Take a Hike, Man
Last week I was feeling the pressure: Full-time work, with all the physical and mental challenges of relaxing every massage client who walked in the door; Overtime work to cover the costs of my upcoming vacation; A curriculum to write for my upcoming clinic training; The surprising (and expensive) death of the starter on my Honda Civic; The ongoing fatigue of pushing maxweight in Stronglifts 5×5. Plus a random assortment of other life stresses.
I needed a break.
I thought about it and after getting some advice from a friend decided I needed to go spend some time in nature. I live about 15 minutes from the beach so that seemed like the obvious choice. I grabbed my walking shoes, cued up some music on my phone and headed out.
Generally every minute of my week is booked so on my weekends I try to stay as unscheduled as possible. Ideally I take both Friday and Saturday off, but no matter what I have a hard-and-fast rule that I never work seven days a week. As I headed towards the beach, I accelerated onto the freeway and was about to do what I usually do and merge immediately across all lanes into the fast lane.
Life In The Fast Lane
Now if you live in Southern California, you know that the fast lane is where you need to be. Driving in traffic is a pain in the ass and the fast lane is the best choice to get where you need to go as quickly as possible. The drivers in the fast lane are aggressive, impatient and highly skilled. The middle lanes are usually full of suburban soccer moms with a vanload of kids, mediocre drivers and people who are merging into or out of the fast lane. You don’t want to drive in the middle lanes. But the worst, by far, is the far right lane – aka The Slow Lane. The Slow Lane is a tangled mess of bad drivers, old people, illegal immigrants, long-haul truckers and crappy cars. Even in drivers training your instructor will make sure that teens merge out of The Slow Lane as quickly as possible.
I hate The Slow Lane. Always have. Someone is always pulling in front of you. You repeatedly have to slam on your brakes. More often than not a car with a top speed of 50mph is clogging traffic. No matter what, I always feel like my time would be better spent doing something other than dodging assholes and staying on the freeway for an extra five or ten minutes.
But for some reason last Saturday I didn’t merge immediately out of The Slow Lane. Maybe it was the great song I was listening to. Maybe there were too many cars in the middle lane. Maybe I was thinking about my beach hike instead of doing my usual race-car calculations. Who knows.
After a few minutes I was shocked to realize I was still in The Slow Lane. Even stranger, I wasn’t pissed off like usual. It was bizarre. I wasn’t checking the lane next to me in my mirror. I wasn’t mentally pushing the car in front of me to go faster. I wasn’t trying to get somewhere. I was just listening to music, feeling the sunshine on my face and driving.
Day-Tripping and Speed Sex
In a strange daze I drove the whole way to the beach in The Slow Lane. I watched other drivers merge in and out around me. I stayed behind a 1970s ford pickup with a modified bed full of lawn clippings. I don’t think my speedometer ever topped 60mph. When I got to the lagoon trail and began hiking through the tall cattails next to the ocean, it felt like my trip was still going. It felt like a trip in both the physical and mental sense – almost like the kind of trip that a guru might make under the influence of hallucinogenic cactus.
I began to wonder about why I’ve hated The Slow Lane so much. I’m always in the fast lane. Every time. But have I ever actually gotten “there,” wherever that is? When will I be done? When will I have “made it”? When will I be successful? Is that success a moment in time? Or maybe a period of time? Is there a way we could stretch that period into months or even years?
It’s just like climaxing. In the western world, sex is about an escalating rush of pleasure and then it’s over. We spend hours or even days planning a sexual experience, building up to it, creating it, and then in a few minutes it’s done. In eastern philosophy, orgasm can last for hours, or even, for the highest spiritual aspirants, as an ongoing experience. (Granted you usually have to give up sex to get that so…tough choice).
The French describe orgasm as ‘le petit mort’ or ‘the little death.’ Perhaps the western world is so afraid of death that they fast-forward everything, even sex.
Geriatrics, Death and Doing the Dishes
Speaking of death, you know who always drives slow? Old people. Old women have giant Buicks or Cadillacs. Old men have classic cars like Model Ts or rebuilt, custom 1960s Corvettes. In some situations they’ll even have horse-drawn buggies drive them around.
For someone in their late 70s, a trip to the grocery store is an event. A visit to the mall could easily be the highlight of the week. But the perspective is different. Old people are almost always busy. Writing letters. Working on crafts. Talking on the phone. Making meals. Visiting with friends. Gardening. Taking walks. Preparing desserts. Playing golf. Playing bridge. Traveling.
Old people do everything slower. It used to drive me crazy helping my grandmother plant her flowers. Potting and fertilizing and watering the roses in the backyard might take me four hours. If I wasn’t around, it would take my grandmother all week. My body was younger and faster, yes, but I had a different motivation for doing it. I wanted to get it done so I could go do other things. She was doing it for the pleasure of doing it.
Thich Nhat Hanh, the famous Buddhist philosopher, was once asked about the daily chore of doing the dishes. He said there are two ways to do the same exact task. One is to wash them to get them done. The other is to consciously experience all the sensations and pleasures and challenges built into the task. Either way is an option but there is a danger in one of those choices:
“If I am incapable of washing dishes joyfully, if I want to finish them quickly so I can go and have a cup of tea, I will be equally incapable of drinking the tea joyfully. With the cup in my hands, I will be thinking about what to do next, and the fragrance and the flavour of the tea, together with the pleasure of drinking it, will be lost. I will always be dragged into the future, never able to live in the present moment.”
Back Into the Fast Lane
As I considered all these things, I ended up driving home in the fast lane, like usual. But this time I was en route to pick up a pizza because I was starving. Hiking is good for the appetite. I drove in the fast lane on the way home and I have driven in the fast lane most days since then. But not every day. I have had a revelation. It’s time for me to start thinking about other ways of traveling and other ways of doing the things I have always done.
It’s time to consider The Slow Lane as an option. It’s time to slow down a little. It’s time for me to start acting like an older person and enjoying the little bits and pieces, easy and hard, rough and smooth, that make up my day and my life.
If you’re feeling like you’re spinning your wheels, exhausted and making no progress, I might recommend taking a few extra minutes and move over to the slow lane. You could find a whole new world to explore.
“If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.”– Cicero, BC 50