21st January 2019 |Phil FLANAGAN


“I wish someone had explained to me that life was a marathon and not a sprint, when I was first told to get a move on, shortly after I had mastered that walking thing…”

It was only when I stopped running that I could appreciate I had been running in the first place. Only then could I comprehend that this, whatever this is, it’s definitely not a race. Subsequently, being able to pose the question “What’s the hurry?” and weigh up the pros and cons of a life lived in the fast lane brought about much needed understanding.

I had witnessed a fascinating process some years ago. A large group of people divided in two, lined up against opposing walls of a conference room in a hotel. The first exercise had only one instruction, “Run to the opposing wall as fast as you can”. For the second exercise the instruction was, “In a brisk yet orderly fashion and without bumping into anyone coming the other way, get to the far wall in the shortest time”. The results only gave weight to the old saying;  “Less haste more speed”. Yet the world strives to become faster in the yearning for more, with speed and efficiency being key components to so many proposed solutions. Yet patience and tolerance becomes the casualty, their demise inversely proportional to the increasing speed of life, extremes becoming greater by the day, polarisation everywhere we look.

I was watching a documentary about the plight of a group of refugees trying to escape untold hardship and danger. While filming the cameraman was directly addressed by one of the many. “Can you tell me please which direction is England?” he said. “Oh its about five countries that way,” responded the voice from behind the camera. He thanked him and continued to walk. Meanwhile back in England how quickly do we become angry or irritated when our “Sat-Nav” seems to be having some sort of a breakdown and sends us in circles and subsequently around the bend…

Watching people run down the road or up a flight of stairs we have no idea if they are running towards or running away, both look the same. The motivation is likely to be very different, yet they are still running. I wonder if anyone actually wants to run, unless they are out taking exercise? We spend so much time rushing around and the stress of doing so is often displayed like a badge of honour. The silent meaning given my those adorning such a badge leads one to surmise that they believe their action is something special, important, doing work of great value. Yet far too often, from the outside they look more like a chicken with its head cut off, busily running around achieving and going who knows where. The World Health Organisation stated that stress would soon become the number one cause of death. How much stress is caused by running through life at a pace we are unable to sustain without detriment?  When we finally get to what we want to be doing, we are often to exhausted.

Unable to answer why we constantly run, making everything into a race or a competition we keep running, yet often these races are futile like trying to out run our shadow, however fast, we can never win. “It seems normal”, people say “It’s just what you do”, yet few can seem to remember when or what it was that made them start running in the first place.

How much is missed when we run? The potential magnificence of the here and now is sacrificed chasing a goal that might have been better treasured had we taken the time and appreciated the journey. The few times I played tour guide to foreign or out of town friends, was literally an eye opening experience. It was only then did I stop and notice, viewing through fresh eyes and becoming aware of how much I miss while taking these routine journeys day after day.

“In rushing to get to where we need to be, so much is missed of where we are”

So many people seem still and calm as you look across the carriage at them on the underground. Yet inside many are revving away like a boy racer at the traffic lights, impatiently waiting for their station to debark. They are totally unaware, however educated they may be, to the damage this is having on them. More and more over the last decade or so I have observed a strange phenomenon that I have nick named  “Twitchy Leg Syndrome”.  They might be sitting still yet their leg is twitching at a pace like a dog scratching itself or an antsy athlete keen to dismount the starting block. A symptom historically connected to “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder” has become commonplace, even ignored by most. The unexplored potential damage I’m sure will surface in time, like the unseen damage caused by the continued revving of a stationary car, until finally the head gasket blows and everything grinds to a halt.

Many people seem to have a mantra that keeps them running. “Once I’ve ……. Then I can stop”; yet miraculously for most this is not the case. Once achieved the agreement seems to get mysteriously hijacked by a caveat that sees us continuing to run. While others look on perplexed at what might actually happen if we just stopped… For the rare person who does stop, the world often looks on with sympathetic eyes, perceiving that there must have been some sort of breakdown that precipitated such an act. Yet maybe what we are actually witnessing is a person having a breakthrough, a break out, someone who dared to jump off the wheel to face the unknown fear of the consequence of such an action.

I watched a TV show that played pranks on the general public. A man would run past someone in the street and shout “Quick” as he continued to move past. It was amazing the amount of people who without any more information started running after him, never knowing why.

I wonder if birth should be renamed The Starting Block and death The Final flag. The life threatening Big C may in fact be Competition, yet no one seems to know the rules or whom they are supposed to be competing against, never mind a chance to train before we have to start the race.

Think back… When were you ever not in some sort of race or competition?  I’m not asking you to stop, just observe and be aware. From the moment we are born someone is monitoring our progress making sure we develop at a pace someone other than we have set. Unconsciously flung into competition, not only through the stories that mothers tell to each other about how advanced little Johnnie is for his age, our everyday world is built primarily on competition. With each step of our development more competition is thrust under our nose. Comparisons made to motivate us to do better, often create more damage than good and remember, only one person can win the race, however many started at the beginning. A recent report found that motivation by competition is actually detrimental in the workplace and the scars of making siblings compete with each other can be seen into old age.

For most the race called life is more like a game of cards played with a five year old than competing in the Olympic trials. She deals you your cards and explains the rules but as you start to win she changes them to secure her win. With each hand played the rules mutate so eventually the last hand looks nothing like the first.  Maybe the only way to win the race is to make up our own rules, to take control from the dealer to have a race where we are the only runner, guaranteeing winning every time.

I once said to an academic that maybe life would be easier if we  “compared everything only unto itself”. In the ensuing verbal “dog-fight” I was told this was not possible. Technically, she may have been correct but maybe I was in fact inferring that a paradigm shift was needed, one that would neutralise competition replacing it with something far more beneficial and rewarding.

Our world is based on competition, with few winners and many losers. We are told that it is not the winning that is important, just the taking part. Well then, why do we only remember the winner and how many remember hearing “Winning isn’t everything but losing is nothing”?

From shopping in Sainbury’s to brushing your daughters hair the pace of the world has become faster and expectation of the time anything takes has created a population that does not know how to wait and take a breath. So we rush to the gym, yoga or relaxation class where we fit in “Me time” like a pit stop from the real world.

This machine called life has become more and more efficient and those “time wasting” processes have been mechanised allowing the more “important things” to be prioritised. Yet maybe we don’t realise the value of those boring mundane chores. In the same way that the pharmaceutical industry has taken natural plant remedies, balanced in their creation, extracted the active ingredient and produced a highly efficient and lucrative drug. So if what is discarded is of no use why did nature put it there in the first place?

Some say that they love the fast pace and who am I to say that anyone should slow down. Yet, please just ask yourself one simple question;