"Slow down, you move too fast"
The 59th Street Bridge Song, (Feelin’ Groovy), Simon and Garfunkel
Note: This blog is dedicated to my best friend from Brooklyn College, Helen, who died unexpectedly in February after surgery. Helen was a faithful blog reader and often sent a comment, and even a poem, in response.
This weekend we lost an hour to daylight savings time. How many activities did you choose to cram into a 23-hour day?
Here’s how my thought process usually goes:
Could I walk Lix and Lila, (separately, because they pull too hard if walked together), in the hour and a half before I leave for a meeting? What if I meet a neighbor, and I stop to chat?
Could I fit in an exercise class before I meet a friend for lunch?
Could I finish a blog post before I hop in the shower, wash and dry my hair and head down the hill for a doctor’s appointment?
Could I attend a Zoom class while cooking a lasagna before I need to pick up the grandkids at school?
I am retired. I am aging. And yet, too often, I find that I still try to squeeze as many activities as possible into my day. Most often, I rush through them. How does that impact my mental and physical health and impede my relationships?
The issue came to a head when I was walking Lila one morning. I looked at my watch and noticed how late it was getting.
“Yikes,” I thought. “I only have 30 minutes before I need to leave for that meeting. I’m still 15 minutes from home and I have to change my clothes.”
The walk was no longer fun. I wasn’t focusing on the snow-capped mountains in the distance. I was impatient when Lila stopped to sniff something delicious buried under the snow. The leisurely walk through my neighborhood became a race to the finish line rather than a time to enjoy nature and my pup.
“I don’t have to do this anymore. I don’t want to do this anymore,” I thought. “I want to be present to my current activity rather than worrying about getting to the next one. If not now, when?”
I have studied Mussar, (Jewish ethics), for well over a decade. How could I bring my Mussar practice into play and become more present, more mindful and less harried?
The first step was recognizing that I had a bechira point, a choice. I could choose to take a relaxed shower rather than a rushed walk. I could select an earlier exercise class. I could write my blog in the evening or the following morning. I could cook with love rather than haste.
I decided to practice. On the Monday after my “ah ha” moment, I had two overlapping events. One was from 6 to 7:30 p.m., the other from 7 to 8:30. In the past, I might have attended the first one for 40 minutes and then raced off to the second. Instead, I decided to attend just one. I must admit I felt a little guilty about missing one event. And I also felt relieved.
On Tuesday I left an appointment in Morrison and was heading up the hill to pick up Irv, then drive him back down the hill to a doctor’s appointment in Denver. My Morrison appointment ran over, so I had just an hour to get home, have lunch and leave again. I had planned to run an errand in between the two appointments. Instead, I decided to go straight home and have a little more time to prepare and eat a salad. I enjoyed my lunch!
Two good choices in two days gave me hope. Maybe I could stop jamming so many things into my day. How could I take the next step in slowing down and enjoying each moment?
A good place to start, I thought, would be with breakfast. After all, the next line in the Simon and Garfunkel song is, “You got to make the morning last.”
Irv and I try to have breakfast together if I’m not headed off to some event. All too often, though, I gobble down my hardboiled egg and toast before he has even started eating. Irv takes his time assembling a bowl of cereal topped with a wide variety of chopped fruit. When he’s done, it looks like a work of art, almost too pretty to eat. I, on the other hand, put a dash of mayo on my plate and rapidly smash it into my hardboiled egg. I sloppily slather a piece of toast with butter and wolf down my food. By the time Irv offers me a taste of the mango he’s just sliced, I am taking my last bite of toast.
If I put fewer activities on my schedule, could I also take more time for breakfast? It would give me the chance to practice several middot, (soul traits), at the same time – mindfulness, patience and lovingkindness to my spouse because I would truly be present with him at breakfast. And I can honor the egg and the small fortune I paid for it.
BUT WAIT! I sense a contradiction here. Do I have to practice four middot at the same time? Isn’t one enough? Really, it all boils down to the trait of simplicity. What do I really want to do? What is my priority? Could I do just that one thing and practice one soul trait at a time?
So, when faced with a bechira point, I will aim to make the decision to slow down. Wouldn’t that be groovy?