Don’t Be Seduced by Immediacy



I came across a quote last week that I want to share with you.

It’s taken from a letter that Charles Darwin—the Father of Evolution—wrote at the end of his life. He said:

“Up to the age of 30, or beyond it, poetry gave me great pleasure. But now for many years I cannot endure to read a line of poetry. My mind seems to have become a kind of machine for grinding general laws out of large collections of facts, and if I had to live my life again, I would have made a rule to read some poetry and listen to some music several times every week. The loss of these tastes is a loss of happiness, and may possibly be injurious to the intellect and more probably to the moral character, by enfeebling the emotional part of our nature.”

Now I could care less about “moral character,” but what Darwin wrote about making time really resonated with me.

As I write this blog, I’m in the midst of the hectic final launch phase of another fitness ebook package. It’s the best ebook we’ve produced to date, and after three or four sleepless weeks of production it finally goes on sale tonight at midnight.

It’s so easy to get caught up in work, especially when that work is well received.

Darwin’s words are a reminder not to lose sight of the things that truly fulfill me, and not to marginalize that which I love the most.

They are a reminder to always defend that precious hour of reading time each day, no matter how much the work piles up. Reading is the fuel of good writing, and it’s also a window on a larger world of thought, experience and ideas that span centuries. A life without reading is a life lived on the surface.

Darwin’s words are a reminder to make time to plug in good headphones and really listen to music that means something. I used to do that a lot. These days I only do it on airplanes. When wifi reaches the air, I’ll lose that space too.

Darwin’s words are a reminder to leave on a regular basis. To drop off the map entirely, stop taking calls, stop replying to emails, and just wander alone in a country where I don’t speak the language–no matter what the “project timeline” dictates. To find those special landscapes and spend entire days sitting at a café table, soaking up the feeling of that place, waiting for insights to float to the surface. Those are the only times I ever truly grow.

Finally, Darwin’s words are a reminder that, while we each have many talents, we have only one true gift. You’ll recognize yours immediately because it’s the only one that doesn’t feel like “work.” I wear many hats, but I am at core a travel writer. That’s all.

It can be easy to forget that core as life speeds up and pulls us each in.

Did anyone ever picture Darwin as a lover of poetry? Neither did I. In my imagination Darwin exists as a hard-headed, clear cut, bushy bearded man of science. But who knows what more he could have been if he hadn’t accepted that mold.

What do Darwin’s words mean to you?

And more importantly, what are you going to do about it?


About the author

Ryan Murdock

Author of A Sunny Place for Shady People and Vagabond Dreams: Road Wisdom from Central America. Host of Personal Landscapes podcast. Editor-at-Large (Europe) for Canada's Outpost magazine. Writer at The Shift. Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.


  • Fascinating. That is certainly a side of Darwin that you don’t hear often. While on the one hand, I can very much relate to the state of mind he was in, but I feel it may be that he prematurely surrendered his hope in taking pleasure from poetry.
    I use my mind to plow through data all day long, and have trained it to do so for most of my life. It’s really hard to come home from that and find any enjoyment in poetry. If my mind is still in the mode where it sees the words as “just more data”, forget it… there’s no hope for even the best poem to reach my imagination much less form an image. I have to somehow transition out of that mental state, which almost always involves something I can “meditate” to, such as movement, music, or preparing food. When I’m so far gone that even those things don’t work, traveling with a pen and journal is a sure-fire cure.
    I wonder if what he lacked wasn’t the ability to appreciate poetry, but a method to shift or shock his mind out of an rut he created by over-training it?

  • Agree!
    Earlier there were times of high intensity work and times of bohemian hedonism. But the better we get in what we are doing or the more others discover we are good at something the more work we have to do. So we increase our work capacity, improve our time management, instead of moving for the joy of doing it we have detailed workout plan, instead of cooking for it’ own joy with food we love we fuel our body to have more engery. It’s nothing wrong to have a plan to progress and reach a goal but it have to be balanced out by doing things for it own sake… or simply doing “nothing”. It’s good to care for your body but one shouldn’t forget to fuel your soul. There will always be a next timeline/milestone/report/business trip/presentation if one take some hippie time or not. But without one could forget why we are doing that all.

  • Great post Ryan!
    It’s so easy to go a million miles an hour on nothing. At least, nothing that truely resonates with the soul.
    It’s too easy to replace the important with the “urgent” or “have to’s.” Soon, we find ourselves as perhaps Darwin did – missing a piece of us that matters and not knowing quite how to get it back.

  • Interesting peice Ryan. Everyone I know seems to be living at a break neck pace with hardly a chance to digest, let alone reflect on what we have done and seen. I feel it is imperative that we demand of ourselves a time for daily contemplation. A space to decompress and contextualize the information overload that is our daily life in 2011.

    Some people fear a sensory deprivation chamber…. sounds wonderful to me.



    • Yeah, it’s so easy to get caught up in other people’s agendas or fulfilling other people’s dreams. Especially if you’re part of a group or an organization. When you’re just keeping up you can lose track of the things that are truly important.

      >Some people fear a sensory deprivation chamber…. sounds wonderful to me.

      Going to the desert works that way for me. It always seems to put things back in perspective.

  • “do what you love, and love what you do” – even if at the moment you feel your not where you would like to be or doing what you love; you can work toward it so that eventually you can make it your reality. I like what Bob Proctor always says: “you don’t go to work to make money; you go to work for satisfaction”


Sign up for my entertaining email newsletter and claim your FREE gift!

Recent Posts