Typically, when I fixate and decide upon something like this my excitement and curiosity compels me to read about it, to talk about it, and to watch videos and documentaries about it. This time is no different. One mini-film I came across during my scouring of the web for all things related to bicycle touring had the hideously bad title of Life Lessons from a 7000 Mile Cycle. On the surface, it’s a short film about cycling a bike around the world, but really, it’s a short film about a different way of life. During it, Jeddidiah Jenkins says, “Routine is the enemy of time”. And you know what? He’s mostly right.
In The Way to Love, Anthony de Mello talks of the sea’s spell:
“Have you ever sat on a seashore spellbound by the majesty and the mystery of the ocean? A fisherman looks at the ocean daily and does not notice its grandeur.”
It’s a beautiful idea. And it’s not new either. The human pursuit of an intense presence is a pursuit that has been ongoing during the entire existence of humanity. But unfortunately, like many beautiful ideas, it is an ideal not an achievable reality. Imagine everyone sought presence instead of productivity. Imagine that we all disavowed work in order to travel and experience. It’s not sustainable. Society depends upon the contribution—the sacrifice—of its users. For one person to travel the world, there has to be ten, or a hundred, or a thousand who are doing the dirty work, making sure it doesn’t all go to shit.
It reminds me of a fundamental philosophical orientation; you can either focus on what the world can do for you, or what you can do for the world. The two stances could be termed, respectively, “presence” and “productivity”. Focusing on “presence”, on absorbing the wonders the world has to offer, on being where you are and doing what you’re doing, conflicts with “productivity”. To fully experience a moment, we can’t have an eye on producing or deriving something from it. We have to have none of our attention turned towards what this moment will yield, and all of our attention on the attempt to immerse ourselves within it.
Naturally, it’s not as black-and-white as it seems. In the same day, we can attend to society’s need for productivity and the human need for presence. But it’s worth keeping in mind that while society demands productivity, our sanity demands presence, and a life well lived is a life that strikes a balance between the two.