Wander

If you can see every step forward on your path, you know for certain that it’s not your path – it’s one someone else has already walked.

I built enormous confidence in my own decision-making skills by literally trusting my feet. Six or more years ago, I started going on walks; the only rule was to go exactly where I wanted to go. I constantly monitor the feeling of which way to go – left, right, straight, back track, or stop.

When you’re on a walk with no destination there are practically zero stakes for getting it wrong. Still, I sometimes find myself arguing seriously if I can’t decide whether to go left or right on the sidewalk where it just doesn’t matter and where I have all the info I need to make my decision. How would I possibly trust myself on big, ambiguous decisions where the stakes are high if I can’t trust myself on decisions with practically no consequences?

When your only task is to do what you want, you learn about what you want. Over the course of months and years I’ve observed where my gut instinct takes me. Unconscious desires (or gut instincts, wants, needs, whatever you call them) resist easy inspection. They have something like a Schrodinger’s Cat quality. By trying to peer directly at the unconscious, you’ve changed their contents. You can’t learn about the dark by turning on the light.

Intuition walks reveal unconscious desires in that you can observe the choice you made. It’s not theoretical. You can’t answer the question “What happens if I follow intuition wherever it takes me?” by sitting on a couch and theorizing. You must go do it and discover what happens.

I discovered a rough hierarchy of my unconscious values. I noticed that when I was in a brand new place, the first thing I optimized for was sun. Which side of the street to walk down was determined by temperature, comfort, and glare. Above all, I desire to be cozy, not too hot, not too cold.

Next I chose which street to walk down based on beauty. Does it have plants, beautiful architecture, little shops and cafes? I’m certain to choose the prettiest street first. Then I sort by how quiet. Unless I’m seeking a cafe, I choose a pretty quiet residential street over a pretty shopping district. My favorite favorite is a residential alley where I can peer at people’s back gardens and see what kind of vegetables they grow.

The second time I’m in a neighborhood, I’ll walk the second most desirable cozy, pretty, quiet street. The third, the third most desirable and so forth until I’ve covered the entire grid of the ugly and forgotten places too. I want to explore every dead end, every creek and ditch, every weird street where the auto body shops and warehouses live.

I moved to SF a little over a year ago. I walk between 30 and 60 miles a week. Yesterday I started at 24th and Mission, walked to Mission Bay, continued along the Embarcadero to the Ferry Building where I bought a loaf of Acme schoolyard bread, refilled my water, and used the bathroom, then ventured up Market and wound my way back home. That was 11 miles.

I explore neighborhoods most people who live here never go. There’s a vast industrial area along 280 where the lumber yards and small factories spread over long blocks. I delight in stumbling over some small beauty in these areas, like Heron Park, a wetland jutting out of Bayshore with the bluffs of Hunter’s Point to the south and a still-functioning industrial pier to the north.

These are the lessons I learned about myself. Don’t take them as a prescription for you. I’m sure you will discover you have a different stack of values. I offer these only as examples of what kind of things you might learn about yourself. Knowing what you’re attracted to tells you a lot about who you fundamentally are.

Through this process I now have a finely grained classification of my gut feelings. I can now walk out the door and take a detailed reading of what’s going on with me. I developed all new categories of gut feelings I didn’t know could exist, but it all started with a feeling of basics left and right.