The London Perambulator is a superb doc introducing the efforts of Nick Papadimitriou, who has defined “deep topography”, the intensive pedestrian exploration of urban margins. Input from psychogeographers Will Self and Iain Sinclair too.
2. I have added a new 2-part WALC episode. Its a conversation with fellow walker, Lara Mylly during a walk at Shaw Woods.
For all of our previous walking history, we have walked on the physical earth, among real tress and stones. There have been symbolic practices, like visualizations, where we cultivate an imagined world, like the Buddhist Pure Land and we have used symbolic journeys like the labyrinth or Stations of the Cross. Only recently, as part of our electronic revolution has it become possible to view and experience, in a rich and compelling way, a simulated walk in hundreds of world and otherworldly locations.
Using various kinds of head-mounted “virtual reality” (VR) devices we can “walk” on the Appalachian Trail, in the Italian Dolomites and more.
Two Main Types:
2D Photosphere and 3D Modelling
2D Photosphere: Passive, constructed from on real location, good for simple demos, (like a tourist destination), not good for objects
video 360 ; This is what is used for Google’s Street View. Special cameras capture views which the viewer can scan later in a full, somewhat warped 360 degree perspective. Check out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AYBd0oKVmhQ
POV video; This is Point-of-view capture where you can travel through a space and view as if you were the traveller. These are becoming more popular as treadmill/ cycle/ elliptical machine use. What you see resembles what a traveller would see. It lacks 360 capacity. have a look at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=styiDn7YKhE
3D modelling: High user agency, can be interactive, not reliant on real locations, good for objects, can create imagined sites (like fantasy worlds)
VR- Simulated: These are computer graphics (CGI) constructed representations of real sites, like the Vatican, that you can visit and explore. It is possible, as in most games, that you can use objects in the field and interact with an artificial intelligence figure. You can even adopt an avatar, like an ancient monk, going to that site. Check out a making-of vid for the VR experience of walking between the NY Twin Towers in the film The Walk (great book by the way)
VR – fantasy: This began with PAC man and Super Mario, where fantasy figures travel and act in a imagined world. This can be as sophisticated as your technology allows. These can even be hyper-realistic version of our world, as with this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1_ifgJqLqTY
VR – augmented; This is like the above two with added sensory elements. Not only can you walk across a canyon bridge, with special “haptic” wearables, you can feel the sway and smell the air. A good example is Merrell TrailScape which is a 4D, motion-tracked, multi-sensory experience .
The question we can begin with is whether we can practice any contemplative walking in any of these artificial environments. Would they actually represent the experience we have in a real trail or city environment. Might the experience be similar enough? Might it even be better? We’ll come back to this in later posts.
I’ve started reading a journal of Dorothy Wordsworth on a trip she and her brother William took to Switzerland just after the end of the Napoleonic War, (early 1820’s). She is the lesser known of the two sibs, but holds her own as a keen observer of their travels. Its remarkable her walking energy for a 19th century woman, a time when women were held to be fragile flowers.
She is one of a set of writer-walker-tourists that we are studying to understand walkers’ experience in the past. Dorothy was an avid walker, capable of 25-30 mile/day walks – no slouch!
In her book, Prints, Panoramas, and Picturesque Travel in Dorothy Wordsworth’s Journal of a Tour on the Continent, Pamela Buck writes:
When Dorothy Wordsworth arrived in Switzerland in 1820 with her brother the poet William Wordsworth, his wife Mary Wordsworth, her cousin Thomas Monkhouse, and his new wife Jane Horrocks, they were one of many middle-class family groups who adopted the practices of commercial tourism in order to see the country. Her Journal of a Tour on the Continent, which covers the three-and-a-half-month journey through France, Switzerland, and Italy, records her visits to renowned sites such as the birthplace of William Tell, the castle of Chillon, Voltaire’s château, and her brother’s path through the Alps from his walking tour of 1790. With the reopening of the Continent after the end of the Napoleonic wars, travel abroad was no longer only a privilege of wealthy men on the Grand Tour but a popular consumer enterprise supported and enhanced by guidebooks, print culture, and visual entertainments (Wood 117). Many of these were influenced by William Gilpin’s theory of the picturesque, namely an aesthetic based on the perceptual structures of art that encouraged tourists to view landscape as a picture.
Walking along the K and P this morning, I was wondering about trail design and shape as that relates to contemplative walking. The K and P, like most rail-bed trails is straight, flat and uninterrupted with curves for most of its 25 mile length. This does not mean its uninteresting, because the views of the ravine creeks and the profile of Pinnacle Hill are outstanding. It does, however, lack the undulating curves we so often associate with the best trails.
This leads to the question of what are the best kind of trail shapes for contemplative walking. What I realized is that there are shapes which facilitate different forms of contemplation. What I found on this rail-bed trail was the excellent support for recitative practice. In my case, I found the steadiness and predictability of this track supported a good 30 minute period of nembutsu chanting, some of which I did sotto voce.
It certainly promotes a very good context for developing pace, rhythm and balance, as well as the lack of distraction that allows for real interior experience. I was able to experience the full bodily experience of my walking, because I did not need to attend to sudden changes in trail texture or shape.
Later, I went looking for what there was in principles of trail design. I found this document from Ontario which I found quite interesting.
This is a 300 plus page document primarily describing various standards for trail construction processes. Things like constructing treads, water management, soil types and so on. It also describes principles of sustainable trails and “universal design”, that is designing for all kinds of users. Interestingly, it cites curving trails as the ideal. This fits well with what Ellard (Places of the Heart) says about human preference for curving lines.
I have posted a related piece on the WALC podcast today as well.
Reading more in Ellard (Places of the Heart) and he wonders whether people , especially younger people have as substantial an experience of an inner life these days, compared to previous generations. Tech researcher, Sherry Turkle, and others have described how our reliance on our online lives diminishes our interest in, capacity for and benefits from an inner life – that part of us which establishes memories and meaning. If people, especially our growing generations are walking less, this will only exaggerate the effect of our disconnection from the material world.
This is one reason why I was so pleased to meet a young mom and her 18 month old walking on the path this morning. There were no mediators or tech devices, just the mom and her little guy walking along with the trees and critters on one side and the river on the other. Very lucky kid!
Been working my way through Ellard’s Places of the Heart, (highly recommended read, too)which explores many dimensions of psycho-geography, the relationship between the spaces we inhabit and our emotions and cognition.
He considers the impact on walkers who walk rear or inside spaces with spiky, pointy and angular forms, as opposed to those with more rectangular or curvy shapes.
He writes: Straight lines and acute angles are not only less preferred and less likely to be judged as beautiful, but living among them may also unleash potent effects on our behaviour …it makes perfect sense for us to have an aversion to hard sharp edges and acute angles. Such shapes may suggest teeth, claws or other kinds of dangerous edges; it would be adaptive for us to veer away from them and toward gentler surfaces. The evidence that exposure to such shapes may spill over … to social judgments cooperative group behaviour is also in keeping with modern views of embodied cognition..” (p.135)
Above are images of the Chin Crystal and a church here in Renfrew which exemplify these angular shapes. It raises the question of how we might promote contemplation while we walk, indoors or out, when the shape of the accompanying space promotes anxiety and fear. Ellard suggests that we are most at home with curvy shapes and those that evoke familiar forms of our early lives. He suggests this is why so many commercial storefronts mimic design elements of houses or “olde timey” stores. Tim Hortons sho-fronts are a good example:
Its been a very long time since I had to do a class report, but this one is worth the effort. Padakun was invited by Dr. Frances Garrett, Associate Professor of Tibetan and Buddhist Studies, and Associate Chair of the Department for the Study of Religion at the University of Toronto to present at the September 28 class of her History of Walking Cultures class . I presented a 3 part program which included:
elaborate what we mean by “contemplative walking”; where that idea comes from, what it might refer to and some of the many ways it is performed;
offer some actual experiences in two very broad forms of “contemplative walking”, namely indoor and outdoor; and
describe some of what The Padakun Centre for Contemplative Walking, proposes as our purpose and intention,particularly what we call our 4 Trails of study, namely: walkers’ personal stories, walking forms and training, walking for social action and walking theory.
The class was a group of about 15 first year students.
We had a wonderful shared learning experience and Dr. Garret reports that “ What you shared will give shape to the rest of the semester.”
We’ve decided to postpone the Niagara trip. Just not enough folks available for the extended weekend. Good information for future planning. No worries, we’ll do it in the near future. meanwhile , visit the xPADitions page for news on our next couple of trips.