Recently, I’ve been thinking of our consumer obsession with getting to where we want to go. We move quickly, in comfort, multitasking with music, tech toys, travel mugs of coffee, fast food.
Once up on the parkway I did an experiment while camping. I traveled the same stretch of road first driving, then biking and finally walking. Driving got me quickly from point A to destination B with little effort. Biking was more fun and challenging. Walking was more sensual, an experience of sun, wind, earth under foot. Walking was harder but was eventually more fulfilling.
Classic works of literature, like The Wizard of Oz, are about journeys rather than destinations. If Dorothy had taken a trek through the magical kingdom in an SUV loaded with name brand gear the story wouldn't have much meaning. She would never have met the odd characters, experienced personal trials and revelations from behind the safety of shatter proof glass, traveling at 65 miles an hour. Sometimes a little heat, cold, rain, bugs, bathroom behind a tree, is a good thing.
Mythologist Joseph Campbell often spoke of the Hero’s Journey. Cultural stories of descending to underworlds, getting lost, wandering without maps. Even today, some make fortunes promoting the cult of efficiency then pay big money to take dangerous challenging treks, climbing Mt. Everest, under their own power. I have friends with busy, efficient lives planning once a year diving trips. They are bonded by slowly descending into deep, often dangerous, foreign waters.
Two years ago I took the Virginia Master Naturalist training. A naturalist’s challenge is learning to move slower. We watch, listen, get down on knees to study critters and earth bound plants. The efficient life of getting to that one special mountain view or fishing hole means less while learning of life all around and finding interest in it.
Cults produce opposites too. The cult of efficiency is, I think, producing increased demand for hand made crafts signed by local artists, home grown foods sold by real live humans we can talk to at farmer’s markets. A new young generation is hiking, biking, floating. Even sitting in silence on meditation pillows in a Zendo, going no where, but traveling inside again, is becoming trendy.
If we chose breaking the spell of the “cult of efficiency" we’ll have to learn again the value of moving and doing slowly. Mystics, artists, lovers, even scientists remind us of the illusion of time, as we experience it. I’m trying to slow down, take a breath and enjoy the scenery more. Often when driving I pull over and let cars pass. I’m very capable of driving fast. Driving slower may not be good for business but can be good for the soul.
Efficiency won’t go away. We need machine-like efficiency for some goods, gear, especially computers and electronics we can’t live without. But we don’t need to be enslaved by efficiency.
As one saying goes, “Life is short, we should move very slowly.”
--Devan Malore lives on the fringe of Lexington, where he's busily working at slowing down.
NOTE from Martha: I'm happy to report that the WMRA blog gets a lot of traffic. I'm less happy to report that the WMRA Civic Soapbox blog gets much less. So, in an effort to get the excellent C.S. essays more out there on the blogosphere, I'm going to experiment with posting them Fridays on the WMRA blog.