I stumble out my front door just in time to see the sun begin to peak its head above the horizon. I take a deep breath of cool, crisp air. After 23 years, I still haven’t gotten used to what passes as summer weather here in the UK. I let that thought subside. Better to focus on the walk ahead, a walk that has become an integral part of my daily routine. It’s a time to clear my head, reflect, and reconnect with nature.
My passing through the gate disturbs the cows. They look up to see who has disrupted the tranquility of the scene. They watch me with weary eyes as I pass between them and pick up the trail.
This idea of walking as a spiritual exercise aligns closely with the teachings of the philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Rousseau was an influential thinker during the Age of Enlightenment in the 18th century. He believed humans, in their natural state, were inherently good and moral. It’s only through civilisation that we become corrupt and move away from our innate goodness.
To get back to our natural state, Rousseau believed we had to strip away the layers of artificiality imposed by society. He encouraged folks to return to a simpler, more primitive way of living that tied closely with nature.
Walking epitomises this idea.
Unlike many forms of exercise and recreation, walking requires no special skills or equipment. It’s utterly simple and accessible. We’re born with the ability to walk; it comes as naturally as breathing. When we walk, we use our bodies as they were intended—to propel ourselves through space, to explore, and to experience the world around us. Walking allows us to physically return to nature.
In Rousseau’s view, this sensory experience brings us closer to our primal selves before the trappings of civilisation took hold. It’s a glimpse of the innate goodness within each of us.
Beyond the physical sensations, walking also provides space for reflection and contemplation of life’s big questions: who we are, why we are here, and how we want to live. Without the constant distractions of work, technology, and social pressures, our minds are free to roam and unpack our thoughts. This is why, for me, morning walks are an essential habit.
Walking can also be seen as a form of therapy and a way to nourish the soul. The fresh air and natural beauty lift our spirits. The exercise releases feel-good endorphins that boost our moods. The solitude gives us space to gain clarity and perspective. Walking provides a tangible way to escape, if only briefly, the stresses and demands of life. It’s a small act of rebellion, of choosing to slow down and appreciate the simple wonders of the natural world unfolding all around us.
I feel a deep sense of gratitude and reverence. Walking grounds me in what really matters—not wealth, status, or material goods, but the beauty of each passing moment.
Rousseau advocated for this sense of humility, simplicity, and community as the antidote to the ills of society. This is what I hope for, at any rate. One last thing before I turn back: walking together with others and sharing the experience leads to a deeper human connection. It binds us together.
I challenge you to take a long walk with someone and not come back feeling more connected with them, if even for a moment.