It’s taken me a long time, and I wouldn’t say I’m there, to understand the importance of:
- doing one thing at a time;
- bringing all my attention to the task at hand;
- being mindful and staying present to the moment; and
- most importantly of all, slowing everything down.
I blame my previous experience in private practice (law) where every six minutes was measured, and my ability to cram as much into the day was the bedrock of my survival. I’ve written about this before but it changed me beyond recognition and it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that I ended up acting on auto-pilot and everything became very dry and brittle; I’d say, denuded of soul. It wasn’t just my legal career. Long before that, I had an insatiable desire to do…as much as humanly possible and it’s a wonder I didn’t have a heart attack.
What’s your current relationship with time/doing?
Do you ever stop to consider if the idea of doing as much as possible — the dreaded To-Do list or another GTD programme — might not be the best way to live your life?
Oops, there I go again. Finger-wagging my opinion.
But I’m serious.
How many of us stop, pause and breathe during the day — even now we’re WFH, teaching our kids, retired or whatever else rules our day?
As I said in a previous post, I’ve now got a Chrome extension (a mindfulness bell) that I found on the Plum Village website that you can also download as an App that goes off every 15 minutes. You can set it for longer but 15 minutes feels right. For the time that the bell sounds, I stop, close my eyes, breathe in and follow my in-breath and do the same on the out-breath. I don’t count but I sit very still and allow myself to come back to my body and to be fully present. You might think that it’s distracting to do this but it’s quite the reverse. I actually welcome, in a non-seeking way (i.e. I’m not expecting anything to arise), time with myself.
This isn’t all I’m doing: I’m making a very deliberate effort to do everything a lot slower than before: walking, doing the dishes and cleaning, being three obvious examples. (I’m still struggling to eat more slowly!) Not to gild the existential lily too much but I feel intrinsically so much better. I feel connected like I haven’t done for a long while; and in fact, today, I’m going to spend the day trying to do things even more slowly simply because I’m not working and can afford, and I realise how lucky I am to be able to do this, to do very little if I choose to do so.
You might ask why I haven’t come alive to slow living before now? It’s a good question. I’m certainly aware of some of the books in this area but (and I don’t mind admitting this) it was watching a film on Thich Nhat Hanh that made me realise how much I’d let things get out of control. In what sense? In the sense that doing much the same thing day after day had not only become very attritional but had made me quite despairing at the loss of my humanness. Now, having slowed things down and brought my attention to the present moment has or at least is starting to bring some colour and vibrancy back to my life. It’s not easy, though. In fact, given the strength of my work ethic and the habits formed over 40 years, I’d be lying if I didn’t feel the psychic urge to speed up and get things done as quickly as possible so that I can, well, get on to the next task. At this point, I’m laughing inside thinking to myself how little I’ve actually achieved with this modus operandi. Oh sure, I’ve acquired a bushel of stuff, experiences and job titles but I’ve been so intent on doing or getting that I’ve not felt them as deeply as I should or might have done.
You might ask or at least I ask myself, why am I sharing my nascent slow living discovery? Do I expect you to do something similar or to chime in and say “Welcome to the Club”? I’m not sure. Perhaps it all sounds a bit soppy or daft for a 53-year-old bloke to be fessing up to his hyperactive woes but all I know is that I haven’t felt this level of peace for a long time and whilst I’m not seeking anything, I find it quite remarkable that something so ordinary should have made such a major difference.
If you’re comfortable sharing your experience in the comments section of this blog, I’d love to hear from you on the notion of slow living. If you’re not that’s fine but I think I’ll make a point of writing further about how things are and have played out with my new-found discovery over the coming weeks.