I have been sitting in a coffee shop in Canary Wharf watching people going up and down escalators. If there is a Brave New World in London, surely Canary Wharf is it: when I ascend from the underground into the monumental station entry, and up a huge escalator into the light, I always feel like a troglodyte emerging into a better, brighter world.
While I sip a strong skinny latte, I can’t help notice that escalators go round and round. They take people up or down, then the stairs flip over and circle round to do the same thing again, at least until the power shuts down. Rather like us.
Canary Wharf architecture is truly heroic, reaching for the sky, larger than life. Glass and concrete celebrate our ability to build, and the shops overflow. Yet the heroic ascent also requires a descent, and the escalator seems emblematic of this. In the mornings thousands ascend from the underground, and in the evening they descend again.
Rather than be caught in a myth that life is ever rising, ever about developing ourselves and growing, the escalator suggests circularity. The shadow side of perpetual growth and self-improvement is exhaustion, stress and burn out. The escalator takes us down as well as up. Sometimes we need to descend, fall apart, grow down, go to sleep, withdraw.
I forget this too easily. I push myself, swayed by the prevailing culture of achievement and activity, and too seldom withdraw. My suggestion this month is to celebrate going down escalators, withdrawing from the heroic struggle, and allowing yourself to fall apart when you need to.
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