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  • Jan Flynn

Stopping the Clock

I’ve just returned from a four-day road trip with my husband. In the course of those four days, I made a life-altering discovery which  I am about to share with you.

You have the power to stop time. Not only that, but you’ve had it all along.

Now, I’m not suggesting you’re Dr. Who or what’s-his-name from The Matrix. I came home from this trip four days older than when I left, just as I would have pre-epiphany. Actual, cosmic time passed like it always has and always will. That’s what I think of as Real Time, which is in a sense, timeless. Chew on that thought when you have some, pardon me, time.

But that incessant hum that percolates through your brain every waking minute, the one that is always muttering to you about your schedule and deadlines and how you have to scramble to get X done before X happens? That feeling that you’re constantly driven by a relentless and limiting force outside your control? That continual, low-level desperation that has you resorting to multi-tasking and time-stacking and otherwise fracturing your wholeness into a million busy little shards? That’s Artificial Time. Clock time. And you can stop it.

You do not have to master meditation or commit yourself to discipleship of any kind of guru. You just have to pack your bag, gas up your tank, and drive away. Hit the road, Jack.

Road trips are perfect for restoring your perspective. I don’t advise heading out with no plan at all: creativity always needs a structure, which is why paintings have frames. This is true of creative and restorative travel as well. So choose your frame in advance. Have a destination in mind, one that takes you along the scenic route, because the going is at least as important as the arriving. It doesn’t hurt to pick out your lodgings — be they campgrounds or B&B’s or guest rooms belonging to friends who have the good taste to live in attractive locations — in advance. As long as your planned stops are neither too rigid nor too far apart to allow you unplanned stops and side trips along the way, a light scaffolding around your wanderings will serve to calm you and will thwart your frantic habit of setting and achieving goals.

This is what distinguishes road trips from other vacations, which demand strict adherence to departure times and excursion schedules and car-rental return deadlines. I like that kind of travel too, but it usually means I need a day to wind down from its style of intensity before I return to the other kind of intensity that governs my workaday life. Assuming no disasters along the way, road trips aren’t about intensity at all. They’re about letting life unspool at the pace you choose. When something catches your attention, you can stop to check it out. Or not. You have no obligations except to take in your surroundings and to satisfy, when necessary, your curiosity and your appetite. Speaking of which, don’t get me started on the charms of road-trip food; there are whole websites and radio shows devoted to the subject. Suffice it to say that the turkey reuben at the Geyeserville Mud Cafe will make your socks roll up and down.

Should you prefer not to travel solo, choose your companion wisely. In fact, undertaking a road trip may be an excellent way to road test a prospective life partner. There’s nothing like being confined in a vehicle together for hundreds or thousands of miles to reveal any baked-in disharmonies between the two of you.

I can happily boast that my husband and I are admirably suited to this kind of travel together. He likes to drive; I don’t especially. We have similar tastes in music and podcasts, and we are also comfortable with long, companionable silences. We have about the same level of tolerance for stopping to read historical plaques and checking out kitschy roadside attractions.

We are both willing to go well out of our way to find a really good cup of coffee, and he casts no aspersions on the fact that I only drink decaf. Moreover, we have a dog who is road-trip compatible.

Molly responds to the suggestion of a ride with wild excitement, happy to drop whatever she’s doing (lying in the sun or licking the floor) and leap into the back seat where she will hang her head out of the window for two ecstatic minutes before settling down to sleep. At stops, once she’s satisfied her bio-needs, she is ready to meet and greet all humans with whom we come in contact. If she has a mission in life, this is it. Thanks to Molly we meet the nicest people. Having her along is helpful not only as an ice-breaker but because her presence promotes approaching existence with dog-like simplicity and wards off any temptation to take ourselves seriously.

Molly at an outdoor cafe. Life is good.

I’m not going to belabor you with the details of our trip: where we went, what we did and ate and saw, because that’s not the point. The point is that it takes no more than a few days and a serviceable car to escape the treadmill of Clock Time. And when you return to it, you’ll find yourself refreshed and ready to make that clock your servant rather than your master.

Until things get too crazy. And then it’s time to hit the road again, and restore your inner peace.

Michael and Molly and me on the Mendocino coast.

How about you? What kind of travel or vacating of your usual routine do you find most restorative? Please comment!

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