I sometimes have the feeling that life is being lived at break neck speed, zapping along like the old cartoon character Roadrunner! We seem to be cramming more and more into less and less. Multitasking is essential and we live “on demand” lives, we’re available 24/7 to our friends, families, boss and colleagues through our constant use of phones and screens.
The headlong dash of our juggernaut lives carries some real dangers for our physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. Constantly being “on demand” has our brain and body fired up and often working in the fight or flight mode. Fight or flight is an old automatic response that was intended for emergency situations (picture sabre tooth tiger bearing down on you or nowadays a bus heading toward you.) The surge of adrenaline prepares you to stick around and literally fight for your life or run like crazy to get out of the way! Unfortunately it’s a state that many of us constantly live in. The demands of daily life keep us stressed and on edge, overwhelmed and tired. Time is scarce but in our effort to extract everything we can out of a day have we gone too far? Sure being busy can be fun and exciting but not constantly. There’s so much going on around us. Are we truly aware of what’s really happening in our own lives or are we just skating over the top? It’s a little like standing two inches in front of a big flat screen TV: you’re aware of movement and noise but you can’t see the whole picture. If we can step back from that big flat screen TV and take in the whole picture of our lives it can enable us to take stock and reflect, to give ourselves the space to ask “how am I doing”, “how do all these parts of my life fit together”, “am I making the best decisions for myself or for my children”? Being constantly on the go can stop us consciously or unconsciously from acknowledging the important questions of life. At it’s most destructive being busy can be used as an excuse to avoid things we may not want to face. Living in this state takes a toll on our immune system, our mental and emotional resilience and our relationships. In short – it’s damaging.
The reality is we all have to make a living and we have bills to pay and various duties to fulfil. So how can we find a way to balance it all, to reduce the feeling of being on demand? It would be nice to take long weekends whenever we felt the need or spend a couple of hours a day doing the things we wanted to do rather than the things we are obliged to do! For most of us those opportunities are rare. So how about the concept of “going slowly” or embracing “stillness” as a part of everyday? It doesn’t have to be long and laborious it’s more about creating a space to slow down the body and brain, to catch your breath and relax, reflect on your day.
Traditionally temples, shrines and churches were spaces for quietness and reflection, meditation and contemplative prayer used to quieten the body and mind. Of course these are still valid options but in an increasingly secular world they are not as popular. Mindfulness is one of the more popular and current techniques for creating space. Simply sitting for 10 minutes doing absolutely nothing might be all you need. The aim is stop rushing from one thing to another and stuffing every minute of everyday with activity.
Carl Honore writes in praise of slowness. However he suggests it’s difficult for us to slow down. Culturally “slowness” is linked with laziness, slacking or giving up. Fast is seen as exciting and fun. He asks if we have to accept every invite we receive and do we have to enrol our children in every extra curricular activity known to mankind? What about teaching our children to slow down and enjoy going nowhere.
There can be bad slow – like sitting through 17 changes of traffic lights before you get through the intersection as a good friend of mine did most days in Melbourne. However good slow promotes connecting with our inner self, our friends, and those important to us. Good slow improves our health and helps us to savour our lives. Pico Iyer is a writer. He spends his days traversing the globe and writing for travel magazines. He loves his job but he also loves going nowhere and he recently wrote a book called “The Art of Stillness”. Every season he takes a few days to retreat from the world. He might stay at home or head somewhere quiet but he disconnects his phone and computer and relaxes and reflects on his life. He maintains it helps him to put things in perspective, to be a better husband and father. He says “in an age of constant movement, nothing is as urgent as sitting still. In an age of acceleration, nothing is as important as going slow. In an age of distraction, nothing so luxurious as paying attention”.
When was the last time you spent ten minutes doing nothing, absolutely nothing?