We live in a time of virtual realities and virtual connections. A time of too much to do and not enough minutes in the day to get it all done. An age of walking fast and driving faster. An age where we only think of the destination and we often forget about the journey. Rushing is the name of the game. Rushing to get somewhere, to beat the crowds, to get something done. And what do we do all this rushing for? So we can rush to the next thing.
A few weeks ago, we decided to try and encourage a few people around us to slow down…even if for a moment…and to quite literally smell the roses. In a train station underpass, a concrete tunnel that is usually very cold and uninviting with a typically unfriendly odor, we created a floral surprise for the morning commuters to enjoy during their daily morning rush to the train.
About one hundred people passed us that morning in the tunnel, most of them walking very fast, many with their heads down, eyes on their screens and earphones in their ears. Perhaps half of them noticed the flowers. The other half was too busy rushing, too busy thinking of their destination to notice the change in this space they walk through 5 times a week every week.
Of the half that did notice, half of them smiled and kept their eyes up long enough to take in this little surprise for their 10 second walk down the tunnel. The other half even paused. Several people actually stopped for a few seconds to take it in. And then a few even spoke to us, asking us what this was for and thanking us.
The age-old expression, “stop and smell the roses" felt more than appropriate on this morning. Besides the obvious literal meaning, we were asking people to stop rushing, to slow down and be present to be able to see and appreciate the beauty in the world that surrounds us.
Immersed in our lives of haste, and instantaneous rewards, it’s natural to forget that our paths and processes are not only what can teach us the most but also what is most enjoyable.
The Greek poet, Constantine Cavafy, in his poem “Ithaka” shared some advice with Odysseus the hero of Homer’s Odyssey, before he set sail home to Ithaka, that still holds as simple and as sage today as it did 150 years - that life is about the journey rather than the destination.
(…) Hope your road is a long one.
May there be many summer mornings when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you enter harbors you’re seeing for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
sensual perfume of every kind—
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to learn and go on learning from their scholars.
Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you’re destined for.
But don’t hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you’re old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you’ve gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.
Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you wouldn’t have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.
And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you’ll have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.