Cast your mind back, if you will, and consider the greatest technological change in your lifetime.
For most adults I’d suggest it’s the Internet. If you’re a little older, perhaps the cell phone. Older still, maybe computers.
Our lives are our Stories, and technological change has an impact on - freeing or limiting - the context of those stories. It’s a way of marking time, like the rings of a tree.
Whatever change you’d pick, it is likely in the direction of Instant. Everything in our world is indeed moving faster and faster. Not so long ago, before the telegraph, it could take months for someone to find out the results of an election - now we expect results even before the polls all close. Computers enable faster communications, cell phones provide instant in-touch, the Net unlimited access. (It is often Too Much Information: try Googling Marilyn Monroe and you get 30 million results - is that really useful?)
Today we drink Instant Coffee (which I find tastes nothing like real coffee). We microwave our dinners. We seek Instant Enlightenment, fear Instant Karma. Our gridlock tortures us.
That is our Perspective - our paradigm.
What would your world look like from a longer perspective? That’s easy for me, I have the example of my father.
He was born in 1904.
His family rode in a horse-drawn carriage until he was six. He saw the world change massively, again and again. From no cars to superhighways. No airplanes to planes to warplanes to passenger planes to jets to a man on the moon. He saw two World Wars. He hit the job market with a Harvard Master’s Degree just after the Wall Street crash and the start of the Great Depression. He took a job at $ 12. a week and supported his wife and three members of her family.
How different his perspective was than mine. And as I see my life reflected in his eyes, I see differently: like how many of my major upsets were in the end kind of petty, and surprisingly forgivable - with a shrug or a laugh.
One bonus: my father had his job for life. That too formed part of his paradigm. Today we are orienting toward many jobs in a lifetime.
Yet it was not far back that one job was a job for generations!
Yes, it took generations to build those magnificent cathedrals. And skills - stonemasonry for example - were passed on from father to son. They were a source of family pride.
In that world the only thing Instant was the food you were chewing - or not.
What a different world it was. What a different perspective.
I’m talking about a time frame of about 500 years ago. Not “history” - that records mass movements, wars, trade. I mean the on-the-ground experience of the passage of time. Of course, time is malleable: a musician may play one note or 30 in the same measure. No, history alone does not open the doors of perception. (One historian quipped cynically, “History is the victor’s lies.”)
I invite you to visit that place and time for an alternative perspective, a distant perspective on living life. After all, we were 5,000 years into civilization, and human beings were not so different from us.
A family is walking through the woods: a father, two children and a young baby the mother carries on her hip. They are what we would today call Homeless. They roam from town to town, the father seeks work of any kind so they can eat, or, when they can, find shelter.
The baby is crying. It is hungry. It has been crying about it for hours. No one in the family has eaten anything for a day.
They - these humans so like us - are faced with a cataclysmic dilemma. They cannot feed themselves let alone the baby. The parents, weakened by lack of nourishment, are exhausted. The horrible truth comes over them like a stormcloud. They can carry the baby no more. There are no orphanages, not even a church doorstep. Only the woods and the path that leads to an unknown destination an unknown distance ahead.
What do they do?
What would you do?
When I consider this, it’s bedrock information about our common humanity. No matter how spiritual your life is, if you’re reading this you’re having a human experience. As is true for all of us, you must deal with human problems, many of which are evergreen, changing in form but not substance.
I have a way, a window, for you to enter the world of that distant perspective.
It’s a book called The Pillars of the Earth, by a tremendous writer, Ken Follett. (You can get it at Amazon and other booksellers.) He takes you inside the humanity that is distant but not so different, as distinct in space and time as these realities are.
It’s not an airplane book, it rewards deep diving. It’s not a new book, I’ve been recommending it for 20 years - and I’ve never recommended it to anyone who didn’t love it and feel their lives are enriched by it.
Could be just the thing for a late summer distant perspective on our Instant life.