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Monk Notes 04 - On the Hidden Costs of Speed

Today we live at an incredibly fast pace.

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seems ->
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always ->
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We eat on the go, work on the go, learn on the go, and sometimes even try to squeeze in our relaxation and leisure on the go. Today we are "going" so much that it can feel a bit unnatural to do anything else. Fast has become our normal life setting.

Any time you see a diverse group of people agreeing on the same thing, it’s worth paying attention to whatever it is that they’ve agreed upon. Wisdom often finds its refuge in these corners of mutual agreement. And the concept of slowing down is one of these best practices of life, embraced in one form or other by all the great spiritual traditions. Many traditions have even incorporated entire seasons that emphasize and create space for us to slow down. Think of Vassa in Buddhism, Ramadan in Islam, or Lent in Christianity (which some of our readers may be in the midst of practicing right now).

But why? Why this emphasis on slowing down? 

Because speed always comes at a cost. A health cost, a relationship cost, and even a cost to our own personal growth and development. 

The emotional toil of speed on our minds and bodies is the most concrete and tangible cost, even if we may not always be consciously aware of it as we go about our day to day lives. But the other costs are often more difficult for us to recognize, in part because our pace of life does not allow for the reflection necessary to notice what we may be missing.

It’s not all that different from driving a car.

When you’re driving a car leisurely throughout a residential neighborhood, you will find it’s generally a rather carefree and enjoyable experience. But if you take that same car onto the interstate highway and start transition from 30 to 60 to 80 to 100 miles per hour, you will begin to feel your stress levels elevate in match step with each graduation of speed. This stress then dwells within us. It’s not that it goes away after driving at high speeds for a prolonged period of time, we just forget about it.

But beyond this undercurrent of stress a few other potential problems begin to emerge as we race through our lives…

1. We miss the signs. 

As our speed increases, our ability to see and process the signs and data points around us also decreases. As a result we find ourselves missing the warning signs in our relationships and life circumstances, often impacting our ability to properly orient where to direct our energy.

2. We miss the turns.

The faster we move, the more signs we miss, the more likely it is we will miss our turn. We either miss the cues entirely or recognize the path so late that it feels impossible for us to change direction.

3. We miss the journey itself.

 When we live life as a race to a destination, we tend to overemphasize the speed at which we move to endpoints and underemphasize the process itself. And life is just one big process. We may even sense we are "winning" by getting our car to go metaphorically faster than (fill in the blank). But in our attempt to go further--faster we trade the experience and the journey itself for outcomes. We buy the sense of "arriving" at the price of our life itself.
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So why don’t we just slow down?

I wish I had a definitive answer to give. It’s an area that I’m personally trying to get better at understanding because I - like you - also struggle with speed.

My sense is that we ultimately know slowing down is also expensive. We live in a doing-based culture that celebrates speed and efficiency. Choosing a slower path can feel like failure, and potentially even selfish. Add this to the fact that everyone else around us has accepted a frenetic pace as normal, resisting this pace can feel like going 60 on the highway when everyone else is going 85 (even if the speed limit is 60).

But I believe that is where the lie is planted and grows. Slowing down may feel like we’re going nowhere fast, but activity and movement isn’t the same as progress. As Voltaire said "I don’t know where I am going, but I am on my way." We may find after reflection that we’ve been racing our whole lives to the wrong finish line and at great expense.

And the interesting thing is you really can’t race towards the most important things.

If you’ve ever been around monks, you will notice that they rarely ever seem in a hurry. There is a profound sense that whatever they need in life won’t materialize by going faster.

One could argue: well monks don’t have mortgages and car payments, they don’t have to deal with the same pressures of living in the world. That may be true to some degree.

But I think the deeper reason lies in the fact that you can’t race towards the most important things in life. The most important things take time, care, and attention.

The process of life isn’t about getting there faster, it’s about being there the whole time.

All the best,
Steven

""All that is very well," answered Candide, "but let us cultivate our garden." - Voltaire (from Candide)

GOING DEEPER


The Most Important Skill Nobody Taught You -Medium

It's hard to overemphasize the impact our culture's obsession with doing has on the value's we extol and the skills we adopt. This is an overview of a few skills that can help counterbalance our hectic pace of life.LINK

Speed vs. Velocity -Farnam Street

While I wish this article went beyond a "doing" worldview, the principles it lays out are helpful and vital for full(er) living. It's easy to see how these principles mirror those found in the life of a monk.LINK

The Wonders of an Ordinary Life -The School of Life

Our culture celebrates those who are extraordinary. Often our speed and emphasis on doing is merely a way for us to prove we have a place. To convince ourselves that we are worthwhile. It can be helpful to pause and reflect on the wonders and value of a simple and ordinary life. LINK


Featured Art: "At Grandmother's" Adolph Artz 1883