To wander is defined, by Meriam-Webster and by most of us, as “characterised by aimless, slow or pointless movement.” We think of wandering as lonely poverty (think of “wandering minstrels” and itinerant preachers, or the activity of men in the mall who are waiting on others who shop.) If we’re describing more purposeful movement, we use words like “migration” (because ducks and geese and human migrants have a purpose in their movement) or “exploring” (because Cousteau and Hillary and Lewis and Clark had destinations to conquer). Is it always pointless to wander?
How I Learned I Needed to Wander
I’m the kind of person who thinks a lot. About everything. Constantly.
When friends tell me (as they often do) “Don’t think so much…”, my reply is usually something like: “Don’t assume it took very much of my time to come up with that…” (as if “a lot of thinking” really equals “a lot of time spent thinking”. The truth is, a tremendous amount of brain activity goes on in just a few microseconds.
I doubt that time spent is the point of those making the comment. Instead, I think they were referring to my “monkey mind” — incessant brain activity that jumps from branch to branch, constantly chattering away with internal (and sometimes external) commentary about how things are, how they should be, what they could be, what they aren’t.
It wasn’t until I was invited to participate in a “Day of Wandering” that I realized just how incessant my thinking activity is, and just how much that keeps me from actually experiencing people and situations around me. That day I spent about 6 hours by myself walking the Mogollon Rim.
During the first five hours, my mind was actively plotting, planning, evaluating, deciding — which way to go, what process to use to quiet my mind, how to measure my success…and on, and on, and on. Finally, in the sixth hour, I sat and closed my eyes and just listened, and increasingly found myself not evaluating.
After that, I was able to walk in a way that I can confidently call wandering: I did not choose a path or a destination; I simply walked. The result? I experienced the world around me with a new appreciation, a new depth and a new connection that felt vaguely familiar to me.