And then I kept walking. Every. Single. Day. Slowly, the compensatory limping subsided, the walking became easier, and it started to feel more normal. The story could very well end here. I could have used these walks as rehab, and by the time I was healed enough, I could have just returned to my normally scheduled routine. But let’s keep it real, there is nothing normally scheduled or routine about anything in 2020.
Here in the Bay Area, we had the first stay-at-home orders in the U.S. As a public health advocate, I’m proud and grateful for these stringent orders. At the same time, I know that following stay-at-home orders brings with it a whole new set of challenges for all of us, not the least of which are strains on our mental health. While I started these walks for physical rehab, they quickly transitioned into emotional and soul rehab. They brought me daily peace. And, given that any moments of internal peace during this time are more highly coveted than toilet paper, I kept the walks.
I began to notice just how much I noticed. Aside from my physical progress and the obvious environmental things like trees, birds, cars, people, houses, buildings, weather, sounds, et cetera, I noticed bits and pieces of the stories in which all of these things reside. I stepped through the neighborhood matching houses with their humans. I watched sidewalk etiquette change, noticed greater eye expression as masks became the norm, I saw graffiti cycle through messages about the latest injustice, I witnessed garden beds go from a pile of wood to construction to harvest. I noticed the pulse of the neighborhood. I noticed how there was a comfort in feeling that pulse in my steps. I noticed change. And, let me tell you, there is something incredibly grounding to witness change, movement, growth, and humanity when the world feels like it’s on hold and every day seems to blur into another. I walked with purpose, on purpose. Almost like meditation. Sometimes exactly like meditation.
Do I always walk in silence, then? No. I’m a realist when it comes to any type of self-care, mental health, health, or wellness practice. Sometimes sitting for an hour with incense burning in complete silence for meditation is unreasonable for me. Okay, it’s almost always unreasonable for me, but that’s another story. I do what makes sense for me and what seems attainable enough that I will actually do it.
I let my walks reflect my reality and my needs in that moment. Let’s face it: Sheltering in place toys with our emotions. Every day presents a new opportunity to ride the wave of fear, gratitude, loneliness, anxiety, anger, acceptance, and literally everything in between. Paying attention to these emotions and allowing myself whatever it is that I need is a mindfulness practice in itself.
On the days when I feel like my brain is on overdrive and I’ve been on 79 video meetings, I walk in silence and on Do Not Disturb. On days when I am angry at the injustice that continues to plague us, I educate myself by listening to a book on anti-racism. On days when the loneliness of quarantining by myself is more overwhelming than I would ever admit, I use the time to call a friend or family member. On days when I feel particularly scattered in my emotions, I throw on hip-hop. On days when I just need to get outside regardless of what my schedule says, I might even be on a Zoom meeting with my camera turned off. On days when I just need to laugh, I might scroll through memes on Instagram. I don’t recommend this last one while walking, for the record.