This week a friend sent me a link to a fascinating website called The Long Now Foundation that “was established in 01996 to creatively foster long-term thinking and responsibility in the framework of the next 10,000 years”. (The zero is there on purpose to get us to think long term). Besides offering various seminars and workshops geared towards acquiring long term thinking their main goal is to construct a clock that ticks once a year, bongs once a century and releases its cuckoo once a millennium!
This is an awesome idea for a variety of reasons, not least of which is that it helps highlight our society's inability to slow down.
We all know the world moves much faster now than it ever has. But what may not be as evident are all of the negative effects the speed has on our psyches and bodies. Many of us have simply lost the ability to sit down and deconstruct a problem. When our minds are racing, juggling multiple tasks and concerns and always trying to assimilate more and more information (most of which is not useful), we fail to perceive what would otherwise seem obvious.
Oftentimes in counseling situations my main goal is to get someone to slow (and calm) down. A lot of these folks have 27 idea fragments in their heads but no idea how they relate, and many of which are fantasies to boot. It can be painful to put your mental breaks on, but the benefits, in terms of lucidity, are massive.
Another website I like that demonstrates this principle in the physical sense is called slowfood.com. It’s a reaction against the fast food of our fast culture and encourages people to take the time to make and enjoy food that actually exists in nature…which for better of worse takes more time and effort.
And perhaps that’s the point. They say good things come to those who wait and I’m inclined to think that it’s very true. It’s not coincidental that the Torah’s four-part analogy for the assimilating ideas is plowing, sowing, reaping and then eating. It does not say “nuke for three minutes and scarf while walking.” A lot of prep is required before we can properly digest something -- be it food or information.
Slowing down will make us happier, healthier and more effective in everything we do.
This inability to go slow is also dumbing us down. Why spend 75 minutes on a complex symphony when we can hear Green Day shouting for three? Why read a 600-page piece of classical literature when 20 lines of a blog post are available? And why take the time and effort to develop our ethical/spiritual side when there are so many more easy and “fun” things out there to do?
Let's pull the brakes and stop for a breather. Getting a handle on how to slow down will make us happier, healthier and more effective in everything we do.
Meditation: Judaism has an ancient meditative tradition that is becoming more popular as various authors are brining them to light. Check out the work of Rabbis Aryeh Kaplan and Efim Svirsky for more information.
Breathing exercises: When we are stressed or anxious we tend to be short of breath. Focusing on breathing deeply is calming and does wonders for slowing us down, hence the advice to “take a deep breath” when we’re having a negative reaction to something.
Shabbat: It literally means “stop.” The Jews gave the world the idea of a day of rest and reflection, and when taken seriously its laws and customs can have a salubrious effect on our being. Many non-observant people in recent years have praised the wisdom of the concept and incorporated various elements into their lives. See http://www.aish.com/sh/ for a comprehensive exploration of the day.
Do less, better: At the end of the day, there is only so much time to accomplish all that we desire. Oftentimes, we have a tendency to “bite off more than we can chew” and end up poorly executing on multiple fronts. Try (even if only for a specific amount of time) to maximize the most important areas in your life and see if it makes a difference.
Read important things at least four times: Many of us are “jack’s of all trades but masters of none.” There is a natural inclination to want to constantly move on to newer and more exciting material. The result is a lack of deep comprehension of all that we come across. When you discover that you deeply connect with a particular piece of wisdom, integrate it by learning it multiple times. This is the method of the Torah scholar – four times review for everything.
Listen to Mahler’s 9th: It happens to be my favorite piece of classical music but there is obviously a huge amount of symphonic work to select from. Take the time to experience a fully evolved musical construction. Block off the time, relax and listen to the brilliance and emotional sophistication of the great masters.
Cook for an hour once a week: The antidote for fast food is slow food. Besides being fun, it tends to be much healthier. Slow down your meals (at least one) and enjoy the process as well as the result.