Via Basel: In Defense of Idleness and Sauntering
Not every human activity has to have a purpose or meaning. Efficiency and busyness are overrated in my book, ideas I have believed in for a while now, but which have been brought more into focus since the pandemic descended on this planet. My loyal readers know by now that I am a fan of hiking and trekking and enjoyment of the outdoors, practices somewhat restricted over the last year or so. To compensate, I started taking short walks closer to my two homes, in downtown Chicago and Normal, Illinois. In Chicago, being close to the lake and parks ( Millennium & Grant) was a distinct advantage. As to my Normal (Chris’s) place I had the benefit of his wise choice of being on the outskirts of town and looking out on acres of corn fields as well as in proximity of a man-made pond, where you might just encounter a heron. Both places are conducive for short pleasant nature walks.
Initially walking started as a release and exercise activity after I was denied my indoor gym and pool. Gradually I drifted into a more idle mode, wandering aimlessly and taking different routes. Slowly an inner peace and restfulness washed over my body and soul, but there was more. Then it hit me. I was doing exactly what my late friend Frank was doing for the last several decades of his life. He introduced me to sauntering and he loved to keep reminding me of it. (Please refer to an earlier post to find out more about this extraordinary character.)
Probably the most well known American nature walker was Henry David Thoreau. In his essay “Walking” he describes sauntering “as a word beautifully derived from idle people who roved about the country, in the Middle Ages, and asked for charity under pretense of going á la Sainte Terre,” to the Holy Land, till the children exclaimed, “There goes a Sainte-Terrer,” a Saunterer–a Holy-Lander…. Some, however, derive the word from sans terre, without land or a home and so these people are at home everywhere. For this is the secret of successful sauntering. He who sits still in a house all the time may be the greatest vagrant of all; but the saunterer, in the good sense, is no more vagrant than the meandering river, which is all the while sedulously seeking the shortest course to the sea.” Thoreau’s preferred derivative is the Holy-Lander, a crusader of sorts. Mine favors the one where home is nowhere and everywhere: a freedom of sorts albeit for the short time I saunter.
Basel Al-Aswad, father of EIL founder Christopher Al-Aswad, is a yogi trapped in an Orthopedic Surgeon’s body. His loves in life include reading, writing, hiking, enjoying nature, meditation, and spending time with his large Iraqi family, and now, semi-retired, he is exploring new avenues in medicine, education, and social engagement.