By Christine Norvell
James V. Schall, S.J. “The Metaphysics of Walking.” The Life of the Mind: On the Joys and Travails of Thinking. Wilmington: ISI Books, 2006.
Our society is completely dependent upon not only technology, but also the quickness and ease with which we get what we want —information, entertainment, things. Within most of us, the natural consequence is a pervasive impatience, a quickness of movement even, that detracts from truly experiencing life. In a world of access where we can literally procure information in a blink and a bite, James Schall proposes an unlikely antidote, one that requires time as its principal ingredient.
To counter an impatient way of life, Schall advocates a process of internal and external discovery that seems at cross purposes with reason or emotion. He suggests walking and its companion effects. Wandering about the same places again and again enables us to see the realness of places. That is why moments of discovery can reveal more of who we are and help us see how to live.
This, of course, is dependent on time, and without the freedom to use time, we can easily succumb to being controlled by it. Part of weaning ourselves from this dependence is becoming aware of what we experience and how we experience day-to-day life—“We have here another way of seeing…we discover a way of looking about while we walk, and a way of walking that takes us to the knowledge of what is.” This means that it is already there, that we simply had no knowledge of it before.
Having awareness is seeing the “realness” around us. Schall cites British writer Hillaire Belloc, who says that we must “see and handle” actual things that are a part of mankind, our history, our future. To know ourselves as individuals, then, we must embrace our broader humanity, to look at ourselves and past ourselves. Schall points out that part of awareness is to also know what is not. Knowing what we are not enables us to know more of ourselves— “We are set free to know, in fact, by almost anything that is not ourselves.” In a sense, it is a way of defining ourselves by narrowing and excising what we know is no longer relevant.
Yet this awareness is more than a “knowing” because it is also “something beyond ourselves.” Belloc describes it as a “call” or “restlessness” outside of us. In Belloc’s account of a veteran sailor seeking an unknown port, he describes the ideal of an “ultimate harbor,” a place of “original joy.” In response to this adventurer, Belloc understands that the harbor he sought was not of this world. Some would say this is a sort of transcendence, but Schall would acknowledge it as our eternal soul, a soul that longs for its Maker. It is this consciousness of who we are as children of God that is paramount to who we are as humans. This awareness, whether conscious or not, can help us contend against the influences of our time-driven culture.