Do you know this feeling of tightness in your chest when your to-do list is full as it is, but seems to grow every second? Another text message beep, and your wife asks you to stop by… and pick up… Your mind is racing back and forth between vying priorities. You just don’t need another thing to do! Yet, your peace of mind is gone. There’s a quote I like: “Sometimes our ‘stop-doing’ list needs to be bigger than our ‘to-do’ list.” As a father of three, who juggles between homeschooling and working out of home, I find true serenity to be evasive. But I want it. I always want more of it. So, I have done some research and embarked on an experiment to get me more moments of true serenity in the midst of everyday havoc. Here’s what I found.
“If you are in a hurry, go slow,” said Peter Blood, a noble pirate from Raphael Sabatini’s novel “Peter Blood.” What would happen if you did a conscious effort to slow down your life? As in slow down your eating, drinking, walking, working, talking, thinking, driving, resting? Sounds paradoxical, but you will actually get more done…with serenity.
- Slowing down helps you to see what otherwise you don’t even notice.A few days ago I was waiting for a bus, fidgeting and fretting over the long wait – 10 whole minutes! Then a thought popped up in my head: why are you in such a hurry? I had no answer except: “I want to get things done quicker.” So, I took a deep breath and looked around. It was a quiet Saturday morning. Two ladies were chatting on a nearby bench, the tops of birch-trees, still leafless, were waiving gently in the breeze, lit by the morning sun. A girl smiled as she gave up her seat in a taxi-van. My heart grew warm – there was so much life happening around which I could have missed! C.S. Lewis once gave his poignant opinion on cars: “I number it among my blessings that my father had no car… The truest and most horrible claim made for modern transport is that it ‘annihilates space.’ It does. It annihilates one of the most glorious gifts we have been given… a modern boy travels a hundred miles with less sense of liberation and pilgrimage and adventure than his grandfather got from traveling ten.”
- Slowing down helps you to be thankful for what is and stop grabbing for what isn’t.Our human tendency is to live in the past or future, but never in the present. Brother Lawrence once said that God exists “in the sacrament of the present moment.” When you slow down, life gets revealed in its nuances, flavors, and colors – right now. You start seeing faces, hear sounds, distinguish smells, and notice gifts under the cover of circumstances. You start seeing what is versus what may be. Your focus gets shifted from AT SOME POINT IN THE FUTURE to the ALREADY. I call it “the manna principle.” As you well know, the Israelites could only collect manna for one day; if they collected tomorrow’s manna, it bred worms and rotted. Slowing down helps you see the manna that you already have – right in front of your eyes.
- Slowing down helps you to stop worrying.I noticed that I usually get anxious about the future when I try to imagine what it will be like. And, somehow, what I imagine is not a hopeful picture. My mind simply can’t depict the future with grace in it. It shows me images that make me shudder. When I slow down my thinking, I say to myself: “Don’t jump to conclusions. You are fine now and you can’t predict what tomorrow will be like. In the words of Mark Twain: “I have had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.” Tomorrow will take care of itself.
- Slowing down instills trust.Trust is another name for happiness. So, when you slow down, you simply have to answer this scary question: “Who in the world is gonna do all this?” “If I don’t do it, who will?” But the truth is: we all live under the illusion of control. Control is tricky: the more you grab for it, the less you have it. When you let go and stop controlling life, God starts bringing all the pieces of the puzzle together in his mysterious ways. As one author said: “Once she stopped rushing through life, she was amazed how much more life she had time for.” Slowing down means giving up the illusion of control to get more life. Here’s a hard-won lesson from a major worrier (me): When I feel all strung up on the inside, I ask myself what it is that I can’t let go of. And when the answer comes, I let it go, allowing God to pick me up.
- Slowing down is a way to celebrate creativity.When you slow down, you start seeing gifts all around you, and celebration begins. This may seem like a “passive approach” to life, but you are not idle – feasting is the most serious business in the world. It is a pause to let your brain recharge. In this seeming “passivity” our creative powers are rejuvenated. Did you know that, according to recent studies, procrastination actually makes you more creative? Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a dream’ speech, Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa are all owed to procrastination, say scientists. Taking a pause distracts you from your work process, and it helps to restart the brain functions. Even now as I am typing, I take my time to think through every word, and the text flows out on the page slowly but deliberately – and every word is a feast of meaning. Slowing down is a way to tap into your creativity because it gives you the space to breathe.
Every day is a gift, and I always wonder what’s up next? Never can tell. When you are not in a hurry, you are never late. When you don’t chase after life, it comes to you. When you stop controlling, you gradually move from being “stuck in the past” or “lost in the future” into the tangible grace of today. And that’s what we must have been made for, because it feels darn good.