At the risk of sounding geezerly, I’d like to suggest a new catchphrase for the new year.
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“Just slow down.”
It’s not fancy, but it’s almost as catchy as “Just do it,” and I’ve lived with that one (thank you, Nike) for decades. I use it to rouse myself from my natural state — procrastination — into action, so I can finish that chore. Write that essay. Get some exercise. Go-go-go.
That approach — just do it — has been useful as far as it goes. Those things did (and still do) need doing. But I’ve come to believe you can accomplish a lot while allowing a little “breathing room” into your life, too.
My dad used to suggest this all the time.
“Jenny, build a little cushion into your schedule,” he’d say. “Don’t be so busy all the time.” My mother, for her part, modeled the same message by her behavior. I don’t remember ever seeing her racing around like a headless chicken. With five daughters, she had plenty to do, but she moved gracefully through her days, never seeming to hurry.
“Slow down” is hard for young people to hear, however. When you’re young, you think those offering such advice just don’t understand. There are things to do, people to see. Goals to achieve, a living to make. Hobbies to pursue and, eventually, a family to raise.
Maybe it’s one of those concepts you just can’t “get” while you’re young. Maybe understanding how to slow your mind and temper your pace is one of the many surprising gifts of aging. (There are actually a lot of such gifts — aging isn’t as bad as our culture would have us believe.)
Modern technology, of course, prods us in the opposite direction. Gadgets and gizmos and social platforms seem to imply that if you’re not living your life — and sharing it — at warp speed, you’re just out of it.
Maybe so, but I see it differently. I love the concept of the classical Greek adage festina lente, or “make haste slowly.” It means you get plenty done, but in a deliberate, measured way. A better way.
Take a routine chore such as laundry, for example. When I do laundry, typically other tasks clamor for my attention, too. If I let myself feel pressured by those tasks and start hurrying, I find myself rushing without making headway. Fussing over the other chores keeps me from attending properly to the one I’m actually doing. And it all feels icky and stressful.
If, on the other hand, I just relax and focus calmly on the task at hand, I fall into a pleasing rhythm that not only gets the job done more efficiently, it also feels much better. The sorting and washing and folding and stowing-away become oddly satisfying.
What I’ve come to realize is that I don’t hate chores; I hate the feeling of not having the time to do them. When I change my attitude and focus on the actual doing, instead, the chores go more quickly and pleasingly. It’s almost magical.
They say death is nature’s way of getting us to slow down, but why wait for that? Why not learn to slow down now, and enjoy the rewards?
Another way to think of it is to live in the moment. I’ve heard this phrase my whole life without understanding what it meant. Now I’m beginning to. And the payoff is amazing.
For example, when I focus on my little exercise routine instead of hurrying or thinking about what’s waiting for me next, I find I injure myself less often. Pulled muscles and sprained joints come from going too fast and being inattentive. Plus, giving yourself over to the workout and noticing how good it feels to work and stretch your muscles makes it actually pleasurable — instead of simply something to get over and done with.
Staying in the moment and avoiding rushing also transforms the experience of driving. In a 30-minute trip, going 5 mph slower than you ordinarily would gets you there just 2-1/2 minutes later. But the difference in how the drive feels, as you relax and enjoy the scenery instead of white-knuckling it, makes driving enjoyable instead of a stressor. (Any passengers you may have will second that notion, as I’ve reminded my husband more than once.)
There are so many reasons to kick back a little, and no shortage of sages telling us it’s a good idea. “Adopt the pace of nature,” says Ralph Waldo Emerson. “Her secret is patience.”
Or, the next time you’re feeling the pressures of modern life, take a tip from Lily Tomlin.
“For fast-acting relief, try slowing down.” ###
Jennifer Forsberg Meyer, a biweekly columnist with the Mountain Democrat, would love to hear how you “slow it down.” Leave a comment for her online, or contact her at [email protected].