Monday, May 31, 2010

Learning instead of consuming

The following passage, quoted in Gordon T. Smith's Courage & Calling, stuck out to me during a day of reading yesterday:

"Learning is perhaps the only pleasure that might replace increasing consumption as our chosen mode of enriching experience. Someday, the joy of recognizing a pattern in a leaf or the geological strata in a cliff face might replace the satisfactions of new carpeting or more horsepower in an engine, and the chance to learn in the workplace might seem more valuable than increased purchasing power or a move up the organizational chart."

Smith goes on to comment:
"But this will only come about, as Bateson implies, when we come to see knowledge as a source of delight rather than as a means of power. We enjoy learning because we enjoy discovery, the expansion of heart and mind, and growth in wisdom, not merely because it is a means by which we can accomplish something."

There's something revolutionary about the idea of replacing consumption with learning. We spend so much time acquiring stuff, much of it entertainment--pursued not for knowledge and discovery, but for mindless filling of time.

I fall into consumption even while ostensibly pursuing learning--way more often than I'd like to admit. I miss the nourishment of discovery when I binge instead of taking time to savor, to absorb and reflect on the stories I take in. How different would it be to pursue learning, "expansion of heart and mind, and growth in wisdom" instead of escape? I wish I could say I always read this way. Sometimes, but not enough.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Exploring Kruger

Last week I went on a short trip to Kruger National Park, for a couple days of game drives--exploring the park and looking for animals. The nature of a game drive, which I always forget until I'm in the middle of one, is that there are long periods of time where you see nothing at all. You drive and look, and drive some more, you pass cars and ask other drivers if there are sightings ahead, and every so often you stumble upon something really cool. More often you stumble upon yet another group of impala. You start to get tired of the impala, while at the beginning of the drive they were beautiful and picture-worthy.

My game drives in Kruger were a lot like others I've been on. Lots of down time, in which I saw nothing but antelope. At the close of the first day, I was a little frustrated. It felt like someone had let all the interesting animals out of the Kruger Park. I felt like I was spending a lot of time looking for something that wasn't materializing--a perhaps too-apt metaphor for the current vocational exploration I'm in right now.

Mid-way through Day 2, my last day in the park, I found myself appreciating the little things. Things I wouldn't have appreciated or even noticed had I come across a pack of wild dogs or a pride of lions stalking a kill. Things like watching male impala challenge and charge and chase each other. The saddle-billed stork with an enormous wingspan that swooped right over my car and landed in a shallow riverbed just metres away. The gnarled bare trees scattered throughout the park, outlined against a brilliant blue sky. The Southern ground hornbill that casually circled my car before ambling off into the bush. With his beak open as if he was about to speak, he reminded me of Mortimer the Raven from a favorite childhood book (except the hornbill was 3 times the size of any raven I've ever seen). The magnificent male waterbuck on the opposite shore of a watering hole, who paused as he walked past, horns silhouetted perfectly against the sky, as if he were just waiting for me to take his picture before he moved on.

Of course, the lesson I reluctantly admitted to myself is not to overlook the small beauties and discoveries of the journey, while looking for the big impressive end goal. That perhaps the end goal you're looking for isn't really the goal after all. Looking back, you realize you've seen far more than you thought you did at the time. And that the long hours of exploring were indeed worthwhile--and probably more important than the leopards and rhinos you never saw.