I’m a slow walker, and I enjoy taking my time. I see it almost like an art to cultivate. Whenever someone asks me “why are you walking so slow?”, I answer in different shades of truth. I may say that my allergies are acting up, and since I can’t breathe too well, I have to slow down. Other times, if I trust the person, I may tell them that my anxiety disorder is peaking at the moment, so I need to walk slower for a bit. Such answers have been correct on many occasions, but not all. This is because answering with health-related reasons is more justifiable than the truth: because I want to. Why the hesitation to say the truth then?
Fast walkers tend to be surprised to hear that someone would actually like walking slowly. Some prefer walking fast because they have fears of arriving late or argue that they will feel some relief once they get to their destination. In my experience, most of these people can't actually verbalize the actual reasons why they feel exasperated. When this is the case, and there is no real reason to hurry, it sounds more like the voices of our ancestors trying to get to a cave before nightfall to avoid being eaten by a saber-tooth tiger. This sense of urgency is what I find dangerously contagious. The feeling of urgency, whether or not it’s based on reality, seems more justifiable than wanting to take things slow. Slowing down looks lazy or unproductive in comparison. It can prompt questions such as “don’t you have somewhere to be?” As if being somewhere all the time were a recipe for success and normality. Given this dilemma, it's not surprising that many people purposefully walk at a slower pace.
As someone that suffers from anxiety disorders, I associate walking fast with acknowledging some risk or danger as a peril that can be avoided by being prompt. It’s a false sense of urgency that serves no real purpose. When in a hurry, one is prone to fall into all-or-nothing thinking traps more often than not. Statements such as “if I don’t get there in time” exemplify this type of thinking. It’s a world of constant high-stakes and win-lose situations. I personally reject this worldview, and many slow walkers do as well. In fact, if I catch myself hurrying for no good reason, it's a red flag signaling me to stop and think about what really matters.
When people mindfully walk slower, they do it out of a desire to slow down life and appreciate the moment. The feeling of the pavement, the sights and sounds, your friend’s thoughts on the political climate or last night’s lunch – you are aware of your surroundings and want to experience them fully. You’re also reminding yourself that life is not a race, that at this moment, there are no deadlines or risks.
This isn’t to say slow walkers live in a utopian world without urgency and anxiety. Sometimes the opposite is true. In a world where we’re constantly rushed to finish a project, complete a paper, do various errands, and respond to all emails and messages addressed to us, our walking speed can feel like the only thing we can control. Slow walkers also occasionally get fooled into thinking there’s a reason to hurry. It’s akin to unknowingly leaving a finger on top of the panic button.
Some people thrive in this worldview and actively put themselves in fight or flight modes to boost productivity and feel that rush of adrenaline. These are the same people that have bodies and minds capable of taking all of that energy and turn it into fantastic sessions of productivity and social interaction. Nevertheless, the reality is not all of us are capable of sustaining such a frenzied state for long without something breaking. It may come out physically as high blood pressure or muscle spasms, or it may come out psychologically as anxiety or depression.
The lesson here is avoid policing others for their walking speed. Instead, ask yourself, why am I walking fast? Am I in a hurry to get somewhere? Is the danger real? Likewise, if you feel that you’re walking slow, why might that be? Is there something in your life stressing you out that you're counteracting by taking your time?
Whether you're always in a hurry or prefer to take your time, asking yourself how you feel raises self-awareness, letting us lead more mindful lives that are not ruled by survival instincts.