Thursday, March 9, 2017

The GPS of the Soul


Two days before one of the saddest days in our nation’s history, I drove from Atlantic City to Newark, New Jersey to give a workshop at The New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC). I stopped by my old home town of Roselle and then felt my way by some ancient navigator’s memory to downtown Newark and from there used signs, intuition and several wrong turns to get to the NJPAC building. After the workshop, I drove the rental car to the airport, first going the wrong direction and then figuring out that things didn’t feel right and turning around.

My wife and I, both of us who have entered kicking and screaming some aspects of the digital age (but not this blog), neither own an i-Phone nor use a GPS. Some of this is intentional, refusing to give our power over to machines and keeping our navigational skills active with sign-reading, paper maps, intuition and asking directions. We drove around Sicily this last summer without a single device and it all worked out just fine.

But despite my success last time in Newark, I remembered that just getting out of Newark Airport is quite complicated and then again around NJPAC and soon I would drive to a hotel in Philadelphia and then try to find my way to a friend’s house and so on. And so I gave in and rented one of the darn things along with the car. I made sure the person behind the desk programmed the first destination and helped me locate the on-off switch and off I went.

I believe I still will resist a full-out conversion, but darn, it sure was relaxing to have someone tell me what to do! I like for my mind to be actively engaged, but not always. Like taking those double-decker tour buses in strange cities, there’s something pleasurable about giving it over to someone or something else—you drive and point out the sights, I’ll just take the photos. The ten-minute trip to the hotel was filled with some 22 turns and in the end, I was very grateful to have this woman command me. Though sometimes I thought she could have let me know a few seconds earlier (“Turn right at the next intersection. NOW!”) and I can’t say I loved her tone of voice. But still, she got the job done and there was something pleasant about having company, even if a disembodied recorded voice.

Free to think and not look at maps, I couldn’t help but wonder about whether we humans would appreciate a GPS of the Soul. Forget all this choice and all the proverbial wisdom of making necessary mistakes and learning from experience and becoming stronger through our failures. If, as some since the Ancient Greek times have suggested, we have a companion Daimon or Muse or Angel who knows our soul’s destiny and is mysteriously guiding us, why the heck can’t it just say things outright! “No, do not marry that woman!! Absolutely do not accept this job! Are you out of your mind? Do not spend your inheritance on a new sports car!”

Meanwhile, our inner voices are so confused and there are so many and they rarely agree with each other and they keep changing their accent and tone so we can’t tell who’s who. It’s as if there were two or more GPS Guides:

Voice 1: “Turn left in a thousand feet.”
Voice 2: “Really? I think it would be much better to turn right in a 100 feet.”
Voice 1: “Well, that wouldn’t work, would it? He’s trying to get to Newark, not New York!”
Voice 2: “Well, maybe, but I sense that a better adventure awaits him in Manhattan.”
Me: “Well, which is it fellas?”
Voice 3: “LOOK OUT! YOU’RE GOING DOWN A ONE-WAY STREET!”

Guess we’ll just have to stick with the old-fashioned inner guides and let the GPS just figure out how to get us to our hotel in Philadelphia.

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