Technology makes it easy on us to find the shortest, quickest route anywhere we go. We carry in our pockets little devices that receive signals from satellites in the sky, determine exactly where we are, and with the maps of the world loaded onto them tell us where we need to go. But navigation technology is focused on reaching a destination, assuming that the way towards it is a nuisance, neglecting to realize that sometimes it’s good to turn to an unknown road and take the long way home.
On Monday I had a lunch meeting in midtown Manhattan. After the meeting I got in my car and started heading north to the burbs. I was about to turn left on 59th street towards the my usual route home when just ahead of me I saw the road going straight through Central Park. It is a 25 mph road and it ends in West Harlem, where I would have to go through some stoplights and perhaps heavy traffic. In my 10 years of living in New York I’ve never taken this route. I had to rush home to take a call in an hour, and time was a little tight, but I decided to take it.
And it was about time I did. Right off the craziness of midtown Manhattan, a peaceful 20 minute ride between bicycle riders, couples jogging together, and horse carriages. The trees were dressed in their fall costumes of red, orange, and purple, and the tall buildings surrounding the park watched over the entire scene high up and around. Then, one little traffic light and you go straight into the hustle and bustle of Harlem in the afternoon, a quantum leap from the woods right back into the urban jungle. The energy of on the West Side around 110-13o street is captivating. Everyone’s going somewhere, and they’re going there fast. I love it. I took 125th street West and back on the highway. The little detour that has made my day only took 10 extra minutes. Was it a waste of time?
The psychological concept of mindfulness is defined as bringing one’s complete attention to the present experience. Being mindful is the most direct way of being present, and is shown to boost one’s well-being. When we maintain a routine and always take the same “best way” we are risking going through life on auto-pilot, as passengers on a conveyor belt. When we try different ways to get to the same place we notice and absorb more of the word around us and become more mindful. Who says the shortest way is the best? How about the most scenic way for the season? The most interesting way? The way with the most beautiful buildings? The one you’ve never tried?
Sometimes it’s worth taking the long way home.