On 19 June it’s World Sauntering Day, a day set aside each year with the express purpose to remind people to slow down, relax and enjoy life, and (mainly) walk somewhere, as opposed to rushing through life.
The idea is, at least for a short time (and it’s something you can do periodically) for you to become a saunter-er, or a flâneur as the French might say, and walk somewhere, almost aimlessly.
Here’s a brief dictionary definition of the word: It’s a verb and means ‘to walk leisurely with no apparent aim.’
The origin of the word is unknown, but one idea, and one that I like even if its not entirely reliable, is that in the Middle Ages people used to go on pilgrimages to the Holy Land, and when asked where they were going they would reply, “A la sainte terre,’ that is, ‘To the Holy Land.’ And so these pilgrims became known as sainte-terre-ers or saunterers.
‘Not to find one’s way in a city means little…but to lose oneself in a city as one loses oneself in a forest requires practice…then the street names must call out to the lost wanderer like the snapping of dry twigs, and the small streets of the city-centre must refelct the time of day as clearly as the mountain hollow.’ Walter Benjamin
Sauntering also has a spiritual dimension to it. It has a sabbath-like foundation of ‘take your time and enjoy the journey,’ as the journey is important. It is for everyone, and everyone can benefit.
‘Sauntering…don’t care where you’re going, how you’re going or when you might get there. The idea [is] to smell the roses and to pay attention to the world around you.’ John Rabe.
The word blossomed in the 17th century, especially amongst the wealthy, who would stroll about town, just taking their time, and with no destination in mind. A description of a saunter-er was popularised by Charles Baudelaire in his essay entitled ‘The Painter of Modern Life’, in which he portrayed a flâneur [pronounced to rhyme with manure ] – and who was a man or woman who sauntered or strolled around town observing society.
‘I’m Burlington Bertie, I rise at ten thirty then saunter along like a toff. I walk down the Strand with my gloves on my hand,Then I walk down again with them off.’ William Hargreaves.
So, how about you sauntering?
A journey is about getting from A to Z. But, suppose there was no point Z?
If you live in a town or city, you can still saunter, be a saunter-er or a flâneur. And, here’s one exercise you can try. It may be best to take a pen and paper with you to record feelings, what you notice along the way, and any ‘odd’ events of significance that happen to you. But, don’t be so engrossed in writing so much that you miss out of the adventure. Take your time and stop periodically. It’s really about enjoying that feeling of ‘lostness’, and awaiting a surprise, of not knowing what is going to happen next, and experiencing it deeply.
Always ensure your health and safety is of paramount importance, and be repsectful of other people and their property (and so, some variation to the following may need to be made). Remember, its to walk, almost aimlessly, and to enjoy and note the experience.
So, here’s a sauntering exercise: Taking your time between each step:
1. Walk to your nearest bus stop
2. Get on the next bus that arrives (to get you started, and in slightly unfamiliar territory
3. Get off the bus after ten bus stops
4. When you pass a person who looks interesting, turn next left
5. Find the nearest shop or café
6. Stop for a while and observe
7. Head in the direction of an interesting building in the distance
8. But then, turn into the next side street and walk for a while
9. If you can see the sun, walk towards it
10. If you encounter traffic lights, turn left
11. If you see a cyclist or a dog, then turn and walk in the direction he/she/it was travelling
12. Find a place to sit. Rest. Relax. Observe. Make notes.
That’s it. Of course, you’ll need to improvise for safety-sake and to respect private property (but you can always retrace part of your journey and move in the opposite direction if the way ahead is impeded or unsafe).
No stress. Nothing dangerous. Just enjoy it. Walk leisurely, observing, and noting events and places of significance to you. Oh, and do remember to take some money for the return fare, and if you take a mobile phone do switch it to ‘silent’ so it doesn’t interrupt the fun.
Let me know what happens. Happy sauntering.