Walking is… massage

By Street Wisdom

I ran a Street Wisdom recently and found myself saying to the group – in my opening remarks – that walking the streets in a Street Wisdom way was a bit like having a massage. (Just then the iPad I’m writing on autocorrected “massage” to “message”, a useful bit of information we might come back to.) Some people smiled – they seemed to like the analogy; they seemed to be up for a massage. I’m wondering now what I really meant.

There are all kinds of reasons people have to go for a massage: to soothe pain, ease tension, relax, and be touched, and bluntly put people often leave Street Wisdom having soothed pain, eased tension, relaxed and been touched.

After all, walking is a kind of therapeutic pressure applied to the body. Walking is a kind of touch. The streets, in this way, are our masseur, but also – funnily enough – so are we, our feet kneading into the street’s own body. And it’s not just our feet doing the touching. People on Street Wisdoms often talk about using their hands to stroke rough walls or smooth tree trunks, or hold other people’s hands – strangers they encounter through their renewed openness. Some talk about sitting on a bench and sensing their body afresh. Even the act of looking becomes a kind of touch in Street Wisdom – the eyes lovingly massaging the world around them.

I like this definition of holistic massage by Andy Fagg and I think it makes my point better than I can: “Massage in essence is about sensitive communication through the medium of touch.” Massage – often generically considered a kind of “pressure” – here becomes instead an embodied interaction full of meaning; Street Wisdom, in its own way, is a training in that kind of lifelong learning. There is certainly no pressure on a Street Wisdom.

Famously, the medium is the message, but more interestingly for us the book that explored that line of argument by Marshall McLuhan was originally called “The Medium Is The Massage” – not the Message – because the typesetter had made a mistake. McLuhan loved it and said, “Leave it alone! It’s great, and right on target!” In McLuhan’s own Street Wisdom-way he found a useful truth in the beautiful coincidence. Similarly, people who participate in a Street Wisdom often find the streets have both a message – and a massage – for them.

Written by Philip Cowell