Life should not be like a driverless car, but for most of us, all too often it is. I had this revelation today when I was on the road and saw a car pass by me with both driver and passenger apparently sound asleep.
Was it some wacky dudes testing a self-driving vehicle? Was the driver just relaxing and working on driving with his feet instead of his hands? Was I just being delusional?
Whatever the answer, it got me thinking about how driverless vehicles mimic our lives in a deep way, since all too often we surrender to our autonomic nervous system and live the majority of our lives on auto-pilot while we tend to the more pressing matters of family and finance. In other words, how can you really justify stopping to look at the beauty of that flower when there are bills to pay and the kids need to be picked up at school?
Let me start at the beginning. Yesterday, I found myself running along a lake on a gorgeous cloud free day in Hyde Park, London. Only 12 hours earlier, I was on the freeway in Los Angeles in a dry, burned out city of isolated souls and angry motorists.
Sleep deprived, jet-lagged and catatonic, I was also ecstatic to be back in England and as I jogged, I saw London in a way I had never seen it before. Filled with history and architectural beauty, it seemed to vibrate with a multi-cultural intensity that was different than the London I knew when I studied here in the 1980's. Crowded but clean and courteous, it was inviting and I felt a great joy being back in London -- one of the greatest cities in the world.
As I ran through Hyde Park, I kept thinking -- why do we travel? And I think the answer is simply that we can't REALLY see the world around us when it is familiar.
When we are home, things are just too familiar. We need to have the eyes of a tourist if we really want to see things as if for the first time. On a deeper level, is this not the reason we are drawn to travel? And is it not also the reason why we appreciate our homes and families so much more upon our return?
Now, at the same time, aren't the eyes of a newcomer/traveler also the eyes of a great artist?
Is that not the reason that when we can't afford to take a week off and go to London, we are still drawn to visit a museum or gallery for a few hours?
Is it not through the making ART and the looking at ART that we are offered a chance to see ourselves and our world in a fresh, new way?
My argument is simply that familiarity breeds more than just contempt, it also breeds a sort of blindness. Think of it like a landfill that overpowers us with its stink when we first enter its confines, but then, after only spending a few minutes there in the putrescence, magically, thankfully, somehow, the smell dissipates until we soon don't even notice it. In a way then, aren't we are all just unconscious dwellers in the landfill of our choosing.
Why is this, you ask? Well, you can study the neuroscience, but maybe it's not that complicated. Maybe it's just that we live on a planet filled with such overwhelming beauty that if we were to spend every moment of every day being awestruck by the grandeur and magnificence of all that surrounds us, well, frankly, the garbage would never get taken out and traffic would be even more of a mess than it already is.
So, our brains have, by necessity, been programmed to quickly turn the extraordinary into the familiar and as a result, we learn not to notice the spectacular splendor that is everywhere. It's not right or wrong, it's just what we as human beings have been programmed over the eons to do.
I once heard a great quote, "Travel is the only thing that you can buy that truly makes you richer." Well, I'd have to add ART to that list, as well.
And so, for whatever reason, if you can't travel this week, go look at some ART instead and see your world once again for the first time -- surrendering to it as you inevitably, slowly, steadfastly, fall to your knees and utter short,incoherent mutterings of appreciation.