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The Walk Home

Lady walking through city

It is through our struggles and pains that we learn the most about our limits, strengths and inner-selves. There is a lot of reflection and questioning during this time. A lot of people turn to their friends, families, music, poetry, dance, support groups, therapists, etc., to find ways to express their grief and feel heard. As humans, we need to make sense of things. Why did she leave? Why now? Why me? Why, why, why?

Through my own failed relationships and falls, I have learned more and more about who I really was. It is during these times of pain and reflection that I dig deepest and experience more self discovery. Although these jouneys can be difficult, draining, and time consuming, I am convinced one never stops falling and therefore, never stops learning and embarking on these insightful processes.

When you are comfortable, it is easier to fall into patterns and wonder aimlessly on auto-pilot. When we are jolted, this is when we begin to contemplate more about who we are and where we want our lives to go. There is a realization through pain that something different has to occur; a change has to be made. This process reminds me of someone experiencing a heart attack. Let's take a 55 year old, slightly over-weight and business oriented man named Carl. Carl has been on auto-pilot for many years, especially since joining a law firm and climbing the corporate ladder by the age of 27. His diet is "eat what I can, when I can", which is a very common diet in busy America. Carl remembers exercising in college but since graduating, the idea of running, lifting, stretching is beyond him. Needless to say, his body is out of shape, arteries are clogging, and therefore, his heart is not getting enough blood and oxygen to keep pumping properly, in layman's terms. The real problem is that Carl has no clue. He feels fine and in fact, everday feels the same. This is called comfort. However, one day Carl has a heart attack. His body jolts him and warns him that he is not safe and something different needs to take place. Carl's heart is alerting him that he needs to change something in his diet and lifestyle. From here, Carl can now make the decision as to whether or not he wants another heart attack.

This is such a great metaphor for heartbreaks in relationships. We can become so comfortable and settled in a relationship that we turn our eye when something doesn't feel right and in fact, begin ignoring our hearts. We begin calling arguments normal and instead of facing what doesn't make us happy, we try to pretend to be happy. Until we are jolted, again, by the heart, we keep on the same path, repeating the same patterns and experiencing the same feelings. Our hearts need a jolt at times to redirect us onto a path of reflection and healing in order to get off the path of destruction and torment. This is not to say that relationships that have lasted a long time are doomed. If it genuinely makes you happy and you feel growth within yourself in addition to the relationship, then your golden and your relationship sounds beautiful! I am mostly saying that we tend to get too settled in many things in life and unfortunately, have to be reawakened to our inner-selves through pain or struggles. They are the greatest lessons.

I personally, have been down this path of reflection and healing and have experienced a jolted heart. There were many realizations and bumps on this path. The most interesting experience is that I found myself most emotional, tearful, and reflective during my walks home. I have wondered why and decided to do a bit of reading and searching to understand further.

I began by asking around. A good friend and previous roommate of mine became satisfyingly excited when I approached her about this phenomenon. She too, had experienced this on her walks home and had questioned what about the walk home triggers more emotion! Needless to say, she was not the only person I spoke to that also shared these emotional encounters. Many friends and colleagues have reported that they have noticed thinking more about their pasts and futures and feeling a sense of sadness more often on the walk home. Even after I had people to relate to and felt validated in my curiousity, I still didn't really get why or have enough knowledge to create a theory.

So, I began reading. I read articles about the health benefits (physical and mental) and risks of walking, I read blogs of those who hiked the Camino de Santiago (or called the Way of St. James) and other pilgrimages like it, and read a grieving woman's journey walking a labyrinth to better understand death. Most of the common experiences of walking in general, regardless of destination or purpose, people expressed how meditative walking was for them. Many stated that silence and movement allowed for more focus and overall, walking forces one to pay attention to their thoughts, surroundings, feelings, etc.

The research more or less pointed out the benefits such as increased happiness, decrease in diabetes and heart disease, better legs and butts, etc., and the risks mostly included being robbed or kidnapped if walking alone. Ugh! These weren't the answers I was looking for and as stated earlier, we as humans, thrive off answers and cannot tolerate the uncertainty for too long.

I decided to answer my questions the same way I was going to answer the questions, "Who am I and what do I want to do with my life?" I needed to do some self reflection. So, I walked. I paid more attention to my walks to work versus my walks home. I focused on emotional changes in the moment, with each step. I'd like to share with you what I found.

Firstly, there is no profound research here and be prepared that this is just a blog about my personal experience. I did not get 275 participants to partake in a walking study and I did not measure their emotionality or moods and definitely did not find correlations, means, or facts. This was not an empirical study! It was me, walking alone with my thoughts and intentionality.

I found that walking, like many others had reported in their own blogs, does require one to be more intraverted and focused in on thoughts. Walking leads to a more free flowing of thoughts. There are not as many outwardly distractions as driving and there is more opportunity to have conversation with the self. I noticed I was in my head a lot more than usual. Walking allows for thinking and reflection.

So why does the reflection shift depending on where you are walking? Again, I do not have the magical answer and in fact, I am not sure there is one answer. I have learned that reflection is different for everyone and will occur at different times and in different places. For me however, walking home was always the saddest and most emotional. I found that when I paid attention to my thoughts more, I saw a pattern. When I walked to work (or wherever else I had to be that day) I was more reflective about my day such as, what tasks I needed to complete, who I had to call and schedule with, what groceries I needed to pick up; there was more structure and business to my thoughts. On my walks home however, I could let go of the day and the to-do's. Which when all those were gone, it left me with raw emotion.

My heart, my mind, and my body were all in sync and were telling me it was my time to process. Like I said before, these moments occur at different times for everyone. Apparently the walk home was my time. I could no longer fill my mind with tasks, goals, and arbitrary thoughts no matter how hard I tried. As painful as this was (crying while walking in 20 degree weather, in public), I am grateful for my walks home. This was my opportunity to feel the truth, to process the pain, and to deeply understand and accept why my heart was jolted. Because of my walks, I paid more attention to my heart and learned ways to make changes in thoughts and actions. Just like Carl's heart attack, it was my time to pay attention and make a change.

Thanks to my walks home, I did work. I didn't avoid the pain and in fact, walked with it. It wakled by my side, it lingered around whether I liked it or not. It reflected back my mistakes, my fears, and the cold hard truth. I couldn't stand it in the beginning and instead, would call a friend or my mom to talk through the emotions. However, after reading more about the effects of embracing pain before releasing it and the benefits of being present with pain, I decided to be totally present during my walks home. As soon as I got off the train and began my walk home, pain inevitably laced up it's shoes and joined. I embraced this new friend called pain and paid more attention to what it was telling me. After all, pain is an emotion that comes from the heart and when we need to listen to the heart, we need to listen to all of it otherwise, we are denying the full truth.

The truth will come to you in many forms. It can be presented as a heart attack, a divorce, or even a walk home. I do not know why bad things happen but I graciously learned that there is at least one reason we experience hard ships and pain and that is, to begin our journey within. We are meant to live out meaningful and righteous lives and when we don't, whether we listen to it or not, something jolts us back to reality. My walks home forced me to listen and understand my jolt; to explore why my heart was hurting. After listening, I was able to then make a change.

If you notice moments in your life where more emotions are brought to surface, rather than pushing them away or denying them and continuing on to your comfortable and repetitive lifestyle, try and invite this pain for a walk. Afterall, it might have a message from the heart.

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