You guys know from my last post that I am a big believer in integration.
In fact, I’d say that having an experience without making time to chew it up well, savor every delish and disgusting nuance, and assimilate the nuggets that have sieved through your digestive tract into your everyday life – well, you might as well have not had the experience, IMHO.
At the trial for which he chose death over exile, Socrates advised “the unexamined life is not worth living.” In other words: when given the opportunity, always choose wisdom. Wisdom isn’t something you pick up by accumulating years and experiences. You can be old and foolish, or well-traveled and thoughtless as we see too much of these days on the evening news. You can be so addicted to the high you get from being in a new place or situation – that feeling of sensory overload, your body screaming at you in a language you can clearly understand – that you bounce from one exotic locale to the next, from one lover to the next, from one death-defying stunt to the next – or just as likely, from one spurt of frenzied work activity to the next to the next to the next.
Wisdom is the natural outcome of circumspection – engaging in careful observation, looking around. It’s the insight you get when you least expect it – in the shower, walking slower than usual in the woods with an older dog, journaling about your day when an image of an old flame shoots to the forefront.
Just a bit more than a week ago, I was camping along a small river in Virginia with my honey, amazed at the blazing 90-degree days in late September. Suddenly, fall blew in, in crisp gusts, with morning temperatures in the 50s. The leaves turn to gold and crimson, and we have an opportunity to do the same – to leave behind that which isn’t 100% essential to our life, so that we can weather whatever is coming down the road.
With our nervous systems jacked up – we all are a bit addicted to getting things done and being at the top of our game and knowing exactly what’s happening through a flurry of news and emails and texts and online content, aren’t we? – slowing down is a bit like going from 0 to 60, only in reverse.
For what it’s worth, here are my fall go-tos – things to help you integrate, which will in effect, slow you down – but without that zombie-life effect.
- First thing in the morning, nix checking email in favor of either exercising or journaling. In Ayurvedic teachings, autumn is ruled by Vata – one of three functional energies in nature which is governed by the elements of space and air and which rules movement and communications. Vata needs grounding, and a good way to do this is moving body or mind in the early morning or early evening (6-10 am or pm). I’m a fan of anything involving yoga and the woods, but please do you. Engaging your body — or taking up a creative pursuit which helps the mind flow — will make you feel like a winner all day long. Both activities benefit the parasympathetic nervous system, allowing you to get all the benefits of slowing down, even while your body (or pen) is still in motion. (If you’re not sure how to begin to journal, and if you’re not already on my mailing list, when you sign up for this monthly newsletter, I’ll send you my free guide to writing to build your resilience, which includes my techniques and seven of my favorite writing prompts.)
- When you do get to work, eat your frog first. Not literally, of course. Brian Tracy wrote a book of this same name by which he meant: do the most important thing on your list first – especially if it’s that thing you’ve been avoiding, so that you get the shitty part of your day over with and the rest of it is just pudding. After months of being told by well-meaning friends that my car’s engine was f*cked, I finally got up the nerve to take it into the mechanic, only to learn the fix cost less than $100. Same thing with my heading down to the DC Department of Consumer & Regulatory Affairs to register my business license – an errand I avoided for years, and easily solved in a not-unpleasant morning where I only dealt with a single cranky staff member out of a half dozen I was in contact with. I also got to hang out with a charming contractor whose next gig happened to be working on the roof of a yoga studio in DC I love, and who needed some quick-and-dirty breathing advice for his blood pressure. Eating that frog helped me feel at use in the world, not just with folks who show up to my classes, but for the random world-at-large.
- If you’re used to rushing through an activity that you know is nourishing, like cooking, consider double dipping. Since I had cancer last year and have greatly upped the ante on how I eat, food prep takes longer. I might cut veggies, make a pot of something delish, whip up salad dressing for the week, soak beans and sprouts all in the same go. To make it more enjoyable, I often listen to podcasts that make me pause — my tried-and-true go-to’s are On Being, the Ted Radio Hour and How I Built This. What I listen to frequently makes its way into my teaching, and even into my daily gratitude list, so I try to listen to things I’d consider brain and soul food, rather than mind-numbing crap. In this way, my Type-A tending mind can count listening and chopping as a personal accomplishment. (On the other hand, while I’m walking around town, I have begun turning my phone onto airplane mode, mainly because it makes me sad to see how we’re all on our devices instead of say, noticing the blue jay that just flew into that oak branch, or saying good morning to one another as we meet eyes. Double dipping is not always double fun.)
- Gratitude naturally helps us pause. Noticing what is good in the world, and expressing it in some way, helps us slow down – and according to those pesky scientists, makes us feel happier. How you do it doesn’t seem to matter much. For many years now, I have taken a few minutes each day while drinking my morning bevvie to write a daily gratitude/acknowledgement list, which I then review at the end of the year or before my birthday as a way of tapping into the bigger patterns I often miss in my own busy-ness. Last year while visiting friends on the left coast, I was delighted to learn they start their dinner every single night by sharing a “sour” and a “sweet” – one thing that happened during their day that might be a bit hard to swallow and one thing they’re stoked about. The balance means they keep it real, and know how to support — and celebrate — each other as a family. Another lawyer friend keeps a stack of cards and stamps in his desk drawer in his solo practice so he can regularly write handwritten thank you’s, most often to appreciate colleague’s unique contributions to joint efforts such as Board meetings or after a particular intense county council hearing. Your own expression of gratitude might mean bringing in fruit to share with colleagues, being a volunteer mentor, or making your front yard look gorgeous. However you do it, don’t skimp on a daily gratitude practice.
- Rush through the small stuff. Not everything has to be slow. A friend of mine reminded me of this last week when instead of sending me her usual detailed response to a question I sent her, shot me two quick suggestions – which were spot on. We later talked about how people are starved for authentic connection (to nature, to one another) but instead we often “save our energy for social media engagement.” Find shortcuts to the things that matter least, so you’ll have more time to do what really matters — and get the natural rush of energy for a life well lived.