“Slow down and enjoy life. It’s not only the scenery you miss by going too fast – you also miss the sense of where you are going and why.” ― Eddie Cantor
“One of the best pieces of advice I ever got was from a horse master. He told me to go slow to go fast. I think that applies to everything in life. We live as though there aren’t enough hours in the day but if we do each thing calmly and carefully we will get it done quicker and with much less stress.”
The tale of the tortoise and the hare, where slow and steady wins the race doesn’t seem to sit well in modern western life. We wake up, race off to the gym, or work, fit in back to back meetings, gulp down lunch at our desks, collect a handful of groceries on the way home from work, cook dinner while a load of washing is on, make lunches for the following day, complete some unfinished work correspondence or projects. Then, if we are still awake, squeeze in a little reading or television viewing before lopping off to bed to do it all over again the next day. Faster is better, more is approved of and fitting in as much as possible, in our already busy lives, is seen to be normal, or at least the norm.
On a trek, in Nepal, I realised things can be different. “Slow, slow” is the mantra. Plodding is accepted and encouraged. There is no hurry. Basically, one’s body does not function well at a fast pace when dealing with altitude. Mentally this is challenging at first. Slow is so unfamiliar, so strange that the mind does not settle into slow comfortably.
The Nepalese people are a gentle and slow-moving people. Life is hard in the remote villages we visited. They carry massive loads over great distances and food is prepared from scratch. Rice is hand ground in stone mortars for making Momos and bread. Milk is not bought from a local store but milked from yaks and goats. Vegetables and herbs are grown in patches around homes and yak dung is collected, rolled into balls and flattened to dry in the sun for later use as fuel for fires.
Days are filled with hand washing clothes, preparing food, farming, herding animals long distances and surviving the harsh elements. Nothing is wasted. Resources are respected and utilised to the full. The throw away mentality doesn’t seem to be prevalent. The fast pace I’d left behind was also nowhere to be seen.
Despite the harshness and seemingly difficult lifestyle, compared to my own, the Nepalese are extremely generous, they find joy in the simple things. They value family and relationships weigh in strongly. Time is taken to watch children play, there is much laughter and many ready smiles. Attention is given to the task at hand, without concern for the next.
Once I got my head wrapped around what my body knew was the value of “slow, slow”, the benefits revealed themselves. Each day, we stopped for a tea break. For an hour. Yes. An hour. It was such a terrible waste of time to my pre-programmed run, run, run mode. Lunch was a leisurely two-hour break. Hard to fathom when I’ve not taken a lunch break in over ten years. These opportunities to pause were strange to me. Physically I needed them but mentally I was totally challenged by the down time, at first. When you stop, you take in the surroundings. When you stop, you talk to people. When you stop, you can meditate and be grateful and breathe deeply. When you stop you get a better perspective of where you are and from where you have come. Making decisions on how to proceed become easier.
Slow and steady has benefits.
One very cold morning, walking up a steep hill, I moved aside to allow an elderly couple to pass. While waiting I rubbed my hands together for warmth. After exchanging namastes the elderly woman reached up with her right hand and covered both of mine. She made an exclamation which conveyed “cold”. I responded that hers was warm. She rubbed my cold, reddened hands with her strong, broad, warm hand and my heart soared as I stared into her wizened face. We’d connected in that moment on a mountainside far from my daily grind and rapid routine. Had I been focused on racing to my end point, I’d have missed this beautiful exchange.
At morning tea another day having stopped at a tea house I was resting; head reclined and wrapped against the cool breeze, when I heard a woman’s reproach, one another mother easily discerns. Before I could open my eyes I felt a small hand on my back. When I turned, a small red-cheeked child was beaming at me from under her yak hair beanie, delighted at having surprised and roused me from my slumber. We two were caught in a moment of mutual fascination and joy.
The long afternoons and evenings were filled with conversation, laughter, card playing and story telling. The lack of distractions, the forced pause, enabled us to connect with others around us. We could take quiet moments for introspection, for journaling, for just being.
These moments are not restricted to treks in Nepal. They can be experienced anywhere, if only we make the time to slow down, just a little, to take in all around us, to observe and to consider others. Being more deliberate, slowing down and taking time to pause gives us an opportunity to connect with ourselves, our journey and those around us.
“Yes. but …” I hear you say, “that’s all well and good on holiday.” I admit, I haven’t exactly taken an hour lunch break since returning but nor have I missed a deadline by slowing down. Each day I consciously take the time to appreciate my world. At lunch, I have taken a moment to look at my food, to notice the colours and the textures before digging in. I’ve enjoyed the smells and savoured that first mouthful. I chew rather than gulp. When my colleagues arrive each day, instead of calling a half-interested greeting over my shoulder, I stop, turn, look at them. Notice them. Then wish them a good morning and inquire about their evening, their health, comment on their outfit or some idea we shared the day before. It’s just a short exchange but it’s a lovely way to begin the day. On waking, instead of jumping out of bed and racing off to the first task I take a moment to wiggle my fingers and toes. To stretch, to smile and be grateful for a new day. Instead of taking and making calls in the car as I’m travelling to work, I enjoy the time to gather my thoughts and to notice the little things happening in each neighbourhood I pass through. My phone calls are taken later, when I can devote my undivided attention to my caller.
I’ve not become ineffective. If anything my head is clearer, my heart is happier and I feel more connected to my life. My advice would be, in the words of my Nepalese friends, “Slow, slow”. Plod occasionally. Stop briefly. Look and listen often. Breathe deeply and enjoy life.
The tortoise and the hare both finished the race but who enjoyed the journey more?