In the book, ‘Afoot and Lighthearted: A journal for mindful walking’, Bonnie Smith Whitehouse, a Nashville-based author and professor at Belmont University, outlines the power and positivity that comes from spending intentional time outdoors. As well as her own experiences, Bonnie also has researched authors and historical figures who acknowledge the role walking had in their work and success.
“I’ve been an English professor at Belmont for about 17 years, and I’ve always appreciated reading, writing, and then the natural beauty of Tennessee. It’s a huge part of my life and important to me and my history,” she explains, in conversation with PURE Living Nashville. “Over the years, I have become interested in students’ wellbeing, and how it connects to their lives as readers, writers and human beings.”
Bonnie says that in her years as an educator, she has seen how technology has influenced how her students read and write. “I teach my students to journal and writing about being present, and to be in tune with the sensory things that are happening around them, as well getting your body involved in the writing process.”
In recent years, there has been a growing dependence on technology for inspiration. “So many people sit down at a computer and expect the ideas to come, whereas that is not historically how people have written or learned,” she adds. “So many writers have used walking as a tool for getting themselves interested in a topic or clearing their heads. Charles Dickens would walk 20 miles a day through London, to get himself ready to write.”
In her book, Bonnie discusses how many famous authors, musicians and artists were inspired by engaging with the world around them. “Beethoven, Dickens, Virginia Woolf, [their] writing was intimately connected to walking through the world. Lots of people historically have used walking as a way to be aware, and awareness is a good synonym for mindfulness. You are aware of what you’re feeling, breathing, eating, and how that connects to you as a writer.”
Bonnie believes that throughout history, people have sought calm from the natural environment, but it is more pressing than ever in the modern age. “I think [in today’s world] we are busy and are over-scheduled, we have very few opportunities to just ‘be’, as our culture doesn’t encourage that. But, previous generations had this issue too. John Muir wrote about over 100 years ago about how people’s nerves were shaken and they retreated to the woods to find some peace. I think we all need to find space for sanctuary. Mindfulness is experiencing a real renaissance, in civic and private life, and I think it’s a great thing for people to be thinking about.”
‘Afoot and lighthearted’ is a guided journal for walkers, and is for anybody who wants to use moving and mindfulness as a tool to help them process their thoughts. It has six chapters, and about 60 thought-provoking statements or ideas that focus on a sense of place, of wellbeing and exploring the world.