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May 4, 2020

The Way I See It Blog Series: Walking in Beauty

Person walking on bridge with leaves on ground


My name is Marlene Cust. I am a senior citizen, and legally blind due to retinitis pigmentosa (RP) and age-related macular degeneration (AMD). In my writing, I want to acknowledge both the challenges I face and the positive coping strategies I have developed over time. Blindness is experienced by individuals in unique and various ways. There is no ‘one size fits all!’ Always there is that hope for a cure sometime in the future. In the meantime, for me, hopefulness lies in acting with courage, competence, confidence, and decisiveness every day.  My blog entries present living with blindness ‘the way I see it’.

Walking in Beauty

I am a walker. I walk because I can. I walk for health. I walk for enjoyment. I walk for sanity in a speeded-up world. Most days, I engage in what I call ‘mindful walking’ or, in other words, being aware  in the moment,  of all the sensory detail surrounding me. I do not focus on what I perceive with my limited vision, but rather on the treats offered by my unimpaired senses.

Beginning my walk, I am mindful of the weather conditions in which I walk: is it sunny, rainy, windy, snowy, icy, cloudy? And I take time to consciously experience the effects of these conditions on my body:  the kiss of the sun on my cheek; the whisper of a breeze in my ear; the sting of rain, wind, or snow; the sensations of heat and cold.

Then, of course, there is the kinaesthetic pleasure of walking itself: the slap of my feet on the sidewalk; the rhythmic back and forth swing of my arms and legs; the inhalations and exhalations of my breath; the steady beat of my heart;  the exhilarating sense of well-being; the awareness of a certain bodily ache or pain. Occasionally I stop to finger the rough, furrowed, or smooth texture of tree bark or the cool silkiness of flower petals.

At some point, I focus on what I hear going on around me. I hear the gentle soughing of the wind in a stand of birch. There are the bird sounds, the sob of the mourning dove, the melodious trill of various songbirds, the raucous cries of seagulls, the harsh croak of a raven, the rat-a-tat-tat of a woodpecker.  I hear the sounds of human activity, the cacophony arising from children playing in the school yard, a scrap of overheard conversation, the crying of a baby, a distant shout, laughter or music emanating from a dwelling nearby. I hear the rumble of a motor, the buzz of a lawn mower, the honk of a horn, the scream of an ambulance zooming along the highway, the deafening roar of a jet overhead.

I become aware of the smells that assault or titillate my nostrils: the perfume arising from that lilac or rose bush, the acrid stench of diesel, the nostalgic aroma of a wood fire, the sweetness of newly-cut grass.

There are days when I don’t feel like walking at all, but I mumble and grumble and stumble along anyway.  There are times when I walk my way through emotional states: grief, anger, fear, sadness, boredom, loneliness. Other times, I am buoyed up by feelings of elation, joy, contentment, and peace.

I have borrowed for my mantra the words of an ancient song which I often whisper to myself as I walk along:

“With beauty before me, may I walk.
With beauty behind me, may I walk.
With beauty above me, may I walk.
With beauty below me, may I walk.
With beauty all around me, may I walk.” 

Marlene Cust

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