What had made me move through so many dead and pointless years was curiosity.Kurt Vonnegut, Mother Night
Had he lived, Kurt Vonnegut would be turning 99 on November 11. In 1997, he read from and signed his novel Timequake at Joseph-Beth in Lexington Green. The book touches on themes of free will, déjà vu, and coincidence. Vonnegut joked that his birthday was a “cosmic coincidence,” as 11/11 is a sign of synchronicity in numerology. Not a single 11/11 passes that I don’t think of him.
In an old PBS interview, Vonnegut tells a story about buying an envelope. When he explains his intent to leave the house for a single envelope, his wife chides him, tells him instead to buy envelopes online in bulk so he needn’t waste time buying them one at a time.
Vonnegut responds, “…And so I pretend not to hear her. And go out to get an envelope because I’m going to have a hell of a good time in the process of buying one envelope. I meet a lot of people. And see some great-looking babies. And a fire engine goes by. And I give them the thumbs up. And I’ll ask a woman what kind of dog that is. And, and I don’t know. The moral of the story is – we’re here on Earth to fart around. And, of course, the computers will do us out of that. And what the computer people don’t realize, or they don’t care, is we’re dancing animals. You know, we love to move around. And it’s like we’re not supposed to dance at all anymore.”
Vonnegut knew how to dance. He’s speaking, of course, to his disdain for technology as a source of instant gratification. Email instead of a stamped envelope? Amazon Prime rather than a walk where you meet a fine dog or a great-looking baby? For Vonnegut, unplugged was connected.
Vonnegut celebrated the meander as the highest form of curiosity.
The term meandering refers to the twists and turns of a river’s path, from the Greek word Maiandros, a river in Caria noted for its winding course.
Wandering has incredible benefits. While the digital revolution allows us to optimize our productivity in the short term, it does little for intuition and inquisitiveness in the long run.
There’s a reason wander is a single vowel away from wonder. Letting our animal dance reveals the longings of our soul, unleashes our best thoughts and plans.
The animal dance unleashes our creative incubation. When we engage our conscious mind in the physical sensations of our body, it frees up our background thinking to have big ideas, mostly schemes for the future.
Ever gotten stuck in analysis paralysis? My friend Betsy is renovating her kitchen right now and finds she is exhausted all the time from all the decision-making. Remember that the average adult makes around 35,000 decisions each day. Betsy is dogpiling on that. Cabinet hardware or smooth finish? Ball faucet or disc faucet? Freezer on top, bottom, or side to side? Brown or gray or navy or…?
You get my point. She has also been frequenting yoga class more often. Her animal body intuitively understands that giving her conscious mind a break from the choices will ultimately help her make better decisions. She’s letting her animal body dance.
It’s the reason we have so many great ideas in the shower. We’re enjoying the feel of soap and warm water on our skin and then, blammo! The answers that have been eluding us seemingly come in a flash. It’s another way to wander, wonder, let our animal dance.
So set the phone down. Log off. Instead, meander. Wander aimlessly and wonder deeply. Go buy a single envelope. We were designed to dance.