Routine & Wonder

It was the weekend and I was reading the papers – three of them now, thanks to The Saturday Paper – and sitting outside and listening to birds chirp and dogs bark in far off yards because someone in their street has walked a dog past the front of their house. Maybe there wasn’t a lot of listening, but there was reading and enjoying the sunshine.
And there was a review of the memoir My Crazy Century by the Czech writer Ivan Klima (
At the beginning of the review is this excerpt:
“When you are four or five, time seems endless … and I spent hours watching a blackbird hopping about the grass until he victoriously pulled a dew worm out of the earth and flew back with it to his nest in the juniper thicket, or observing how snowflakes fell on our neighbour’s woodshed roof, which to me was like a hungry black-headed monster, gobbling up the snowflakes until it was sated and only then allowing the snow to accumulate on the surface.”
This got me thinking about time and age and how time passes. It’s a question profoundly dealt with by profounder minds than mine, but time really does seem to go faster in certain situations and slower in others and why that should be is a matter of some curiosity.
In Magic Mountain, if memory serves, the author talks at one point about time moving slower in the mountains, and that is something I have never forgotten. Time certainly seemed slower when we were younger and it passes frighteningly quickly as we age – the working week, for example, seeming to pass in a bit of a blur. The key, it seemed, upon devoting a bit of thought to this question, was routine, and its opposite: wonder. If you think about a working week, it seems to pass very quickly (albeit a period of time made up of slow and crushingly dull moments) it passes because of routine. We don’t notice things because they always happen that way. We no longer need to be on high alert for stimulus, as each bus journey is roughly the same and each lunchtime is roughly the same and each task that we do is roughly the same – or shares a certain lack of interest with each other task, once we are trained and know how to do our job. I’m talking about office jobs. But the same might apply to walking around the block or to a relationship or the time you spend in a new house after you’ve moved in. More familiarity means more routine and that means less acute focus, the mind drifts, and time seems to speed ahead.
In contrast, a new relationship has newness in everything, and thus afternoons spent together are all long and lazy, because the very ticking of the clock seems unfamiliar when experienced as a new member of a relationship. You look and listen and smell new things, through the other person. The same applies to a new job or travelling somewhere new or eating a dish for the first time or anything which might have a bit less routine and a bit more wonder in it.
And, if you think about it, childhood is full of newness. Learning things and working out how things you’ve learned fit together with other things you’ve learned. And you can look at a black bird for hours, and those hours will really take hours and feel like hours, but in a good way, because you haven’t looked at a black bird before. Looked hard and understood and questioned and truly experienced wonder.
The eyes only “see” part of what we think we see. The brain tells us what is at the edges of our field of vision, based on what we have seen of our surroundings. It’s almost as if we could turn off that function of the brains which makes all the connections and sees the bits we can’t see and automatically supplies information before we get around to ask for it – if we could look with new eyes, like a child, and with that function turned off, we could and can wonder more and stop time flying past so quickly and enjoy it more.
And I like routine. But what is needed is – perhaps – is to experience new things and make sure you keep experiencing new things, in order to savour and appreciate life.
Just a thought.

Published in: on May 20, 2014 at 8:25 pm  Leave a Comment  

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