I’ve always believed that sometimes, books come into your life at exactly the right time, in order to challenge, inspire, and offer a different perspective. The Wander Society is one such book. I’m still digesting the messages in it, and the philosophy, and intend to begin my own practice of wandering.
Keri Smith isn’t the inventor of The Wander Society. Instead, she stumbled upon it one day, browsing books in a used bookshop. She picked up a volume of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, and found a number of annotations, including ‘Solvitur Ambulando’ (Latin for ‘it is solved by walking’), ‘WW will show you the way’, and ‘The Wander Society’, with a little thunderbolt symbol. This began her exploration and research into a secret, underground society focused on the power of wandering: ‘The act of unplanned, aimless walking/exploring/ambling with a complete openness to the unknown.’
The book is full of inspiration, philosophy, activities to expand the mind and invigorate the senses, further reading, and instructions. There is something mysterious and deeply powerful about the ideas in this book: it deals with the exploration of not just the environment and your community, but inner exploration: an exploration of your own imagination and unconscious.
‘Imagine time as a landscape: long hills of open afternoons, unfenced horizons of hours, the vast and immaculate freedom of time which, until so very recently, all of humanity knew. But foreshorten the horizons, fence the days, restrict the hours, erect deadline, add punctuality, alarm clocks and speed – enclose the commons of time in other words – and people will feel pressured, even if they know how to live in a clock-driven world.’ – Jay Griffiths, A Country Called Childhood.
The Wander Society’s aims are included in The Wandering Precepts:
1. Wander every day.
2. Do not plan your wanderings. Start in any direction. The location is not important.
3. Use whatever you have. (You have everything you need.) Use your senses.
4. Collect and gather. Document experiences and findings.
5. Remain open. Breathe deeply. Ask the question, ‘What can I discover?’
6. Allow ideas to come in. Write them down.
7. Question everything you have been told.
8. Use your imagination in your wanderings.
9. Use your intuition. Follow your hunches. Go toward what you are drawn to.
10. Encourage your own wild nature. What makes you feel truly alive?
This all excites me because, being someone who is constantly trying to excavate my inner life, find meaning and connect to the world around me, I long to find ways to foster that connection. Wandering appeals to me because I have a restless spirit. It may not seem that way to the people around me, but at heart I want nothing more than to explore and discover. This is why reading is so important to me. I travel and wander the world in the stories and ideas within each book. I can learn, dream, and imagine.
Wandering is an antidote to modern living. When we have too much of technology around us, when, instead of connecting us to ourselves and others, it disconnects and fragments us, we need something else. Something that can connect us to our environment, where we can find places we didn’t know about, or go in new directions. The previously familiar, banal world around us becomes new, strange, fascinating. We can challenge ourselves to grow beyond what we already think we know – to teach ourselves new things about the world we live in.
In this time of political and social uncertainty, I find myself turning to alternative ways of thinking and being, to counteract the alienation. As always, books have helped, but I feel that rather than just being the kind of book whose ideas you think about and never act upon, The Wander Society is a call to action and change. By changing yourself and the way you interact with the world, you begin to embody the changes you want to see, and gain wisdom.
‘I never knew I was creating a world which was an antithesis to the world around me which was full of sorrows, full of wars, full of difficulties. I was creating the world I wanted, and into this world, once it is created, you invited others and then you attract those who have affinities and this becomes a universe.’ – Anaïs Nin.
Perhaps we don’t need to bracket wandering with The Wander Society, but for me, it serves as a way in, a guided meditation. It opens up a world of possibility, and helps the wanderer to make the most of their time. I feel as if the existence of The Wander Society, of a secret world of people who wander, and explore, is a breath of fresh air. The aim is not to ‘do it right’, but to do it your own way, and go on your own journeys.
It’s difficult to describe the experience of reading this book – but if you want something different, to wake up, and feel alive, I would suggest reading this. You may not have the same reaction to it as I did, because there is something about it that sparked my imagination, but nevertheless, it’s a fascinating and exciting book.
‘Let us come to understand that we are immensely powerful, and that through our wandering we will change the world.’ – The Wander Society.