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How Walking Feeds Creativity


Walking has been part of the creative and intellectual processes of countless writers and philosophers; science can now explain why...

All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking.

—Friedrich Nietzsche

Those who knew him, knew that the English poet William Wordsworth composed many of his greatest poems as he walked. Some have bravely dared to calculate that he walked something like 281,000 kilometers over the course of his lifetime, many of those kilometers in England’s Lake District, the geographic cradle of the English Romantic movement. Like Wordsworth, other writers and thinkers made the connection between walking and creating. Among them are Jane Austen, Arthur Rimbaud, Immanuel Kant, Friedrich Nietzsche, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Henry David Thoreau, and Charles Dickens, and there are still others. One might do well to mention Gary Snider who, in his book Wanderlust, spoke of the necessity of walking as an activity vital to our own time. All of them are heirs to the ancient Greek Peripatetic school, direct descendants of Aristotle, and who would philosophize while walking.

Perhaps walking is related to creating because the drawing of a path with our movements is also the drawing of a line which, like a narrative, a poem, or a thought, begins and ends. A movement in space is the mirror of an inner stroke. Walking, it might be said, invites our thoughts to conform to the nature of the movement of our bodies. This wisdom —the knowledge of the power of walking as a metaphysical dialogue with an environment— has prompted scientists to investigate further into the effects of walking on creative processes. (Such wisdom has inspired entire books on the same theme.)

Two walking researchers are Stanford University’s Marily Oppezzo and Daniel Schwartz whose studies have led them to test some 200 students whose creative abilities were shown to have been enhanced as they walked. Both researchers predict that future studies will more clearly delineate the complex mechanism born of walking and how it extends to the psychological changes affecting the cognitive control of the human imagination. They also emphasized not just the physical activity involved with walking, but also the space in which it happens, and, as had been the case with Wordsworth, that a relationship between landscape and literature can be clearly seen. At this point the role of nature, within creative processes, but also within the human mind and emotions, comes clearly into play.

As with inner and outer movements, and movements in time and space, walking invites a state of enlightenment, of epiphany, and creativity. Nearly all of us walk, nearly every day, and of this act, we’re only now beginning to intuit its true power.


Image: Tom Swinnen

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