21st Century Living, 4x4s, BREXIT, Celebrity, CO2, Consumerism, Deceleration, East Sussex, Hoorays, Hyper Vigilance, Lewes, Living In The Now, London, Meaning, Metropolis, Mindfulness, Newton, Old people, prosperity, RangeRovers, Remain, Renewables, Southern Rail, thriving
Speed of life is a funny thing.
(Funny obtuse that is, as opposed to funny Ha Ha)
From what I can tell, it seems that the faster we go, the less we seem to actually do: relatively.
Or to be more precise, the more our doing becomes about the speed at which we do it, the less it becomes about the thing we’re doing.
It seems that in pursuit of speeding up the process of doing something we transform it. The relentless acceleration of the task pushes it to a tipping point where ultimately, thereafter, that task becomes secondary to the process or system by which we accelerate it and the accelerant we use to do so.
We stop doing something faster.
Going faster becomes what we do.
“What are you doing?”
“No idea! But Christ I’m doing it super hyper fast. AND I’m connected to a squillion people so not only am I doing it faster – I am sharing it faster. I am not only a speeding bullet but also a skin-searing wildfire. I’m going like awesome shit-off-a-tech-shovel, me.”
I’d always hoped that there was a simple equal and opposite (satanic Newtonian shyster that I am) to the hyper accelerating self.
For some time I’d put my money on the ‘car-crash slo-mo’ of our primal sensory faculty, which, when engaged by danger or crisis, helps us maintain some semblance of equilibrium and control in that moment by slowing everything down to enable us to comprehend and avoid the particular parts of it that may well, well, be the death of us.
But my monkey/pigeon/lizard brain’s ability to shutter down the speed of any one hyper-fast occurrence, thereby allowing me to scrutinise every infinitesimal piece of detail and information and subsequently better navigate and ride its turbulence doesn’t lead me to avoiding the worst of its consequences. It simply leads me to developing a greater ability to absorb utterly meaningless stuff at speed through the porous edges of the moment.
So that’s not helping me.
The other thing that might have been well-placed to put some brakes on the worst vestiges of my hyper accelerated self would have been Mindfulness.
But Nope. Not doing it for me either. I mean, I get it. To learn and properly understand what it means to live in the Now. To remove the distractions of past and future, to truly concentrate on the moment you are in, appreciate it, bathe in it, turn it over in one’s palm like a polished stone: a remarkable ability.
My only concern is that the Now, devoid of past or future – experience and potential, memory or dream, and all of the information both emotional and rational that comes with them – seems incomplete to me.
Mindfulness seems to do the very opposite for me of what it should do. I kick out any traces to allow me to super-focus on the moment – a form of hyper-vigilance of the Now – but I end up with a load of random other stuff pouring into the spaces left behind – spaces I’d rather fill with the past and future brackets that should encase each experience.
So, what else?
A shift in context and environment perhaps? Well, again, yes, to an certain extent.
Having moved from London to Lewes has compelled me to exist at a pleasantly slower pace of life some of the time.
(At which juncture I’d like to thank Southern Rail profusely for their concerted and sustained efforts in disavowing me of the idea that I live on a highly efficient arterial rail line into and out of the breath-taking speed of the metropolis.)
But like mindfulness, for all of one’s best endeavours, the slower Now of Lewes is forever bracketed by what has gone before (chasing the dollar in London) and what follows (chasing the said same dollar). So solely relying on context and environment alone are not the answer.
And in our relentlessly connected world one can never really escape the accelerant of prosperity.
Even in sleepier Lewes, the long shadow of thriving, or what constitutes the current shiny, slebby ‘got stuff’ model of it, seeps into everything.
Lewes has a great mixture of types: it’s not all DownFromLondons like me.
You have the My F@*%ng Red Trousers of the hollowed-out East Sussex Hooray and their crisply Lavender-ironed wife – the ex-Brighton burn-out, sporting a dog on a string and blue dip-dyed hair shaved on one side clutching a gig flyer – the blue-cloud green-horizon landscape of artsy-craftsy Sussex potter/painter/candlestick and scatter cushion maker – the vintage Linen Interior of the LifeStyle shop owner– the white Sussex Van Man & Scaffolder Bloke, bastion of BREXIT, with a vocal dislike of anything or anyone foreign or exotic; apart from the ‘Chinky’ Chinese and that ‘Itie’ Pizza Place of course.
(Their cultural myopia seems to simply melt away like a wood fired Quattro Formaggi amidst the scrolling menu of Just Eat and Deliverooo. Note to Self: Deliveroo as the Open University of Multi-Culturalism – a distribution platform for culturally enlightening and Pro Remain data and facts to Little England).
And there’s plenty of the Hunt Supporter tractor-chic squad here to fill the spaces between the stripped oak floorboards of Lewes society.
And then of course we have that herd of shining individuals, floating above the ground, thrusting towards Waitrose in their hovercrafts of enrichment.
The gleaming lines of Range Rovers and Landrovers (and every other over specified, under-utilised 4X4 you care to mention) with their wholly unused Hi Lo gear ratios (the cockyx of the car world – a left-over from the cars once utlitarian past – not dissimilar to the vestige of a tail that we carry behind us) whooshing up and down the high street – are busy as they are in the furious industry of Doing Well.
(Hands up who leases their 4×4? I rest my case.)
There is no absence of the merry middle class dance here. All manner and strata of people parking up outside elaborately ordained pubs on weekends for overpriced Sunday Roasts and a scrum of collective thriving, cawing loudly of new this and expensively experienced that; of particular schools and exotic holidays – puffing up the brightly-coloured wings of their success, clutching menus like divining rods to the well of contentment hidden somewhere in front of them, just out of sight and reach.
They’re certainly not going to help me decompress from the consuming rush of 21st century existence.
So; the standard socio-economic ladder meets tribal segmentation of life offers little to ease the accelerating self.
In fact, with one’s ears too wide open and a thinner skin on, quite the opposite might happen here. Devoid as charming market towns are of the anonymity of the blurring vari-speed white waters of a city – everyone gets drawn even further into the accelerated need to succeed under the hot spotlight of local visibility.
BUT there is one group – a higher tribe – rendered by life experience and tenure rather than by culture creed profession or class – to whom homage pays dividends.
And they are the source of my new self-penned Sioux-like name – Walks Slowly With Old Folks.
For someone who walks far too quickly at the best of times (as to whether I am walking away from myself or towards someone or something more interesting I’ve not yet fathomed), slowing down to the walking speed of old people is a remarkable fillip to an accelerated or accelerating life.
Various things happen:
Sight – old people spend less time furiously concentrating on the aspect and angle of their trajectory though life – which means they have more time to be aware of what is immediately about them. They don’t suffer what I like to call Thrive Blindness (the loss of the ability to see what’s immediately in front and around us that comes from rushing towards the next ratchet of prosperity.) That’s a good thing.
Connection – old people are far more capable of engaging with those around them because they are not moving so fast that they ‘can’t stop’. Watching various professionally busy White Rabbits (always so terribly late for some important date) in grave danger of tripping over their own feet if they were for one moment expected to stop, turn and actually engage with another human other than those whom might improve their situation makes for little easing in the speed of life dept.
Smell – old people exist in an old world model of associated scent. Simply put, when you slow down your speed of passage through the world you actually smell the environment you are in or are travelling through. Sight and sound and smell and the emotions they generate are more likely to remain in tact, inextricably connected to each other as they should be. A rushed life leads to misappropriation of smells, constantly slung as they are to a newer or abstracted reference point, as opposed to the one just that actually created them.
Mortality – old people exist in far greater proximity to their own demise. They do not need the trending self help manual du jour to tell them that every moment is precious, especially those spent in pursuit of the things that make us truly happy. Relentlessly reminded as they are by the passing of their friends and peers and the shrinking of time in which that passing occurs, they don’t need help making the most of the Now. Its all they have left. The clarity that comes from being able to count the springs summers autumns and Christmases they have left in which to enjoy these things is a tainted gift.
The other observation is that there seems to be a better balance of sensibilities when Old people are present. They are an off-set strategy – renewables of humanity amidst the dirty coal of the industrious being of youth. Trees to the CO2 of an accelerating tech-fuelled life.
So it is my intention at every opportunity to Walk Slowly With Old Folks. Because even at their grumpiest, they prove that all of us eventually will shrug off this distemper of the projected, accelerated and visibly successful self, and replace it with something far more meaningful.
Three cheers (and a walking frame) for that.