I read a study recently that sea mammals are a natural study aid, aiding the mind in both retention and comprehension,* so I will be liberally seeding this entry with pictures of otters to make my point clearer to you, fair reader.
There are a million, billion blog entries and screeds (and at least one zine) that advocate mixing up your life to be more aware and more effective, whatever that might mean to you. This is good advice, but without elaboration, it becomes so broad and so big that it can lose any connection to a normal person’s life. For instance, I liked this list of creative rituals to adopt yourself, but most of us (and I largely mean Americans here) don’t have the money or time to do a quarterly retreat or the flexibility during the day to nap.
I’m a fan of the small disruption. I like it because starting with something small means you’re more likely to succeed at creating a new habit, and I like that because small changes add up to larger changes. For most of us, this is the best and most effective way to point our lives in a new direction.**
With that in mind, I have adopted the ritual of the Culture Lunch.
In January, I managed to do it twice; I’m aiming to bump it up to weekly. At Christmas, I asked my family for memberships to the Seattle Art Museum and the Seattle Aquarium. My family came through, and now I can go to both as much as I care to for a year. It is the BEST PRESENT.
Usually, 30-odd minutes is far from enough time to take in all the art/otters/jellyfish/OTTERS, but if you do it multiple times over a lot of months, you end up getting a pretty substantial meal in small bites. It’s easy to get into ruts, to spend your lunch in some tiny lunchroom or – god forbid – in front of a computer at your desk. But it’s harder to do that if your lunchtime regularly involves fur seals, cars speared with rods of light, and fish being thrown.
Now, I hear your rebuttal, and your rebuttal is a solid one. “My dear SD,” I hear you saying. “I don’t work in downtown Seattle, or downtown anywhere. I work in an office park from hell, or a shitty little village, or my living room. I can’t walk to artistic institutions OR a waterfront.”
Yes, I’m lucky, but there are things you can do too, I promise. The key is introducing regular change so that your idea of normal shifts.
Just get up and go on a little burst of exploring. Try it once a week. That can mean walking to get a sandwich using a route you usually don’t take or just leaving your desk and using a tablet or a laptop to watch a half-hour of a rad foreign movie from the 50s or something (or Man vs. Wild, or whatever’s out of the ordinary for you). Dine with a friend, a new restaurant, a brown-bag lunch at a park you don’t hang out in. The point is to introduce difference on a regular basis.
Because not all of us can take a week to unplug every three months. But most of us can ditch life for 30-60 minutes once a week and have a little wander. It feeds your heart and your imagination, but it also has the wonderful of leaving you hungrier. And that’s where the larger, more insidious change creeps in.
But we’ll talk about that soon enough.
*I did no such thing. But I would happily participate in such a study and skew the results.
**Of course, you can also do the cut and run, the abrupt switch, the wholesale slaying of your old habit/life/position. I’ve done it, and it worked out well enough. But it’s not realistic or attainable for most people, I don’t think, and the nuclear option is something best kept in the pocket for most people.