Friday, November 18, 2005

Faster Smaller / Slower Larger

There is a lot of concern with the pace of modern living, with endless articles about stress, long hours, and the pressure of constant availability. Road rage is a symptom of anxiety about having ones progress checked, computer rage happens when things don’t work properly and take longer than expected, shopping rage happens when other people get in the way.

A lot of rage and a lot of expectation that everything can be done quickly and then quicker again.

There have been two recent books on the subject: Faster by James Gleick and In praise of slow by Carl Honoré. The first is really a descriptive list of ways that things have speeded up. The other book is more interesting because it has a central idea that things have gone too far and need to change.

The moment of epiphany for Carl Honoré was seeing an advert for One Minute Bedtime Stories and initially thinking it was a good idea. Then his brain kicked in and he started to think about what was important in putting your kid to bed and reading and how real communication takes time to develop.

The other side of the need for speed is that things have to be smaller and more digestible i.e. reduced to a size we can encompass in a glance. If the world is seen from the window of a speeding car then the scale is lost.

The importance of running is that it is a paradoxical antidote. One of the aims is to train to increase your speed. What is a race but going as fast as you can?

But this can only be achieved slowly. There are no short cuts. Training takes as long as it takes, as you cannot cheat your body. At the core of a training schedule is the long slow run – the building of endurance by running comfortably. You go at your own speed, it you try to go faster you will not last the distance.

The other thing is that you are part of the landscape and everything is in its proper scale. You can recover your sense of wonder at the landscape, or at buildings. Not only can you see things afresh every time you run, you actually feel the distance. Your physical capabilities limit your span and keep everything in proportion.

There is a poem by Theodore Roethke, The Waking:

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
I learn by going where I have to go.

We think by feeling. What is there to know?
I hear my being dance from ear to ear.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Of those so close beside me, which are you?
God bless the Ground! I shall walk softly there,
And learn by going where I have to go.

Light takes the Tree; but who can tell us how?
The lowly worm climbs up a winding stair;
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Great Nature has another thing to do
To you and me, so take the lively air,
And, lovely, learn by going where to go.

This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.
What falls away is always. And is near.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I learn by going where I have to go.

All you have to do is replace the word wake with run.


Elle said...

Great find to replace one word in a poem.

Running is one of the very few things I want to do faster than I do. Most of the other things in my life I want slow down because I do it too fast.

Another true thoughtful post.

Kieren said...

I totally agree. As well as everything going going at a faster pace & being condensed, I think we are in an age of information overload. You're always in reach from email, to mobile phone calls & text messages - always on call, always on alert. Walkmans & iPods might stop the bore on the train journey or run but they also ge rid of that dead time you have, the time one has to think & reflect or not think & switch off. I think the only time people get to rest these days from constant stimuli is when they sleep.

I ran 'naked' at Windsor Half Marathon this year & it was the mos enjoyable run I have ever done - by naked I mean no HRM or watch of any kind, no walkman, just me running listening to my body - excellent

C A D said...

I've been absent from blogland for a while. But I saw this today and it made me think (as your posts usually do). It's the same as the old saying "don't try to run before you can walk". You're right, there are no short cuts and no easy answers. The pace of life is too fast these days (think I wrote a similar post on my old blog a while ago). At one time I used to think I was too young to have this viewpoint. Tired by life and the traumas it has already at only 35 shown me... but now, I realise, I'm actually very lucky. I'm not going to waste what may remain of my life by going too fast and not taking anything in along the way.