Slow Is Beautiful

For a long time, I believed it was good to be fast. For longer I believed those who were not fast finished last. This was what it was like, in the world out there – rife with competition and the fastest one getting all the spoils of war. The slower ones, left to eat dust. Left to cough in a cloud of dust, the world would forget the slower ones.

I took this philosophy into my life early on in my career – to do things as fast as possible. I had to respond to emails as fast as possible. Speed was the only thing that mattered. I had to get to inbox zero everyday. I wanted to answer everyone’s questions and wanted everyone to answer my questions at a moment’s notice. All this when Google and Social Media had not yet wreaked havoc with our lives. These were the days of Orkut and Yahoo Messenger. But still I was blitzing past carrying my own philosophy of fast, faster, and fastest. Many decisions I took back then turned out to be okay. But I think the outcomes were also driven significantly by good luck rather than based on good decision making alone. Little did I know that good things take time, and the best things take longer. I was going to learn valuable lessons on unhurriedness in what was going to be one of the most important phases of my life.

In 2009 my wife was pregnant and we were expecting our first child. Our obstetrician suggested my wife take walks to help fight off nausea and for overall wellbeing. We did our first few walks and something spectacular happened – with slow rhythmic walking, conversations we’d had a hundred times before seemed more alive! I was able to experience wonderful moments with my better half. I felt like a kid with a shiny new toy – poking it and prodding it and trying everything possible with it, but wary not to break it. I started looking forward to our walks. I was able to experience everything around me much better during those slow and long walks.

This experience started spilling over to other parts of my life too. I became less demanding of life and of others – especially at the work place. I was aware of the rushing and crushing all around and that it wasn’t feasible in the long run. I could not sprint in this marathon. I decided to dial it down many notches – let things run, not in their own pace, but at a pace that doesn’t derail the whole system. At the same time ensuring it didn’t lose steam either. I could find the middle ground. Lucky me! Instead to giving into a “Yes” all the time, I started giving in to “No” a lot more. I began to guard my time too – for it was precious if I wanted to not rush through life like a bullet train.

In the summer of 2010, we were blessed with a daughter. Those were some of the best moments of my life. My daughter was going to teach me valuable lessons – she was a kid, but I was going to learn a lot. She was going to give me a crash course in living a slow life. She taught me it was actually good to be slow. She took her own sweet time to eat her meals, although enjoying them. She took her own sweet time to go to sleep, making me sing for hours. She would wake up at 3 AM offering beaming smiles and wanting to play – and I couldn’t say no to her. Red eyed and sleep deprived – I savoured these moments at their own pace. Rush through them and I’d lose a great deal in the process. If I’d have put her to sleep during all those times I wanted to sleep, I’d never have gotten to enjoy these times with her. They were some of the best I will ever have. Those 3-4 years would chart the course for the next 30-40 years of my life. I realised that to get more out of life, one needs to lift their foot off the gas pedal.

In the years after her birth, I saw a radical change in my approach to life – I was drawn to all things flaneur. When afflicted by terrifying episodes of migraine I sought refuge in meditation and cycling. These activities demanded and rewarded to live in the moment. They also spurned my interest to take up longer and difficult books. Till then I was only drawn to reading best seller books – they are good, but they don’t stimulate you as much as you need. The first one I picked up was Victor’s Man’s Search For Meaning. Somewhere in those pages Viktor describes listening to music and watching the woods and BAM!!! I could relate to those feelings. I drifted from heavy metal to Classical Music. I found Bach’s symphonies more appealing. I discovered Norah Jones – and was hooked to her vocals. It was a perfect fit to what was going on in life.

Looking back, I now wonder what was the whole point of rushing it? It’s not that I couldn’t do the same stuff bit by bit, I definitely could and if given a chance, I probably would too. But then I also realise I would have lost the whole plot – I’ve learnt some valuable lessons from what I did back then. If I hadn’t sped along, I’d never have appreciated what it felt like to do things slowly, to amble along. Presence becomes meaningful only in absence. The Universe took billions of years to get where it is today and it has done a pretty good job. Evolution didn’t happen overnight. Why do we need to rush?

To savour every moment of life, as given to us, I presume is our duty. Not doing so is injustice to life itself. My views have changed over the years out of this newfound respect to life. Also, we get one chance to do this – why waste it?

All these years, the reading, and the experiences have coalesced into this simple phrase – A slow life is a beautiful life.

Cover painting: The Siesta, 1890 by Van Gogh. Source: Wikimedia.

This post first appeared on The Lighthouse Newsletter.

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