Sauntering, Aging, Dilettantism, and Contemplation

“Retirement provides surprising pleasures, and one is the pleasure of sauntering.

Sauntering is a kind of relaxed and joyful walking, perhaps without intention or goal.

Someone I met at college referred to casual walking as “just kicking pebbles.” I think that captures the idea of sauntering.

Sauntering is not the compulsory activity of someone attempting to reach a desired destination, be it an exotic location, a higher vantage point, or any other physically or emotionally rewarding goal.

Sauntering is not compulsive hurrying toward pulmonary or muscular health; it is not a race toward a reward or a valued result of any kind; it is simply traveling along in the delight of ease.

Sauntering is its own end.

Sauntering may be the way of deep contemplation.

Sauntering is counter to hurrying, racing, or achieving.

Sauntering is embracing, enjoying, loving, relaxing, and learning.

Sauntering may be prayer in motion.

The famous American naturalist John Muir is reported to have proclaimed his dislike of the word “hiking,” telling a companion, “People ought to saunter  through the mountains–not hike!”

While this exclamation of Muir’s is not found in any of his writings, it is reported by a mountain traveler who met Muir on the trail and conversed with him about “hiking.” (1)

I’ve concluded while passing through my aging decades that I am an intellectual saunterer. I have at times been called a dilettante. That term, however, I think is often applied in a derogatory manner to someone who persists in raising questions and is mistakenly viewed as lacking any career vision or ambition.

Contrarily, I believe the term may describe many creative people who express countercultural viewpoints, and I have come to be at ease with dilettantism as a way of life, and perhaps an expression of godly contemplation in an age of self-absorbed consumption.

The late spiritual master Thomas Merton, in attempting to define contemplation, wrote:
“It is as if in creating us God asked a question, and in awakening us to contemplation . . . answered the question, so that the contemplative is at the same time, question and answer.” (2)

Merton sounds a bit like a dilettante, Eh?

Be at ease, and pray to grow as a contemplative who saunters.


(1) The full story has Muir saying, ” . . . in the Middle Ages people used to go on pilgrimages to the Holy Land, and when people in the villages through which they passed asked where they were going, they would reply, ‘A la sainte terre.’ To the Holy Land. And so they became known as sainte-terre-ers or saunterers. Now these mountains are our Holy Land, and we ought to saunter through them reverently, not ‘hike’ through them.”
—See full article at:‘saunter

(2) In Merton’s book New Seeds of Contemplation, cited in Robert Ellsberg, Ed. Modern Spiritual Masters: Writings on Contemplation and Compassion. (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books) 2008, p. 10.

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