The Art of Slowing Down: An Excerpt from "Full Cup, Thirsty Spirit"
"So much time and so little to do. Wait a minute. Strike that. Reverse it."
— WILLY WONKA
One key to taking care of ourselves lies in learning how to slow down. I have a friend who's in the middle of a well-deserved sabbatical. These months represent the first chance she's had in two decades to unwind a bit as a working, single mom. "It's just incredible," she remarked, "having time to exercise and read and cook meals and walk outside—it's really unbelievable."
"I'm curious," I asked her. "What's the best part: the exercising, the reading, the cooking, or the walking?"
Without hesitation she replied, "Just having time—that's all. I've never gotten to slow down before and it's liberating."
Although few of us are graced with the chance to have a sabbatical, most of us could greatly benefit from the opportunity to have more space and time in life so that slowing down could be an option. We live in a culture of speed, and although I've always known this, it became especially apparent to me several years ago when I traveled to Bali.
Within the first day of being there, I found myself awestruck by the Balinese pace of life. I watched them as though they were some rare species, feeling puzzled by the sight of humans moving without rushing. I had never seen people engage in daily tasks without a sense of needing to get on to the next thing.
It also became apparent that they didn't seem to worry in nearly the way I was accustomed to seeing. As opposed to holding tension in their bodies, they carried a quality of lightness and a radiant smile. I commented to a Balinese priest about how people in our country tend to pray, and then worry, and then continue rushing in response to their worry—but people in their country seem to just pray. He confirmed my sense that they actually trust in their prayers.
I realize that my fascination with the Balinese lack of rushing and worrying is based on my own life story. From a young age, my mind has known how to worry and my body has known how to rush with impeccable skill and familiarity. I would say that I was born with these abilities, but I know that technically this isn't possible. Maybe it's more fair to say that somewhere between my first breath and the time I graduated from elementary school these ways of being had become second nature. I could perform them with the ease of a rodeo cowboy spinning his lasso in all directions and with the automatic reflex of a short-order cook flipping dozens of burgers on a grill. My successes at speed were rewarded from a young age: setting records in the 50-yard dash and bringing home certificates that boasted of how many times I could jump rope in ten minutes. I excelled at speed reading and quickly learned that the faster I got homework done, well, the faster it got done.
Even while being on vacation in Bali, having no need to be in a hurry, I found myself still feeling like a rusher in contrast to these people. Our first night out to dinner, as we were finishing our desserts, my husband asked for the check. Our waiter paused and turned to us with a puzzled look on his face. "Why you in such a hurry?"
My first thought was, Because, sir, this is what my people do. But instead of speaking these words, I shrugged my shoulders and half-motioned to our children as though they were the root cause.
I realized how adamant I was to protect the Balinese pace of life as we were driving to the airport to leave the island. We passed a billboard for McDonald's that read: "Buru Buru?" and showed a picture of a cheeseburger. The presence of the restaurant, alone, felt wrong to me, but then I made the mistake of asking our taxi driver, "What does buru buru mean?"
"Ahh," he said, "it means 'in a hurry.'"
I screamed, "No!" so loudly that I startled him. "Don't let them take over your land. No buru buru . . . resist the buru buru!"
I realize that my passionate outcry came from knowing the sort of suffering that comes from rushing and experiencing how hard it is to convert to being a nonrusher once the art of moving quickly has been perfected. For me, it's an ongoing journey of catching myself when I'm moving too fast.
Many people come to my counseling office because they feel overwhelmed by the rushed pace of life. Often, their eyes well up with tears as they sit down on my sofa, simply because they have a rare chance to slow down and be present with themselves. Whenever I leave people alone for a minute or two as I'm getting them a cup of tea, their response is even more notable when I return. Along with the arrival of tears, there's an arrival of wisdom. It's almost uncanny the level of clarity that emerges from simply sitting down for several minutes . . .