“It’s not enough to be busy; so are the ants. The question is: what are we busy about?” – Henry David Thoreau
Lately, “finding space” has been a recurring theme in my life: clearing space in my home, finding spaces to take breaks between working on tasks, and even spaces between thoughts and breath in my morning meditation. And with that intention, and even as I sit here writing these words, my urging mind says, “hurry up!” “you are wasting time!” “this doesn’t count as work” “now you’re not going to have enough time to get everything done.”
Pausing; slowing down; reflecting; writing, experiences that deeply nourish my soul, are stolen by my louder, more urgent, fear of not having enough time, and not getting all of my ‘work’ done. As the thought swell rises, I feel my chest tighten, my breath shortens, the space between thoughts getting smaller, and the all-too-familiar anxiety and irritability set in. I become a less expanded version of myself: stressed, tight, and withheld.
Why is it so hard to allow just a little space into slow down, and to spend more of our precious and extremely limited life experience, just being?
While I think we each have unique stories and perspectives on how we arrived at this place, we’re also all here now, and we can learn a great deal about ourselves through the sharing of others. I’ll step out and get us started. I think my experiences with this aversion to slowing down began in childhood.
This Began in Childhood…
The generation of my parents was raised to work hard; to get jobs and provide for their families; to put others before themselves, and to save leisure and relaxation for retirement. They were taught that slowing down and enjoying life came AFTER – after your life’s work is done; after raising a family; and often, after your best health, vitality, and zest for life has subsided as well.
I think they did a pretty good job of veering off of that path or point of view in many ways: they chose their careers, went to school, and began taking vacations at a younger age. Putting in a full, hard days work, and not resting until everything was done, despite what their bodies and minds might be asking for, was built into them, and it became a part of me as well.
I tended (and still do) to be an early riser, and I was rewarded for that, especially by my dad (also an early riser). I was the firstborn and raised more “by-the-book,” so I learned that structure and organization were a “good thing” early on.
The structure was safe; predictable, and with hard work, got you to “where you want to be” in life. Through my activities and academic pursuits, having structure, organization, and to-do lists allowed me to rise to the top, and to succeed, in today’s terms. And for those of us with “I am not good enough” stories, having these many sources of external validation can keep us sped up for a very long time.
Nevertheless, I practice slowing down, and I realize how much fear and unease there is around it for me, and how desperately I need to surrender to it, if I am ever going to slow down to the speed of life, to truly be in my body, and really experience my life, moment by moment, rather than in deeply regretful moments of a beautiful life that has passed me by.
But how? Can we truly unlearn a lifetime of unlearning to slow down? Can we come back to remembering our true, spacious, expansive, and peaceful nature? The generous, patient, loving, kind version of ourselves that we so desire to be? The version of ourselves we kick ourselves for not being, after the long, exhausting series of events that fill our days?
I believe we can, but the path, should we choose to take it, is not an easy one. We must use our fine-tuned skills of scheduling to pencil in time to sit and be still without distraction: no books, no phone, no computer, no TV, no food, and no music.
This means no running from ourselves, and after a lifetime of running away, avoiding, and shoving down our experiences, things are going to come up, and at first, it’s going to be hard work – not the physically taxing labor of the generation before us, and perhaps not the mentally exhausting work of the people of today’s world, but our emotional and spiritual selves will begin to open up and release, de-clutter and restore.
In every moment of every day we have the choice: run from the space and fill it with stuff, or embrace it and truly experience the moment fully. Deep down we know that slowing down holds the answers for us; here are my recommendations on how to begin walking that path:
Too Busy to Enjoy Life? Here’s What Might Help You
Step 1: Brave the Silence
After a lifetime of noise, sitting in silence is the last thing (literally) on our to-do lists. We don’t think that we deserve it, and we convince ourselves that it’s a waste of time, partially out of fear of what might come up for us. And yes, your thoughts will have a hay-day with sitting in “silence” at first. But gradually, you will notice more space between thoughts, and even better, a sense of peace and calm begin to wash over you after your practice.
Step 2: Keep Showing Up For Yourself
We live in a culture of immediacy and pleasure-seeking. The practice if sitting in stillness challenges us with potentially painful thoughts, and the risk of it “not working.” If you listen to those experienced meditators and silence-seekers speak about their practice, they will tell you they’ve been at it for years, and once in awhile, they get a second of pure and complete stillness, and it makes all the difference. Please know that if this doesn’t come to you immediately, you are not “doing it wrong.” You are not wrong. Trust that slowing down, breathing, and beginning to turn inward in a world that is constantly looking outward will offer you great gifts.
Step 3: Be Patient
Be the loving, compassionate, patient, kind healer you wish you would’ve had your whole life. You may not have heard the words “relax; be still; sleep in; spend a few extra minutes in the shower; take this time to do whatever your heart desires” growing up or as an adult. That doesn’t mean you can’t infuse your life with them now. You can offer radical self-care to yourself right now; what greater gift is there? If you fill yourself with love, care, and attention, that loving energy will infuse your work, your tasks, and those around you. You can choose to be that for yourself in every moment of the rest of your life, and I hope you will.