Slowing Down

I feel like I’ve been moving at the speed of light. I have been flying back and forth across the country. I have been working long hours, working hard at what I do and I’ve been playing equally as hard. There are times and there are places where you just have to be in constant motion to accomplish all there is to accomplish. Sometimes, depending on what we do, where we live, and the demands of our lives, we get stuck there.

I’ve been in New York and New Jersey for the past couple of weeks. I always want to experience all that I can when I visit New York, and since I am there for work I have limited time to do so. Every waking moment is hurried, matches the pace of the city itself. I work, then I transport myself around the city in various ways, taxi, walking, the subway, in order to visit, see, do, accomplish that which I intend to visit, see, do and accomplish. In New Jersey, it is a matter of working and navigating through the unfamiliar landscape, again, to accomplish what it is that needs to be accomplished. I am part of the speed and part of the noise of these places, and some noise I create just to drown out the noise that others are creating. Does it make sense to apply noise to accomplish enough peace to seek any rest whatsoever?

Now, I am in Alaska, in Anchorage, first, for a wedding. Having never seen Anchorage before, there was some time set aside for seeing, exploring, visiting and experiencing. There were timeframes and schedules to be met. Yesterday was the long drive to Fairbanks, with fires and road construction requiring traffic controls, and the list of “must sees” on the way, Denali, for example, though sitting in the passenger seat all day, it was not a “slow” day.

Now I am outside of Fairbanks, a place I have been several times, a place that suggests slowing down, a place I find grounding, where I can find my center. A place with a rhythm all its own and different from anywhere else. It is a seasonal rhythm more than a daily rhythm, not unlike our days, busy when the sun is up, slower when the sun is down, rhyming with the amount of daylight. But here, that is seasonal much of the year, with entire days of light now, and later, with winter, entire days of dark. To me, it is so therapeutic, that even in the hustle and bustle of New York City and the frantic desire to see and do, I was thirsting for this. Exactly this. I was looking forward to it like I look forward to visiting New York City.

So, today, I am slowing down. And for the next couple of weeks I will move only as fast as is necessary. I am wallowing in slowness, quenching my thirst for it.

I could easily describe myself as a little competitive, as a bit of an overachiever, as driven, and motivated. I have not yet begun to accomplish all I hope to in my life, in this year, in this month or in any average day. Each day that breaks, as dark gives way to light, and often well beforehand, I begin my routine of perpetual motion. Climbing into bed at night, at the end of a high achievement day, itself, is something I am driven and compelled to do. I must get to sleep in order to get up and begin again tomorrow, anew.

Today is not one of those days. Today I am practicing living slowly. I know I am capable of living slowly, I have done it before. In fact, every so often, perhaps every few weeks or once a month or so, I just have a lost day and there is no sin in that. I know I have gone on and on about how letting time slip away is a crime, that every second lost can never be regained, and, ultimately, we have very limited supply of seconds in our lives. But I do support deliberately slowing down on occasion and just letting a day slide by. I don’t mean pulling the covers up over our heads and remain unconscious, nor do I mean sitting in front of a television mindlessly flipping channels, the first being an absence of being for as long as we are asleep, the second being an absence of being by immersion in sensory input “dictated” by others. By deliberately slowing down, I mean allowing your day to unfold naturally, to be open to our thoughts, to be cognizant of the sights and sounds and sensations around us. Remove ourselves from our daily, intentional life and place ourselves more in a position of an observer. Observe our thoughts, our feelings, our physical, mental and emotional moods, sensations and needs.

This is not a day without accomplishment, rather, a day with no requirements. I have done plenty, but none of what has been accomplished has been something I had to do. I reorganized my suitcases so I could find things, I walked through the garden and the greenhouse, marveling at how things have grown since I was here last just a month ago. I have taken some photos, and I’ve thought about what I want to write. If I had not done these few things, because I am focusing on a slow day, I would not have been disappointed in myself. Whatever gets accomplished today is just a bonus. My mind is engaged but not frantic, my body is energetic and willing, but relaxed. The possibility the day holds is exciting, but peaceful.

I am taking advantage of the peacefulness of my surroundings, today, to just slow down. I will breathe deeply, blink slowly, turn my face up towards the sky, listen actively, speak softly and only when needed. I will not seek to fill the quiet with artificial sensory input; music, radio, television. I will just absorb what my surroundings offer. The sun has been peaking in and out of drifting clouds, the wind is flirting with the birch leaves, the bees are bumbling about the flowers and the heat of the short growing season is causing things to grow, almost visibly, before my eyes. I can hear the songs of various birds intertwined with daily life; conversations, an occasional small plane overhead, the barking of dogs from distant neighbors, the ordinary sounds of others accomplishing what must be accomplished in their lives today. Here, a place where sound does not have to be applied to drowned out sound, as in the city. I have not isolated myself, I am not in exile, I am just slowly moving through my day, aware, engaged and open to whatever unfolds. And, today, this is all I aim to accomplish, let it be what may.

 

One Thing

As I continue to read and remember about the egoic mind and the essence, I challenge myself to overcome that inner voice, my egoic voice. It is difficult, of course, we are so accustomed to the constant inner conversation, it’s almost like breaking up with a lover or close friend. Most of us have taken what our inner voice has been telling us, for our whole life, as truth, as fact. Sadly, this is not the case, our inner voice has been lying, cheating and misleading us for, well, forever. Now that we recognize this, we seek to separate ourself from this unsavory companion.

One thing our egoic selves do is compare ourselves to others in an effort to elevate that ego of ours. The ego always wants to be right, to be superior and in the criticism of others, this is ensured. You know it’s true. For example, you see someone in a public place and you “size them up”‘ am I right? Women often inwardly critique every passerby’s fashion choices, hair, body, expression, shoot, shoes, handbag, companion(s), etc., nothing and no one is immune. Men, often, literally size other men up. This boosts our ego and sends out a very negative energy that makes us less attractive, less friendly, insincere, and disingenuous, probably not the type of person we’re trying to evolve into. We tear everyone around us down, in some way or another, to boost that ego of ours. Well, our ego does it all with our implied permission. It is high time to revoke that permission! Take charge. Take control.

In an effort to evolve, in an effort to become less egoic, live more in the essence, promoting living in the present and fostering genuine happiness, I have issued myself a challenge; to say, in my mind, or out loud, if the opportunity presents itself, at least one nice thing about everyone I encounter. Whether in conversation, in association or simply passing on the street, I aim to make at least one nice remark about absolutely everyone I take notice of.

I am putting this to the test, in a really ambitious way. Today, in Napa, it is hot. For some reason ninety degrees in Napa feels like one hundred six in Sacramento, which is indeed what the temperature is in Sacramento today. I accomplished another great challenge today; I got up, ate breakfast and went running. I know, I go running almost every Saturday. The difference, today, I ran all by myself. I have never just laced up my shoes and headed out the door for a run on my own. Running is always part of an organized group event. This was a big step, actually, about six miles worth of small, fast steps, but, I did it. It’s sets a new precedent for me, I can now run, by myself, anywhere, anytime. Remember that full marathon I have coming up, how else am I going to be ready if I’m not running more than one day per week?

To say I was quite hot and sweaty after six miles on the blacktop would be an understatement. Mom’s house is not air conditioned, so it is a bit warm inside, too. To combat the heat, she shuts all the curtains and turns on about a dozen oscillating fans. Though hot, it is a beautiful day out and I simply cannot bear being holed up in a dark, windy, still too warm cave all day and night, listening to the television spewing out the news at a decibel level I’m certain is unsafe. So, after my lovely post-run shower, here I am. My favorite public market place, The Oxbow Public Market in downtown Napa. Full of food and wine venues and free wifi,and hordes of tourists on this busy, summer Saturday, it is cool and comfortable. And I have no shortage of folks to try out my experiment with the practice of “one thing”. You could say I’m in a “target rich environment”, especially considering the heat and the amount of bare skin/skimpy clothes. It’s all good. I’m doing quite well.

It is pretty tough to make note of one good, positive thing about everyone that passes my table which is nestled dangerously close to and right between “Three Twins Organic Ice Cream” and the “Wine Merchant” wine and cheese bar. That ego of mine is quite hasty in making judgements while my essence, out of practice, is a little slow in taking it all in and making a positive note. We really have to be quick to dismiss the horrible and allow the enlightened. If you haven’t tried this, I recommend it. It is a little alarming just how quickly we pass judgement on people. Or, perhaps, that’s just me. I hope not. i suspect not, since i read about it in two different books in a ond day span. Whether its just me, or not, I’m making the effort to change. I’m making an effort to shut my egoic voice down. I’m making the effort to evolve! By the way, you look very nice today! And I mean that!

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Do You Have Change?

Change terrifies most people. We are truly creatures of habit and we fear anything that may disrupt our lives or deprive of us the control we seek to maintain over every detail of our individual worlds.

I once participated in an advanced leadership course with the Boy Scouts of America (Wood Badge, for those of you who know). Part of the lessons had to do with change. I remember one of the staff members, Norm, the cook, used to come out of the kitchen at random points during the instruction, always in a funny costume, carrying a sign. One side of the sign said “change happens”, the other side of the sign said “change is good”.  He would silently parade across the room showing one side of the sign, then the other. I was self-righteously convinced that I was open to change, adaptive, willing to embrace it whenever it came about. I scoffed inwardly at those who weren’t. What I didn’t really understand was this lesson would apply to far more than who the Scoutmaster of our Boy Scout troop was and what requirements were necessary for this merit badge or that. 

Life is full of change, big and small, good and bad. Over the course of the next decade, I learned to accept change, to deal with change, to embrace change and finally, to actively seek change. This is a huge part of my “effort to evolve”.

The interesting thing is, once you learn to work with change, the changes most folks would consider “bad” aren’t actually all that bad. They may seem so at first, but by God, we survive, grow stronger and move on, usually in a much better direction. The changes that most folks would consider “good”, or desired, or wished for, worked for, obsessed over, and manipulated into happening, often end up in the desired effect, temporarily, only to ultimately end in a “bad” change. And, if embraced, that “bad” change ultimately ends up “good”, and more lasting.

Through the events of my life over the past decade, the changes that have occurred, both good (manipulated into happening) and bad (as a result of manipulating the desired changes), I have come to a very important realization; one ought to be very careful what one “asks” for. 

Life was exactly what I’d asked for; the realization of many dreams – possessions and a lifestyle. With “getting what I asked for”, the trade off was imprisonment by those possessions, by that lifestyle. My life became all about being able to afford those things, to maintain that lifestyle, to a point where I could not enjoy those possessions, nor that lifestyle. When the inevitable happened and all those possessions and the lifestyle were lost, with a lot of reflection and a bit of discipline, I realized, with great relief, that I was free. The life I’d had before was very much an illusion; those possessions, that lifestyle, did not make me who I was. I identified myself to all as the person with this lifestyle, with these possessions, I was no more than a shelf upon which these acquisitions were displayed for others to admire and make conversation about. 

Now, I am far more real, I am more genuine, I am more authentic. I am a work in progress. I am so humbled. I have spent the past few years evolving into a person, a real person, not a mannequin of a certain lifestyle, a living display of a collection of desirable possessions. I am me, just a person. I have been stripped and I relish this freedom, this nudity. And I am very careful what I “ask for”. 

And I seek change. There is nothing in my life I don’t leave open to change. I flirt with it. I bathe in it and let it wash over me and hope it makes me a better person, that I learn more valuable lessons from it.

Through the loss of everything, I have become rich. I have also learned that I did not know first, the power of prayer, and second, that I’d been praying all wrong. I asked for “things”, in prayer, and would even justify them, in prayer. And I got them, the desired change. I prayed for the man, the spouse, the job, the house, all of it. Then I got the inevitable “undesired” change, because what I asked for was never meant to last. I think it was meant to happen, if for no other reason than to teach me what was truly valuable in life, part of which is the ability to accept and grow from constant change that I am not usually in control of. Now prayer, for me, consists of nothing more than offering gratitude and affirming who I am.

I find when I am anxious or depressed or in a quandary, it is usually because I am fretting about the possibility of an undesirable change. Once I wrench it out of my mind, let go of it, and stop trying to control it, things usually fall into place, do actually change, and for the better. I have to remind myself that wanting something to not change usually ends up with a worse result. Besides, everything has to change, time changes everything and time cannot be stopped. So, hoping something doesn’t change because currently it is good, doesn’t mean that, as time goes on, it will remain good. 

Take a relationship, for example. If currently it is good, so good that you don’t ever want it to change, just fretting about it never changing changes it, puts a strain on it, pressure on it, and this can actually become the catalyst for it to fail. I just finished reading a book, “The Soulmate Experience” by Mali Apple and Joe Dunn. I highly recommend this book, and it taught me so much about change as it relates to relationships. In the course of two weeks, I have totally changed my thoughts and attitudes about change, as it relates to relationships, and I am comfortable and at ease with whatever may change in that relationship. So far, it has only changed for the better.

As my life unfolds, through constant change, I grow and learn and develop. I do seek change, certain, intentional changes, but I don’t “ask” for them, and they certainly don’t consist of “things”. The changes I deliberately try to make, now, are more about developing my health, my attitude, my thoughts, my essence, not my egoic self. 

Today I took to the dump the last of the items from two very large storage units. Storage units full of the bits and scraps left over from all that I’d “asked” for, that I’d prayed for. Just junk now, as we speak, being turned into the filthy dirt. The last remnants of that much desired, past life have been discarded and now, I am that much more free. Free to seek change.