Are You In A R.U.T?

What is R.U.T.? RUT is Ritualized Undertaking of Tasks and it seems to be as characteristic of humans as it is to most of our brother and sister species in the natural evolution – an adaptive behavior that can arguably be assigned as one of the strong indicators of survivability. From the honeybee to the gray squirrel, from the nuthatch to the pacific salmon – all seem to have the predictability of repetitive behavior somehow hardwired in their small or large brains. And undoubtedly we as human animals share in this natural addiction.

However, the unique characteristic of our species – consciousness and technological achievement – have catapulted us far from this need for natural discipline and we tend to applaud and revere those who do escape this prehistoric tendency and rise above the strong urge for ritualized behaviors.

However, there remains some comfort in this normalcy – some security in the way we make or don’t make our beds, the compulsion to order and arrangement, the ritual even of our worship. I have an aunt who even in her 80’s gets up at five each morning and robotically performs her daily and day of the week related tasks as if some clockwork puppeteer were in control in some cosmic morality play. She even irons the family’s underwear and arranges them orderly in their specific places in their specific chest of drawers. Interruptions to this orderly life disturbs and provoke anxiety.

Once at a safety conference a behavioral psychologist explained that testing indicates a threshold of repetition that can lead to habit, to a more of less unconscious response to stimuli, that is more comfortable to have than not. His example was that in studies it was shown that if a driver who doesn’t routinely wear a seatbelt, will by conscious and consecutive choice, snap on his/her seatbelt for a certain number of consecutive days, then from that point on the behavior will not require conscious reinforcement but will become a part of unconscious and instinctive sequence and will be the likely behavior. Their studies suggested that this happened at a surprisingly low repetition sequence of thirteen times. Just repeating an activity -- fastening your seat belts, taking a vitamin, flossing your teeth -- once each day for about thirteen days will program oneself such that this activity becomes mostly automatic and subconscious.

Is it this security gained from ritualization that leads to careers where we are willing to get up before the sun and sit in a small windowless office all day long doing repetitive and numbing activity, and then return after dark to houses that we work so hard for -- to ensure their carefully groomed lawns and fa├žades?

How unfortunate that in the three natural cycles of our experience – the daily rotation of the planet, the yearly arc of Earth around the Sun, and the 28 day cycle of the moon – we still fall prey to ritualized, repetitive activity. Each morning we awake and brush our teeth and perform ever unconsciously our hygiene behavior. Each week there is a weekend and expected chores and activities, each year has its seasonal and expected requirement for celebration or scripted behavior. If I don’t do it today, I can do it tomorrow; if not this week then next; if not a trip to Europe this year then next – and it becomes so easy to take the next logical leap: if not this lifetime then the next.

Life seems eternal to children who have so little experience of a time frame – from Christmas to Christmas is an eternity then. But ask anyone in an elderly community how fast the years fly by. Time is constant but perception changes as we age. We eventually realize the truth of how “youth is wasted on the young” and how very brief a single life can be – even a full and healthy and rich life. I challenge you to pull out a large piece of graph paper, with the columns and rows of little squares, and rule off a rectangle of 100 by 300. Now within that rectangle are 30,000 little squares, you can easily see each one – take a pencil and fill in any unique little square. Now realize this – you are looking at the finiteness of a life. If each little square represents one day in your life – then the entire rectangle of squares you see before you represents a life of over 80 years!

You can see the day you turned 16, the day you graduated from college, the day you got married, the day you had your first child – each day is so visible and part of such a very small quilt of days we have to live our lives.

And how much of each of these days are not at our conscious disposal but are really just part of some unconscious ritualized behavior that we don’t notice and which we are dully hypnotized to?

Well as far as I know this is the only opportunity we have or will ever have to experience being alive – to have been born at some random time and place, sex and race, into some culture and civilization that we didn’t make but that we now have the opportunity to experience and effect.

And regardless of the length of life, it only happens in the moment and whether we seize those moments as an opportunity to be in them, to extract ourselves from the unconscious programming and take the courageous risks that conscious behavior implies, may be the way, whatever God there may be, will eventually judge our lives.

Whether you believe that we are souls that have always existed and will always exist, most religious tenets presume only this small speck of time as a human experience. And as no one has evidently ever come back from death (my apologies to inerrant Bible reading Christians), this may be it – the only time we are or can be human. To use our consciousness, our curiosity, our innate intuitive goodness, our unique talents and resources, to give proper respect to this incredible gift of 30,000 days and not spend far too much of it in a RUT.


Anonymous said…
Brilliant insight ! I am going to go out of my way to avoid a mind numbing rut. Even if I have to stand on my rebellious little head.
Bill Garnett said…
I noticed that you are in Kingman, Arizona. I lived there as a child during WWII.
Tracy Guest said…
I am happy to see I'm not the only one who notices that we are in a R.U.T of mind numbingness. (I know, not really a word, but I like to make them up).

I just think that our time here could be more effective -even just to us personally- if we stopped doing what we HAD to do and started making conscious decisions to do what we WANT to do.

Danny said…
Very well written, then wake up from this ritualized world and live the life we always wanted, lest not regret for not living beautifully in this brief existence on this planet.

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