Don’t let your mind bully your body into believing it must carry the burden of its worries
– Astrid Alauda
Have I ever told you writing is a kind of therapy? Well, it is.
I found out that sometimes, I write as a way of thinking. This month was very hectic for me and therefore for our entire family. I had many big projects to complete and I could not do them without the help of my family. Gal and the kids helped me a lot and we ended up dedicating almost 3 weekends to this work (we are still recovering from work, work and more work). All this work involved doing things I love, so it made me excited and I was in total flow and winding down was not easy. That made me think about slowing down as the topic this time.
Slowing down is a challenge for many people. The more successful you are at what you do, the more you risk being unable to slow down and enjoy the simple things. Slowing down is a challenge for me, so I am taking the time to write what happened to me in the last month and how I got over it (still doing that).
There is more to life than increasing its speed
In recent years (decades), “fast” was the name of the game. Everything changed pace and with the many rewards of a fast life, we lost the pleasures of smelling the flowers along the way. We cannot say there is only bad in a fast life, because technology and fast engines have allowed me to fly across the ocean for 24 hours and see my parents on the other side of the world. Without that technology, it would have taken me weeks to travel by ship (300 years ago, sailing across the ocean in ship was considered fast travel – it was much faster than swimming).
To achieve great things, two things are needed: a plan and not quite enough time
– Leonard Bernstein
It is funny how humanity has developed and shifted to doing things faster in order to cheat death, yet this is the same reason we need to slow down. We are “time poor” and we have reached a point where to gain quantity (achievements, possessions, fame), we have sacrificed quality (wisdom, character, love, health).
In the old days, people felt they did not have enough time to do all the things they wanted to do. It is easy to see why people whose life expectancy was 40 or 50 years could not do all the things we can do now and looked for ways to do things faster. I think they did a very good job of it too. Thanks to them, we can send our kids to school and we do not need to personally hunt or gather food.
The world institute of slowness was formed in 1999 to facilitate a slow awareness around the globe. The idea that we are missing the joy of what life has to offer by doing things quickly without taking the time to connect with ourselves, with our planet, with our families and with others, has inspired movements of slowing down around the world.
The first person who brought “slowing down” to people’s attention was Carlo Petrini who protested in 1980 against the opening of a MacDonald’s store in Rome. Back then, he started the “slow food” movement, using the idea of slow food as a counter idea to the booming “fast food” industry. Carlo Petrini protested against shifting food from one place to another and encouraged going back to the appreciating local produce and enjoying the process of making (and eating) our food, rather than just quickly satisfying our hunger.
There is a whole line of thought claiming that our population is obese because we do not enjoy our food – we fight it. Food is no longer fuel for the body – it is the enemy.
Gal and I first heard about it when we lived in California and went to a meditation class. The instructor taught us a different kind of meditation every week and one kind was Eating Meditation. She said we do not pay attention to what we eat and because we lack time, we tend to do many other things while we eat – we read, watch TV, talk, etc. Some people even work while they eat, which does not allow the food to be digested properly.
She gave us a raisin and asked us to keep it in our mouth as long as we can. That was hard! Try it yourself and measure how long you can keep a raisin in your mouth.
Another activity she gave us was to count how many times we chewed the food before swallowing it. She said we needed to chew each bite 27 times to get the most out of it. So for about a week, we tried counting and realized we were eating so fast it was not funny.
When we were tired, we chewed less. When we were stressed, we chewed less. When we worked, we chewed less. When we talked, we chewed less. As we started paying attention to what other people did, we realized that most people chewed each bite of food only 2-4 times.
Half our life is spent trying to find something to do with the time we have rushed through life trying to save
– Will Rogers
While Carlo Petrini started the slow movement from food, he has many fans who claim we are missing some other essentials when we speed our life up.
I am sure you can appreciate the advantages of having a mobile phone even with the loss of face-to-face contact. Eden is only 24 years younger than I am, yet while I prefer personal contact with other people, her generation prefers text messaging and will not even pick up the phone and talk to someone, let alone go to see them.
It is like waiting in line for a rollercoaster ride, then going through the anticipation of the climb, and finally finding ourselves flying upside down at a dizzying speed and not being able to stop and get off until the ride is over. Life is pretty much the same – we want to achieve some things very much, but then we get caught up in a hectic life that just keeps going and going.
This is exactly what happened to me last month. I was looking forward to all those projects and I was very happy they came, but with them came 3 hectic weeks with pressure and little sleep. We knew things would become hectic and even talked about it beforehand and looked for ways to make sure we would handle the overload. Still, it was intense.
I think it is not practical to slow down on all fronts. Fighting all the speed of the world can cause extra pressure, which we wish to avoid. I recommend choosing your battles and taking the time to enjoy, rest, embrace slowness, relax and take advantage of the times when your rollercoaster stops to pick up new passengers.
Take rest. A field that has rested gives a bountiful crop
How to slow down (and smell the flowers)
- Have family dinners as often as you can and try to really be together. Turn off the TV while you eat. Do not answer the phone while you eat. Do not read or do your work while you eat. Just be together and enjoy your food. To make you slow down the speed of eating, try chewing longer. It is easy to make a game out of it if there are kids around. When you get to 27 times per bite without much effort, you will know you are relaxed.
- Plan ahead. Planning ahead is a great way to ease the overload. If you have a system to record your plans and schedule them, ask yourself, “What can I do ahead of time to prevent the stress that I will have in three weeks when I need to do that special event?” My editor sends me due dates for articles two months in advance. To make sure I am not stressed by having too many things to do at once, I schedule each article a month before her due date. I call that “Ronit’s due date”.
- Schedule rests in your daily, weekly, monthly and yearly timetables. Rest is needed for a good functioning of the body, not to mention emotional functioning. Resting or taking time off is meant to help us rejuvenate and charge the batteries of our body and our motivation. It is so much easier for me to do my job when the reward is there. When a job or task is long, it can be hard to keep motivated. When we have pressure, I remind everyone of the weekend. If I feel there is a drop of energy, I remind myself and others of our next vacation or some fun thing we have planned to do together. It helps us keep motivated and less stressed, because we realize the pressure will not last forever.
- Turn off the mobile phone. It is amazing how a mobile phone can speed us up. The worst thing about it is getting into the instant gratification habit. When we are having a calm and relaxed outing and a phone rings, it is shocking for me to see people having a small panic attack and everyone touches their pockets or looks at their mobile phone to see if it was ringing. I was at a funeral once when someone’s phone rang. If you are not in a life-and-death kind of job, you are not supposed to pick up your mobile phone as soon as it rings – while eating, while working, while having fun, while trying to concentrate on a task. It is OK if the caller waits until you finish. Try! It is amazingly liberating.
- Sleep enough. When we have too many things to do, we tend to steal time from our sleep and do the work until late at night. If you steal sleep time from yourself, you will have to catch up and if you do not, your body will force you to take time off (be sick) in times that are not necessary comfortable for you. Make sure any lack of sleep is short term and do not do it over a long period or your body starts to deteriorate. Use the weekend to recover.
- Work when you are most effective. Some people are “night owls” and others prefer to wake up early and work when their mind is fresh. Work with your body, not against it. When you are not at your peak, do easy things, rest or play.
- Work in a team. Getting someone to help you is a great way to handle stressful situations. Talk to your colleagues, family or friends and ask them for help. Delegating some of your work can free up your time. Of course, you can return the favor later. On a normal week, I go shopping, do some of the cooking and cleaning, but in the 3 weeks where I was out of the house 8 days out 15, I did not do the shopping or cooking.
- Prioritize. I have always admired Gal’s mom because every night, when her younger girls went to bed, she sat next to them and read them a book or had a chat with them, then gave them a good night hug and kiss. I saw her doing this when I was a teenager and TV was very important to me (and everyone else). While others rushed from the TV, gave a hug and a kiss and went back to watching their show, she sat there relaxed and never felt she was missing anything. For her, saying good night to the kids was way more important than TV, so she never felt she was missing anything.
- Focus. There is a beautiful Zen saying, “If you walk, walk. If you sit, sit. Whatever you do, don’t wobble”. It means that when you do something, do it with all your heart and dedicated yourself entirely to it. Instead of trying to do hundreds of things at the same time, clear the space to allow you to concentrate on what you are doing. If you are doing something, make sure you can do it without disturbance or distractions. Many people carry with them the worries of the daily life when they go on vacation or take time off. When you are on vacation, have fun!
- Meditate. I have written a lot about meditation. Meditating is an excellent way to “buy” time and ease the stress. Last week, I took a group of kids to a leadership camp. I gave them an assignment they had to stay late at night to complete. I promised them I would stay awake until the last kid has gone to sleep. I ended up going to sleep at 1am (after a full day of concentrating and talking) and I had to be up and functioning again at 6am. My solution is always to meditate. I personally do the Transcendental Meditation, of which every 20 minutes is equivalent to 2 hours of sleep. I believe any meditation can do the same. Meditating is one of the best and easiest investments. Learn to meditate. It calms the mind and allows you to enjoy the following day.
- Wherever you go, look for flowers and smell at least some of them.
This is what I do when I want to get off the rollercoaster. It is so easy for me to go up there because I like speed and I am an action-oriented person, but in the last month, I needed to let go a bit and take time off, relax and smell the flowers along the way.
Here is a poem I love. I think the end of it sums up the importance of slowing down.
A Creed to Live By
– Nancy Simms
Don’t undermine your worth by comparing yourself to others.
It is because we are different that each of us is special.
Don’t set your goals by what other people deem important.
Only you know what is best for you.
Don’t take for granted the things closest to your heart.
Cling to them as you would your life, for without them, life is meaningless.
Don’t let life slip through your fingers by living in the past or for the future.
By living your life one day at a time, you live all the days of your life.
Don’t give up when you still have something to give.
Nothing is really over until the moment you stop trying.
Don’t de afraid to admit that you are less than perfect.
It is this fragile thread that binds us to each other.
Don’t be afraid to encounter risks.
It is by taking chances that we learn to be brave.
Don’t shut love out of your life by saying it is impossible to find.
The quickest way to receive love is to give love.
The fastest way to lose love is to hold it too tightly,
and the best way to keep love is to give it wings.
Don’t dismiss your dreams.
To be without dreams is to be without hope.
To be without hope is to be without purpose.
Don’t run through life so fast that you forget not only where you’ve been, but also where you are going.
Life is not a race, but a journey to be savored each step of the way.
Lots of love and hugs.
Enjoy the flowers!