Emotional and Physical Health

Emotional Health and Slower Times

Let me take your mind back to a slower time. A time when you needed an answer to a question, and the answer wasn’t on an app on your phone or a few keystrokes away on google. A time when the act of working actually gave you time to ponder and possibly some movement or exercise.

I spend most of my day sitting at a computer programming. If a question comes up, I go to google, type a few key words and scan the results. In and out of links, faster and faster, looking for clues. If nothing, I rephrase and search again, in and out of links, quickly looking. My mind racing to find a hint to a solution. I find something, I try to adapt it. It works or it doesn’t. If not, search more. And so it goes until I have dozens of tabs open for fear of missing a hint.

Where is the movement, or at a minimum standing up? Where’s the pondering about something other than the task at hand?

Don’t get me wrong. I love technology and having information at my fingertips. But it makes life go by so fast, and sometimes causes stress and sometimes make life not as fulfilling.

The speed at which we operate now has made us less thoughtful about our processes and actions in many aspects of our lives. This affects our emotional and physical health.

I was watching a movie, set in 1929. A student in the forest, a botanist, was trying to identify a plant. He obviously did not have a computer or phone. He sat at a wooden desk in a canvas tent in the forest. While trying to identify the plant he carefully put a leaf from the plant in a slide and looked at it under a microscope.

He needed to identify the plant, he needed an answer. So he stood up, looked at the scenery of the forest for a moment, letting his mind take a break. Then proceeded to walk over to his small bookshelf, and thoughtfully scanned his dozen or so books. Carefully choosing a book, he walked back to his desk and sat down. He opened the book and looked at the well drawn illustrations of various plants. Thought for a moment and then looked back at the leaf under the microscope. Focusing back on the book he slowly read the description of a plant, absorbing each word as he read, underlining each word with his finger. Then finding his own journal, he flipped to a blank page, picked up his pencil and made careful notes, writing slowly. Leaving the book open to an appropriate page, he repeated his actions of getting another book.

His process of getting up, looking at the scenery, scanning the books as well as carefully turning pages and reading, picking up his pencil and writing carefully were actions of a slower time.

Even the act of packing for his expedition. Thinking carefully about the tools he would need, the books of knowledge he might need. Taking time to carefully choose a few photographs of his friends and family to keep him company. These were actions of a slower time.

The requirements of the time forced a slow down in actions.

Today, we still pack for our “expeditions”, most likely vacations or business meetings. Grabbing all the things we need. Rush to our destination. Laptops, phones and WiFi at our fingertips. Photos? they are on the phone. No need to carefully choose a few. We’ll flip through them later. We have so many. Most we don’t even care about.

I was not alive in 1929 but I remember my days in college as a grad student. It wasn’t all that different. Doing research. I had my own desk with a dozen or so key books at my fingertips. But no laptop or phone connected to a WiFi. There were computer terminals in another building. You know, the “green screens”, connected to a mainframe. I did not use them much. If the answers I needed to help solve a problem were not in my collection of books, I packed up my notes and walked to the library. The process of walking took time and gave me time to enjoy the weather, watch people, stop and chat with a friend, to think, to ponder. To slow down.

Entering the library, I would head to “the stacks”, as they were called. All the wisdom of the ages in those stacks. I would walk around scanning for the appropriate books. Choosing a few, I would walk to a desk, sit down to read and take notes. Periodically getting up to choose another book. Sometimes sitting on the floor in the solitude of the stacks, I’d take time to think of other things.

Back then I would have been delighted to have a laptop or phone with google at my fingertips, I still am, but those were the slower times. The packing up of notes from my desk, walking in the fresh air, thinking, taking a break until the library was reached was an act of a slower time. A moment of peace.

Occasionally though, I miss the slower days in my grad office. Or later my home office when I got up, walked to the bookcase, maybe thinking about something other than the problem along the way, stood and scanned for a book. The joy and expectation of finding the right book, walking back to my desk. Sitting down, opening it and slowly scanning the pages for the wisdom it contained. Those days are all but gone.

Now if I need an answer I stay seated, google, type, jot notes, type notes; but I don’t get up, don’t take the time to think about other things. I’m not slowing down, I’m speeding up. Life is going by.

If I do take a break, many times it’s to get on the phone and scan Facebook or Twitter. Still sitting. Work tugging at my sleeve.

Occasionally I miss the slower times.

Self-Employed Software Developer, Trainer, Consultant. Keeping up to date. I’ve noticed in over 28 years of programming, one’s current skills have a shelf life.

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