My shoulders started to feel tight. I sensed a slight pain at the bottom of my spine. As I took another step, I grabbed both shoulder straps of my backpack to pull them forward away from my chest. As soon as I did this, I felt my bag’s soft but warm cushion on my back, and the pain in my shoulders subsided. I looked in front of me and saw a shadow—a tree! A small one, but enough to take a short standing rest. On my left, two dump trucks moved like tortoises climbing a rock. Behind them, a long line of cars started to form. I stopped under the tree, with the sound of traffic nearby. I turned to my right, and that was when I saw it—one of the three summits of Mt. Banahaw, the active complex volcano of Laguna, often associated with the supernatural. It was there, peering behind thick foliage, as if watching, even mocking me for the fool I made myself become. “What the fuck am I doing?” I asked myself as I looked at Mt. Banahaw. “Why am I walking?”
I knew I needed to answer this question after walking for more than five hours, with intermittent breaks of 5–10 minutes, from Los Baños to San Pablo, Laguna. It is a full 13-mile walk, half of which was an elevated road that reached 535 feet (0.16 kilometers) max. I did the entire walk from 8:00 am to around 1:00 pm, mostly under a torching sun, which eased after the sky turned gray and beads of water started falling by the end of the walk. I reached San Pablo City by afternoon and found myself sitting at an almost empty diner on the second floor of a building along the city’s main street. I was staring down at the road when it started to rain hard.
I was relieved to finally arrive and ordered enough food to congratulate myself with pistachio sans rival at the end of the meal to remind me what it feels like to feel good. The long walk had to feel good, and it did, but it wasn’t what I expected it to be. And I know the reason was partly because of rookie mistakes: not putting lotion on my feet (therefore, blisters), bringing more than what was necessary (therefore, backaches), and leaving when the sun was already high (therefore, sunburn on my legs and feet).
But the walk was difficult, more because I wasn’t entirely sure why I was doing it. I could go through something like this and feel a lot better if I am strongly motivated—if I had a vision, I know I am fulfilling as I take one step after another. But this walk had no larger vision. It was entirely a “let’s see if this feels right” kind of walk. I turned 30 last February, and more than ever, I felt a sense of urgency to articulate what I wanted to do with the weeks left in my life. And I couldn’t express what exactly I wanted to do if I hadn’t done enough tinkering— if I hadn’t tried stuff. This first long multi-day walk was part of this tinkering process.
I knew I liked walking, perhaps more obsessively than most people. I am surprised by the rigor I put into this thing I am hesitant to call a craft since it is too simple to associate any mastery into. And yet, I feel like it does involve some measure of skill, which attracts me in a visceral, sometimes incomprehensible way. But I need to start uncovering my motivations for doing it. I have to start understanding this drive to walk so that I can begin crafting a vision for it.
Walking is Being
My ultimate life vision has been to understand this world, my place in it, and how I should move in it. I dream of being on my deathbed one day (or wherever death overcomes me) and saying to myself, “I have lived well. I have lived a life of meaning.” That is the ultimate vision. And walking is perhaps an unlikely means to fulfill that.
But why walk when I could probably be better off dedicating my life to a cause, working with people, and fighting for those in need, as I did in the past? Why choose a mostly solitary activity that is impractical, hard, seemingly selfish, and frighteningly pointless?
A natural extension of articulating a personal vision is to identify the means toward it. Now, a personal vision is, as it sounds, deeply personal. There is no single way to live a life. The question is “How do I ought to live?” and not “How do we ought to live?” because living is intrinsically subjective, and all attempts to create absolute rules of living that everyone must follow will ultimately fail. Knowing this, it is not enough to craft our vision; we also have to find a way towards it that is true to who we are, regardless of what the outside world tells us we need to be.
This work is necessary because the path towards fulfilling a vision is perhaps even more important than fulfilling the vision itself. It is impossible to feel good about a vision, to enjoy the journey towards it, if you know you reached it the wrong way—in a way that went against your values. In short, it isn’t enough that I become, but I become by simply being me. I need to fulfill a purpose and put meaning into my life in a way that is true to who I am. And for me, walking seems to fit the bill. Walking is who I am.
Walking is me. I was the boy who grew up in the province while frequenting the fields. I was the high schooler who walked by himself from school to town to ride the jeep home. I was the preacher who went from one house to another, sometimes from one mountain to another, on foot to visit the Deaf. I was the depressed young adult who walked under trees and beside beaches to feel good. I was the traveler who hiked mountain after mountain to feel in awe. In walking, I learned simplicity and frugality as much as I learned about myself and my relationship with nature.
Walking, when done right, achieves a lot for me. In walking, I connect with my body, allowing me to see the world as it is. I could practice photography, which is all but the art of seeing the beauty around me and elevating the present moment. Walking is a vehicle for deep thinking as much as it is a rest from it. And walking is an opportunity to listen to me, the world around me, and, when walking with someone, to others. Walking is a microcosm of life, a practice ground for life, if not life itself.
Walking is Becoming
But walking is also the best vehicle I know to become who I want to be. Walking is one of the few activities where deep thought and presence—in one’s environment and body—can simultaneously occur. Deep presence is necessary to be truly there when something is happening. And we would like to be truly there so we remember, savor, and extract the sweetness and comfort of an experience. We need this because of what happens after deep presence: deep thought. Deep thought is necessary for what I like to call “meaning-making,” the practice of interpreting the events that occur in our lives in a way that helps us make sense of them. We want meaning-making because while presence makes sure we are happy and fulfilled at the experience, it isn’t enough to satisfy our longing for purpose, for profound meaning. Deep presence assures comfort. Deep thought ensures meaning.
By being present in my body and the world, I absorb experience, which becomes content for processing, for meaning-making. This cycle between direct experience and its interpretation is what spurs growth. Walking, of course, does not hold a monopoly on this cycle. But I find it an effective platform for my development in a way that feels unquestionably good.
Walking perfectly represents this interplay between experience and thought, even to those who can’t or won’t walk. We can all “walk” figuratively by doing whatever we can to experience the world, to do something besides staying inside our heads. Because when we do come back to our heads, we bring something we can work with—a piece of memory or knowledge to sculpt and shape into whatever we want. This process, I think, is the best way to live. Not to rely solely on the experience of others recorded in books, but to go out there, to be present within our bodies, and to awaken our senses so that we may catch what needs to be acquired: the narratives that will get us through the dark night of the soul if not our whole life. This is what walking does.