In Conversation with Steve Moloney
After our time in Thunder Bay, Ontario we continued on to camp at a roadside rest stop that we thought we would have to ourselves for the night. Coincidentally, Steve Moloney had the same idea. Steve is walking from the westerly most part of Canada, starting on Vancouver Island and headed to St. John’s, Newfoundland. We sat down and talked with Steve about what it means to travel such long distances on foot, as well as his perspectives on living a healthy life. Below is an edited transcript of that conversation.
Can you tell us a little about what you’re doing and why?
There are two main reasons why I’m doing the walk. The first is purely selfish, I just wanted to do this bucket list thing for five years. I was working a boring job and it just came to me as I was working, it percolated from there. I’m attached to this land so I thought it’d be neat to walk from one coast to the other. There are a couple people that have inspired me. First, Terry Fox. Another guy a year or two later named Steve Fonyo similar type of leg thing, he actually ran the whole thing. And also Forrest Gump. The movie Forrest Gump kind of inspired me as well. He just started walking somewhere, and I like walking. That’s the selfish side of it. And the benefit from it is, it’s a force of will, it’s a huge challenge.
Second, I call myself a bit of a freedom activist. To me walking is an expression of freedom - there’s the old saying, “if I don’t get my way, I’m going to walk.” It is an expression of freedom. I wanted to attach that to my walk to inspire conversation about the importance of freedom. Freedom to me is multifaceted and there are at least a couple key components. One is individual freedom that we have in terms of our inner world. And then there’s the outer world of interaction we have amongst other people. If we’re living our lives full of social anxiety, full of early childhood traumas, early life traumas, then they are holding us back. The more we can work on ourselves to become as healthy as we can and the more we can learn about ourselves, find out about our real selves and be that as much as we can, we get to lead the lives closer to what we want. So that’s the individual side – to get over the fear and anxiety and all the things that hold us back inside.
The intercommunal relationships side of freedom is if we can be friendly with people we can create peace and when we create peace we can create greater freedom. I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed if you are really friends with someone - the greater the degree of friendship the greater degree of freedom within that relationship. Because then we don’t have to skirt around and try to hide ourselves, we can actually come out and be honest. It doesn’t matter what we say as long as we say it with dignity and respect. Friends don’t attack friends. Friends are helpful and they want the best for the other person. That is an example of peace. It’s not violence. Violence is when I want you to be a certain way but you don’t want to be and I’m going to force my will through a surrogate or through myself, that’s violence. The peacefulness means that you are ok the way you are. In that way we have a greater degree of freedom. I look at politics. Politics to me is just an expression of a bunch of different people and the way that they’re thinking. It’s always a fight. The extreme of that fight is war and that’s been going on since the dawn of humanity. If we can become more friendly with each other we can increase the peace and reduce that tendency to have verbal or violent war. That’s my input. I just share that idea and ask other people what they think.
Earlier you mentioned the connection between health and personal freedom. Can you speak more to that?
To me freedom is about health. If you look up the word freedom and its etymology it’s actually related to the word love. Love is that connection or that desire for connection. Connection with something real. When we’re healthy as we can, we’re connected with ourselves. Healthy in terms of mental, physical, relationship, spiritual, and emotional health combined. We create a more complete true self. That true self I would posit cannot be anything but friendly with others, at least initially. The attempt has to be made to be friendly. A healthy self does not go attacking others. Someone who is attacking is an emotionally triggered individual. A healthy individual is calm and looks at things, tries to get a picture of things first. They’re not flaring up with anxiety. That individual is more free.
Have you ever heard of that book called Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl? He mentions in there how freedoms can be taken away but not completely – Our attitude can’t be taken away. Our attitude is always ours if we will it to be. That is a very important component of freedom, it’s essential. I think it is core.
As you travel and start these conversations about freedom and health have you had an interaction with someone that has stood out as especially remarkable?
My brother was with me when I started the walk on Vancouver Island. His idea was that instead of taking the ferry we’d kayak across. He’s got this two man [kayak]. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done before and it was really cold. It was a great bonding experience.
He has a group of friends in Vancouver, they have this group, it’s called the Junto Group. The Junto Group was started by Benjamin Franklin and they still exist in certain cities. They talk about deep ideas and what can be helpful. They invited me to share with them about this walk. They had a million questions and to this day I’ve modified my pack on the suggestions they had. Some of the questions they had, I didn’t have answers for but I’ve thought about them and they’ve made a difference on the walk.
The biggest thing I’ve discovered about this walk is self-knowledge. Just getting in touch with self and realizing how powerful the mind is. The mind, though not separate from the body, sometimes seems to be separate from the body.
Could you explain further?
I actually experienced a walk at night I did, it was 83 kilometers – which would be about 50 miles – straight. The only reason I did that walk was because it was through grizzly [bear] country, I didn’t want to camp, it was getting dark, there was supposed to be a hostel in the bush. It was in Banff National Park. I couldn’t find the thing and had no number. I saw the sign that said 30 kilometers to Banff and I already walked 50. So I walked overnight 30 more kilometers. I got into kind of a zone, it was almost a trance of walking. And it seemed like I had control of dial and I could turn the body up or down. The body had no pain, I could hardly feel the backpack and I walked quickly, just straight. When I got to Banff, I kinda had to bring my awareness back into the body and then I could start to feel the pain in my legs, it was really brutal. I had to take a day off. That’s one thing you learn – the power of the mind is so powerful, it could actually kill the body. It could drive the body to the point of exhaustion. That was very profound.
A friend of mine from Saskatoon, he calls me once in a while and he was trying to encourage me to do something. He said “all you’re doing is walking, you got all kinds of time to spend you should be doing something productive you should be planning something!” I asked him, “have you ever walked 83 kilometers through the night?!” There’s no need to think, it’s such an intense activity as it is. Sometimes I’ll be listening to a podcast and I’ll realize I don’t want this podcast anymore, I just want to enjoy the meditation and not have the distraction. There’s actually music going on anyways with the trees and everything. It’s kind of like a mediation to become aware of the whole body and what it’s doing.
Do you have any experiences from this journey that you’d like to carry on in the future?
Back in Saskatoon I’ve run this discussion group called Coffee Chat for a number of years. Our tagline is “sharing ideas on improving the quality of our life experiences”. I’ve done all sorts of jobs – construction and whatever else. To me what is important is health. So I’ll write a book for sure, I’ve already written a couple of books. All my books are health-themed because that’s the most important thing for me, is health. In fact the origin of the word health means whole. The more whole we can be, the more alive we can be, the more we can know ourselves the more honest we can be. The more in touch we can be with ourselves and those around us. The more we can understand the relationship between emotions and mentality and the physical body and what is this spirituality thing all about. The more clarity I can have on health, I would like to share as insights – not as ultimate truths but more as “hey what do you think?”
I’m involved with public speaking, with the Toastmasters. I try to encourage people who are so inclined to get involved with public speaking. One of the greatest known fears is public speaking. I hope we can challenge fears that are not really legitimate. It’s okay to be fearful of an angry grizzly bear in the bush but the fear of getting in front of a friendly bunch of people and saying a few words is really just the result of some trauma or some innate tendency to not want to be shamed by the tribe. If we can challenge ourselves with fears and realize we can get past them, it helps us to be freer within ourselves.