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From Vol. 1, Issue 8, August 2019

The art of Stoic walking


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Walking since the time of Socrates 

Socrates was known for walking barefoot. His student Antisthenes, who inspired the Cynics and Stoics, likewise walked barefoot for miles to listen to him talk each day. It’s said they were both good friends with a shoe-maker called Simon. The Cynic philosopher Diogenes used to say that both mental and physical training are required to become a true philosopher. Constant physical exercise that is in accord with nature leads to a ful-filled life. 

The walking Stoics 

Like their Cynic predecessors, the Stoics had an interesting attitude toward walking. 

Be careful where you tread 

The ancient philosophers believed that walk-ing barefoot encouraged circumspection. Epictetus says, for instance, that someone walking barefoot must obviously be careful where he treads, in case he steps on a nail or hurts his foot. To walk with wisdom is to walk with self-awareness, mindful of how we are using both our body and our mind, from moment to moment. It’s our ruling faculty, our faculty of judgement, that we have to watch like a hawk. 

Epictetus tells his students about a highly regarded Stoic philosopher called Euphrates of Tyre who spent years secretly living as a philosopher, patiently training himself to eat with moderation and to walk around with mindfulness and in a self-possessed manner. 

Contemplative walking 

Epictetus asks his students: “Do you read when you are walking?” No, he says, if you want to become true philosophers, like Eu-phrates, you should walk alone and silently converse with yourself about the deepest questions in life without paying too much attention to other people’s opinions or what’s written in books: 

Man, if you are anything, both walk alone and talk to yourself, and do not hide yourself in the chorus. 

Get into the habit of examining your own mind and the world around you while walk-ing in deep philosophical contemplation, Epictetus says, so that you may come to know who you really are. 

Donald Robertson is an author and Cognitive Behaviour Therapist. His latest book is How to Think Like a Roman Emperor