As a child, I was scolded by my mother for not walking the most direct route from living room to kitchen to refill a glass of seltzer. To her, a product of the 50’s, efficiency was the rule. Mom had to be conferred during dinner clean up to approve Tupperware choices for leftover ravioli or linguini; she’d screen for precise dimensions of best fits. Her dishwasher lessons were laden; cereal bowls and juice glasses my siblings and I had loaded that morning were extracted from trays and realigned in taut rows clearing space for dirty dinner plates and glasses.
Echoes of my mother’s voice still chide me from crevices of my mind, “Move faster!”, “Don’t waste time!”, “Be exact!”
So, when leaving for a party or a hike with my former boyfriend, if I was ready and he still searching for songbooks or a water bottle, I made good with time. I’d empty the dish rack or pull clothes off the line. This invariably left him waiting, which infuriated him. My practiced productivity proved disrespectful. And, after months of heated discussion and inner wrestling, I managed to forgo doing one more thing and just sit and wait for him.
I benefit in many ways from fruits of good labor, thanks to my mom, yet it‘s dawning on me that good living is made from more than efficiency. Being regimented, walking lock step in form erodes human sensibilities.
So yesterday, I cringed, when sitting in the library I overheard a tutor report to a mom that her son is up to 100 words per minute, but must be reading 120 to be on grade level.
My heart shivered. Are we aspiring to be machines inputting data? What about the boy’s picturing the pine-covered paths and towering canopies? His savoring the stillness, reminiscent of a walk with his grandpa last summer? Being transported to the wooded wonderland?
Such soul succulence is forsaken with speed.
Many life-giving connections are severed in the pursuit of productivity. Time-saving gadgets of the 50’s have evolved into devices that interface with reality, substitute for companionship and do our rightful work. Families forego conversing across dinner tables to text absent coworkers and friends, adults rely on smart phone notifications to prompt them to send a birthday card or call a parent, students type unintelligible words on keyboards leaving computer chips to adjust letters and create meaning. Machines have become our atmosphere, allies and appendages.
So, do we now feel compelled to perform as precisely and rapidly as they?
Last week, a high school student of mine was asked in a reasoning exercise to state the similarities and differences between “brain” and “computer”. He replied, “They’re both used to think, but computers are smarter.”
Aghast, I retorted, “Brains are living! Computers are lifeless!”
He was unmoved.
Machines are generally reliable. They do a specific task a fixed way. Set the coffee maker for 4 cups of dark coffee, go read the paper and await the green light signaling our drink is ready.
Have we come to expect such regularity and automaticity from ourselves and others?
Last week, I was pained to hear my friend, Jan, berate herself for not answering floods of business e-mails in a timely manner. She works 60 hour weeks, hasn’t taken a vacation in years and can’t find a way to slow down the tidal wave of her work much less take a break.
We forget we take as long as folks ever have to respond to each other’s requests, get to know someone, grieve a loved one. Machines give us the illusion we can live quicker. In many ways we strain ourselves, while the sun still takes a day and the moon, a month.
I told Jan about a poet who spoke to folks in corporations about the phases of the moon. Counter to corporate culture of continual growth, he evoked images of this waxing and waning orb, rising and falling in the rhythm of life.
We hold the illusory ideal of constant productivity, I told her. Before machines, folks stopped work when the sun set, rain fell or river froze. This inherent break gave pause to step back, refresh and reimagine. We’ve side-stepped such boundaries and now need to establish our own ebbs and flows to function.
Yeah, tell that to my boss who wants to see money coming in! she replied.
Someday I’ll just crack, she added.
I was disturbed, too, a few weeks back, to hear radio interviewer Terry Gross talk with Anil Ananthaswamy about deeply depressed folks who claim they are not alive— do not exist. July 28, 2015 http://www.npr.org/podcasts/381444908/fresh-air
Caring and befuddled doctors reason, ‘Clearly you’re breathing and moving, I can touch you, you’re here.’
But the poor people protest. Perhaps they know they’re a shell, void of spirit and soul, just some body going through motions.
Don’t we all feel this way at times?
My garden reminds me we are more like plants than machines. We’re birthed from seeds, deep in the womb of life. Not manmade inventions programmed to produce but heavenly creations with purpose. Through ‘in struct ion’ (the state of building structure within) we gain worldly skills and understandings. But these are simply tools for our work of unfolding divine dreams to uplift humanity. (For this, we need ‘e duc ation’, the state of leading out.)
We do not live on bread alone, but by every breath of inspiration and aspiration.
But, we’re too busy to sip nectar from the essence of life, too hurried to dine on deeper truths and chew for meaning. Instead, we swallow whole what comes our way. A pretty face on TV bemoaning white hair, a pressured teacher directing us to use an unexplained formula, an esteemed athlete chanting Crush the opponent! are commands we input and follow.
Yet, unexamined, automatic thinking is deadening. And a message imprinted in childhood can run repeatedly, never questioned in the light of day.
A gentleman suffered with terrible headaches for years. After seeking many cures, he spoke to an Indian medicine man. The healer alerted him, You listen to news, read a magazine article, watch a movie. You have millions of strands of unrelated thoughts you’re straining to try to tie together. You are giving yourself a headache.
My Quaker friend, Joe, told me he stopped his cable subscription, monitors radio and TV input and watches only DVDs he finds enriching. So often we are careful to screen food intake, but ingest any message or image streaming from speakers and computer screens. And we don’t stop when we’re full.
What we uncritically and uncontrollably devour congests our souls.
I believe the root crisis of our time is our disconnection from our Spirits. When we disregard our insight and inspiration and thoughtlessly follow outside orders and inner programs, we become cogs in a machine which disenfranchises ourselves and others and destroys our planet.
The system is daunting, but it runs on our energy.
If we do not cooperate, it cannot function.
When I feel pressured and overstimulated, simply stopping – running errands, writing e-mails, listening to messages – settles me. Thoughts become clear. My spirit breathes, like a flower emerging through a cracked sidewalk.
Learning to sit and wait for my past boyfriend is one victory in many battles of my revolution to repossess my mind.
I am screening for thoughts that are hospitable to the Spirit.