“The living world moves in pulses. Gusts of wind are punctuated by relative stillness. Musical notes resonate within the padding of silence. Rest and motion require one another for balance, beauty and life. Yet somehow we’ve built a culture that demands the impossible: leaving the tap on and emitting our own energy in constant deluge.”Lauren L. Hill, “Minding My Mothers” in Dumbo Feather, 2020, 8-9.
I saw it on Buzzfeed: 27 ways to get your sh*t together. Who knew there were so many. Or that my sh*t was so deep. According to the Urban Dictionary, when our lives are ‘together’, our thoughts are straight and the future under control. It sounds good to me.
I don’t like mess. I don’t like things out of control. Chaos drives me mad. I prefer life that’s ordered — to know where I’m going and to move there with purpose. The trouble is, sh*t happens. I’ve learned the hard way that chaos is part of life. No matter how careful the plans, things go awry—aspirations fizzle, relationships break, and schedules overheat. Regardless of how together we are, our daily lives are ordered and random, fortuitous and unfortunate, and often all in the same hour.
When it comes to the language of spirituality, chaos gets a bad rap. It’s assumed that a centred life is one that moves progressively away from chaos — it’s a journey to serenity. It sounds great, but it’s rarely true. The fact is, even in a meaningful life a good dose of chaos is par for the course. Even more, the disordered sh*t is as spiritually formative as the together kind.
The demonisation of chaos has at least three side effects worth naming. First, it can leave us feeling like failures. If we assume chaos to be a sign of dysfunction, we become blind to moments of beauty that are part of our daily, disordered lives. The fact is, it’s often in chaos that we laugh most heartily, feel most deeply, and reach out most readily for the help of others. Second, it can deny us opportunities for growth. The hard truth for me is this: things flourish in the midst of chaos that die on the ordered vine. Chaos begets life and wisdom; chaos begets patience, humility, forbearance, and dependence. As much as I hate to admit it, I grow as much in chaos as I do by quiet streams. Third, it can stultify creativity. It’s a fact of nature that in the midst of chaos the dynamism of growth flourishes. Some of the most astounding beauty in the world flows naturally from bedlam.
Certainly, for a religious bloke like me, there is one more affirmation of chaos that is the most startling of all. The sacred text of my faith makes an unavoidable point: chaos can be the power, the wisdom and the freedom of God in our midst. An element of chaos, it seems, is the stuff of life with God. Apparently, I can’t live without it.
Michael Leunig, The Curly Pyjama Letters, Ringwood: Viking (Penguin), 2001.
At Collins Street, our 5pm community is currently exploring the practices of faith. In a series we’ve called Finding Our Way, we’re taking another look at some of the ‘disciplines’ Christians have come to value — routine practices that have proved effective pathways to maturity in faith and life. Last night we discussed the practices of sabbath and rest.
Though I hate beginning a conversation with a confession of failure — appearances of virtue are always so much more attractive — last night I had no choice. The last couple of months, my personal commitments to rest have gone out the window. A weariness has taken hold that bears no lasting good for me, my family or the community I lead. I know myself well enough to understand this. Acting on that understanding is less than easy, but I also know I am never without choice. There is a reason we describe sabbath-keeping as a discipline. In a society driven by the values of productivity, rest will never come easily. It requires a level of intentionality and choice …. over and over again.
In preparing for last night, I went back and read a little article I wrote more than a decade ago. Though a bit dated now, it was good for me to be rebuked by my own words. Perhaps it’s time for less talk and more practice.
To read the article, you can click on the image below.
I love to walk. Meandering, slowly and without a destination. For me, walking is thinking, day-dreaming, watching … even praying. As a city resident, I do mine mostly at night and, often, I’m restored. However, when it comes to the more daily pedestrian journeys—from home to work or from office to meeting—I notice my impatience. Meanderers drive me up the wall. I have places to be.
A few years back, the British psychologist Robert Wiseman measured the speed at which people walk in thirty-two city centres across the world. He then compared his findings with similar research conducted a decade earlier and found an average 10% increase in walking speed. It seems the fast lane is getting faster.
According to Wiseman, the outcomes are concerning. Other research shows that people in fast-moving cities are far less inclined to help those in need and significantly more prone to heart disease and other health related problems. The faster our pace, the less healthy we and our communities are likely to be.
‘This simple measurement provides a significant insight into the physical and social health of a city. The pace of life in our major cities is now much quicker than before. This increase in speed will affect more people than ever, because for the first time in history the majority of the world’s population are now living in urban centre.’
The psychology, in Wiseman’s thinking, is that people’s walking pace is determined by ‘how much they think they’re in a hurry—how quickly they think they should be doing things’—yet often bears little resemblance to the real urgency of daily life. He concludes that we need to be asking ourselves some important questions about the attitudes and assumptions that colour our daily routines and, ultimately, impact our neighbourhoods.
Some questions worth asking:
1) Do you seem to glance at your watch or mobile phone more than others?
2) When someone takes too long to get to the point, do you feel like hurrying them along?
3) Are you often the first person to finish at meal times?
4) When walking, do you get frustrated if stuck behind others?
5) Would you be irritable if you sat for an hour doing nothing?
6) Do you walk out of shops if you encounter a short queue?
7) In slow-moving traffic, do you seem to get more annoyed than other drivers?
If the ‘yes’ list outweighs the negative, perhaps it’s time to take a slow walk and do some rethinking. It certainly is for me.
Richard Wiseman, Quirkology: The Curious Science of Everyday Lives, Macmillan, 2007.
Image: Melbourne Street (melbournestreet.net)
I’ve just returned from a week’s leave. I took a friend’s good advice and didn’t touch my email while I was gone. Not once. Not even a peek. The trouble is, as I settle back in this morning the in-box overflows. As I watch the counter tally up the grand total for the week, I slump into my seat. It’s all I can do to pull myself up and order another coffee.
Amidst the offers to improve my sex life (very disconcerting!), there’s the usual long list of requests, notices, forwards, demands and reminders—most flagged urgent. Then there are the agendas for meetings and their endless attachments, and links to professional associations and journals begging to be read. It feels like a forbidding mountain to scale before I can do anything else.
I remember when I first encountered email, it was captivating and wonderful. I was living overseas at the time and contact with home had never been easier. Today it feels like a bind. As I stare at the in-tray I feel more imprisoned than liberated. Then again, given the choice to do without I’d probably say no. In a startlingly short period it’s become as necessary as the telephone. I like it. I loathe it. I need it.
Granted, I’m not a technophile. But I’ve never been more conscious of technology’s impact upon my daily life than I am today. Call me a slow learner. Perhaps it’s the now eternal presence of my smart phone. Or the 24-hour wireless internet connection at home. I’ve never been so ‘in touch’ or accessible.
In an idiosyncratic but fascinating book The Tyranny of the Moment, Danish Anthropologist Thomas Hylland Eriksen explores the impact of information technology on our lives. He’s no Luddite, but he does call us to think more about the consequences of our dependence and make more proactive choices about the place of these technologies in our daily routines.
Here’s a few of the impacts that Eriksen identifies:
It fills the gaps: every moment is saturated and the empty spaces vanish. We talk on the phone as we walk down the street, text friends and contacts while commuting on the tram, surf the internet or review work documents while sitting in a café. As every spare moment is filled, creativity and imagination struggle for breath.
It pickles us in information: we’ve never been more information-rich. We no longer have to go looking for it; it comes to us. We are bombarded relentlessly with ‘bits’ of information, each one unrelated to the next. We are progressively pickled in it. Protecting yourself from the 99 per cent of info you’ll never need is the daily challenge, as is discerning what’s really important.
It creates a new form of poverty: while we may be information-rich, we face new forms of scarcity. Elements of life most threatened include: •slow time •security •predictability •belonging and stable identities •coherence and understanding •cumulative, linear, organic growth •real flesh-and-blood experiences.
It nurtures an addiction to speed: where the acceleration of daily life is omnipresent, slowness becomes an intolerable inconvenience. And it touches everything. The addictive force of speed can deprive us of the gift of slowness, a gift we lose to our peril.
Eriksen’s concludes his book with a list of recommendations. Here are some of them:
1. What can be done quickly, should be done quickly.
2. Dawdling is a virtue and should be honoured in its rightful place.
3. Slowness needs protection. If unprotected, it will be consumed by the relentless force of speed.
4. Delays can be embraced as blessings in disguise.
5. The logic of the wood cabin (places that value slow time) deserves to be globalised.
6. Be aware: all decisions exclude as much as they include.
7. Most things one will never need to know about. So relax!