A Walking Project by Larsen Husby

My Mind Within My Body Moving Through Space

December 7th, 2017

“I become a transparent eye-ball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or parcel of God.”  - Ralph Waldo Emerson

On December 2nd, 2017, I was waiting to cross West Broadway when a woman passed me on the sidewalk. I didn’t hear everything she said, but it was along the lines of: “Hey sexy, work that shit, I’d pick your ass up anytime.” She didn’t even break stride, just kept walking, and I was so taken aback by her audacity I couldn’t think of a response. The light changed, and I crossed, bemused.

Even though Minneapolis is a fairly large city, home to hundreds of thousands of people, I rarely encounter any of them while I’m out walking. I can walk for over an hour without passing another pedestrian. The effect is a profound sense of solitude at odds with the urban environment, and I find this solitude liberating. I feel comfortable, free from the energy required to consider other people and their realities. I have become so confident in my aloneness that I sometimes even sing outloud to myself, something I’d never do if I thought I’d be overheard.

Mostly, though, I simply allow myself to fall deep into my own thoughts. My walks generally last about sixty to ninety minutes, which is a luxurious amount of time to do nothing but think. Walking and thinking, as many people have noticed, go very well together: the movement of the body through space provides a fitting backdrop for the progression of ideas, and I find my thoughts flow more freely, from one to the other, as my feet take me forward. Sometimes, when I’m lucky, this easy flow of ideas leads somewhere interesting, though often it’s pretty mundane. I dwell on what happened that day and what happened several months ago; make endless, baseless plans for the future; list out worries and attempt to dispel them. There’s something deeply satisfying about spinning out an entire train of thought, even if it’s only how to best schedule your Wednesday evening.

Occasionally, my feet lead me straight through deep thought and into a different state. I am not a “spiritual” person, but on these solitary walks I have encountered a feeling that is as close as I have ever come to meditation. As my body falls into the mindless rhythm of placing one foot in front of the other, my nagging internal monologue ceases, and thoughts – as I normally conceive of them – vanish, replaced by pure observation. I see, but I do not attempt to explain what I see. I feel transparent, as if there were no barrier between my body and my surroundings. I am subsumed into the world, “part or parcel of God.” (There is a certain irony here, that this sensation of connectedness arises when I’m feeling most alone).  It’s a refreshing sensation, a reprise from the constant chorus of worries rattling around in my head. It’s also delicate state: as in a dream, as soon as I realize what’s happening, I wake up.

And then sometimes someone else wakes me up, as with the woman on West Broadway. Whenever I encounter another person, and especially when they speak to me (which happens very rarely, but does still happen), I’m forced to concede that I am not alone, nor am I transparent. I am most certainly seen by more people than I realize: people looking out of windows, or driving by in cars. Whether or not they give me any particular consideration, I am nonetheless a feature of landscape. My presence is one factor in determining how they respond to their surroundings. If I see another person coming, I stop singing; I wonder if someone has ever seen me and stopped singing, too.

Proof that I am not, in fact, transparent

The catcalling incident in particular had the effect of reminding me not only of my presence, but of my privilege. The encounter was funny to me because it was just so absurd: how often does a woman catcall a man? The roles were reversed, but the power dynamics were not, so rather than feeling threatened, I was able to laugh it off. The sad reality is, however, that if our genders were inverted – had I been a young woman, her an older man – I wouldn’t have laughed it off. Or perhaps I would have, not out of genuine amusement, but out of the fear that the situation might escalate to something more sinister should I express anger or fear. To add another dimension to this interaction, the woman who catcalled me was black, and this happened on West Broadway, a neighborhood which is majority black. I imagine she felt comfortable enough to call out to me in part because she was on her home turf. I have a hard time imagining her doing this if we’d been walking around 50th & France.

This entire undertaking has been possible in large part because of the privileges I enjoy as an able-bodied white male. I walk alone through strange neighborhoods without a second thought. Only once have I been catcalled, and not once have I found myself in a situation where I felt genuinely threatened. Sure, sometimes I feel uncomfortable (I am definitely a little self-conscious when I walk through neighborhoods where my whiteness is out of the norm), but there is a big difference between “uncomfortable” and “fearful.” Being a white man means that there is nothing daring or defiant about my project. White men in this country have long enjoyed the ability to go anywhere they please and feel at home. You might even say they see it as their right to do so.

And it is their right to do so: the freedom of movement is a right of all people. The reality, however, is that many people continue to be denied this right, if not in law then in practice. Fear – the fear of being obstructed, demeaned, or assaulted, whether by men, the police, or a built environment designed for certain types of bodies and not others – is a sadly justifiable feeling, and it restricts the freedom of movement for those who hold it. When mobility is denied so to is everthing which comes out of it, including those calming feelings of solitude and transparency. I can’t imagine that if I were constantly on alert for possible threats to my bodily safety I’d be able to sink into that meditative state. Would I even attempt this project if I were a woman? Black? Transgender? Disabled? 

I can’t answer that question, of course, without being someone else, and I am not someone else.

When I think about my walking, I often vacillate like this, between looking inwards and looking outwards. I think about my own mind, my mind within my body, my body moving through space, the space itself, the spaces beyond what I can see, the collective spirit connecting it all, including my mind, my body, my mind within my body. Like a camera lens slowly zooming out, except that if you zoom out far enough it just starts over.