My compulsion to accomplish is fueled by a computer the size of the pack of cigarettes my mom used to slide into her purse. It serves as my calendar, my watch, my address book, and my to-do list. Its podcasts accompany me on my morning walks with my dog. One day recently, our workout stretched longer than usual, beyond the length of the hour-long program I typically listen to. With a quarter-mile to go before my loop returned me home, I pulled the buds out of my ears and stuffed my iPod into my pocket. It felt like a courageous act.
I don’t think I’m alone in my uneasiness with such moments of seeming non-productivity. There’s so much in 21st Century American life that denies inherent value in strolling, ambling, proceeding without hurry or efficiency. Portable devices allow us to learn foreign languages, listen to books, and attend lectures, all while we work out, make dinner, pull weeds, or wash dishes.
Such current-day multi-tasking mania feeds my fears of sloth, conceived in my Midwest, Missouri Synod Lutheran upbringing. Yet, even after thirty years of sitting in silent Quaker meetings, I resisted those fifteen minutes of quiet at the end of my walk. I’ve covered that stretch of beach leading to my house thousands of times, but for an embarrassingly large number of them, I’ve failed to register the lick of the water, the whisper of the breeze through the sea grasses, the taunts of the eagles and crows, the palette of greens in the pines and blues in the bay, the pungent musk as my shoes slime across bundles of washed-up seaweed. If I’d scrolled to another episode on my playlist, had succumbed to the pull to achieve, I might have ignored them once again.
Poet Julie Larios would approve of my recent act of courage. She was guest faculty last week at my MFA in Creative Writing program and commanded us to be attentive idlers, to commit to time spent letting life into us. Good advice for my writing—and my spiritual journey.