Wednesday 12 June 2013

Patterns and Anti-Patterns

On this past CBC Sunday Edition The Sunday Edition, there was a fascinating piece on the lost art of walking. As it happens (oops, another CBC radio show), I walk a few kilometers per day, and sometimes lots more. I'm no marathoner, but it's not unusual for me to walk 20 kilometers in a day. Perhaps the exemplary walking marathoner would be Edward Payson Weston, who in 1909 walked from New York City to San Francisco in 105 days. Go ahead, calculate the daily rate. The astonishing thing is that he did it at age 70.

Other parts of the episode included a short piece on the virtues of walking slowly, and paying attention to what is around you. Stop and look. Is this street paved or cobblestone or something else, and why?

This thought caused me to ponder the subject of this post. It caused me to recognize my patterns of walking -- always on this side of a street rather than that, always following the same set of streets to the shopping centre, etc. So I decided that every time I detect a pattern of my own, I will consciously break it and do something else instead. Rather than overwhelm myself, I concluded that breaking just one pattern per day would suffice.

Today, however, I broke several patterns, and found the results revelatory.  Upon awaking, I habitually make coffee and check my email. This morning I made tea instead, and then did not check my email, but decided to for a walk instead. I found myself drifting toward the usual street, and decided instead to use the next street over. I walked slowly, partly because I had no particular destination in mind, and partly so I could take the time to notice my surroundings. This porch is elegant; that staircase could use some paint; this front garden is exquisite. Each flower on this plant has a pentagon of stamens and one pistil. I never noticed that building before: it's called St. Ann's Church; who knew there was a Saint Ann? Splendid architecture! I seldom visit churches but made a note to visit this beauty soon, to check out the interior, which is doubtless as beautiful as her exterior.

In the past few days, I have learned something remarkable: the art or science or whatever of consciously breaking patterns. And it has caused me to look at the world around me with new eyes. I go for walks every day, typically to the grocery or the hardware or the library or the liquor store, but now I have decided that I shall forego the habitual paths and try a new one each day. I only began this anti-pattern strategy three days ago, but can testify that the results are astounding.

Doctor David Suzuki has an aphorism that I have followed since I first heard him say it on a CBC program called The Nature of Things: "Never take an elevator for fewer than 5 storeys and never drive for fewer than five blocks."

I encourage you to try these simply formulae, and pretty much guarantee that they will change your awareness of the world around you, and hence yourself.


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