On Life Hacking & Remembering How To Live

November 17, 2014 in Guatemala, North America, Travelogue


Life is slow here.

The days start early and somehow they seem longer than days elsewhere, even though sidewalks are rolled up by about 11 p.m. There is time for yoga in the mornings and tea on the patio in the afternoons. There is always time to stand in the street and talk with a friend, or dangle feet off of the dock while waiting on the boats. There is time to knead bread and arrange flowers from the garden and take an hour with strangers who stop by, unannounced, to share a beer and stories as the sun sets. There is time in the evening for community, and for music, welcoming strangers and appreciating one another’s art. There is time to read, and write. Time to play games and wander.

In this place, I remember how to live.

When we are here daily life unfolds according to biorhythms and the wind across the lake. It is impossible to move faster than our feet will carry us to the boats. It is impossible to hurry, in the North American sense. There is work to be done, lots of it, but it somehow tucks itself in between the folds of the other realities of life and gets done, along with everything else.

I’m not saying that busy is bad, or that other, faster ways of living are in some way lesser. Nope. I’m just saying that sometimes being reduced to the essentials of human existence, by choice, is a good way to live more consciously when my brain is becoming crowded.

There is quite a trend towards the idea of “hacking” life, at the moment.

I’m sure you’ve seen the links and the memes. Shortcuts for everything. Increased productivity for everyone. Bigger, better, faster ways to get it all done. Travel hacking. Parenting hacks. Education hacking. Tips, tricks and work arounds for every area of life, it seems.

I’m not entirely opposed to the concept. I like knowing that there are 101 things I can do with vinegar. I love that (when I’m in America) I can buy tons of stuff online that comes right to the door and saves me running around to five stores. I’m all in favour of ways to score free flights and hotel nights. Ideas for managing the laundry monster in a family our size, or keeping the kids enthusiastic about chores and school work are most welcome. Shared knowledge isn’t bad. Minimizing the unpleasant tasks and creating more time, money, or experience for everyone is a good thing, right? Right.

Except when it isn’t. 

Except when all of that increased efficiency doesn’t actually pay off in dividends that improve the overall quality of life. Except when the measuring stick turns out to be stress instead of joie de vivre.

There are times when this creeps in for all of us, doesn’t it? We get caught up in all of our “have tos” and our “should dos” and the white rabbits the Mom next door manages to pull out of her magic hat on a regular basis.

We get so busy living hard and fast, hacking it all.

We forget how to live.

It’s easy to do.

So how, then, shall we live?

(to borrow a book title)

Wouldn’t it be nice if I could tell you that? If you could tell me that? Wouldn’t that just solve everything? That would be the ultimate hack.

It’s not that easy.

I have no idea how you should live. How could I know that? I’m not you. I don’t live in your world. It’s one of the most ridiculously presumptuous habits of writers to impose their own microcosm of beliefs and experiences on everyone else. When I had one tiny girl who teethed with no drama, slept through the night early and could sign “more, please,” I thought I had this parenting thing all figured out. Getting four humans, each painted a vibrantly different colour through each of the phases of growth and headed out the door has cured me of that illusion. I once thought I had relationships and marriage all boiled down to the essentials. Add W, X & Y; Z naturally follows, wash, rinse, repeat that hack for 10, 20, 30 years…. Right. Yeah. About that. Never mind.

I can’t help you with how you should live. 

All I know is that for me, simplicity breeds happiness. 

I’m not all that interested in hacking my life, or bigger, better, faster. I am, however, very interested in living my life, slowly, deeply, thoroughly.

I’m not interested in getting through the “chores” as quickly as a I can. Instead, I’m interested in experiencing those things fully. The sensation of dough beneath my hands. The smell of ginger being chopped. The ritual of hand washing my dishes. (I’ll admit to sending laundry out, however!)

I’m not as interested in getting more done as I am in deepening relationships. You can’t really hack that. Time has to be spent, energy exchanged and genuine acceptance extended.

I couldn’t care less about having more, but I care deeply about experiencing more, being more, relating more, giving more.

I’m not looking for ways to make things cheaper, easier, faster or free as much as I’m looking for ways to create experiences and a life that is rich, intentional, and intricately crafted, like art that breathes.

Perhaps my favourite thing about life and community is diversity.

Everyone is different, every single one. There as many paths and lifestyles as there are humans on the planet and we are each entirely free to do it our own ways. I love that. I guess that’s at the core of why the life hacking movement rubs me the wrong way. It isn’t that there aren’t a few great ideas out there, it’s more the feeling that I get from those things that if we’re doing it “right” we’re doing it this way, the most efficient or economical way. What they sometimes fail to recognize is that there’s also great beauty in taking the long way home, doing something the hard way, slowing down, or maybe even opting out altogether. 

Life is not all about bigger, better or faster. It’s not defined solely by efficiency or productivity. Life is about breath, heartbeat, sensory experience and our connections with other souls. The rest is just window dressing.