making time to nourish myself, so that I can be more present to my family, my work, and myself.