The Rush to Relax

Flower in glass

We’ve probably all done it – rushed through something which needed to get done, such as cleaning up after dinner, in order to get to what we really want to do. The tasks we are racing through are almost seen as ‘empty’ time, of little importance to us. We feel our lives should be filled with more important matters than washing dishes, paying bills, brushing our teeth. When I saw the movie ‘Amélie’ I was impressed with her calm, considered morning routine. It looked like such a rich part of her life, something she enjoyed every day. My own morning routine seems very mundane in comparison, without the French soundtrack, the special lighting effects, the sense that, because this is a movie, every action is important.

It could be called the rush to relax – the sense that because my time doing the things I love is precious, I need to deal with the rest of my life as quickly as possible. However, there are at least two ways in which living like this is problematic.

Firstly, most of our lives are made up of mundane tasks we have to ‘get through’. By the time we’ve had a shower, prepared, eaten and tidied away three meals, got ourselves to work or school or the shops and back, ticked off the many ordinary tasks we find there, taken care of our family and pets, done our exercise, dealt with the mail, phone calls and e-mail, paid a few bills and organised ourselves for the next day, it’s basically time to go to bed.

Yes, we might have played sports after work, or taken the dogs for a walk in the park in the morning, or read a chapter of a good book, but at the end of the day, for most of us, the bulk of our daily lives involves repetitive, ordinary tasks.

Also, by rushing through jobs, we activate the fight/flight response, which our body responds to by releasing stress hormones, readying our muscles for immediate action, making our breath shallow, slowing down our digestion, and so on. Not only is this state of being harmful if it becomes chronic, it also makes it much harder to relax when we actually get to where we want to be – for example, watching a favourite TV programme. Even though we are finally (!) free to enjoy ourselves, we might instead find ourselves on edge, unable to concentrate on the programme, ruminating about something which happened weeks ago, or anxiously thinking ahead to the next day. We might need another glass of wine to unwind, but even so, when the programme is finished we could hardly say what it was about. So we toss and turn half the night, eventually take a sleeping tablet, wake up drowsy…

The Zen master Nan-ch’uan, when asked,’ What is the way?’ replied:

‘Ordinary mind is the way.’

It is in our ordinary life where we can find deep contentment, meaning and connection, if we slow ourselves down enough to be present with it.

 

Weekly practice idea:

Whenever you find yourself rushing through a task, try slowing yourself down, and perhaps saying to yourself, ‘this moment, too, is important.’

Anja Tanhane