My best friend used to tell me I’ve caught the busy bug. We were video chatting the last time he accused me of this, each of us making dinner in our little homes several states and one timezone away.
I had been expressing my frustration over my apple that day. Or to be precise, my frustration over eating the apple. It had been one of those days where I hadn’t stopped moving from the moment I got out of bed in the morning, caught in constant doing or coming or going. It was to such a point that lunch consisted of an apple, eaten hurriedly between places to be.
It was such a simple thing, that apple. I wasn’t really sure why it frustrated me so much on that day in particular. It wasn’t the first time my lunch looked more like a moving snack break and it certainly was not the last. But that day, I was tired. Bone tired. The kind of tired that makes you look at your bed like you’d be happy to stay there for a week. The kind of tired that makes any movement feel heavy. The kind of tired that makes even simple tasks feel difficult.
And then, there I was, well past sunset, video chatting with my best friend while we cooked dinner because that was the only time in the day I found to spare. We made it work. He cooked dinner too and it was just the long-distance version of the dinners we’d have when we lived closer. Only instead of having the warm-bodied friend next to me to dance with and throw vegetable scraps at, I had the digital computer image of him. These is not the same things but had to be enough for us.
‘KP,’ he said. ‘I can’t remember the last time I saw you without bags under your eyes. When are you going to find a cure for the busy bug?'
He left it at that. This was one argument we’d gotten into and never found a conclusion to many times before. But it sat with me this time. It sat on my mind for the remainder of the night and well into the next time I smashed through an apple on my way from Point A to Point B and called it a meal. And it didn’t sit well.
It made me wonder what the point of my busy-ness was. Were the things I was doing really so important, so earth-shatteringly valuable that I couldn’t spare the time to sit down, to taste the apple, to be present for that single experience?
The honest answer? No.
I’m sure that very few things in this world cannot be scheduled ten minutes later so you can take a breath, ground yourself, and be present. In fact, if I can be so bold, I’m sure that very few things in this world cannot be scheduled ten minutes later so you can enjoy your apple.
But we live our lives as honararies of ‘busy-ness’. We take pride in the merit of our schedules. ‘I’m so busy’ is the 21st-century humblebrag. And instead of actually taking the time to experience the things we do and the apples in between, we just fill any empty space in our schedules with more things, leaving no time to process and reflect.
We do this until we are tired. Until we break down. Until we are angrily rushing from one place to another while eating an apple. And we’ll collapse for a weekend and then fall right back into the same busy routine. We’ll be left wondering why we aren’t happy or why our relationships are suffering or why we don’t feel fulfilled. It is unsustainable at best. Dangerous at worst. At some point, a change has to come.
The shift didn’t come right away for me. I didn’t start slowing down due to an apple and pointed question. But they caused the gears to start grinding. They caused me to stop and wonder. There were other triggers that came too: a reading assigned for a class on the art of slow recreation, the flu went around, a knee injury, and then the introduction to Inconvenient Coffee.
Inconvenient Coffee is simple. You get up early. Really early. Long before you have to be at work or school or wherever. You make coffee or bring a camp-set with you and you run or bike somewhere off the beaten path, or at least outside the range of your daily commute. You sit down with friends and people you love and you have your morning cup of coffee. Nothing else matters except being there, being present, and enjoying the warmth of the people and your mug. Only when all that has come to a close do you get up and head out for your day.
(Very Important Side Note: Inconvenient Tea is also appropriate. Morning gatherings of hot drinks do not discriminate between coffee and tea drinkers.)
While Inconvenient Coffee never became a regular thing for me, they did teach me to create slow and intentional mornings.
It started with reframing my morning runs. They became less about the workout and more about the clarity of mind that I get with running. Suddenly, it wasn’t the mileage that mattered. It was how much I allowed myself to experience the world around me while I ran.
Did I remember the way the trees moved on windy days? Did I remember if the ocean was calm or dancing with whitecaps? Did I see anyone or find a dog to cuddle for a moment? Did I allow myself to run slow on the days my muscles fought me? Did I push myself for the sake of challenge and commitment and not for the sake of speed and times? Did I allow myself to run simply for the love of running? And when I returned, did I take the time to stretch out my weary muscles? Did I take time for a Babaji’s Surya Namaksar practice? Did I allow myself a moment in the shower to just feel how the water fell onto my body? Did I allow myself to experience the whole run from lacing up my shoes all the way until I got out of the shower afterwards?
I got hooked on these mornings. Reframing my morning runs led to a reframing my entire morning. I started getting up earlier, giving more time each activity. That meant more time to running, to my Atma Kriya Yoga practice, to my breakfast and so on.
Getting up earlier meant going to bed earlier. Going to bed earlier meant having a disciplined, slow routine each night so that I could get up earlier. Over time, I learned how to set my laptop aside instead of falling asleep working, how to enjoy my evening tea and read a book, and even how to turn out the lights at a reasonable hour.
By allowing for slowness and presence in my life, everything around me seemed to blossom and be full of life where it had felt dull and dreary before. Mornings were no longer a rush out the door but a slow meander in cozy clothes through my Atma Kriya Yoga practice and morning coffee and enjoyable runs. Running became a chance to chant japa and exist in the presence of Beauty. Evenings became time to reflect upon the day, enjoy a book, and a final Atma Kriya practice before falling asleep.
Many of my days remained a rush from one place to another, chomping through an apple and calling it a meal. In fact, I still have days like this. But they are more rare and when they do happen, I make a conscious decision to enjoy the apple as I walk rather than hurry along.
Slowing down sounds like an old cliche probably because it is. How many times have we heard our mothers yell out to us as we ran recklessly to slow down, telling us we’d get hurt? And at five years old with a blanket tied to our backs like a cape, she sounded foolish. Slow down? But I’m a superhero. Superheros don’t slow down.
But as adults, without blankets as capes, we come to understand the wisdom in those words. Slow down. You’ll hurt yourself. You’ll miss the best things.
(Very important side note: I fully endorse the use of blankets as capes for all people, regardless of age. Capes do not discriminate. Nor does imagination.)
My challenge to you is this: lose the busy bug. Life is too beautiful and too short to be defined by its ‘busy-ness.’ Find different ways of slowing down. Let yourself cease the fast-paced treadmill running of the world. Enjoy a slow saunter through life, taking the time to smell the sunflowers and bask in the glory of all that God has to offer in any given moment.
Every grand change starts with a moment. Let this one start with a moment of presence; a short period of your day that gets restructured so you can just exist with your cup of tea and japa mala.