It has been revealed to me that these simple elements are the root of all suffering. Well, my suffering anyway. I can’t speak for your pain points but perhaps Sesame Street can provide you with an epiphany too. Here’s the backstory:
Fast and Slow
Last week I was partially watching Elmo’s World and partially reading something of grave importance on my iPad mini, probably the entertainment section of Google news, when the world as I knew it completely shifted. Elmo was mesmerizing toddlers with the concept of fast and slow by retelling the story of the tortoise and the hare. As you may recall, the hare takes a nap during a race with the tortoise and the slow plodding creature crosses the finish line while his high-energy friend is just waking up. As the perpetually chipper monster assured his audience that slow and steady wins the race, I was struck by a eureka moment. The clouds parted and bright sunlight shone directly into my eyes. It was so intense I had to squint, which gave me a headache.
I am the hare; a fast-moving, hard-driving optimizer who seethes with rage as the pokey tortoises of the world block my path to success. Or the path to daycare or to the grocery store or whatever. You get the idea. And while I’m busy being busy, the hard-shelled people of the world are taking steps toward their dreams, or toward an invisible finish-line of some kind. In other words, they are totally kicking my ass.
A friend recently suggested that the optimal pace of a human being was somewhere between slow and medium. All the while I’m thinking,
“Can you get to the point? I have stuff to do.”
As a result of this eureka moment it seemed the best course of action was to incorporate some slowness into my life. A cold-turkey approach here would be sure to backfire and there are certain activities that are best served fast, like running from a pack of wolves or writing a first draft. This revelation dovetails nicely with my failed attempts to incorporate more meditation into my life. As a childless person, quiet time was a cinch to acquire. Now it’s a luxury only people with nannies and soundproof rooms can obtain. Just in case you were wondering, I’m not one of those people. However, I can squeeze myself into a bathtub, lock the door and put noise-cancelling headphones on. For now, that’ll get the job done.
Yes and No
The second profound revelation came to me around the same time but for some reason I can’t remember what triggered it. The fog may have been created by my saying YES to far too many things in a short period of time. This has the effect of causing a crash-and-burn feeling in my nervous system and the only way to recover from such a disaster is liberal use of the word, “No.” When I reach such a critical state I’m no longer concerned about other people’s feelings or any fallout that may occur. I’m in survival mode. If only I could incorporate a little less empathy when things are going well I might be able to avert these frequent disasters by saying, “No,” from the start.
Oh yeah, now I remember what it was; we were going through hell. Every part of my life was in chaos at the same time. It was too much for one family to handle and something had to give. It wasn’t going to be my sanity this time. No way, José! [This is something my husband is currently teaching our son to say]. How did I forget this, you ask? Keep in mind, I’m chronically sleep deprived, another good reason to not be flying through life at full speed.
Since the word, “Yes,” is deeply embedded in my DNA, I needed to reach out to the internet to get some help deprogramming myself. Within the hour I had stumbled across a variety of useful resources that have formed the foundation for my new approach to inquiries. I also noticed, over the past week, I have been bombarded with requests for help as though I am walking around wearing a polyester vest that says, “How can I help you?”
Through my research I discovered that I have the option to define not only who I help, but what limitations I can put in place. You might be laughing at me now but seriously, it hadn’t occurred to me that there was a grey area when it came to saying, “Yes.” I’ve read this paragraph from the article When Helping Hurts many times this week just to burn the idea into my little brain:
Many people who want to help others, don’t put limits on that help. This is extraordinarily dangerous to us, the ones who wish to help. We don’t count the costs to ourselves as we enter situations in which we are wishing to help another. We don’t limit to what degree we are willing to put ourselves out for the other, we don’t limit what kind of help we are willing to give… we don’t limit how long we are willing to give them our help, we don’t limit the kind of person we are willing to help. A lot of times, we don’t even think to limit our help to those who really need it.
Because I’m so clever, I also just came up with the following philosophy all by myself, which I’m sure is something many other smart people have also said before:
Saying NO to something is actually the same as saying YES to something else.
Things start getting really heavy when I realized these two pairs of opposites can also be combined together to create a super-monster of infinite power! But not an evil super-monster, a cute and fuzzy super-monster that helps people solves the world’s most pressing problems.
One of the traps I willingly stroll right into, is combining FAST and YES. This means the faster I agree to do something the less time I have to realize that it’s a really lousy idea. Not for the other person, of course, but for me. By jumping in without looking I fail to notice the water is shallow and teeming with piranhas who are haven’t been feed in a week. Oh sh*t, how am I going to get out of this? I’ve discovered that getting out of a situation like that is not only much harder than not getting in it in the first place, it also nibbles away at my life energy even after I’ve cut myself loose.
My experiment, for the foreseeable future, is to try combining SLOW and NO. Where these two magic concepts will take me is a magical mystery but most likely it’s roughly the opposite direction of the path I’m far too familiar with already. Stay tuned and hopefully I will remember to keep you posted.