“The time has come to challenge our obsession with doing everything more quickly.” – Carl Honoré
I used to be one of those people who rushes from A to B and has a day’s to-do list ten items long. I’d been this way from the time I first learned about deadlines, achievements and getting somewhere in life.
I’ve always been ambitious too. I’m grateful for my ambition, but it doesn’t do anything to allay the rushing. I’ve long felt a pressure to impress and prove myself, only recently realizing the only person I need to impress is myself.
I set up my theater company after University and rushed my way through production after production, wondering why the success I dreamed of never came. Or it didn’t come in the package I’d imagined it would, and I was far too busy to notice it in any other form.
When I was a teenager I had chronic fatigue. It’s a blurry time and I remember living in my own imagined world for a lot of it. I went to school part-time, didn’t have the same measures of achievement as the other kids, and lay around the house reading and watching TV. Perhaps for all the years since getting better, I’ve been making up for lost time. Sprinting from task to task, achievement to achievement to make up for what I couldn’t do and (perhaps) for fear that if I stopped I’d never be able to start again.
Our society validates this approach. Being busy all the time is commendable, and we wear our stress like a badge of honor; a badge that will eventually kill us by pricking us in the heart.
My previous day job was highly stressful. I joined my colleagues in complaining of the stress a lot. Not realizing, or admitting, that part of that stress was within my control. Also, how many of us will admit we thrive on adrenaline?
It wasn’t until I started a regular yoga practice that I realized stress is not a normal state to be in, and how I respond to stressful events is under my control. As I’ve been learning more about how breathing and a yoga practice can alter the way I deal with stress, I’ve been working to slow down my life.
Today I went for a walk. I didn’t call anyone or listen to a podcast. I just went for a walk, and I slowed my pace right down. It was really hard. As people rushed past, desperate to get where they needed to be, I could feel the stress energy radiate off them. I used to be like that, that used to be – sometimes still is – me.
So I walked and tried to draw on the walking meditation we’d done on my yoga teacher training. When I reached my destination (the sea front) I did something so unlike me. I sat on a bench, by myself and I looked out at the sea. I didn’t go on my phone to have something to do, I just sat.
I meditated on a bench in public! I had to fight with the anxious thoughts that people were looking at and judging me. I had to remind myself that nobody cared what I was doing. I allowed myself time to slow down; to just be. As I was sitting there a chant came into my head, the chant to Ganesh – the creator and remover of obstacles.
Stress and the constant urge to rush around to get as many things done as possible are some obstacles I’d like to remove from my life. I think we could all benefit from this.
My yoga teacher taught us the mudra to go with the Ganesh chant. In this mudra your hands are interlocked in front of you, they symbolize the obstacle you have created and to remove it all you need to do is let go.
In our society, it seems that to get ahead anywhere we have to keep going and push through the exhaustion. In the creative industries, in particular, I know there’s a constant need to prove ourselves. But what would it look like if we didn’t do this?
I’ve started putting just three things on my to-do list each day, and really focusing my time and energy on those things. It means I normally produce better work than if I was rushing to get ten things done, and the world hasn’t imploded yet. Far from it, my world has actually expanded. I’m able to read more, delve deeper into my interests, take walks and apply my time where it really matters to me. I’m able to actually take care of myself and consider my well-being. Slowing down isn’t easy, and it may be countercultural, but I think it’s a shift we all could benefit from.
So now it’s your turn. What are some simple ways you could slow your life down? Or have you already slowed your life down and have some tips to share?