“Every morning think as you wake up:
I am alive,
I have a precious human life,
I am not going to waste it.
I am going to use all of my energies to develop myself,
To expand my heart out to others,
To achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all beings.
I am not going to get angry,
Or think badly about others.
I am going to benefit others as much as I can.”
I got fascinated by silence; by what happens to the human spirit, to identity and personality when the talking stops, when you press the off button, when you venture out into that enormous emptiness. I was interested in silence as a lost cultural phenomenon, as a thing of beauty and as a space that had been explored and used over and over again by different individuals, for different reasons and with wildly differing results. I began to use my own life as a sort of laboratory to test some ideas and to find out what it felt like. Almost to my surprise, I found I loved silence. It suited me. I got greedy for more. In my hunt for more silence, I found this valley and built a house here, on the ruins of an old shepherd’s cottage.
It’s called kaizen.
If you’ve read One Bite before, you’ve heard me talk about this word. It basically means small, continuous change. It’s the idea that little changes, almost unnoticeable on its own, eventually add up to that big change you’re after. The process is typically much more realistic and much less painful.
An easy example is with time. Let’s say you want to build the habit of waking up an hour earlier. You can go cold turkey and rip off the bandaid, setting your alarm a full hour earlier tomorrow. You’ll probably be tired and groggy for the first few days doing this—possibly more, depending on how hard this is for you.
But eventually, if you keep this up daily, you’ll have built a new habit of waking earlier. “They” say a new habit takes a minimum of 21 consistent days before the neurological pathways in the brain take full effect. (And then longer, for it to fully solidify.)
Or, you could take those 21 days and do a little math. The first day, set your alarm three minutes earlier. That’s it. And more than likely, you’ll hardly feel the difference.
1. Slow teaches us patience.
And patience is its own gift, especially during times when things are out of our control and we have no choice but to wait it out. When we bring patience to gently moving toward a goal, we have it in reserve for when roadblocks get in the way (as they inevitably will).
2. Slow hones acceptance and gratitude.
When we rush headlong into what we want to achieve, we can get easily frustrated with any hurdle or slight delay. (And frustration is unlikely to get us to our goal more quickly.)
We also miss the opportunity to accept and be grateful for the small steps we take, those incremental achievements, and for where we are right now—for the good and the bad of everyday life.
3. Slow allows for small mistakes.
Rush at something and we run the risk of messing up big-time. Take it slow and we get the chance to experiment with small mistakes, helping us to grow so we can hopefully avoid bigger mistakes in the future. We have to earn our lessons, and we don’t learn until we allow things to sink in.
4. Slow makes room for other stuff.
When we want something fast we can become obsessed with that thing, as though the goal has taken on a life of its own.
While it’s great to prioritize what we really want, it doesn’t make sense to create imbalance in our lives with one overwhelming obsession. Who knows what (and who) you might miss out on if you do.
5. Slow builds resilience.
The lyrics “It’s better to die on your feet than live on your knees” might ring true, but I’m betting you’d still like to be around for a long life.
Slow is about building legacy, and along the way, resilience. That can only be won through endurance.
Fast is great for igniting passion and showing courage, but who do you think is braver and more passionate—the person who sprints out of the starting block or the one who keeps going over the long distance?
6. Slow is seasonal.
Taking things slowly recognizes that sometime we need to sit and deliberate (by a fire or by the beach). We need to wait in faith for the universe rather than selfishly expecting our own desires to take precedence.
We need to look to nature to realize that the seasons cycle at their own pace, and we should always be willing to take things slower (and faster) as required.
It’s discouraging, isn’t it?
Walking around every day feeling as if you’re never enough?
Comparing yourself to others and continually coming up short?
You feel as if you’re not smart enough, talented enough, organized enough, or disciplined enough. You’ve made mistakes, some small and some big but all of them embarrassing.
Fortunately, you and I are gloriously human and perfectly imperfect. We falter and fly, fall and triumph, cry, laugh, forget, remember, hurt, heal, dream, and love. Our one-of-a-kind uniqueness is amazing, really.
I’m a big fan of Elizabeth Bernstein‘s work in the Wall Street Journal, and she wrote an interesting piece, How Well Are You Listening? We’re naturally bad listeners, even with loved ones; steps to avoid burn-out.
Here are some of the key steps she outlines, for being a better listener:
1. Look for hints that a person wants to talk — and signal your willingness to listen. My husband rarely wants to “talk,” but when he does, I put my book down flat in my lap, to show that I’m paying close attention (and to prevent myself from sneaking a look at the page).
2. Let the other person explain what’s on his or her mind. Acknowledge the reality of someone else’s feelings. For me, this is a key step. When I started to acknowledge the reality of other people’s feelings, especially the negative feelings of my children, I saw a major improvement in communication. I remind myself: don’t deny feelings like anger, irritation, fear, or reluctance; instead, articulate the other person’s point of view. “You don’t feel like going.” “You’re bored.” “Usually, you enjoy this, but right now you’re not in the mood.” This is harder than it sounds.
3. Encourage the person to elaborate by asking about open-ended questions, making listening noises (turns out these are called “minimal encouragers”), sitting in a way that shows attentiveness, making eye contact.
4. Paraphrase what someone said, to show that you’ve understood his or her point.
5. Ask questions and listen to try to help work on a possible solution — but don’t rush to fix things.
One of my favorite comedians (Eddie Izzard) said “Cake or Death?” Here in Vienna, you can have both!
Part of a global movement of Death Cafes, the Vienna Death Cafe group meet up every five to six weeks to sit down with coffee and cake and talk about a subject that for so many is tied up with taboo and negativity. Through open, frank, and thoughtful discussion the group hope that these assumptions about death can be overcome and people can think about the topic in a way that helps them live more fulfilled lives.