Taking things slowly

There is an exercise I’ve been working on for the past week, which has produced very interesting results for me. I mention it here, not to suggest how others should live, but to share what it has meant for me.

A dear friend of mine observed that my behavior often seemed very “fast” or “quick”: The way I serve food at dinner, wash the dishes, drive my car. It also shows in my attitude toward relationships (wanting to figure out everything up front), my chess playing, my approach to work, etc. In so many areas, in fact, that her mentioning it brought to mind the tip of an iceberg: something I ought to pay attention to in order to understand myself better.

One way to better understand ourselves is to do exactly what makes us most uncomfortable. I don’t mean one should live in misery – far from it – but the conflict that arises from discomfort can reveal traits and ideas that would otherwise remain dormant. So, in reaction to my friend’s observation that I was being fast, I decided to try living life intentionally slow.

This has brought about an entire “slowness philosophy” – not unlike some of the current literature on mindfulness. The main idea is to do things slowly: Whatever action I take, I consciously slow myself down until it feels as if I am doing it very slowly.

The first area I tried this in was driving. Not only have I slowed myself down to driving the speed limit, but even below the speed limit (when no one is behind me). My reaction was fairly immediate: First of all, when I drive in terms of where I am going, any speed feels slow. Even going 90-100 mph on the freeway to Phoenix feels like the miles are crawling by. This is driving to get somewhere, and it never seems to go fast enough.

When I slowed down my driving, I had to stop thinking of the goal, otherwise my progress felt painfully slow – which is exactly the feeling I was aiming for. To escape that pain, I had two choices: Speed up the car, or move my attention elsewhere. Since I didn’t want to go faster, I had to do the latter: to pay attention to the feel of the car, the music on the radio, the scenery passing by. I noticed that the more my attention moved from the future (the goal) to the present (where I was), the faster it felt like I was moving. Until it reached the point where I was going 30 in a 35, and felt my car was going too fast – because I couldn’t pay attention to the details on the side of the road.

Once slowness had drawn my attention away from the future to focus on the present, it stopped feeling like slowness. I started to take pleasure in the action itself, since I was forced to ignore the timing of the outcome. I tried this with washing dishes, cleaning up my room, my car, working on my computer – all with the same result: That the action itself became more enjoyable, my heart more at peace, and my attitude more forgiving and appreciative of imperfection. There was a simple joy that came from these humdrum activities, where before I had wanted to finish them as quickly as possible – or avoid them altogether from the pain of wanting them done with. I was impatient for “real life” to begin, and so had been ignoring the very meat of life.

Whether others are racing through their life is only for them to say. I only know that I tend to. My therapist once told me I was a very anxious person, and probably always would be. It wouldn’t surprise me if this comes from being an introvert with ADHD trying to cope with a complex world, a society that places so many demands on our time and capabilities. Whatever the impetus, I have often felt just on the point of drowning, as if I could never do quite enough, quite quickly enough, to keep ahead of the pack. Living slowly, however, with deliberate intention, has shown me a new way of appreciating the minute details of life.