Thursday, December 31, 2009

I haven’t posted in a while and it seems like just yesterday. Days flew by, seasons blended into each other, partly due to “climate change”, partly due to the speed of life that we choose to live at. As Murakami says in his book What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, “I don’t know why, but the older you get, the busier you become.” That’s why I have decided to say a few words in praise of all things slow.

If we were to examine our lives, it seems that even before we are born, we are perpetually busy. Before a child has had a chance to take the first breath of his or her own they are subjected to batteries of tests, exercised with, talked to; plans have already been made for his or her life for years ahead. Before the new citizen of the world has even come to self awareness they are required to hit a whole bunch of milestones in personal development, academics, athletics, etc., that were planned for them by their families sometimes before they were even conceived. And if they happen to have arrived at all the same accomplishments ahead of schedule, then so much the better. The rare moments not filled with the activities aimed at speeding past their peers are mostly filled with “relaxation” activities – fidgeting with electronics, zooming around to play dates and tuning to various kinds of noise – music, film, television etc.

As we all know, the speed game only intensifies in adulthood. The perpetual race to achieve drives us through our school years, our career years, and our family life – even a retirement is only considered to be of good quality if every day is packed with appointments, activities, travel, etc. Inactivity, stillness, and quiet are often associated with being unwell, sick, underperforming, unhappy, not living one’s life fully. And yet even as the society pushes us to be perpetually on the move, we crave the peace, quiet and solitude, whether we acknowledge it or not. We make New Year’s resolutions to walk more and do more yoga, we peruse glossy magazines advocating “the country life” full of meals made from scratch and hand-made holiday decorations, and browse through the long bookstore shelves packed with books on mindfulness and meditation. Most of these annual decisions stay just where they found us – on the cusp of the two years’ turning over, and as the moment passes, we are ready to jump back into the game we call our normal life. And even if we occasionally have regrets about sticking to those resolutions, many of us just shrug them off and say “Oh well, it’s a shame it didn’t happen, but who has the time?!”

While there are a few activities that definitely call for speed, many of the most amazing things we see around us are a result of a long term painstaking labor of love. It takes 11 months to cultivate the gorgeous chrysanthemums that are displayed at the Annual Kiku Exhibit at the New York Botanical Garden for just a month every fall. The plants are slowly molded and trained onto elaborate frames of various shapes and sizes. Sometimes a whole mountain of flowers comes from a single stem – it is as if a flower was encouraged to become a tree through the focused effort of the gardener. The seasonal display of flowers symbolizes both the transience of nature and the permanence of the inspiration it provides.

Many of the slow forming projects will give joy and bear fruit for years – like a hand made quilt or a knitted blanket that may have taken a year to make, some may be able to give instant joy, like a loaf of homemade bread, which, although short-lived, will be remembered as a delicious meal or a thoughtful unique gift. Unlike impulse purchase decisions of most holiday shopping trips, all these things have one thing in common – intent. One has to carefully plan the project, maybe even start in advance to learn a new skill, maybe even try several times before getting it right and deciding that the result is worth presenting to the rest of the world. In some cases, as training for long-distance race, meditating, or gardening, one must be diligent about doing something every day, and commit to it from the beginning, otherwise the result will definitely suffer.

Moreover, this constant regular practice will give the doer plenty of time to examine his or her reason and motive for doing something as involved, as well the personal feelings connected to an activity. The results of this self analysis are often life changing. I have seen fellow human beings change careers, living environments, eating habits and religious devotions after a period of serious self-reflection and involved activity. Many have found guidance through corresponding with fellow soul seekers on the internet, and that surprisingly personal support has given them courage to persist and eventually bring their initially timid plans of devoted practice of whichever kind to full fruition.

I do not claim to be the coaching expert in transforming anyone’s life, and like everyone else, I am hoping to make a number of changes this coming year that I could stick to and that would make the world around me a better place. But one thing I know this process requires is intent. You cannot just decide you will go hiking if you do not have hiking boots, a map, and proper equipment. You must have an idea of the route you are taking and what if there is a stream running across the trail that was not marked on your map and what if you get a blister on your left heel? As any hiker knows, these things do happen, and when they do, this in now way means the end of your hike if you act with just a little bit of forethought. Another important thing is, most times you will not hike alone, and if you are fortunate to have a more experienced hiking buddy, your intent and enjoyment from that activity will strengthen and flourish.

We have all made enough unrealistic change goals without a reasonable idea of where to start, and if we are intending to make some improvements in our ability to keep our promises to ourselves, let us start right here. Let us resolve to work out a plan toward whatever goal we want to achieve, and let us realize that this process will be even paced and maybe even slow, and that aspect will make it so much more rewarding in the end. We will travel down the path of personal transformation and when we come to our desired destination as a finished product of this process, we will be changed beings, and we will own that new identity. As we change ourselves, slowly and with intent, the world around us will change and become a better place that we have helped co-create.

Sounds simple enough? Maybe it is, maybe not, but we have to start with that intent. We have a few hours to resolve, and that is all the time in the world we need. I hope that the New Year brings everyone who reads these words the best of health, happiness, peace and the joy of discovery and transformation!

Parle-leur de batailles, de rois et d'éléphants by Mathias Énard My rating: 5 of 5 stars This is an amazing book, and I was fortuna...