Slow down when Life slows you down.
This morning as I sipped my coffee, I thought about the movie that we watched last night on TV. It was the 1972 classic Victoria No. 203 (Brij, Saira Banu, Navin Nischol). Seeing Saira and Navin ride the Victoria, Vaani and I reminisced about the time in the late nineties when we rode it too. We were hosting Jack Canfield (of Chicken Soup for the Soul) at the Taj Mahal hotel at the Gateway of India. And we were staying in a suite in the old wing of the hotel. After our event with Jack was over, in the middle of the night, we set out to ride on a Victoria. It was a slow, beautiful, memorable ride along the magical Marine Drive.
And then I thought about our Life now. From being high-fliers, in a worldly sense, we have apparently been grounded and consigned to a slow Life in the past decade.
Yet, there’s a huge learning from this phase. Which is that, in such times in Life when the journey becomes awfully slow, we must realize that Life is inviting us to enjoy the scenery. But most of us don’t have the attitude to see it that way. At least I didn’t look at Life from that point of view when our bankruptcy struck us in 2007. But I soon discovered that refusing to slow down and instead struggling with and complaining about the painfully slow pace, I was missing the magic and beauty in our Life. There was so much time I had now to spend time with Vaani, to think about the true meaning of Life, to celebrate Aanchal’s growing up years (Aash was already away at college in Chicago by then)…but no, I wasn’t enjoying what I had; I was pining for something else, something which wasn’t even there.
When I reflected upon my struggle, I discovered that the problem lay with the way I had led my Life up until then. Running from event to event, crisis to crisis, trying to make ends meet, earning-a-living, busy working harder than ever before, meeting targets, paying bills, raising children and doing everything else except living mindfully. And then as often happens with Life, the game changed. We were put in a spot where we could not move; we were check-mated.
In our case, it is this numbing bankruptcy. But anyone can find themselves in this “slow spot” right now! It could be a health issue, it could be a career stalemate, it could be a relationship tangle or it could be a legal quagmire. In such times, there may be a tendency to worry and to wish__pray, plead, hope__that why can’t Life fast-forward, why can’t we get back to ‘normalcy’? So, if you are bogged down in an ICU, you wish you could be back in the hustle-bustle of everyday Life. Or if you are caught in the midst of legalese, you just are hoping why don’t you win all your claims and are free to be away from all this disputing and arguing? Interestingly, Life’s not a handmaiden that will do what you please. At times, it just may not move.
Know also that there is no fast-forward button or option in Life. So, when you are pushed to a corner by the cosmic design, the best thing to do is to not worry about not moving. Be happy you can breathe. Because being able to sense your breathing is normal. Running so hard that you don’t even have the time to notice you are breathing, is not normal. Imagine you are climbing a steep mountain in a vehicle. As it negotiates the sharp hair-pin bends, the engine is finding the going tough. So, the vehicle is down to an agonizing crawl. Now, you can worry about that pace and concentrate on the dreary drone of the engine, or you can look out the window and see what the scenery looks like. This is what enjoying the scenery is all about.
“Smile, breathe and go slowly,” advises Thich Nhat Hanh (called ‘Thay’), the Vietnamese Buddhist monk – and among my favorite spiritual teachers. Just being mindful of your being alive__to experiencing whatever you are going through, be it pain, be it joy__is what can make the slowdowns in Life more meaningful. Do all the things that you can joyfully in whatever state you find yourself. And don’t worry about what you can’t. If you are immobilized by a health issue enjoy the ‘grounding’ with a family member who is nursing you; pining to be able to run around will only cause agony. If you are cashless enjoy being able to live without money; hoping you had money will only aggravate your suffering. If you are caught in a relationship problem where there is much misunderstanding, enjoy practicing patience and forgiveness; craving for understanding from the other person may only accentuate your pain. Thay champions mindful living as a cure to all our ailments coming from merely existing. “Life is available only in the present moment. Even drink your tea, slowly and reverently, as if it is the axis on which the world, the earth revolves – slowly, evenly, without rushing toward the future,” he says.
So, that’s what I am doing this morning. I am, while still reminiscing about the beautiful Victoria ride from 20 years ago, savoring every drop of the brilliant coffee that Vaani’s brewed for us. Ah! Life’s slow…but Life’s beautiful too!