A Walk to Nowhere
I read recently that many great artists and leaders were productive well into their older years: Eleanor Roosevelt was an Ambassador in her late seventies, Pablo Casals performed cello concerts into his ninties, Victor Hugo was clear headed, writing novels in his eighties, and the great Olga Kotelko, a track star at ninety-five, is the leader in her age group in upwards of twelve different Master's track events. She is an amazing inspiration in her ordinariness; no different than you or I, she has a passion for track and field and a reason to get up each day to train—at ninety-five, and beyond.
When I was very young and being groomed for show business, I knew I wasn't ready to expose myself so blatantly, and wouldn't be for a long time. My brain wasn't developed yet; I needed more time to experience life. Those years for me were wild and drug ridden, filled with sexual exploration that was empty and unfulfilling. It wasn't until I was well into my fifties that I started to awaken—to myself and to the present moment. It wasn't until then that I started to value myself. It is now that I can look back at my life and understand what I was searching for that was missing from my youth and my upbringing.
In her classes, Rosalyn described the Native American Wheel of Life, which was divided into seven-year cycles. As the Native Americans knew, putting children inside a room for hours at a time, seated on hard wooden chairs during the first seven years of their lives, and asking them to concentrate, is cruel and unreasonable, and for me, it was torture. Children should be allowed to run free, to move their bodies and not be restricted, as shown in the first fourteen years of the Wheel. Teenagers and young adults should be doing physical work to use the sexual energy raging in them during those years between fourteen and twenty-eight. I knew that what she was saying was correct because of the struggles I had focusing on blackboards when I was in junior high and high school. I spent hours daydreaming and looking out the classroom windows, waiting for the bells to ring so I could escape.
It wasn't until I was thirty-four that I returned to school by choice, the exact cycle on the Native American wheel when people should be able to learn difficult information, when the brain and body are ready to receive it. I earned a premed undergraduate degree and entered chiropractic college at the age of forty, earning my doctorate at forty-four. The difference—I wanted to be there and was excited about all that I was learning. My grades were excellent, and I was on the Dean's List all the way through. Yet I had barely made it through high school as a teenager. (Instead of registering for college when everyone I knew was doing that, I walked onto the lot of A & M Records when I was eighteen and applied for a secretarial job. I told them I was twenty-one and got a job working as the junior secretary for the head of public relations.)
But, until then, I was free to go wherever I wanted, just by using my legs and walking away. As a teenager, I would walk to school as usual, and stash my books in some bushes before I got to the campus. Then, I would go as far away from home and school as possible, not returning until the late afternoon, when it would be normal for me to return. I walked the neighborhood, down onto the noisy boulevard, into the market to buy candy to keep me going, and then out onto the street again to see what I could discover. I would zig-zag the suburban streets, passing homes, exploring different neighborhoods and the golf course that was the crown jewel of the community with its rolling green hills.
At that time, I always felt safe, and still do when I walk. No matter where I was at that time, as I walked miles, trying to blend in, not wanting to look like I didn't belong or shouldn't have been there, I felt at peace and more comfortable on the streets walking with my own thoughts than I did at home. When I got tired, I would find a park bench to sit on, or I would find a quiet place to lay down on the grass to rest. Our house was a few miles from the campus of Pierce College, a sprawling city college whose main focus was classes in farming and agriculture. I often walked there to hang out, mixing in with the students that were going to classes or studying at tables in the open areas. There were bales of hay spread out over the acres of land to feed the cows and paths to discover native trees and plants.
All that ended one day when my mother got a call from the school, asking where I'd been; they wanted to know if I was ill. I had spent the day walking, as usual, picked up my books in the bushes where I had left them, and came home, as though it was a normal school day. My mother asked me how school was, and I lied and told her it was fine; it was always such a letdown coming home. Then, of course, the proverbial shit hit the fan; I was cornered, asked where I had been all these weeks, and there was nothing I could do but confess. I'm not sure they believed that I was just walking—walking to nowhere; they thought I must have had a destination, some place I was walking to. What person would just walk?
The next morning, instead of walking to school as always, my father took me to school in his car and waited for me to enter. I turned a corner into the hallway and waited for several minutes—long enough for him to have left for work. When I thought it might be safe for me to leave, I walked out of the school building and began the process of choosing which direction to walk. I got a block or two away before my father's deep blue Buick came creeping up behind me and stopped, and I had a brief thought that I should run. He had been waiting for me. He opened the passenger side door and called out, "Get in, you have a home," and, knowing that I had lost the battle between freedom and incarceration, I got into the car, looking back at the street I longed to take me away.
How to Walk
The importance of this can't be understated, because, when you think about it, our legs really begin where the Iliopsoas muscles are, rather than at the hips; they give us so much extra leg length, glide and grace. If you take the time to watch people move—runners running, swimmers swimming—the great ones, the Olympians, always move from that place. Great or good runners take fewer steps as they begin their gait pattern from the hip flexors deep in the abdomen, lengthening their torso with each step. If we think about efficiency and the best use of energy, moving from that deep place, underneath the abdominal muscles, is the most efficient way to move.
Exercise: Take a moment to check into yourself as you walk or run. First, bring your awareness to your legs and walk several feet just using your legs, noticing how you feel walking from that place. Stop and shift your awareness to the front of your torso, just below where your ribcage ends and the diaphragm muscle sits; this is where the hip flexors begin on both sides of the spine. Begin walking from that place for several feet and then compare the difference between walking from your legs and from your hip flexors. Ask yourself: Am I taking longer and fewer steps, do I feel taller, more graceful? It is a worthy exercise that will carry you gracefully throughout life.