Slow Down and Be Here Now
Today is a gift. That's why we call it the present. -Babatunde Olatunji
Studies have shown that Americans are more miserable now than ever. With the challenges that we face economically, it can feel as though we are just hanging on by a thread. This is not so. We all underestimate our need to slow down. If we are not careful, we live as if our schedules are our lives. At the end of the day, we haven’t necessarily been present to our own experience. Mary Pipher, psychologist says: I have never seen people as rushed and distracted as we are now. We have become a nation of multitaskers.
I am incredibly fortunate to work with my counseling clients. Seeing such a rich and intimate side of people has helped me identify what elements are essential to slowing down and being here now. I feel incredibly privileged to have such a profound connection with people. However the occasions when we genuinely need to rush are really a lot less frequent than we convince ourselves. The simple truth is that rushing has become a habit for many of us. And it has a negative effect on our mental, spiritual and physical health.
Scientists have studied emotions and their effect on cognition and brain function. When we are in good spirits, our cognitive repertoire is broadened. That means we are more able to problem solve, complete tasks and fulfill goals. (Seligman M. E. P. (1991). Learned Optimism. New York: Alfred Knopf. Happiness has even been proven to increase pain tolerance. Negative emotion narrows our thought-action repertoire; tasks not only seem more arduous, they actually are.
When you are rushing the body literally is in panic mode. The physical systems feel as if they are constantly being stressed to meet imaginary deadlines. An occasional shot of adrenaline might be good for you but a continuous stream of it will wear down the body and its immune system. You will tend to get sick more often, feel more fatigued, enervated and listless.
When you are rushing mentally, your mind is always ‘on’. Thoughts of things you need to get done and things you have not yet gotten done keep streaming through your mind making you feel out of sorts and unaccomplished. You may even feel panicked and have trouble sleeping and relaxing.
We need to become aware of our daily habits and thoughts. Most of the time when we are rushing, we do not even realize it because it is such an automatic response. By slowing down, and sticking to one experience at a time, we are able to experience more joy. We need to learn to do one thing at a time. Mary Pipher, psychologist, and author of bestselling Reviving Ophelia, says “one of the reasons pets are so popular is that when we are with the, we share their pleasure in being here now. Pets do not live in clock time, and they allow us to rest from chronological time. We join them in older, animal rhythms.” (Seeking Peace, by arrangement with Riverhead books, 2009)
I have dished up a list of some things you can do today to easily slow down, enjoy one activity at a time, and live with more joy. Get ready to Be Here, Now.
- Slow Your Attention: Slowing down helps give our full-attention to what we are doing. Like full-attention Zen, slowing down can put us in the zone, or what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls flow (“Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience”). Try walking more slowly. Pause before responding to questions. Speak more slowly.
- Practice Meditating: The first years of the twenty-first century have brought about new and surprising findings about how Buddhist contemplative training can affect the brain. The findings include unprecedented levels of brain activation in certain regions of the brain during meditation, evidence that meditation affects brain areas associated with to positive emotions, as well as strong evidence the brain can be changed through prolonged and disciplined mental training. (J. Davidson, et al., Alterations in Brain and Immune Function Produced by Mindfulness Meditation, Psychosomatic medicine 65.4 (2003): 564-70.)
- Initiate a Slowing-Down Contest– find a friend and email each other some joyful things that you do each day. Your entry can include the simplest of joys; baking, watching a sunset, reading to a child)
- Read The Artist’s Way (or any good book) (Julia Cameron; 1992, 2002) Many folks have found this ground-breaking book very helpful in goal setting and connecting with their creative genius. I believe that we all our geniuses. We just need the time and space to let our amazing selves shine.
- Keep a gratitude journal. This is my absolute favorite new pastime. I love it especially when I am sulking in a moment of gloom and doom. I go to my gratitude journal and put in all the things that happened that I am grateful for, like having a seat on the bus, or getting a card in the mail, or enjoying a lovely meal. (nothing is too small). Start your gratitude journal today, and you will notice that you will attract more good things into your world.
- Check out these smell-the-roses sites — Slow Down Now, 43 Things, Mindful Eating, Slow Food — and take it slow…
- End the day slowly: Having an evening ritual is a balm to the nervous system. Before you go to sleep make sure that there is nothing stressful going on. Dimming the lights sever hours before bedtime relaxes the mind, and intensifies the output of tryptophan, the sleep-inducing hormone. It’s very hard to enjoy a good-night’s sleep after watching the news. Find a slowness ritual that works for you; reading a book, talking to your partner or a friend, drawing, journaling.
- Play in nature: This is a lovely way to help you slow down. To enjoy nature you have to be patient, Go to the beach, look at the sea and listen to the waves. Visit the county side, look at the greenery and listen to the birds chirping on the trees. Admire the blooming flowers in your garden and study the snail crawling on the ground. These are some of the delightful things that you can do to take it easy. And here in SF, there is nature all around us.
- Plant something; nourishing, feeding, harvesting, a plant can lower blood pressure, strengthen the heart and increase the production of serotonin, the happy chemical. And flowers are beautiful.
- Have Faith; studies have shown that spirituality affects health. In a study of 1,700 older adults, those attending church were half as likely to have elevated levels of IL-6 (hormones associated with increased incidence of disease)
Men, for the sake of getting a living, forget to live. -Margaret Fuller.