Has peace and tranquility always required such herculean effort?
I draw little comfort from the fact that I know I'm not alone. Though we all live distinctly different lives, we share in the misery of a preoccupation with busyness. But why? I can only speak for myself but from my vantage point (a forty-pluser), this solicitude is likely brought about by the portending doom of old age. Though I'm (ahem) prematurely gray and my hairline resembles a retreating line rather than a receding one, I've yet to posses the elderly traits of grizzled or venerable. (I have a hunch I'll become one or the other and I suspect it might have to do with the specific choices I make as I straddle this median called middle age).
Is the burden of carrying half a lifetime's worth of baggage (both figuratively and literally) so awkward it prohibits even rest? Or, does the weight of anxiety about the remaining years prevent us from slamming on the brakes to stop and simply be?
Finding beauty in boredom, a talent normally attributed to ascetics, is a skill I find myself fighting to master. Jim Harrison, famous for Legends of the Fall but revered by myself and many others as bard and gourmand extradoardinaire, wrote an illuminating statement about the dull town of Lincoln, Nebraska, "On your first visit you will sense a haunting boredom that, on following trips, you will recognize as Life herself without rabid hype".
Life herself without rabid hype.
I recently lunched with a friend who riddled me with a rapid volley of questions related to my two-year old habit of running: How many times a week do you run? How long does it take? What do you think about when you are running? Are you able to work on projects while you run?
It's a natural response, we all do it: calculate every activity by how much it will cost, ascertain whether we can multi-task in order to accomplish more. Nothing wrong with this, smart people always count the cost and as you age and acquire more responsibilities, it becomes a crucial discipline. But I had to ask myself, what if I gained nothing tangible? Nothing significant? What if this activity robs me of precious hours and yields...nothing?
Initially, when I started running, I acquired an almost immediate return on my investment: I lost weight, felt better, kicked some meds and all the natural benefits health bores brag about when discussing their newly minted physical activity. But now when I run, I don't achieve, I don't accomplish and I don't think about much of anything and I'm still in good company, celebrated Japanese author and runner Haruki Murakami once wrote, "I run in order to acquire a void".
On my run today, an eight miler that lingered forever westward, I stumbled across a cow calving near a dried up brook amid a thicket of summer scorned poplar trees. As I watched the two young twin calves stumble to their feet, I realized, were I not trodding my aimless peregrination to nowhere I would have never seen it. Annie Dillard once wrote that nature is a "now-you-don't-see-it, now-you-do" affair and had I not been consumed with nothing in particular, I would have missed something simply spectacular. I was reminded of Jim Harrison's ambrosial poem, The Golden Window, (an excerpt):
I hope to define my life, whatever is left, by migrations, south and north with the birds and far from the metallic fever of clocks, the self staring at the clock saying, "I must do this." I can't tell the time on the tongue of the river in the cool morning air, the smell of the ferment of greenery, the dust off the canyon's rock walls, the swallows swooping above the scent of raw water.
An equilibrium of sorts must be attained and if unattainable, at the very least kept in mind. Very few of us can escape life's incessant demands so easily and though I never intend to permanently escape, I do plan to occasionally evade, if merely for a short but glorious season. "I must find a balance somewhere, or an alternating rhythym between these two extremes; a swinging of the pendulum between solitude and communion, between retreat and return. In my periods of retreat, perhaps I can learn something to carry back into my worldly life," - Anne Morrow Lindberg.
My personal oasis is a pair of trail shoes, little-to-no accouterments, and an iron will to chase sunsets down Oklahoma dirt roads. What's your sanctum? Biking? Sailing? Reading? I'd love to hear about it.
(By the way, you might enjoy an article my friend Danny sent me, The Busy Trap by Tim Kreider. After reading it, I was inspired to untangle my thoughts about the subject here on this blog, just to remind myself how important not doing a damn thing really is. Thanks, Danny).
(Cross-posted on Branded Matters, Bobby lehew).