I suspect I might write a few articles in the coming weeks inspired by our recent trip to Ireland.
First, let’s discuss the main benefit of traveling: observing the way other people and other cultures choose to live. These cultural observations are an amazing way to learn.
Sometimes you think, “What a great idea! We should be living more like this.”
And other times, you count your lucky stars that you were born where you were, when you were.
You realize things you’ve been missing your whole life. You don’t know what you don’t know.
One example: my brother Zack, my wife Kelly, and I took a ferry ~12 miles out to sea to hike Skellig Michael.
Among other things, Skellig Michael is a UNESCO World Heritage site and the location of some famous Luke Skywalker scenes in The Last Jedi. The force is strong with this one!
But why is Skellig Michael famous in the first place?
Back in the 6th century, the Bishop of Britain told a group of monks, “If you really love God, go spend the rest of your life on that island and build a monastery. Go preserve our sacred books and writings.” **
**As a writer and reader, I appreciate this. In fact, some historians credit Irish monks with saving Western civilization via their dedication to preserving written documents
So a group of monks rowed 12 miles out to sea (no motors, mind you) to a steep, barren, half-mile diameter rock completely exposed to the elements. Then, in the words of Eamon, our island guide, “They spent their lives hauling rocks and praying.”
Regarding that lifestyle, to each their own. You want to haul rocks? Haul rocks. I won’t stop you. But for me, life has much more to offer. At least, modern life does.
Because according to Eamon, the monks of Skellig Micheal had a good lifestyle relative to their 6th-century peers. Wealthy landowners in England would send their children to Skellig Michael for the monks to teach them to read. The monks, in return, would request supplies to survive the island. This exchange enabled a better-than-average lifestyle for the monks.
But again…they spent their entire adult lives living in slate “bee hive huts” on an exposed rock in the middle of the sea. On a sunny day, fine. But what about when the winter storms roll through? Yikes.
Would you trade your current lifestyle (whether above or below average for modern times) for the life of a monk of Skellig Michael? I know my answer. We have it pretty good. I’ll count my blessings and take the scene below every time.
But I noticed a few things around Ireland that piqued my interest in the other direction.
We had a few pints on the trip. Stout is omnipresent in Ireland. Guinness is by far the most popular, though other regions have a preference for Murphy’s or Beamish (I’m a Beamish man, myself).
And what do you do while sipping your pint in a pub? Listen to Bon Jovi and watch sports highlights, right? Not quite.
Most of the Irish pubs had no TVs and no piped-in music. Instead, they all featured dozens of local residents…wait for it…talking to each other. The predominant sound of the pub was the soft white noise of concurrent conversations. It was so nice! And so different than the typical American establishments, where even the morning coffee spots pipe in loud music.
In general, the lifestyle in Ireland feels a full beat calmer, quieter, more serene than life in America.
- Are the reasons purely cultural? Does Irish history promote a quieter lifestyle compared to go-get-’em America?
- Do personal economics play a role? Taxes, overall, are much higher in Ireland. Does that tend to push citizens towards relaxation and away from work?
- Or is America’s hyperconsumerism and advertising culture manipulating us to spend, play, do more, etc.
My takeaway from this Ireland trip: I’ll continue working hard when it’s time to work. But I want to relax more and take life a beat slower. For most Americans – including me – this relaxation is a two-fold process.
- Creating time to relax. We’re all given the same 24-hour day and face the same choices and challenges in how to use that time. I need to actively choose to create quiet moments.
- Working on the ability to truly unwind. That is, to say, “Work is going well. The Best Interest is going well. And they’ll still be going well in an hour, or a day, or however long a period I’m choosing to relax.”
Many of us struggle with that. We’ve programmed our brains on the Notification spectrum. Our subconscious knows emails are slowly dripping into our inboxes. We can’t let it go, even when “relaxing,” leading to a constant level of stress. Eww.
I’ll think back to a quiet pub in drizzly Cork, where the people chatted over the backdrop of Trad music (see video below).
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