By James Amadon —
“A path is little more than a habit that comes with knowledge of a place. It is a sort of ritual of familiarity.” – Wendell Berry
There is a winding path that leads through a narrow strip of preserved forest in my suburban neighborhood. I walk it so frequently that my feet seem to know the way without needing to consult my memory. In addition to centering my spirit and de-centering my ego, these walks sometimes produce creative insights into whatever theoretical or practical problem occupying my mind. It happens frequently enough that I wonder why walking in the natural world fosters these bursts of creativity. Let me propose three reasons.
- Walking opens our minds. Cal Newport, in his book Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, notes that activities such as walking occupy us physically but not mentally. He urges readers to cultivate such moments as a way to solve problems and accomplish tasks, calling it “productive meditation”.
- Paths meander like the creative process. We are trained to seek quick, straightforward solutions that maximize efficiency; the quickest way from one point to another is a straight line. This is neither the way the world works, nor how creative ideas form. A path winds through a forest, promising a way through but revealing only the next curve and requiring us to be present to our immediate surroundings. Creativity works the same way, involving twists and turns until we look up and realize we have broken through. (This idea came to me as I was walking the very path mentioned above.)
- Creativity is connected to Creation. There is something about walking in God’s creation as a conscious part of creation that can unlock a deeper creativity that rings in harmony with the world and God’s action within in. Perhaps this explains why so much of Jesus ministry happened while he was walking the paths of ancient Israel (see Mark 2:23; Matt. 4:18; 20:17; Luke 9:57; 24:15) or had just walked to a natural setting (see the Sermon on the Mount in Matt. 5-7).
Where is your path? Where do you walk in openness to God and solidarity with creation? It does not have to be in a forest or wilderness; this kind of path can even be forged on a busy city sidewalk. What matters is our intention and attention. As you walk, say a brief prayer and let your mind and heart meander. Be open to what is around and within you. Enjoy the walk for its own sake, but do not be surprised if God blesses you with a burst of creativity.