Somewhere around 1915, as he finalized his Theory of Special Relativity, Albert Einstein established the idea of “spacetime.” He melded what we perceive as the three-dimensional world and the one dimension of time into a single construct. Aside from solving some pretty complex head-scratchers and spawning many more of its own, this concept helped explain how and why two people’s perception of the same event vary if they are traveling at different speeds and trajectories.
As Glenn and I travel through our own slice of spacetime, we notice some psychological parallels to this concept.
How we interact with our world has changed in notable ways relative to our prior, more rooted existence. Most notable is how we perceive time and and how we spend it.
On the road, we stay no more than a week in a given place. Whether a specific destination in its own right like Zion National Park or simply a way station en route to one like our stay on BLM land near Jacob’s Chair, we know that we are likely there for the last time in our lives. That knowledge creates a sense of urgency to get out and explore the space.
Glenn and I do love our quiet time. Contrary to whatever our current path suggests, we are homebodies through and through. In the absence of other factors, we would be perfectly content puttering around camp or cocooning inside Libbie indefinitely. Yet the knowledge that, if we want to discover the place we’re in at all, we must do it now is a powerful motivator.
This idea is the driving force that shifts us out of our hermit’s inertia and into the frenzied momentum of explorers.
I realized this singular sense of urgency – a kind of existential FOMO – was lacking in our lives previously. Kids feel this instinctively, but we outgrow it.
Time seems to speed up as we take the space around us for granted.
Like most people living in one place, our perception of the passage of time was muted by the effects of routine. Our ability to attend to life’s details is not infinite, after all.
We become absorbed in the varied, relative “urgencies” of day-to-day existence. Those groceries won’t shop for themselves, that work project is due tomorrow, the lawn is overdue for mowing, that leaky faucet still needs fixing, the kids need help with their homework, there’s a new bingeworthy show that we have to see, and (ugh) the cat just barfed on the rug … again.
On and on the list goes.
Meanwhile, our plans to go on that special hike, to learn guitar, to try woodworking, to write that book, to keep bees, to meet a new face, and so on will just have to wait. After all, we’re just barely able to keep up with the daily routine of our lives. Once the kids are older, or when things settle down at work, or once there’s a little more money in the bank, we’ll definitely get to those things we’ve been putting off.
When you’re stuck in one place, its related overhead can overshadow the inexorable truth that the time allotted on your existential clock is tick-tocking away.
Like the inverse to Vonnegut’s bewildered Billy Pilgrim who discovers he has come unstuck in time, we find we have come unstuck in space – freed from the drag and friction of its related mundanities.
Instead, we glide unimpeded along our unknown trajectory through spacetime knowing we will never ever be in this exact space and time again.
The effect is quite jarring.
Our desire for the known quantity and comfort of routine is challenged every day. On the road, we check to remind ourselves how many days we have left in our current location. We make decisions, tradeoffs about what we can and can’t do in the time allotted. We learn that we can move too fast, that our psyches need roughly one day of rest for every day of adventure lest we begin to feel frayed around the edges.
We read more.
We watch less television – even though, in the remote locations we find ourselves, it’s weird to have such easy access to programs we love.
We cook more.
We eat less.
We use far, far less water even as we bathe just as often as before – actually more, thanks to the proximity of so much clinging dirt and dust.
We plan calls with loved ones to keep in touch, when before those things happened with less thought and, if we’re honest, less frequency.
We wonder more.
We reflect more, spending time to observe and to record in this public medium how we’re feeling during this grand moveable life experiment we’ve constructed.
All this prompts a question: When we do settle into our Haven (wherever that happens to be) will we also settle into new versions of our old routines?
Our hypothesis: We think not – at least in terms of being unconscious of the time and the opportunity we let pass us by.
If nothing else, our experiment continues to prove that our choice to live a life by design is right for us. We choose how we interact with both space and time, if only be to more aware of their connection to each other and to ourselves.