One of the things I miss the most about living in NYC is the walking. Yes, ALL of the walking.
There was something so exhilarating about walking in the City. Whether I was stepping out to my favorite playlist, or just let the natural song of the streets become the pace for my steps, in some way, it made me feel more alive.
It heightened my senses. I noticed things. I felt it all, you know? I was more aware of where I was going and what I needed to do to get there. Watching one foot go in front of the other has a funny way of doing that.
My favorite time to walk in the City was right before daybreak. It is such a transitional time and it was the closest to peaceful the chaotic streets ever seemed to get.
Construction workers were gathered around cups of coffee, suits and ties were waving down cabs, the last of the club kids stumbled to the nearest subway stairs, bars were locking up, and bagel shops opened their doors—it was the most significant exchange of the City's day.
Observing it all made me feel like I was in on some great secret—like I was a part of something much bigger than myself.
Losing that daily ritual made it incredibly hard to adjust to living in Arizona again. Phoenix is wide and spread out and HOT. When you see people walking through intersections around here, it's not uncommon to assume that they just don't have a vehicle because who in their right mind would want to walk the streets of the desert willingly?
As for neighborhoods, those people are either old folks power walking their heart strong, people with dogs too big for their own backyard, or stroller clad new mamas finding a way to make gossip healthy. In other words: wealthy or crazy white people.
For the majority of the time, I believed this all to be true. That is until I recently became one of those crazy people myself. (Hopefully, wealth is a mandatory part of the frequent walkers package that will be delivered soon. In that case, I will now be checking my mail daily.)
Working on my blog and other web-related jobs all day means that I spend a lot of time indoors. Over the past few months, there have even been days that strung together that I did not see the light of day. I had work to do and, other than the occasional restroom break and turkey avocado sandwich (not simultaneously—promise!), I decided that it wasn't a bad idea to not leave my room for long periods of time.
I mean, I've always considered myself nocturnal. Not to mention I am half vampire half hibernating winter bear, so, why not just fully commit to the role?
I had my coffee, my music, my laptop, and my desk slash busted TV tray that I stole from my 9-year-old roommate. (Hey, a girls gotta do what a girls gotta do! No office = TV tray desk—it's a no-brainer, really.) What else did I really need?
A little thing called fresh air and perspective, that's what.
You see, when you stay inside for extended periods of time, you discover that there is not enough room for things. Especially things like anxiety and stress.
A single room just does not have enough room for all of life's worries.
Even when I would take deep breaths and try to release whatever was stressing me out at the time, it just seemed to recirculate. Sometimes it even came back stronger than before. The walls seemed to be soaking in my problems and closing in because of their weight.
I needed space—wide open ones. And that kind of room can only be found outside of our rooms.
This week marks one month that I have been taking walks almost daily now. It may seem like a small victory for some, but it is a big one for me. I've found that even small steps can lead to bigger worlds.
It started simply: I needed to go to the gym to relieve some serious stress (as well as more than a couple tortilla chip calories) and I didn't have a way of getting there. No one goes during the off hours I prefer, so there went the idea of having a gym buddy pick me up. What was I going to do?
I looked down at my two feet and thought: Hey! You guys still work, right? Well, let's find out.
I googled the distance to my gym: 1.25 miles. Totally doable. If I can spend an hour on the treadmill indoors, then I can walk my happy ass a mile and a half to the gym. The only problem was another number involved in the equation—the temperature.
Even mid-morning summer temps can be considered unbearable to some in Phoenix. There is a good reason it's called The Valley of the Sun—we're living on its surface. But, I was determined. I put on my sneakers and some sunblock and hit the road, Jack.
Guess what? You know how we can do hard things? Well, we can also do hot things.
Sure, I was sweating like Jenny Craig in a donut shop once I fell on the gym's doorstep, but it just so happens to be a place where sweaty, red-faced people are celebrated instead of rejected. So, I worked out in the glorious air conditioned facility with all of the LuLu some kind of citrus fruit soccer moms and then headed back out the door for my victory lap home.
And, Sweet Jesus, it really was victorious once I finally arrived!
The most surprising part about it wasn't that I had actually survived the walk (though there was some element of shock at the time), it was that the gym wasn't what relieved the anxiety I was originally trying to Elliptical away. It was the walk itself!
As it turns out, there is all kinds of room for our problems outside. The sky really is the limit!
Taking that walk brought back all of the old feelings of being on the streets of NYC. Only now, instead of construction workers and corporate employees and skyscrapers and industrial sounds surrounding me on my walk, I am surrounded by the wonderful things and people that make up my current neighborhood.
I greet the sweet elderly woman that always wishes me a good morning and God's blessing on my day. I pet a few excited dogs and offer a smile to their owners. I look up to the open sky. I cheer on the hardworking ants that carry things 10x the size of themselves. (They inspire me to carry heavy things that pay off in the end—like my commitment to a healthier lifestyle. If that damn fire ant can carry a thick cut french fry, then I sure as hell can eat less of them!)
Most of all, I feel the calm and the promise of a new day. An offer of another chance to take the reins of my life and stop leaving it to just that—chance.
I talk to God. I dance beneath the underpass of a lonely bridge. I sing out loud to my favorite playlist of songs. Once in awhile, I'll even shed a few tears. Because, sometimes, sweat and tears let the same stuff out. It's also a bonus that they happen to look exactly alike!
I've learned to leave my problems on the pavement. It's taught me to send my stress above where it belongs. There is room for it out there. And not just mine—everyone's. We must take advantage of the sky's infinite ability.
When we speak our worries into the outdoors, it comes back with the resounding and beautiful echo of new possibility.
So, the next time anxiety or stress decides to kick in your door, do yourself a favor and walk them right back out.