On the Mysterious Secret of Slowing Down

Last Sunday evening after dinner I was washing a pot. I was washing it very mindfully.  I was noticing the feel of the warm, soapy water on my hands. I thought about how the pot was made and how I infused the homemade vegan chili in this large, heavy blue pot with love. Most importantly I was slowly and methodically removing the food that was stuck to the bottom of the pan. I thought back to a lesson I just cannot seem to always remember – “To go faster you must slow down”.

Unknown-1.jpeg

I led a fast paced adult life until about 2 years ago. So fast that I hardly had time to think. Washing a pot with food stuck to the bottom has always reminded me of this paradox; thanks to a visit from my mother a few years before she passed away. When my children were young and I was first married, we had little money, but I kept a really good home. I felt very on top of things. But I was rushed back then too. I was so rushed that I never really had time to deal with pots that ended up with years worth of stains on them. In late 2001 my mother came to visit with her new husband Boris. I had only just met him, and I know he made my mother very happy. He was from Venezuela. My mom talked so much about how laid back he was and how he got her to slow down, grow out her hair, and stop fussing so much with make up and keeping up the house. I made a big dinner when they came to visit, and afterward there were many pots and pans that needed cleaning. My mother and Boris came into the kitchen to help and stationed themselves at the sink; she on dish duty, he on drying duty. What seemed like only moments later while I was putting the leftover food into containers, I noticed Boris drying off one of the pots. What caught my eye about a particular pot that usually had brown and black soot on the bottom was that it was so shiny and clean. Years worth of food and cooking build up was gone! I asked my mother how she did that and so fast… she only smiled with a glint in her eye and said “Boris showed me how”. She never told me with words, but with her eyes she told me to slow down and go easy. The next time I had to clean a pot and ever since I’ve taken my time, used far less pressure than I ever would have and they have always come clean. Working in a rush and with too much pressure used more time and never yielded the same results. I never understood how, it’s just the way it works.

I learned this 17 years ago, but I still don’t always remember or practice this principle. Two years ago I slowed down immensely, truly savoring the small, day-to-day moments, and oddly enough I found myself to be happier, more at peace and with more time than I ever had. It’s not only time, but also about ‘less’. Doing less, trying less, having less… all equal less stress and more joy.

Last week I had the luxury of traveling with my husband and a group of amazing individuals from my yoga studio to a jungle sanctuary in Costa Rica. Getting to this sanctuary required two commercial flights, a puddle jumper plane, a 45 minute car ride, and then a 20 minute hike crossing a river four times. It was hot and humid; the type of humidity where you never dry off, even after a shower.

The only way on and off the sanctuary is a 20 minute-plus hike. On the last full day of the trip, my husband Daren and I ventured off the property to the sanctuary’s closest neighbor Nena, in pursuit of pure organic extra virgin coconut oil. It was a short walk over a bridge that overlooks the ocean to Nena’s house. For the previous two days, Daren & I opted to take some excursions off the property with our group. Both days were a little hectic and obscenely hot at times. I felt ambivalent all morning about whether or not we should take the walk down the hill to get this coconut oil, mainly because it was hot. For some reason I said I’d like to go but I wanted to walk slowly. So off we went to Nena’s house for coconut oil.

Daren and I really took our time. We stopped and looked at monkeys. We watched little birds. We passed our friend the white cow. When we left the property and crossed the street we stopped on the bridge. Actually, Daren on the bridge and called out to me “Babe, look at this view!”. Slightly annoyed, I stopped to look. I was initially feeling rushed, looked at my watch and started calculating how much time it would take to get to Nena’s, buy this coconut oil, trek back, “relax” at the pool, and then dash off to the next yoga class. However, when I turned my head to the left and saw the scene, my heart rate actually slowed down a bit. I couldn’t believe I was about to just walk by and miss this scene! I took it in. While standing there I couldn’t help but notice this insane harried American thought pattern and I pushed it completely away. When I stopped and didn’t worry about the time, I was able to remember that I was here in this beautiful place, at this beautiful moment, with my beautiful husband and a group of beautiful well-lit individuals. I stopped my physical, then mental body from the rush of insanity and fleeting thoughts to appreciate the view and the view of my husband appreciating the view.
We stood there a while in silence. I took a few pictures and resisted the urge to snap more. More is not better. More pictures, more talk, more activity… more, more, more… No, no, no… I know this, but I live in a world that tells me the opposite; so it’s easy to forget.
It was I who broke the silence after a long while. I had the profound realization that because we walked slowly we weren’t as hot as we were the rest of the trip. I intellectually knew that before we walked and even made that suggestion, but it was even more profound to experience that it worked. It dawned on me that every time I go anywhere where the weather is warm all the time, the locals move slowly. I heard other Americans and Canadians joking about how the natives live on “Costa Rican time”. I’ve heard the same joke in other places. All these Americans and Europeans thinking it’s so funny to crack jokes about how slow everyone moves, when really the joke is on us. What is wrong with us? We are the dummies sweating in the sun because we are rushing around like lunatics. It’s our culture that is uptight, wound up and stressed. What are we in a rush to do anyway? At that moment on the bridge I decided to put my watch in my pocket and let the day pass as it may. Strangely there seemed to be just the right amount of time for everything once I stopped worrying at all about it.

IMG_E1457.jpg
Daren with our friend the pretty white cow who was often on the path onto and off the sanctuary.
IMG_E1458.jpg
The view I nearly just didn’t notice

When we start to move too fast, we often do not see what we need to see. (Huffington Post 2015 – Why Going Slow Will Make You Go Faster). This applies to work, our lives with our families and friends, or achieving any of our goals. Maybe it’s not just what we need to see, but what will enhance our everyday experiences.

In the midst of this jungle last week we were surrounded by wildlife. It was beautiful, simple, exotic, intoxicating, and natural. This was a yoga group at a yogic sanctuary. Yogi’s might be more aware than most about the beauty of being conscious, but are no less human and subject to falling prey to being unconscious in a world that keeps dangling shiny temptations all around. One of my teachers deliberately did not go on one of the daily excursions on a day that every other single one of the group did. She said she did not want to feel rushed, and she sat watching monkeys for several hours that day instead. The message she took away is that the monkeys were there all along, providing the same level of awe and entertainment, but had one not taken the time to just stop and observe, it would have been missed.

images.jpeg
The evening we returned to Connecticut from Costa Rica, Daren and I found ourselves on a line at a McDonald’s drive through on the way home from the airport at 11:45 at night. By that point in the day we had been up & en route home since 5:15am. We had only one square meal. We were tired, dirty and stressed. Hurry up and wait. We almost missed a connecting flight because Passport Control was a hot mess when we got back into the U.S. We were waiting on a very long car line at 11:45pm for an absolutely nutritiously poor meal (well Daren was waiting, I was looking forward to some soup at home). We were stressed. Daren was tapping at the wheel. I was mentally trying hard to not fall into the trap of ordering something greasy or feeling upset over the slow moving line, all while trying to stay cheerful so my husband could stay positive too. In my mind I was doing math again about the number of things I needed to do the next day to get ready for the week, wondering how I could fit them in. How much mail was there? Who is taking the dog to the vet Thursday? What should I pull out for dinner tomorrow? Should I go shopping? I needed to inventory the food situation at home first, right? With every thought I felt my blood pressure rising. And every time I noticed my breath becoming rapid and shallow or my heart racing, I made the conscious decision to breath deeply and live in the moment. That only lasts a few moments out here in the “real world” until the thoughts & heart start to race again. How could you explain this feeling to someone in the third world?

We may have been in the middle of the jungle, but the concrete jungle creates artificial stressors that make living life to the fullest impossible. It’s impossible because living life to the fullest was taught to me that one need to fit in as much “fun”, work, and activities that one possibly can. This means learning as much as you can, moving quickly, multi-tasking, making lots of money to do these amazing things (because heck they aren’t free!), AND providing these amazing experiences to our offspring. Making money means more rushing and more stress. For most, making money means sitting in a car or in some form of transportation for unfathomable periods of time each day, to do a job you hardly ever see the results of or feel connected to, for far too many hours each day. Then rushing home to activities and usually harried, unhealthy meals – if you are lucky with loved one(s). Weekends for the most are spent putting your living quarters back together from the rush of the busy week by cleaning, doing laundry, shopping, shuffling other humans around and spending “quality” time with other humans you are supposed to care for to keep your social life active and your role as a parent connected with your children. In between you must squeeze in the “fun” and “experiences” you are going out to make all that money for, but also it’s very important to exercise, meditate, perform self-care, visit the doctor-dentist-optometrist regularly, prepare healthy organic, locally grown ingredient-based meals at home and sleep enough hours per night just so you don’t get fat, stressed or sleep deprived. You know… so you can be happy and experience life to the fullest. Sounds insane to me!

The Harvard Business Review writes about how this slow to go fast paradox works in business as well. When we take the time to get things right, rather than plow ahead full bore, we are far more successful in meeting objectives (Harvard Business Review 2010 – Need Speed? Slow Down).
Physics teaches us that time is relative. Slowing down means time slows down with you. I can’t explain why this is, it’s just is. Another exquisite paradox is that it also helps you appreciate and truly experience more. Additionally life and experiences become less expensive, less material and far less stressful. This article is a bit more on the holistic side, but resonates with me because it talks about how when you work less you work better, find what really makes you happy, have the ability connect with others, and are able to savor life (Wholesome Living – 10 reasons why you should slow down to go faster).

The overall message for me is that slowing down = living life to the fullest. I keep forgetting, but the time between which I do is growing larger and larger. I hope that others who haven’t given it a whirl do! There’s nothing to lose but old, tired ideas of what it means to life our lives to the absolute fullest.

Unknown

IMG_E1435.jpg
Sunrise one morning from the Tower at the Sanctuary
IMG_E1455.jpg
Sunset one evening on the beach of Santa Theresa Costa Rica

images-1.jpeg

 

If you enjoyed my writing, consider leaving a comment, sharing with others, or following my blog

https://esterinaanderson.com

On Giving Gifts that Heal this Holiday Season

After food, shelter and clothing; true lasting joy and peace can ONLY come from within. No toy, car, phone, pet, room, house, grade, job, college, friend, significant other, anything… can ever bring true happiness. It sounds so cliché, but it’s true and sages have been saying it for thousands of years.

Advertisement and modern society tells us something different. A few gifts can help to bring this inner joy. This is my own concoction of gifts that can help bring forth that inner joy. The secret is that you have to be willing to give these gifts to both yourself and others.

 

  1. Acceptance

Acceptance of what is.

When I was 15 I found a Yin Yang charm on the beach. I didn’t know what it was, but I liked it. I strung it along some fishing line with black beads I somehow had, and held it together with a safety pin as a clip. I wore it for years around my neck, like a thin choker that was popular in the early 90s. A few years later one evening at my church’s youth group, I sat across a boy who was in my circle of friends but I had never talked to very much. We both sat backwards on some chairs off to the side while our friends chatted and danced. At some point during the conversation he reached over to my neck and touched the Yin Yang. He asked me if I knew what the symbol meant. I didn’t. He explained. I loved it even more. We dated all through my senior year.

It is my favorite symbol because it says it all with a simple circle. The world is made up of opposites, and they always circle back to one another at their extreme. We can only understand an expression through the existence of its opposite (hot/cold, dark/light, happy/sad, health/disease, love/hate, summer/winter, life/death etc). These things all exist naturally, are a part of the universe we live in; they ALL belong, and we should expect them to show up. That means there is nothing wrong with disappointment, sadness, anger, something not working, or any “negative” expression or feeling. It should come as no more of a surprise as joy, love, things going as planned, or “positive” feelings. There is no fighting this natural, universal law, and expecting anything different only causes disappointment.

How does that translate into real life? When we aren’t happy it doesn’t mean there is something wrong with us. When someone is grumpy or annoyed (even if it’s with you), it doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with them or you. Pretending a negative feeling isn’t so, or trying to change an outcome or a mood is unnatural; not to mention completely exhausting.

Acceptance of what is doesn’t mean accepting nonsense in your life OR that it’s ok to make the same mistakes over and over. Accept, learn, & grow. That means changing what you have control over, letting go of what you can’t and having the wisdom to know the difference.  Someone coined that long ago.

images-1.jpeg

  1. Let go

Let go of contempt and forgive.

Oh… so much easier than it sounds. Regret and lack of forgiveness can seriously block true inner happiness. Like a dam blocks the flow of water. This is true whether or not you are holding onto contempt for yourself or others.

Regret can be about anything that would represent ‘woulda’, ‘shoulda’, ‘coulda’. Lack of forgiveness for yourself is often about regret. Consider being compassionate with yourself and recognizing that you are human, but learn from the experience. Accept how it went and move on. If you don’t forgive yourself, you will often make the same mistakes over and over.

Lack of forgiveness towards others is often about being angry because another individual did not act in a way you wished them to. Consider accepting that it is about them, not you. and let it go. Holding onto contempt only stops you from being happy and wishing you could change a person you cannot.

Both forms of not forgiving will block you from being happy. Forgiveness is the greatest gift you can give yourself. It’s absolutely NOT about making the same mistakes over and over, or allowing certain behaviors in your life. Forgiveness is about acceptance of what is and not fighting against things you cannot change. Accept yourself, others, and the world for what it is. You don’t even have to let another person know you forgave them to feel the benefits of letting go.  Whatever you might be holding on to with anger, regret, or contempt: give yourself the gift of letting it go. It’s freeing.

Not everyone is ready to forgive. If you can’t, at least wish that you could want to. And if you can’t even do that, at least wish that you were the type of person who could wish they could want to. But be honest and reflective of where you are: ready to forgive, wishing you were ready, or wishing you could wish you were ready to forgive. The sooner you are honest with your  private self (you can’t really lie to your most private self), the sooner you will move on, come closer to forgiveness and the sooner you will set yourself free. But only you can do that.

9ab18aa88e858e60360091f17dd28bb4--bible-quotes-forgiveness-forgive-quotes.jpg

  1. Give

Give gratitude. We are human and as simple as it is, it’s hard! There are thousands of quotes, articles, podcasts, movies, songs, apps etc that talk about how gratitude can change your life. And I can attest to it. Living in gratitude makes life miraculous and SOOOOoooooooo….. worth living.

Look around. Stop living in lack. I listened to a Podcast on the way home from work on Tuesday about Oneness. To sort of, kind of, steal the lines from the person giving the Podcast, she talked about how we live and focus on lack constantly. From the moment we open our eyes in the morning we live in lack. Before another thought enters our mind; more often than not we think we didn’t sleep enough, weren’t enough yesterday (didn’t exercise enough, ate the wrong things, drank too much, didn’t do enough), and that we don’t have enough time in the morning to get ready to start the day. This is before we even get out of bed! This is the story we tell ourselves throughout the day. We focus on all that isn’t rather than ALL that is. Giving gratitude and being grateful for what is doesn’t come naturally.

Most of us are healthy and have several functioning relationships in our lives. We have food, shelter and way too much clothing… in fact we feel confused about choices on what to eat and what to wear when we are lucky enough to have those choices to actually make! But we focus on what doesn’t fit, the people who have slighted us and who we don’t have a relationship with, the poor food choices we made, the fact that there is traffic, a bill we didn’t expect to come… and then we beat ourselves up then for not being thankful.

Unknown.jpeg

On how hard this is –

We are human. We are animals. In a totally unrelated, yet totally related story… I’m in a 300-hour yoga teacher training and there is a student who comes to many of the classes at my studio where I teach and train. He is in his 70’s, legally blind, and a retired psychologist. He is awesome. He will often stay behind after community classes that are open to the public and share some of his insights about yoga and the way the mind works. I’m going to share one of his stories. I will call him “Harry”.

Harry was involved in a study with chickens all not too long ago. Basically, they taught the chickens how to find a pellet in a maze. Before you read further, try to take a wild guess about how long it took the chickens to find the pellet in the maze. Flabbergasted? It’s normal! From the folks I’ve told this story to, they’ve all guessed between 2 and 50 times. I believe the answer was somewhere around 9.

Then Harry’s study changed something in the maze that required the chickens to adapt to a new pattern. The pellet came out in a slightly different way and the chickens had to learn that doing the same thing over and over didn’t work. How many times do you think it took them to determine the new pattern? Flabbergasted again? Again… it’s normal. Most of the people I’ve talked to and told this story to after learning it was 9 times guessed anywhere between 9 and 40. For all those folks I’ve told them it’s much, much higher and it would blow their mind moved their guess to between 50 and 500.

The actual answer is over 42,000 times. It’s mind-boggling. I would hate to be the person who counted that study! Harry told us about that study, and I share this study with you because it’s freeing to know that it’s very difficult to change patterns and the way our neurons fire and give us direction. There is nothing wrong with us if we can’t change a habit in a heartbeat. We aren’t failures, we are living creatures with wiring that makes it so. Again & again, not an excuse – but an opportunity to accept the nature of what is, forgive ourselves, and give gratitude that we have the mind power to change patterns since we have a little more thinking opportunity than chickens, and can be self-reflective.

It’s all good.

images.png

Closing Thoughts –

So be good to yourself and others. We are just frail little humans. We think materialism, acquiring more things, brings joy – but it doesn’t. Use this season, this beautiful solstice, to learn something new. Focus on acceptance of what is, letting go of the past, and being grateful. These are some of the most beautiful gifts we can give ourselves and one another.

As I stated at the beginning of this blog:  true inner joy & peace can only come from within.

Happy Winter Solstice 2017.

images.jpeg

If you enjoyed my writing, consider leaving a comment, sharing with others, or following my blog

https://esterinaanderson.com