Millenium’s End

by rthieme on December 10, 1999

Islands in the ClickstreamMy machinery is wired to move pretty fast, and all my life people have told me – bless their hearts – to slow down. It always comes from people who move more slowly, never from those who are faster, so once in a while I reply, no, YOU speed up. But then they think I’m rude.

It’s fashionable to equate being slow with being spiritual. There’s something to that, but popular culture turned it into the Forrest Gump School of Wisdom, where life is never complex and wisdom is rules for the first day of kindergarten.

Fast and slow are relative. For some projects, cycles of a thousand years work best, for others, nanoseconds. Yes, we twitchers often find serenity when we take things down a notch, when we focus on something outside ourselves that induces a state of flow and short-circuits our habitual thinking. But it’s also true that we relish those moments when our brains or bodies twitch like the fingers of a teen genius at a game of Quake, lost in light-speed heaven.

“Chariots of Fire” told the story of two runners, one a Scottish missionary (Eric Liddell) and one a Jew (Harold Abrahams), preparing for the 1924 Summer Olympics. The Jew was a sprinter (“neurotics make the best sprinters,” said his coach) who itched to explode out of the blocks at the gun and burn it up.

Liddell ran a longer race but he too loved speed. His religious commitment was absolute, but when urged to go into the missionary field instead of competing in the Olympics, he said:

“I know God made me for a purpose, but He also made me fast, and when I run, I can feel His pleasure.”

Now, THAT’S spirituality.

I sometimes become impatient with people who divorce technologies like network computing from “spirituality” as if “reality” can be separated into pieces. They moan like Eeyore about the downsides of technology as if they are not obviously the downsides of civilization itself. When they work themselves up about genetic engineering, for example, they attack biotechology instead of the decision to domesticate wheat a few thousand years ago. “Technology” is a problem only when it was invented after their birth.

Spirituality means “what works” and it comes as we explore and reflect on the depths of our lives. Yes, we twitchers are sometimes astonished at the sudden thunder of an inner epiphany when we quiet our minds. But we are equally astonished when we seize or are seized by an insight on the fly, our fingers twitching on the joysticks of our lives. Yes, we know, God made us for a purpose, but God also made us fast, and when we run – or whatever it is we do that equates to running – we feel the exquisite pleasure of the universe pulsing through our hot blood.

So whatever “running” is for you – do it, do it with all your heart and mind and soul. Come out of the blocks at the gun and burn it up.

The universe honors our commitment to use our gifts in ways that enlarge the lives of others and enhance their possibilities. To participate in that transaction with its endless loops of self-sustaining energy is what I think it means to be fully human.

In a simulation of artificial life, it was observed that life is a function of the velocity of information inside a system. When information moves too slowly, the system freezes. When information moves too fast, the system becomes chaotic. When the accelerating speed of information pushes the data almost to overflow its banks … there at the edge where order almost dissolves into chaos … life is optimized.

Leaning over the edge of the cliff but not toppling.

We neurotics love that story. Whether or not it’s true, the story supports risk-taking … as does our current life situation.

The long bull market and expanding global economy have created an environment that rewards taking risks. Millions have lived so long in this context they can’t easily imagine anything else. At a recent planning retreat for multi-billion-dollar money managers, I asked how many of the thirty managers in the room had lived through a bear market. Only the founder of the firm – a man in his fifties – raised his hand.

My family tried to teach me the lessons of the Depression, but I came of age during post-war prosperity and discovered that much of their wisdom didn’t apply. The context in which I lived rewarded different behaviors.

My children too make decisions based on their life experience. There have always been plenty of jobs around, so they make choices based on the length of a commute, time off for travel, or other quality-of-life issues that didn’t exist during the Depression or the fifties.

So what was there to teach them? Not a program but how to design their own program. How to trust the process of life to deliver what they need. How to learn how to learn.

The millenium is wobbling to its anti-climactic end. I have no idea what lies ahead. So I look to the past for its lessons. In the long dim hallways of my memories I see like lighted busts my private panoply of saints, those people whose presence, acceptance, and availability made the difference at critical turns of my life.

What else is there to say at millenium’s end except that there is not enough gentleness and kindness in the world? Or that we ought to be endlessly grateful for the gift of people willing to overlook our flaws and remain loving and present in our lives?

Your speed is probably the right speed for your life. If you go slowly, go slowly with a high intentionality, aware of every step. If you twitch, twitch for all you are worth. Sail as close to the wind as you dare. Fly as close to the fire of self-knowledge, risk flying high. Risk the furnace of the devouring sun.

And be all used up when you’re done.

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