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!
You must examine your choices if you are not happy with the quality of your Life!
We bumped into a friend who has been wanting to meet us for several months now. Every time he receives an invite for any of our public events, he will promptly message me saying he’s going to try and make it. Then on the day of the event, he will cry out citing a business schedule. Most of our events are on weekends and almost all weekends he is traveling. When we met him yesterday, he was apologetic. “My Life’s not in my hands. I am just a slave of the work I do. I am always rushing, from meeting to meeting, from city to city, from crisis to crisis,” he confessed.
I have been in that place. I have run for over 20 years of my Life like a maniac. I have been so rushed for years on end that I did not even know how my children were growing up. Until Life brought everything, all my busy-ness, to a grinding halt and helped me value slowing down. So, what I am sharing here comes from personal experience. Do take some time off to calmly evaluate your Life.
And you may like to begin by employing a weekend, perhaps this one, to reflect on how your week has gone by! Meetings. Deadlines. Delays. Stress. Anxiety. And before you knew it, the week’s over. Where did it disappear? And how much quality time did you get for yourself – to focus on what matters most and why?
If you found those questions uncomfortable, you must ask yourself another one – why are you rushing through Life, chasing your tail most of the time, and not savoring any moment?
You have a choice though to slow down. And to go through Life slowly, soaking in each moment, is a skill that can be learned just as any other.
But begin with a re-examination of yourself and almost everyone around you. From the time we wake up, to the time we sleep, we are rushed. The way we read our morning papers, the way we bathe, the way we eat, the way we drive, the way we walk, all of it is gripped by a sense of busy-ness that ultimately will lead us to the same point that everyone will arrive at: death! Why will you want to hurry towards an appointment with death? Well, that’s what we are doing precisely – by being rushed all the time!!!
Ask anyone who’s rushing why he or she is in a hurry and you will hear them say: “Well, I am saving time!” Saving time? The irony is, at the end of the day, everyone who’s rushing always complains that there isn’t enough time! Your rushing may help you cover the distance faster but will not enable you to enjoy the scenery. At the end of all the rush, when it is time to depart, you will regret never having lived, never having arrived where you intended to, never having smelled the flowers in Life’s garden!
Here are 10 simple changes you can make to your routine so that you can live and savor this experience of living – and not just rush to earn-a-living!
Reduce the number of meetings that you have to have in a day: one big or two small ones is all you can take
Arrive at the airport with 2 hours to spare before a flight
Eat you meals slower than you normally do relishing each morsel
Spend 15 additional minutes with your family each day; when you kiss your spouse and children goodbye, look at them just a wee bit longer.
Take an additional few minutes in the bath thinking not of the day’s schedules but of how rejuvenating bathing is
Read one inspiring passage over 30 minutes daily
Read it at least once more before you retire for the day
When you see Nature in full bloom__a sunrise, sunset or trees swaying in the breeze or birds chirping__pause, admire, soak in, before you proceed
Spend 15 minutes daily on Facebook connecting or chatting with childhood friends
Be silent for 20 minutes daily.
Spiritual thinker Eknath Easwaran says, “Where hurry prevails, there can be no satisfaction for the doer.” So, stop rushing, stop the hurrying…simply flow with Life. And, well, if you are not happy with the quality of your Life, you now know who is responsible and where to start!