There is an old story of a man riding very fast on a horse. As he rides past his friend standing on the side of the road, the friend yells, “Where are you going?” The rider turns toward his friend and yells, “I don’t know, ask the horse!”
The pace and intensity of our lives, both at work and at home, leave many of us feeling like that person riding that frantically galloping horse. Our daily incessant busyness — too much to do and not enough time; the pressure to produce and tick off items on our to-do list by each day’s end — seems to decide the direction and quality of our existence for us. But if we approach our days in a different way, we can consciously change this out-of-control pattern. It only requires the courage to do less. This may sound easy, but doing less can actually be very hard. Too often we mistakenly believe that doing less makes us lazy and results in a lack of productivity.
Instead, doing less helps us savor what we do accomplish.
We learn to do less of what is extraneous, and engage in fewer self-defeating behaviors, so we craft a productive life that we truly feel good about.
Just doing less for its own sake can be simple, startling, and transformative. Imagine having a real and unhurried conversation in the midst of an unrelenting workday with someone you care about. Imagine completing one discrete task at a time and feeling calm and happy about it. Imagine as you wake up in the morning your first activity is to feel and express appreciation and love for being alive, for your relationships, for the air and sunshine.
Every life has great meaning, but the meaning of our own can often be obscured by the fog of constant activity and plain bad habits. Recognize and change these, and we can again savor deeply the ways we contribute to the workplace, enjoy the sweetness of our lives, and share openly and generously with the ones we love. Less busyness leads to appreciating the sacredness of life. Doing less leads to more love, more effectiveness and internal calmness, and a greater ability to accomplish more of what matters most — to us, and by extension to others and the world.
In a talk by Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki he proposes that the purpose of our lives is to cross over from being discontent to finding real acceptance, appreciation, and freedom. He goes on to say that the secret is to make this shift, from suffering to freedom, with every step, or with every breath. I find this to be a beautiful, radical, and simple idea – it’s the practice of savoring each moment of our lives.
It’s the practice of doing less of what is extra and more of what really matters.
To practice: What is the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning? If you generally check messages, experiment with a different activity. Perhaps, writing in a journal what you most appreciate or what you find most challenging. Or experiment with sitting quietly, being curious about your breath, body, feelings, and thoughts.
Explore taking a few mini “savor the moment” breaks throughout your day. Go for a 10 minute walk. Read some poetry. Have a real conversation.
Notice what is underneath the compulsion to do more, to always be electronically connected. How much of this activity is based on some version of fear – fear of failure, of missing out, or just fear of a sense of aloneness or emptiness. Explore being curious, not judging, and learning from becoming more familiar with intentions and motivations. Start by doing less…