Experiencing Dullness, Our Desire For Hard Work

“Take long walks in stormy weather or through deep snows in the fields and woods… Deal with brute nature. Be cold and hungry and weary.” –Thoreau
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There is something deep inside my soul that craves hard work. Something that craves feeling weary and hungry. There is something inside me that wants to go into the woods and become a part of them.

I don’t think this is a new feeling. When Cicero lost his daughter he fled to the woods. He said, in a letter to Atticus, “nihil est mihi amicius solitudine” which roughly translates to “I have no better friend than the wilderness.”

I do think that we are losing our ability to flee to the woods. We try to cram flowers and trees and parks into our cities, but they are tiny and crowded. The wildest animals are tame pigeons and unruly dogs that are probably feeling the same desperation that we are. We often work such long hours that going to the park becomes a burden. As a woman, we hear stories of assaults and rapes and huddle in our locked apartments listening to CNN and developing more fears of what might happen if we open the door. Some of these are legitimate problems, but many times they become an excuse. And sometimes, I wonder, do we even want to flee to the woods anymore? Are we losing this desire? I think sometimes I am.

There are so few times that we are without our computers, and cell phones, and GPS’ and implements that remind us a tick at a time just how quickly our lives are slipping away from us. We are rushed from meeting to meeting and reminded of high expectations and endless requirements. We always need to be somewhere and doing something and we rarely get a moment to merely exist.

And sometimes, I think we are afraid to give ourselves that time to think. After all, when we are really alone, we are forced to face who we are. And that’s terrifying. We can go years without ever really evaluating whether we are happy with ourselves and our lives. What if we discover that we don’t like who we’ve become?

David Foster Wallace said:

Maybe dullness is associated with psychic pain because something that’s dull or opaque fails to provide enough stimulation to distract people from some other, deeper type of pain that is always there, if only in an ambient low-level way, and which most of us (whether or not we’re consciously aware of it) spend nearly all our time and energy trying to distract ourselves from feeling, or at least, from feeling directly or with our full attention.

Our gadgets allow us to escape boredom and tedium. We pull out our phones and text while waiting in line, we watch television while working out at the gym, or we play a game of Angry Birds while waiting for the doctor. We live in a culture of distraction and being distracted all the time allows us to avoid examining our lives and our existence. If we are constantly distracted, are we ever really living? Or are we merely going through the motions of being alive? I think sometimes we are afraid to find out.

We need to go back to our roots and wander the wilderness. When you wake up in the night, go outside and walk around for a bit. Just be alone. Don’t be afraid of feeling a little discomfort. Go for a long bike ride when its 20 degrees and everyone is huddled inside. Walk outside in the rain and snow. Sign up for a trail marathon. Be alone, be uncomfortable. Feel the chill in your bones, the pounding of your heart, the aching of your mind. Be alive. TC mark

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