Routine is like the white termite, silently and invisibly making its way into the wooden beams until it has eaten away and undermined the foundations of the building. It is like the shadow imperceptibly slipping into a room at dusk. Since it is not light, no one likes it; since it is not darkness, no one fears it. Hence, it goes unnoticed. This is called routine. Routine is neither a cancer nor a virus. It does not appear in any pathological chart. Professionals do not know it or, at least, do not worry about it. That is why no one studies its causes or searches for remedies to fight it. Routine is not adventurous and it takes no part in scandals. It goes so unnoticed that no one is afraid even of its shadow.
Nevertheless, and precisely because of all that has been said, routine is the most destabilizing force in all human institutions and in life itself. First, without any doubt, it is the worst gnawing element threatening the institution of marriage. Apart from any problems of adaptation that may arise between spouses, evident from the moment of the honeymoon, routine begins to undermine the roots of love and illusion.
Routine can be found in the offices of professionals, in the activities of priesthood, in the tasks of the mother, and in the life of communities and groups. Finally, it will take over all human activities, reducing them all to monotony and boredom. Because of the effects of routine, people experience a constant decline of tension in their commitments. They lose the initial momentum and their enthusiasm wanes. Apathy appears and the dream fades. Nothing is either cold or hot and therefore everything is boring.
A beautiful melody fascinates us today, but after hearing it fifteen times, it loses some of its appeal because our interest in it has faded. If we hear it thirty times, it bores us, and after listening to it fifty times, we are fed up with it. A delicious dish, served morning, noon and night for several days, will tire us at first, then annoy us, and finally, completely nauseate us.
So, ¿what is routine? If it is difficult to detect, it is even more difficult to describe and practically impossible to define.
There are a few concepts whose boundaries inter-sect with those of routine. They are boredom, monotony, weariness, nausea. Sometimes, the dividing line between them is not clear. Let us say that, compared with the previous one, each new moment brings us something new. For example, right now I am exercising; after that, I will shower: after that, I will go to the office and work for several hours; later, I will attend to the patients in the consulting office; then, I will listen to music; next, I will have lunch; later, I will go out for a walk… It is obvious that, objectively, each moment is different from the previous one since each moment has its own content or activity.
But, if while performing different activities I do not perceive each of them as distinct, I am already faced with boredom, and routine begins to cast its shadow. Now, if each moment implies a particular activity, as activities lose their sharpness, moments will lose their specific outline and become superimposed. Internal time is thus blurred and abolished, and we get enmeshed in routine.
Routine is caused, in part, by repetition. Every thing or situation perceived for the first time, is new: everything that is new brings novelty. What we call novelty or newness is the experience of grasping a particular thing or situation for the first time. But if the thing has novelty, so has the moment, and we perceive the difference between one moment and the next; we qualify that perception as internal time.
Inasmuch as the thing or situation is repeated, the novelty “wears off’. It loses its originality or impact. In the final analysis, newness is nothing but the impact that an object can produce on the receiving subject. If the situation is repeated again and again in the same way, the impact may vanish, along with the amazement and novelty.
For this reason, we see the relationship of couples, who have been faithful to their commitment for four or five years, begins to deteriorate. The couple leads a life-less existence dominated by apathy. They are unable to instill any newness in what they do each day, they are without a dream.
Every day we meet young people who are bored with life at twenty-five. They have no ideals or projects for the future and are drowning their boredom in alcohol and drugs. We could say that there are very few who maintain, over the years, their pristine out look that are the flower and fruit of the ability for grace. This explains the human phenomenon of the old feeling young and of the young feeling old.
There is the temptation of turning to variety in order to overcome routine: traveling to new countries, discovering other peoples or unknown vistas, making new friends, changing daily habits. All this is good and may even prove helpful.
But this is not the way to a genuine solution. Novelty must come from within, not from outside. A breathtaking panorama, seen through the eyes of a sad spectator, is no more than a sad panorama. To one who is depressed, a splendid spring day looks as gloomy as autumn. So often the effects of a symphony or a poem depend on the mood of the listener or the reader!
What is important is to keep our lamp burning. When a light is shining within us, everything is bright. A spirit open to amazement invests the entire universe with newness.
Here is the secret: be an eternal child, ready to give a new name to each situation and to each thing, one by one, as on the first morning of creation.
Extracted from the book “From suffering to peace” by Fr. Ignacio Larrañaga