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Stop and Look Around

13 03 2012

We live in an age of information overload. Multiple email sources, text messages, phone calls, Facebook, Twitter, hundreds of television channels, YouTube, satellite radio, podcasts, and books that you can get delivered to your ereader in seconds all demand our attention, and are available and running twenty-four hours a day and seven days a week. We have hyper-scheduled lives, moving from destination to destination with our heads buried in our smartphones, dodging things and people in our path as if in a never-ending game of real-life Frogger.

Living this way is not only exhausting, but fraught with danger, and not merely the danger of being run down by a zealous cyclist. In the immortal words of Ferris Bueller:

Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.

I’m just as guilty of this as the next person. Even now, when I’ve left my full-time job to pursue my dream career, I have let myself be overscheduled, so that each day I sit down and make a list of things to accomplish, how long they should take, and then check them off as I go along. I’m so focused on the things I need to do that I’m not taking the time to “stop and look around.”

Rule Number 11, Pay Attention to the Time and Weather, which we discussed last week, has a Good Stuff benefit that is an unintentional bonus. When you’re paying attention to your surroundings, you’re looking around. You’re noticing things that you would miss if you were simply focused on your destination or allowing yourself to be distracted by a beeping phone or wondering about the latest box scores. The Good Stuff side to Rule 11 is:

Use Your Refined Observation Skills as a Source of Inspiration and Reflection

While you’re keeping an eye on the clouds in the sky, and noting how long it’s taking you to climb this mountain, see what else you can find around you. Part of the point of hiking, for me, is to get away from the chatter of everyday life and physically put yourself somewhere serene. Part of point of hiking solo is that I am forced to spend some time with my thoughts and my thoughts alone. I can’t watch a movie or read a book or play on Facebook while I’m walking, and there’s no one to talk to, so it’s just me, and the quiet.

Yesterday, I took advantage of the spring weather here in Boston and wandered around Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge for a while. I’ll talk about that in more detail another time, but while I was there, I thought about this post. I thought about it because for the first twenty minutes, I had my nose buried not in a phone, but in the map of the grounds. I was so focused on which way to go — despite the fact that I had no real destination — that I wasn’t taking in my surroundings. Once I realized that, I put the map away and just wandered. I took photos. I looked at interesting tombstones. I enjoyed the sunshine and the fresh air and the beauty of the place. It was a good reminder for what I was writing today.

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