When I was a boy, my sister and I always looked forward to jumping in the family car and going with our parents clear across the country for our annual vacation. We’d finally get time alone with them, a rarity in our house due to their busy teaching schedule.
Actually, the trip was a bittersweet experience. You see, our parents wanted to cram in as much learning into those vacations as possible. So we’d speed off to the Grand Canyon and spend a half hour there, hit the road for the native ruins at Mesa Verde, and after a half hour, we head out for Chaco Canyon, and so forth. You can imagine how much driving we did in a week’s time.
Both my sister and I wanted to stop and smell the sweet wildflowers and watch the great eagles soar. But there just wasn’t time.
What we really wanted was more time with our parents just to be a family and to dream. Although we loved our parents we never really got to know them, nor did they ever get to know us. We moved in that fast lane and didn’t know what we were missing.
It wasn’t until we took our own kids on car trips that we learned a whole new way of living. Nowadays, on car trips with our children, we stop everywhere and anywhere. Rarely do we ever get to where we were planning to go. We have too much fun getting there. Smelling the flowers, hanging out together and dreaming is all we need to know.
These days too many of us live in the fast lane in search of success and mythical security, and we miss out on the joys of simple living.
The faster we go, the more out of touch we are with ourselves, each other and what really matters in life. Chasing careers, working ungodly hours and buying bigger and bigger houses as soon as possible may suggest that we are really getting somewhere. Certainly driving luxury cars, sending kids to private schools and having big screen TVs may signal that we have arrived.
But have we? Are we really happier with all this rushing around? Does our life really have more meaning when we have to return umpteen calls (or texts) on our cell phones, chaperone our children to innumerable after-school functions and do 100 Pilates next to our desk to have thin thighs during the 15 minutes we call lunch.
I don’t think so.
Today we are all so busy we hardly even know what questions to ask. Our life is a blur. Like the children in the story above, we are going from one amazing place to another but we are amazed at nothing. Maybe we’ve lost the ability to be amazed at all and don’t even know it.
In the culture of busyness
Jose Ortega y Gasset, a famous Hispanic philosopher, once said, “I am me plus my context. If I cannot change my context, I cannot change me.” Clearly he was telling us that we are the creations of our culture more than we realize. We become what we imitate.
So what do we do in our culture? We multitask — text messages on cell phones, download hip-hop, check fantasy football scores on dish networks and constantly scroll e-mails, often all simultaneously while tending our children, sitting across from dear friends at lunch and privately obsessing about the best health care facilities for parents who are showing premature signs of dementia.
Life in the fast lane is multitasking. If we can’t multitask, we are called hyperactive and need medication. If we can multitask, we think we’re successful and chic.
If you endorse culture, you’re on the endless treadmill of delivering the goods.Unfortunately, when you buy into culture, busyness never ends. If you are a new graduate with large student loans at your first good job after years of school, you will work evenings and weekends to offset the downsizing at your workplace. Surely you’re not comforted by the disingenuous promise that such work demands are only temporary until more help can be hired to relieve you. But help isn’t just around the corner.
Indeed the frantic expectations of living the busy life at work only follow you home to family life. You know the routine: As you’re spraying all the surfaces in your house with disinfectant to prevent horrible diseases, you’re hastily putting together some semblance of a family dinner thankfully prepared by Simon Delivers, helping all the children complete their endless homework assignments and projects to make the college of their choice someday and frequently using “I-thou” statements to your spouse as recommended by Dr. Phil to prevent infidelity.
Modern life is all about fulfilling one expectation after another. If you endorse culture, you’re on the endless treadmill of delivering the goods.
Finally the last moments of the day are for you. So you put your feet up on the sofa and finally settle in for some quiet time alone with the TV. Between unending drug advertisements, you are warned in the newscast about the latest food contamination horror stories and alerted to yet another tragedy.
Some of us are so busy we hardly get to sleep before we have to prepare for the next day’s busyness. We lead a sleep-deprived life. That’s how some very good people are often turned into zombies. It’s not the people who are nuts; it’s the culture. The pressure to imitate others gets us moving but it denies meaning in our lives.
What we miss with busyness
Certainly mastering the latest technology and doing 10 things simultaneously is something to be proud of. It takes a lot of smarts to cope with modern life.
However, smarts aren’t everything, and most of us rarely feel proud of ourselves for even being good at anything we do. Why is that? It’s because we have lost the ability to be awed at all.
In our frenzied trance states we don’t live in the present moment, we aren’t in touch with our bodies and don’t allow ourselves the time to take in the wondrous strengths in others or ourselves. In fact, with all our activity we may have lost the ability to feel anything at all. We stay busy because that’s what we think we’re supposed to do to be successful.
Unfortunately we wind up being mechanical whizzes living in a flat two-dimensional world. Some of us never ascend into a three-dimensional world.
Why are feelings so important? They’re the difference between looking at a picture postcard of Niagara Falls and actually being at Niagara Falls to experience the soft mist and thunderous roar of cascading waters as they fall downstream in a miracle of nature. They’re the difference between kissing and holding our children and merely looking at their pictures on the Internet. They’re the difference between receiving the supreme tenderness from our beloved or walking through life alone and untouched.
Emotions create memories with our dear ones, give our lives purpose and direct us to universal truths beyond our own existence. Feelings create stories that are told from one generation to the next. With alive hearts we can confidently commit ourselves to being joined to a partner for a lifetime; we can surely know that we are loved and lovable no matter how flawed we are; we can however awkwardly fit in joyously with a larger community.
When we savor the dearness of loved ones and cuddle with them, nothing bad can ever really happen to us. We can defat death itself. That’s what we miss with being too busy.
Why we always need to be on the go
You might ask, “If feelings are so great, why are people so reluctant to have them?”
It’s because if we accept all the good feelings in our lives we will also have to face our hidden painful feelings that we have not dealt with, facing the risk of our potential unlovability. After all, how can we let good things happen to us when we feel so undeserving of them?
We make a religion out of self-sufficiency.So many of us push good feelings away, like the authentic devotion of a partner, so that we don’t have to feel the pain of past rejections or risk losing real love from a dear one once again. Denying the good banishes the bad, at least temporarily.
Actually we push bad feelings away, not because we can’t handle them, but because we lead isolated lives. People today resist personal and community support to heal and grow; instead they opt for the impersonal world of staying alone at home with electronica. We make a religion out of self-sufficiency. Consequently we stay flat, joining the 18 million Americans who are depressed.
In fact, depression and suicide rates have increased considerably over the last 30 years, especially among teenagers who suicide rate has increased threefold. The result is that people today need a quick fix and crave the frenzied life. Triple espressos, media hype, road rage and crazy busyness are all ways we cut off our feelings and chase the proverbial carrot of happiness on the stick.
We move fast not because we want to really get somewhere but because we want to get away from where we’ve already been. Busyness is our supposed antidepressant.
However, busyness is a real depressant. The more we do it, the less meaning our lives will have, the more isolated we have become and the busier we will have to be.
Savoring life in the slow lane
Clearly there’s a time and place for fast living. Getting to the emergency room our to happen in the fast lane and riding a roller coaster at slow speed is really no thrill. However, when you lead your whole life as if you’re always on a roller coaster and feel nothing at all, there really is a problem. I call this problem “crazy busy.”
When you’re not having family meals together, when you forget what day of the week it is due to overwork, when there is no affectionate or sexual parts to your life, and when you lack regular times in your week set aside just for yourself to do nothing, then you are being crazy busy. You are missing out on life big time.
Most of us say, “There just isn’t enough time.” Actually it’s the other way around. We don’t make the time because we don’t want to feel, and we’re not so sure that anybody could ever really love us anyway. If we look busy and constantly stay on the go we won’t ever have to ask somebody to sit next to us by the lake and watch the swans go by.
Of course, not only will we miss the splendor of a setting sun and the smell of fresh dew on summer grass, we will also miss our own inner brilliance and the awareness that we are more than what we do.
If you choose to slow down, do it slowly as a family. Unplug the TV and all electronics at least for periods of time. Unschedule extracurricular activities and opt for some time together having family dinners, taking long walks in the woods, reading heartfelt books to each other, doing a community project as a family and visiting with friends and safe family members.
Above all, get rid of all cell phones. Allow no interruptions. Realize that family time is sacred time and that everything essential your children will ever need is stored in family time. Resist the urge to worry about what colleges your children will get into, how socially scarred they will be if they don’t make the soccer team, and how you need to make everything a learning experience. Strike a balance between busyness and idleness.
Most of the silly worry we parents do about our children is really about ourselves. We believe we have to give our children everything because what we already have to offer them is insufficient. Most of us parents don’t’ believe we are good enough. Believe me — imperfect as it is — your love for children in the slow lane is more than good enough. It’s usually all there is to life and what your children will remember throughout their lives.
Be forewarned. Your kids may initially resist the slow lane since they are wired to move and be stimulated. They may complain that life without electronics is boring. Heaven forbid.
When kids act this way they are just testing you. They’re afraid that you will not have enough faith in yourself to love them just as you are (and as they are). Believe me, if you resonate to the themes in this article, you are more than enough for your children and your children are dying to know you.
If you slow down and feel, you’ll discover what you’re missing.
John H. Driggs, LICSW, is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in private practice in St. Paul and co-author of Intimacy Between Men.
This article was first published in our January 2007 issue.
Last Updated on July 29, 2022