Yana Djin Essays

In Search Of Slowness

Moscow News
July, 2001

Recently, an American friend of mine did something very un-American: he quit a well-paying job, dumped his long-time girlfriend who, for six years of their bland an passionless relationship, was unsuccessfully searching for her inner child but, as a result, managed to pop out two unwanted children, sold his house in a prestigious Washington suburb, donated all of his possessions to a local charity and informed his close friends that he, equipped with a single rucksack, was moving to a remote village in Alaska.

We, his friends, struck by surprise managed to emit a single syllable: “Why?” The answer shocked us even more as it was unusually short and scented by Eastern mysticism: “I am looking for slowness.” Now as I think of him, I cannot help but recall Vladimir Vysotsky’s, Russia’s legendary bard’s, song that starts with the lines:

My friend took off for Magadan.

Not for the freedom.

And not for money.

And not by force.

But just because.

Couple of days ago, I got a first piece of correspondence from him – a photograph in which he is looking unfashionably care-free and ragged. On the back of it he had written his address and borrowing from Mae West asked his friends to come up and see him sometime. I gathered that he was in no hurry to come back. And even though, suffering from chronic indecision, I, myself, lack such bravado, I, nevertheless, cannot blame him.

In fact, his act forced me to contemplate on my own overall outlook on life which essentially consists of distrust of human nature regardless of spatial coordinates of where that nature is allowed to manifest itself. My inner constitution does not permit me to believe that the grass is greener on the other side. In my opinion, it can be greener only if it is not trampled by human feet. I thought that perhaps I was simply lazy and varnish this laziness with the dubious coat of philosophical maxims? Perhaps all of us, dissatisfied and the discontented, should have the courage “to be simpler” and take off into the unknown. On the other hand, that unknown would acquire much more definite contours if we tackle it with a fat roll of cash. Being totally Christ-like is no winning proposition, after all!

But neither is staying put and partaking in or contributing to the daily anxiety that result in the shamefully disastrous statistical evidence. Just a scant glance at recent findings of the sociologists is convincing enough to hold our lifestyles mistaken and sad. One out of six people is chronically depressed, two out of three marriages fail, one out of two adults is dangerously overweight, a large percentage of children is prescribed mood-altering drugs, 75% of Americans suffer from sleep deprivation and so on and so forth.

If we happen to be living in a developed country, it is safe to assume that our daily existence is marked by anxiety and lack of enjoyment.

Due to modern technological advances, our standard of living has improved but we are too busy to notice it and, therefore, our life itself has not. We simply do not have the time to relax and enjoy it once in a while. Most of us are too busy working towards some goal in the future and setting up new goals. It seems, we are blindly following a colorless slogan according to which “all work and no play will make you a manger”. And even the most successful and lucky among us – the millionaires – live exactly as they did before they acquired the millions. One such millionaire, Jim Bezos, the founder of the internet company, Amazon.Com, amazed the public by declaring that he sleeps eight hours each day. Now it has become trend-setting to actually sleep!

Generally, though, the new breed of millionaires is unimaginably bland: their lifestyles are in no way different from ours. Gone are the days of Rockfellers and Morgans where indulging in life’s pleasures was a rule of thumb. So is it really worth it to participate in the debilitating rat race and climb the endless career latter if in the end result your lifestyle is not going to change at all? No matter how you look at it, the answer is obvious: no. What’s the point of sweating and frustrating yourself for years and decades if by the end of it all you become so automated that you are not even able to rip the fruit of your labors? The old status symbols of the rich – beautiful women, fast cars, expensive clothes, jet-setting lifestyle – are gone. The new rich lead lives that are as lackluster and boring as those of the middle class. The new millionaires take out their own garbage, cook their own tasteless food, and wear mousy cloths. It has become obvious that no amount of money is capable to make one happy if one has lost the capacity for enjoyment. Most of us are too busy worried about everything to really slow down and take pleasure in living. We are worried about the quality of the air, water, hazards of smoking, cholesterol, intake of salt, public opinion, infidelity etc. We have somehow forgotten that the reason we were put on this earth is not to become robots, incapable of suffering and joy, but to be the imperfect human beings that we are. So, perhaps, all of us need to takeoff somewhere to regain the ability to enjoy and savor life. Abandon the fast-paced motion that leads to nowhere and take a slow walk into the indefinite, and therefore, exciting, future.


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