A week in a farmhouse outside Florence teaches two lessons.
High atop an Italian mountain, I learned an axiom of growth: Resting is an activity. It’s something to be done, as powerful and useful to our growing as honing skills or new information.
Second, I discovered that Italian bus drivers make me sick.
As for the first: I used to think resting meant sitting, or sleeping, or lazily floating in water. Actually, that’s just sitting, sleeping or floating. Resting, it turns out, is altogether different. It is taking time to switch yourself into a rejuvenating state of mind. Exhausting patterns are replaced, for a while, with energizing ones. It’s easy to try, but hard to do. Visiting a place with no wireless helps: To rest means looking away from the usual: up, around, at the sky. Not down, at a screen in your palm. This leaves you time to use other parts of yourself: such as eye contact, or talking to other people, some you don’t know yet, at restaurants and on sidewalks.
To rest is to restore: not just energy, but a sense of normalcy.
What you find is that, while resting, your “non-technical” qualities re-emerge: imagination, memory, enthusiasm: Not just copy, paste, or send.
As we rebalance ourselves, opportunities emerge: We gladly explore new neighborhoods, food, ideas. Growth, in all its forms, is exercised by rest. It should really be practiced daily.
But rest is a hard place to reach: Perhaps that’s why there are Italian bus drivers, who are the worst in the world. Ask the stomachs in the back seat. Rarely has a driver been good enough to uncoil the round, rolling roads of an Italian hilltop for his passengers. Instead, his driving exaggerates everything we hope to take a break from: the frenzied hurry of our chaotically-connected modern existence.
Most drivers forget they are not alone, that a bus is not a solo-cycle. Left, right, left, down, then up: their pace makes the scenery boil by, turning beautiful vistas into flashing pop-ups. It is as if someone sped up the film of rush hour in the city. Every twist and turn sends quease throughout the carriage, with a hint of fear in every brake and bounce and roll. Dull straightaways become respites from sweating. You look toward to the destination as a merciful end.
Some passengers don’t make it: They never do. They must pull over, and vomit.
Yet there, with your head in your hands, knees bent, you realize: It’s not just your gut that’s being emptied. It’s the world. Does it all have to be a blur, a whizz, a switch from this to that to this?
Behind you, a few others have stepped off the bus, eyes green and flicking, seeking fresh air. They’re thankful you jumped first; they wanted to, but dared not. They had accepted long ago the idea of a topsy-turvy world. Why should the bus ride be any different? Still, you gave them a moment, when their eyes could focus again. They gasp, surprised at the beauty all around them, standing still.
They board again, wondering what else they have missed over the years, while they were looking away or down.
Back in your seat, you exhale and accept the quest: To un-blur the world. To steady nerves, eyes, stomachs. To reject the scornful look of the bus driver, for whom everything has been reduced to speed and swing and sway. He’s immune to it, almost indifferent. He need only stay within the lines, deliver you to the top, and get paid. Then repeat it all, as fast as possible. He is focused only on production: another delivery completed, uncaring of the dis-ease he creates. Others will board his bus, unsuspecting and ripe. He will move on.
You feel better already. The road has done its job. The switches and curves and twists and turns are no longer dizzying. Your focus has returned. You must fight the drivers. You must not sit in the back of the bus ever again. If necessary, you will walk, for the sake of your imagination and energy.
The bus comes to the end of the road. It’s time to rest, actively, from now on.
You thank the bus driver as you descend.