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Guest blogger J. Douglas Holladay is the Founder of PathNorth, Inc.
One of the unintended consequences of a 24-7 blackberry/twitter world is that our attentions are seldom focused. During the inaugural, I met a pro athlete who told me that several thousand people were following his every (and I mean every) move through a new technology: twitter (My question, who cares? But obviously I am wrong...many do). Like me, you likely flit from activity to activity, crisis to crisis...overwhelmed and even 'high' on movement and stimulus trying to take in all that is available. For many of us, the elusive goal of simply trying to get on top of our lives seems unachievable. We are spending more and more time with our ipods, iphones, computers, and other slick devices and less and less time with people or pondering. Yes, pondering; observing, being struck by the awe and pain of life and the simple things around us.
One of my dear friends and mentors, John Whitehead, former Chairman of Goldman Sachs, did something incredible when he was running the firm. John would take off the month of August each year and was 'unreachable'. Is that insane or what? But just possibly, the greatest of the man’s virtues lies in this discipline of breaking the insane rhythms of busyness.
17th century French thinker Blaise Pascal observed, “Nothing is so intolerable to man as being fully at rest, without a passion, without business, without entertainment, without care.” Even back then he spoke of 'diversions' or activities simply intended to take up our time, preventing us from thinking, observing, listening, or feeling. And that was in the 17th century (Wouldn't you love to see a debate between Blaise Pascal and Steve Jobs of Apple...but then all is possible -'yes, we can!'- given the new technologies).
Sometime back, I came across the social experiment the Washington Post did with Joshua Bell on the Metro in Washington, DC. I was reminded of it again when John Gray from Orlando kindly sent it my way recently. It raises a number of important questions: Do we have time to take in beauty? Is listening to our surroundings a lost art? Is there any such thing as 'private' space in our lives any more? Do we have eyes to see? What is this relentless movement and stimuli actually doing to our heath... not having any restorative time?
The ancient wise men who in collaboration with God thought of the idea of a Sabbath might have been on to something. For centuries, 'blue laws' were typically observed even in secular cultures. The reasoning was that we needed a day free from work to rest, gain perspective, and focus upon the truly important things in life. Such 'limits' were deemed good for society, families, and individuals. Now, with the 24-7 world we live in, this is gone. So, I ask: Is that progress?
An assignment for me (and possibly you) might be to decide that next week you are going to do two things. First, block out two consecutive hours where you can merely think, sit, and walk. The key here is to have no agenda. This might be incredibly difficult for some of us. But, it should provide an excellent opportunity to learn about yourself. Take notes. Why was it so uncomfortable for some yet so energizing for others? Second, observe and write down 5 things that you typically might not 'see' unless you determined to do so. Pay attention to the mosaics in the lobby of your office building, the contours of a tree at dusk, listening to a great aria in a dark room, etc. There is beauty all around and it will feed our souls if we allow it. The trouble is that we live in cultures that don't prize the acts of pondering and observing. Our world celebrates 'action'. We are producing children that are driven...but to what end. Will they be 'richer' inside or merely richer?
Oops, got to go. I am a busy man! (The currency of our time is busyness...are we busy being busy?)
What is this life, full of care. if we have no time to stand and stare. -w.h. davies
Be alert to what truly matters!