Going Nowhere, Slowly

Barry Boyce on how to unearth delights and insights through an aimless stroll.

Illustrations by Min Ahwon

You bump into a friend on the street and you ask them what they’re up to, where they’re going, and they reply, “I don’t know. I have no idea.”

Now, you are worried. Perhaps they’re lost or aimless or ill. And after all, who wants to be aimless? Every moment in life must have purpose; every step must be in a forward direction, toward what we want or need or what is expected of us. But what if your friend’s aim is to be aimless, to have no set purpose or direction?

If that’s the case, they’ve become a flâneur, defined by the American Heritage Dictionary (a little harshly) as “an aimless idler,” or (more appreciatively) in the Paris Review as a “stroller, a passionate wanderer.” The poet Baudelaire praised the flâneur as someone who, by strolling about amid the kaleidoscope of daily life, finds “the timeless within the transitory.” Tied to no purpose, what passes before their eyes—and enters through their other senses—can be appreciated on the spot for simply being there.

I love to do this kind of strolling, with no aim in mind, and it never fails to yield small, and sometimes big, surprises and delights. The…

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About the author

Barry Boyce

Barry Boyce is Founding Editor of Mindful and Mindful.org. A longtime meditation practitioner and teacher—as well as a professional writer and editor— he is the editor of and a primary contributor to The Mindfulness Revolution: Leading Psychologists, Scientists, Artists, and Meditation Teachers on the Power of Mindfulness in Daily Life. Barry also worked closely with Congressman Tim Ryan, as developmental editor, on A Mindful Nation and The Real Food Revolution. Barry serves on the board of directors of the Foundation for a Mindful Society and the Centre for Mindfulness Studies in Toronto as well as on the advisory board of Peace in Schools, in Portland, Oregon.