On Newness, Routine

When I am somewhere new, when work is difficult, or I am lonely, when big things are unknown, I find myself craving routine. I think this is a healthy response.

However, I’ve been thinking about time and routine and newness, thinking about the balance between all three. Thinking about the importance of newness for the success of routine, for the valuation of time. I find myself pulled in two paradoxical directions here: by the comfort of routine, by the excitement of newness.

This morning, newness meant running in a new direction. When I stepped out my door into the brisk, blue-grey sky day, I turned the wrong way. I ran to the River Cam, and went right instead of left. A group of fifteen-ish swans floated in the river. Tonight, It means a new yoga class. Especially with yoga, I find that I can become a creature of habit. Loving what I love, craving what I know. My body asking for a specific style of movement, my mind wanting a specific style of teaching. All this, even though at the core of yoga is the idea of non-reaction. Acceptance.

I’m writing this in a cafe that I’ve never been to before. It’s charmingly eclectic in the “we’re really trying to nail the ‘coffeehouse vibe’ way.” I find it so easy to work from my normal coffeeshops, to order the same coffees, eat the same lunch. Walk home the same path. Think in the same way. Routines become comfortable, reassuring, then productive, but maybe, also limiting. How do we know where those lines lay? How do we find an ideal relationship between comfort and challenge?

Yes, the wifi at this place isn’t working (the universe’s infuriating reminder to look out the window instead), but the salad was awesome. All the utensils are wooden. Aside — I’m totally on board for the environment and recycling and clean footprints and never using another shopping bag, and I miss kombucha, but wooden utensils just don’t make sense. For one, not sharp. For two, every bite sort of ends up like when you’re at the doctor and he/she holds down your tongue with that wooden stick thing to look at your uvula. You know. Dry. But that’s all besides the point.

I’m thinking about the sayings: “build a life” and “fill your days.” Both building and filling are physical, material processes. They are both activities. And I think using the incredible thing that is our human body is important to time and energy and vitality. I think this is key. I want to live full days, if even in small ways. Yet, it’s surprising how quickly that fullness can turn into business. How quickly activity becomes motion. There’s a difference.

And I’m not knocking routine at all, that is how we build relationships in many instances. If I didn’t frequent my coffeeshop, I would not be friends with the barista Alister (dead serious with that name). So, routine is good.

I’ve been working with Pascal’s Pensees for one of my papers this term. If you’re not familiar, the Pensees are a series of philosophical fragments that make a logical move between an analysis of man to knowledge of God. Specifically, I’m working with the fragments that address man’s search for happiness. Pascal writes, “We do not rest satisfied with the present. We anticipate the future as too slow in coming, as if in order to hasten its course; or we recall the past, to stop its too rapid flight” (b172). Basically, man consistently fails to recognize the present, to live it in. I think routine can make time mindless. Newness is ice water to the present. It jolts me. Because newness must be active. It forces attention and activity. It takes effort.

Then I watched a video that tells the story of Jedidiah Jenkins, a thirty-something young profession who quit the job he loved to ride his bike from Oregon to the southern tip of South America. His friend, Kenny Laubbacher, joined him for a month to film a part of his journey and ask him, “Why?” I dare you to watch and not want to do something incredible with your life. I also found myself exploring a never-before-felt urge to go on a long bike ride… and wear a felt hat.

In all seriousness, Jenkins’ sentiments keep echoing through my headspace. He narrates,“People ask me why I am doing this. And my answer is this: the routine is the enemy of time. It makes it fly by. When you’re a kid everything is astonishing. Everything is new. And so, your brain is awake. So every passing second you’re learning something new. Learning how the world works. So the muscle of your brain is activated.”

He says, “I don’t want the calendar to be my boss. I want to choose the adventures that I go on. And I want to choose a mind and a soul that’s wide awake. Because, in a sense, it turns your hundred years that you’re on this planet into a thousand.”

Newness seems to expand time. This is an interesting idea of time when taken in tandem with Pascal’s ideas of temporality, distraction, and happiness.

Newness does’t have to be a trans-contental bike ride, like this guy’s. It can be this salad. As silly as that is. I believe in the power of a good meal, or walking down a different street, of a new coffee order, because it is so easy not to do. Small newness expands our edges in the perhaps most imperceptible ways, but then it becomes a lifestyle, and attitude, an enthusiasm, a thirst. It expands us, and we become more inclusive, more open, I hope.

Again, Pascal writes, “For it is far better to know something about everything than to know all about one thing. This universality is the best. If we can have both, still better; but if we must choose, we ought to choose the former. And the world feels this and does so; for the world is often a good judge” (b37).

The world feels this and does so — it explores, it knows something about everything. And how? It encompasses all. And, at some point everything was new. Everything was a trial. The world is often a good judge. A reminder to take our feet so many places.

I am somewhat terrified with the idea of waking up one day and wondering what happened to all the time. And, yet, I know it will happen, it must. Really, it should. It’s only natural. Except, on that morning, I want to pause in that wonder. Instead of being wistful or sad, I want to then experience a great series of recollections. I want to jump from memory to memory, one spurring on the next. I want to answer that “Where has the time gone?” thought with “It went to that dinner. That run. That night out. That night in. That sight. That trip. That bad day. That good one. That person. That mistake. That accomplishment.” And I want to recognize that although the time is spent, passed, gone; it was greatly lived.

And then I want to get up out of bed, and live a full day, filled with bits of inevitable routine, but punctuated by newness.

Maybe on that day we will meet somewhere new for lunch, to talk about a new book, or venture, or love. It will seem small, but it will be big.

And, I will be so happy. And probably full. But I do hope there is real silverware.

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