There is a lot to be gained by walking to work.
I know. I’m lucky—I live within walking distance of the office. In fact, depending on traffic, it is often faster for me to walk than to drive, especially in the winter.
Since starting at Atomic nearly a year ago, I have only driven to the office a handful of times, only when I had appointments beforehand. Over that time, my commute has become a valuable, protected space for me. It has a purpose beyond getting from point A to point B.
Transition to and from Work
There are few spaces in my day that are set aside for transition. More often, I am going from one thing to the next, trying to optimize away “down time” in between.
Walking to work has forced me to slow down and value the time in between. On my walk, I am not fighting traffic or listening to music. It is my time to prepare for the day ahead, and later, a time to process the day and then set aside work for the night.
However, I do not always think about work. Sometimes, personal subplots are my focus, and all I can ask is simply, “What do I need to do to be functional today?” or “What would a win look like today?”
Regardless, I never regret an attempt to be mindful in the time in between and making space to listen to and calm the hundreds of things swirling in my brain.
You can do this too, even if you do not walk. Try turning off the radio for a bit to open a space where you can mentally transition.
Rain or Shine
Maybe it sounds farfetched, but I think there is something elemental about walking through whatever Michigan throws our way. It makes me more grateful for the sunshine peeking through the trees after a long, dark winter; more attentive to the bright green buds of early spring; and more pleasantly surprised when the morning is dry after the forecast prepared me for a storm.
Sometimes, if I am feeling especially inspired, I’ll come up with a couple of haikus* to describe the day’s walk.
Walking, rain or shine, reminds me that I am a physical creature who gets wet and dry, cold and then warm again. My body is strong and resilient and far more than a vessel that transports my mind. Maybe this is obvious, but it can be easy to lose sight of our corporeality when we spend most of our lives sitting (or standing) in front of a computer.
Now, I am still human; on those occasions where the rain is relentless, I will gladly accept a ride home. And then my normal commute becomes a cherished opportunity to connect with a colleague.
Connection to Place and People
The perspective from the sidewalk is different than that of the road. My focus shifts from the potholes and road signs to the leaves and buds bursting from the trees and people on their porches. I often say hello to neighbors or people walking down the street, people I wouldn’t have seen from a car.
When walking, there is time to become more aware of the minute changes, e.g. a neighbor painted their house, that tree smells incredible when it’s in bloom, the new corner store just opened. I am not saying that I know this place better than anyone, but I know it closely—with my nose, my ears, my feet—and I care about it and the others who live here.
Yeah, Yeah–It’s Good for the Earth Too
I would be remiss if I did not mention the positive environmental effects of walking. There are plenty of blogs and resources that enumerate the statistics better than I can.
To give a short list, walking saves fuel (and money), promotes cleaner air as it does not contribute to carbon dioxide emissions, and requires less infrastructure such as large highways and parking lots. Many cities see the long-term value of investing in greener infrastructure with smart growth principles in mind.
I realize that walking to work is simply not an option for many people. However, I encourage you to try relaxing and refocusing in the spaces in between your daily obligations, rather than rushing through them. This might mean driving the longer, quieter way home, or taking a short walk before entering the door to whatever life at home looks like. It might not feel like anything remarkable or different, but it is not a waste of time.
* In case you only have a vague memory of the haiku, it is one of the simplest forms of poetry, typically grounded in nature, with three lines of five, seven, and five syllables.