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Timeout!

Ann Spangler
Ann Spangler

When my children were young, I would often prescribe a timeout whenever they misbehaved. This relatively mild form of discipline was frequently met with a dramatic show of resistance--with loud wails and dragging feet. Listening to their cries of anguish, an outside observer might have concluded that I had just ordered them to stand in front of a firing squad or jump into a fiery pit. What, I wondered, was so terrible about being sent to your room--a place that you had helped to decorate in bright colors and where you had toys and books to amuse you? If only someone, I thought, would send me to my room! I would have loved a regular timeout--a moment to rest, gather my thoughts, and be still.

Historian James Truslow Adams tells the story of an explorer/anthropologist who worked with indigenous people in the upper Amazon. After receiving news that he needed to leave the jungle for a time, the explorer enlisted the help of a local chief and some others for a three-day march out. Their hurried expedition made great progress on days one and two. But when it was time to break camp on the third day, the explorer was surprised to find that the men refused to budge. Questioned about the reason for the delay, the chief explained:

"They are waiting. They cannot move farther until their souls have caught up with their bodies."

The story strikes an immediate chord because it captures the sense of "blur" that characterizes much of modern life. No matter what we do or decide, it seems that life inevitably speeds up. Living at warp speed propels us into a way of life in which stress becomes endemic. As we careen through our days, it can feel as though life is slipping out of control, pushing us to move from one activity to another. Interestingly, the man who brought us the story of the Amazonian natives also coined the phrase the "American Dream." Could it be that our cultural dream, despite all the good it has produced, is in danger of running us off track, preventing many of us from enjoying the peace that comes from living in rhythm with nature and our own limitations? Perhaps our dogged pursuit of success has made us like children who think timeouts are designed for one purpose only--to ruin all their fun.





Originally published March 19, 2020.