Traveling always provides food for thought and self-reflection. Discovering something new to us in the world serves as a mirror to discovering more about our inner selves. Last week, I sat in the furnace room of a glass factory that was founded in Venice during the 1300s. The master glassblower sculpted a tiger out of hot glass, using methods from hundreds of years ago.
I first saw a glassblower at work as a child and was utterly enchanted. This time, I learned about the work it takes to become a master. A glassblowing apprenticeship takes roughly twenty years, so it is no surprise that very few people endeavor to be such an apprentice nowadays. The work demands hours at the hot furnace each day, dipping hot glass in and out of the red flames, and assisting a master with his creations. Imagine dedicating two decades to learning and improving continuously, and then teaching the secrets of your trade to the next generation. Not long ago it was still common to devote a lifetime to a métier. Consider how such a choice would shape your life.
A few days later, I sat in the back of a Roman taxi in which the driver played Candy Crush at each red light. He even continued playing a few minutes into driving - making me feel like we were going to get into a fatal accident at any moment! His urge for a distraction overrode the critical necessity to be aware of his immediate surroundings. Much as I thought it was all insane and unsafe, I felt for the guy. I know firsthand how addictive the game is. I used to play every idle minute I had, on subways, in taxis, and waiting in line. Some evenings, I spent hours at a time. When I finally stopped, I would feel dull and grumpy; the game shuts you out after losing too many times. Prying myself from this self-induced stupor was a challenge. I undertook a serious knitting project as an alternative activity for my hands and brain. It worked for a few months, but I soon slid back into hard-core Candy Crush obsession. After repeatedly failing to move to the next level, I finally decided that I was wasting both my time and my brain cells. My son told me recently that if I don't want to do something, just don't do it! It sounds deceptively easy, but he is right. I quit cold turkey.
The Roman cabbie and the Venetian glassblower made me wonder about life in this modern age. I saw little resemblance of the committed laboring of the glass master in my life, but I saw myself clearly in the smart phone addiction of the taxi driver. We have become unwitting accomplices in running away from the here and now, disconnected from our environs, and even from our own selves. What would my life be like if I were to be an apprentice of something -- anything -- for 20 years?
I reckon that a part of me would resemble a masterpiece. This inspires me to honor my inner life and spirit on a daily basis. Leap out of the abyss of cheap distractions and addictions. Reach for the opportunity to live an extraordinary, rich, and intricate life. Choose to spend a lifetime of growth towards attaining a nimble mind. It's time we reclaim our lost souls from mass productions of any kind, and become masters of our lives, our destinies and our selves.