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Sunday, January 17, 2016

Mindfulness - Slow Down

smlp, Flickr

We have been paying more attention to our lives, and noticing our internal state as well as the external circumstances, whenever possible. We have made interesting discoveries (go back to the previous posts for some examples, both in the text and in the comments). 

Despite those efforts to apply a mindful attitude to our daily life, I am willing to bet that in most circumstances, most of us are still operating on auto-pilot. We are oblivious to many of our own feelings and sensations. We react more than we act, based on past experiences, habitual patterns, and assumptions about what constitutes the right way to live our life. If we stay on this path, no significant progress can be made. We will continue to feel tense, frustrated, inadequate, guilty.

Time to deepen our awareness.

But why "waste our time on awareness", some will think, when there are more urgent matters to take care of? Our lives are unsatisfactory (and, for many, rather hectic). We don't want to use our precious time for reflection. We want results. It's understandable.

The truth is, no real awareness, and thus no true change, is possible without first slowing down. It's hard to see clearly when your mind and body are rushing. A while ago, I had this conversation with D: 

Me: I feel like I'm running all the time, without making any progress
D: You must be running in the wrong direction

Those sage words left me pensive. Running in the wrong direction sounds like a deplorable waste of time and energy, doesn't it? I have a feeling it is precisely what most of us are doing. But how can we really tell unless we first slow down?

I will admit that slowing down is hard, especially in a society like ours. Being busy and/or rushed is worn like a badge of honor. Don't we feel somewhat suspicious of people who don't have much to do? Don't we look down on them? Even if it was out of envy?

Add to that the speed technology has gotten us used to (the speed at which images change on TV and in movies, the speed at which we access information and each other), and it's no wonder our minds and bodies feel so frantic. I have stopped counting the number of friends and family members who have told me that "yoga is too slow" for them, let alone meditation. I don't think it's an idiosyncrasy; I think it's a reflection of our society's hasty pace. It takes time to get used to go slow.

"But I don't have time to slow down", many will say. I get that. Believe me, I do. I work full-time on top of trying to kick start my freelance writing business and training for races; I have two kids, three pets, a house and a big yard. If you asked me how often I feel on top of things, I would reply without hesitation: "never". But I have also noticed that rushing made no significant difference. Worse, it sometimes creates additional problems.

Driving fast, for example, will save you one or two minutes at best, but will raise your stress level and put you more at risk for accidents. The same applies to most daily activities: eating fast, talking fast, brushing your teeth fast... it doesn't really give you more time, but more importantly, it's stressful for your mind and body. What happens when you rush all day? Eventually, you collapse. You collapse on your couch each night, bag of chips in hand, and mindlessly surf the channels until bed time. You collapse mentally and can't focus at work or can't handle daily stresses (e.g. your kids drive you crazy). A burnout is around the corner. You collapse physically and get ill. 

Here's my long-distance runner piece of advice: pace yourself so you can lastWhen you slow down, you don't accomplish less. In fact, you may very well accomplish more; by doing things at a realistic pace and paying attention to what's going on, you don't get to the exhausted state (mentally, physically), which in turn means that you don't need to "compensate" with your usual addictions, whatever they are (eating, drinking, smoking, shopping, gaming, etc.)

In addition, most things benefit from being done slower:

  • eat slower, drink slower (so you know when you're full)
  • talk slower (so you have time to think it over; also, listen more)
  • read slower (so that ideas make their way to your mind)
  • walk slower (so you notice the beauty around you)
  • make love slower (so you enjoy it better)
  • etc.

If speed was what matters the most, we wouldn't take the time to sip on coffee. We would pop a caffeine pill and go on with our day. 

How does this apply to other aspects of your life?

Mindfulness this Week

This week, do something slower. It doesn't matter what it is. Pick something and systematically do it slower, with more awareness. Tell us how it felt!

Be part of the process: 

Submit your comments below

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  1. Well done. This has been a huge priority for me of late. After the loss of a friend's young daughter in November, and along with the news another friend's daughter will not see next year, I realized how much I need to slow down. So instead of jumping back into my business full-on after the holidays, I took off to parts north for a walk about.

    We say each day is a gift, but to we live it...? I am learning to do just that. Even this comment came only after 1 2 mile walk with my dog, music and coffee before the sunrise, and breakfast later with my mother.

    Mindfulness; it's an unlimited resource. Thank you, Julie..

    1. I am sorry to hear about your losses, Roy. Does one have to suffer before they understand the importance of slowing down? Perhaps. Losing my father 15 years ago certainly helped me understand that life is too short to chase your own tail. Thank you for that comment.

    2. "Does one have to suffer before they understand the importance of slowing down?" Yes.

  2. Great column! It's true that most people are running in the wrong direction. The problem is that they are far from alone, and it's hard to change when you don't see good examples of those doing it a better way. I learned long ago to put some slow time in most every day.

    1. We humans are like sheep... we follow the rest of the group, often without thinking. By slowing down, we allow ourselves to notice where we are headed, and adjust accordingly.

  3. It is very true that slowing down and applying mindfulness to each task will get you through them faster and with far more enjoyment.

    1. I am glad you agree, Delores! I imagine you have experienced it in your own life. :-)

  4. Before I read your post I was thinking a lot of what you said before you said it. Weird I know but with so much going on I have been taking the time to do each thing with thought. I drive school bus and you can't rush that so while do that I have been listening to my kids more, feeling their happiness and sorrows. You know that kids feel like us sometimes? So much to do and no me time. I also take care of my parents between busing. I have decided that there is nothing here at home that needs my attention more than they do when I'm there. So for 4-5 hour each and every day I am theirs. We do what needs to be done and than just sit and chatter. I admit it's not always like this but I am trying to get there. When my son calls or stops by I am doing my best not to be doing anything else but being with him. He got mad at me the other day cuz I knew he was going to leave as soon as dinner was over so I showed him something on my computer and he got mad. He really was right, it was our dinner time, our time to connect and the computer got in the way. It wasn't even something important on my computer. When I get home in the evening my husband is out in his garage working. I try my best to just go out there for an hour or two and listen about his day, listen to what he's going going on, thinking about. But in doing all of this for others am I getting the time I need for slowing down, for me? You know the answer is yes. I still like some quiet me time but when I'm not rushing around all the time, taking the time I need for others and than for me, it all works out.
    I love your posts, you have me thinking and pondering and trying to crave out the happiness that is there everyday, but sometimes hard to see.
    Take care and have a blessed week.

    1. It sounds like you have given this a lot of thought. I like the children and family members example: they do deserve our undivided attention. The next step is to give yourself your undivided attention, too. :-)