Saturday, October 31, 2015

A Route, a Rut, a Routine

I never had a job with a route before this one. I was never a paper boy or a bus driver. When one has a route, one is not rewarded for creativity or innovation. People like it not to be a surprise when their trash will be picked up. They tend to like it to be on the same day of the week, preferably at the same time. The simplicity of this form of physical routine has been refreshing, almost therapeutic, for me. I loved my Monday mornings this past year jumping on the truck in my grubby clothes after spending the previous day leading church services and interacting with lots of people--going from robes to rags.

There is a certain amount of routine to religious leadership and religious life, but not nearly so much simple routine as hauling trash. The routine sets one's mind free (potentially) to notice things, to experience surroundings, to simply be.

But routine easily becomes a rut. Pure drudgery. Living deadness. The difference is in the mind.

Route, routine and rut all come from the same root. Nice alliteration, eh? They have to do with an established, well-worn path. A couple years back I bought my mid-life crisis car. A Mazda Speed 3. Looked like a grocery-getter, drove like a bat outa hell. I took it up to Brainerd Raceway for Track Day with a friend who drove his Porsche 911. We got personal coaching from professional drivers and I had one of the most fun days of my life.  What intrigued me was that the teachers insisted horsepower did not matter as much as the ROUTE. Or, as they called it, the LINE. To prove the point, one professional took his Dodge Caravan onto the track while we were all tearing it up. He went head to head with a Corvette, and whupped him. Because he tracked the right LINE.

Professional drivers make smooth moves. They are not jerky and impulsive. They are not racing to get ahead, but focused on this curve, this shift, this move. I did a funeral for an old woman whose grandson raced NASCAR. He told me that in the heat of a race (and I mean heat; track temps get up to 120 degrees and these people wear the equivalent of snowsuits), at 200 mph. he can not only see the candy wrapper on the track, he can read the brand. He can see his family in the stands, and he finds inches between cars to be a mile. This is what routine can do. One can be transported to another level of consciousness when one enters with entire focus into a routine. Spiritual mystics know this.

When I climb onto the garbage truck, I enter the zone. It is all about the line. Time slows down. I am transported into another plane of consciousness. I see every wrapper and my powers of observation expand. This is why I call hauling garbage my spiritual practice. Plus I pick up the wrapper and throw it away. Or on the floor of the cab.


  1. Honed in........repetition allowing for body memory to do its thing......."opening oneself for the manifestation of the being of things" as Heidegger stated. You're able to claim the opening through which all is becomes present. You traverse "the line" of the route, and own your being!'ve transformed average everyday existence into the extraordinary. Bowing in respect of authenticity. Robes to rags by choice (reminds me of St. Francis of Assisi).

  2. There's little else more spiritual than that being 'in the zone'. It reminds me of Csikszentmihalyi's 'flow state' - entering a path of such smooth, automatic focus, that it creates a beautiful moment. I think we're closest to our spirituality in those moments, too, freed from the usual mess of worries. Keep surfing those calming curves, brother!

    Dennis Barton @ Chand's Disposal