OPINION: Rediscover the joys of not always having a plan

A view of Donegal through the coronavirus crisis and beyond by Siobhán McNamara

There are many emotional benefits to aimless wandering

There are many emotional benefits to aimless wandering PHOTO: Siobhán McNamara

There is a line from a poem that appears in JRR Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring that I really love.

It’s ‘Not all those who wander are lost.’

It evokes images of paths through leafy forests, full of birdsong and tiny flowers, berries and snatched glimpses of wildlife. Or of walking on the seashore, lulled by the sound and motion of the waves, with an eye on the tideline to see what surprises are caught in the seaweed, finding unusual pebbles or shells. Or of a gentle stream, or crashing waterfall, or reaching the top of a hill and being stopped in your tracks by a stunning view. 

The point is, that it is OK to wander purely for the joy of allowing your senses to come alive. Many people who walk regularly stick to a rigid pace and route, perhaps with earphones on. There are of course physical and mental health benefits to this most accessible form of exercise. But you could be missing out on so much. 

I used to feel guilty when I would set out with the intention of having a good brisk walk, but got distracted by a butterfly on wild garlic, or the first blackberries of the autumn. I felt that I wasn’t pushing myself hard enough. Then I heard a radio interview with someone speaking about the emotional benefits of aimless wandering, and somewhere deep inside, the curious child in me smiled. Gone was the guilt at noticing and relishing all that nature had to offer. In fact, it amazes me that it was ever an issue, because now I treasure such opportunities.

Beaches are out of the question at the moment but I am lucky enough to live right beside a forest and lake. There is plenty of room to wander without straying out of the 2km zone.

Many people have been forced to slow down, and some are finding it tougher than others. It’s important to understand that it is OK not to have a plan for everything. Yes, maintaining some sense of structure is vital, but it is good to offset it by simply stepping outside and seeing what grabs your attention. 

Because wandering is not about getting lost, it is all about what you find and learn along the way.

Read next: In Donegal we are not accustomed to grieving alone

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