Even though I've loved many of the places in which I've lived or been, I've somehow spent the majority of my life in London and Singapore (admittedly the latter was not by choice). Both cities brim with a sense of urgency; from Londoners tutting at slow-moving tourists to the almost ubiquitous pressure in Singapore to accelerate through one's career and accumulate, what the locals call, the 5 Cs as quickly as possible (cash, credit card, car, condominium and country club membership).
People in these cities stride as though they are purposefully heading somewhere important, both literally and figuratively, because they are never where they want to be right now. As if, in a time-bending way, the present somehow exists only as an afterthought.
I know these traits are far from exclusive to these two cities; in my travels I've met with reactions of disappointment, disdain or plain confusion because I hadn't achieved X by a certain age from people with different cultures. As if it were universally inconceivable that anyone would voluntarily step off life's conveyor belt towards the 5 Cs.
So in response, some of us try to squeeze more into our lives. More work, more promotions, more clients, more academic credentials, more professional qualifications, more awards, more cute videos of our children, more networking, more exciting extra curricular activities till we feel like we don't have the time to just sit and breathe.
The trouble is, the less we breathe, the more we feel suffocated by our lives.
The less we breathe, the more the hamster wheel of accomplishment becomes exhausting.
The less we breathe, the less we think we have the time to do anything significant or even that anything we do can be significant (see a previous post "How we change the lives of others without even knowing it").
The less we breathe, the less we realise that we only do half the things we do because someone else told us those things are important.
A friend and I came up with the analogy that we are on running on a treadmill in life and whenever we feel we are not enough, we turn up the speed of the treadmill by taking on more work, more courses, more projects, more fun activities and more socialising. We're still running on the same spot and not making any progress in life but now we're frazzled and getting increasingly deranged.
And perhaps all we need to do is (to allow ourselves) to slow the treadmill down, take a few slow breaths, get off the belt and simply walk, however slowly, outside. We risk feeling the full force of life but perhaps we could just trust that our legs are strong enough (especially with all the training we've already done).
This year I've learned to take the time to breathe, consciously breathe. A recurring reminder is set to prompt me to take a few deep breaths a day during which I acknowledge what I've done and how life is progressing. I also find at least 10 minutes a day to meditate, it's amazing how a small amount of concerted focus on the present moment can help to clear some of the din in my head. And every weekday, my boyfriend and I email each other three new things for which we are grateful that day.
And what a positive difference these rituals have made in my life.
This practice of being present, breathing, acknowledging and being grateful is age-old common sense and yet perhaps not practiced consciously (or practiced at all) by so many of us.
To be honest, I'm not quite off the treadmill yet but I've slowed it down considerably and in doing so I am able to see just how ineffective and wasteful of energy I was. I am now able to properly admit that I have the time to walk. And that I'm scared of stepping "out there" because I've spent all this time worrying about it and ashamedly hiding rather than just going out the door and experiencing whatever comes.
To give you a glimpse of what it is like in my head sometimes, I'll leave you with this animation.
Maybe, like Gary, it's time for me to get out. After all, I am enough and there's beauty and challenge awaiting beyond that door.
Previous post: The trouble is you think you have time.