What do these words have in common?: ‘savor’, ‘relish’, ‘luxuriate’, ‘stroll’, ‘muse’, ‘dawdle’, ‘mosey’, ‘meander’, and ‘linger’?
We rarely use them, because we rarely do them. We don’t have time. We’ve got so much to do, so many balls to juggle, so many miles to go before we sleep.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot since I posted the blog “The Magic of Doing One Thing at a Time” two weeks ago. It prompted a passionate outpouring of comments from people feeling overwhelmed by the relentless demands in their lives, and the sense that there’s no way out.
We’re all wired up, but we’re melting down. We’re dancing as fast as we can. Stroll? Mosey? Linger? That’s what slackers do.
I’m not suggesting this is a new phenomenon. ‘More – bigger, faster.’ has been the rallying cry of capitalism for more than two centuries, since the advent of the industrial revolution. I first wrote about this subject 25 years ago in an article for Vanity Fair titled “Acceleration Syndrome: How Life Got Much, Much Too Fast.” Even then it was before anyone had cell phones or an email address, and before Google, Facebook, texting, and tweeting existed.
But the acceleration has accelerated — crazily so. The speed of our digital devices now sets our pace and increasingly runs our lives. Any doubt? See if you can turn off your email for a day, or even for a few hours, or try holding the attention of a 12-year-old who has a smart phone in her hand.
I like getting more done faster, as much as the next guy does. But I also recognize how costly it can be. Speed is the enemy of depth, nuance, subtlety, attention to detail, reflection, learning, and rich relationships — the enemy of much, in short, that makes life worth living.
Last week, my wife and I accompanied my older daughter, a theater director, to a play called Gatz at the Public Theater in New York City. The show is based on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. The script is the novel itself, which the main character, Nick Carraway, reads from the stage over six and a half languorous hours between 2 pm and 10 pm. There are two 15-minute intermissions and an hour and fifteen minute break for dinner.
Honestly, this is not the sort of event I would have chosen to attend, but it was a gift from my daughter. To my amazement, I found it riveting. I savored and luxuriated in Fitzgerald’s elegant sentences, and I became so immersed in the story and the era Fitzgerald so vividly evokes, that my attention rarely wandered. I felt enriched and enlivened by the experience. It has stuck with me.
Speed is a source of stimulation and fleeting pleasure. Slowing down is a route to depth, more enduring satisfaction, and to excellence.
How would you feel if you knew the surgeon operating on you was racing through your surgery, while checking email, and writing texts along the way? I notice my own impatience if the Internet doesn’t come up fast enough on my phone when I’m walking from one appointment to another.
Am I nuts? It makes me think of a line from Simon and Garfunkel’s 59th Street Bridge Song: “Slow down, you move too fast. You got to make the morning last.” Why can’t I just take a deep breath when I’ve got a free moment, and appreciate my simple aliveness?
Here’s one reason: The faster we move, the less we feel, which may be a primary reason we move so fast. Most of us are more worried, uncertain, and insecure than we care to acknowledge, even to ourselves. Moving fast keeps those discomfiting feelings at bay.
So we deify doing. Just think about this senseless but venerable cliché: ‘No rest for the weary.’ Really? Isn’t resting precisely what the weary ought to be doing?
To savor is to enjoy and appreciate something completely. It necessarily takes time and requires slowing down. So how might you build more savoring into your life? Try one of these:
Designate one meal a day — or even one a week — during which you take the time to notice the aroma, flavor, and texture of what you’re eating.
Curl up in a favorite chair at some point after you return home from work and spend at least a half-hour reading a book purely for pleasure.
Take the time to really listen to someone you love — to give that person the space to speak without interruption, for as long as it takes.
Choose a place that interests you — it could be in the city or the country — and spend a couple of hours just exploring it without any specific end in mind.
Buy a journal, and before you go to bed, take a few minutes to reflect on what you feel grateful for that day, and what went right.
Above all, slowly build more strolling, dawdling, moseying, meandering, musing, lingering, relishing, and savoring into your life.