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The slow cycling race

Slowing down to increase the intensity in life


With technology, everything has become so fast. I am just comparing my childhood with my kids and I realize how fast life has become. You don’t have to wait for 2–3 days to receive a letter from your friend. You can receive an email within seconds. You don’t have to call the telephone exchange to book a long distance call. People have a smartphone with whatsapp and they don’t even have to pay for a call.It doesn’t take 48 hrs by train anymore from Chennai to Delhi in India. One can fly in 2 hrs. You don’t have to wait for 1 hour to get a city bus. An Uber is minutes away. You don’t have to work 25 years in one company to become a CEO. You can start your own company and become a CEO, while in college. It is the same for organizations. We have billionaires who are not even 30 years old.

The speed and pace is not only in the positive direction. The average age of S&P 500 companies narrowed from 33 in 1964 to 24 years by 2016 and is forecast to shrink to just 12 years by 2027. Companies are under tremendous pressure to grow and this pursuit of growth puts enormous pressure on the workforce. Younger employees are preferred over older workers since they don’t have the pressures associated with family which enables them to be mobile and work long hours.

Our work places encourage us to be faster and nimbler. Some of the common every day questions at the workplace are ‘What’s keeping you busy these days?’, ‘What’s keeping you awake at night?’. I am embarrassed every time when someone asks these questions because I am neither busy nor get woken up by anything at night. I sleep early and wake up early. Before, I wanted to sleep well so that I can be productive at work. Now, I work in such a way during the day that I can have a peaceful sleep at night. My manager is also happy with my work. Sleep is my own indicator of my state of happiness. If we are not busy, we think there is something wrong with us. If you read a book during lunchtime or if you watch a video, your colleagues stare at you because there is so much to be done.

We get bored easily. Kids complain all the time that they are bored. It is hard to stay quiet without doing anything for 5 mins. So to overcome boredom, we go to social media or watch TV or do something. If we have 5 mins, our hands will naturally go to our smartphones so that we can avoid boredom through youtube or facebook or twitter. This need for speed has led one of the celebrated writers of our time, Paulo Coelho, to write ‘1 min reads’ in his blogposts. If Paulo Coelho has to make a case for readers to spend 1 min reading his blog, imagine the plight of the rest.

Our entrance admission tests focus on how fast we can solve problems. Pizza is delivered within 20 mins at our doorsteps and McDonalds celebrates its 7 min delivery. Even cricket which is considered a slow and boring sport that is played over 5 days has innovated and created a new format called T20 where a match can be completed in 3 hours.

I spent the whole sunday last week at a commune level swimming competition where my son participated on behalf of his swimming school. It was a whole day event and the kids showcased their talent and skills which were built around fitness, speed and agility. The faster ones were celebrating and the slower ones were sad that they lost. My son came last in one of the races and he was feeling bad for loosing to the ones who were faster than him. As I was watching the different races in the competition, I was thinking hard on how to instill confidence in my son that it is okay to come last. My mind raced to my childhood sports activities and I started remembering the ‘slow’ cycling race.I have given a video link of a typical slow cycling race bel

In a slow cycling race, the winner is the one who comes last without grounding her/his leg in the process. The race is not about speed and brute strength. All the things that you need to win a regular cycling race won’t help you to win here. It is not easy.

This is a very popular school level and community level sport in my country and I don’t know whether there is such a competition anywhere else. I was wondering what would it look like if we create these ‘slow cycle races’ in every aspect of our lives.

You may be thinking ‘Why is this guy taking so long to come to his point?’ We are talking about a slow cycling race, right? Don’t try to speed up. I encourage you to slow down and read the rest of the post.

‘Between stimuli and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose a response. In that response lies our growth and freedom’. Viktor Frank, the holocaust survivor, made this profound statement in his seminal work, ‘Man’s search for meaning’. The ‘space’ Viktor Frankl talks about may sound small but it takes a life’s work to understand and work in this space. It is even more difficult in an era where we watch youtube videos, switch to Facebook, send a whatsapp message and read an email, all in less than 2 mins.

This ‘space’ is achieved by slowing down. This space moves people from reactions to responses.This space slows down our reactions so that we can respond better. This space allows us to make choices with a calm and steady mind. This space allows us to empty our mind. Gandhi had famously said ‘There is more to life than increasing its speed’ and it is true more than ever.

While we have created a whole range of incentives, rewards and rituals to celebrate being fast, have we created similar things for ‘slow’ people? Who are the slower people? The kids who are less than 2 years old, adults who are older than 80 years old (even 60 in some countries), people who have disabilities and people who have health issues. Even, in Paralympics, the winner is chosen for being fast. So, we have somehow injected ‘speed’ and ‘being fast’ as virtues of success and sportsmanship even for people who have physical challenges.

In 2016, I did a 10 day Vipassana Meditation course and last week, I completed a 3 day Vipassana course. The participants of this course have to surrender their phones, strictly follow ‘noble silence’(not even an eye contact is encouraged and no reading, writing, talking) and eat only two meals a day. Participants meditate on average for around 11 hrs a day and their free times are spent watching the sky, snow or a bird. Life slows down and everything operates slowly. But as a participant, I witnessed that the ‘slowing down’ allowed me to observe nuances that I have never observed before — be it observing snow flakes with interesting formations because of wind speed or watching strange birds fly or experiencing the chillness touch the skin. I even observed excruciating pain in my knees when I sat in lotus posture for 90 mins. Since I had nothing to do, I started observing the pain in such detail that my pain vanished and I had a whole new understanding of pain. Vipassana is a slow cycling race that taught me to observe the whole and endure.

One of my new year resolutions is to run a 21 km half marathon before the end of the year. I started practicing since January and have been running every week. I am not a fan of running, especially long distance running. By the end of January, I have clocked 6 kms. My goal is to run long and not necessarily fast. I run very slowly taking around 7–8 mins to complete a 300m lap. Now I am doing around 15- 17 laps. It has taught me that the race is lonely and it is my own race. I can run at my own pace and in the way I want. Running long distance is a slow cycling race that has taught me to challenge the mind and not succumb to its wily, laziness inducing tactics.

Roger Federer became the World №1 again last week at the age of 36 years which is unusually old for tennis players. He first became a №1 in 2004 and till 2016, he was playing the ‘fast race’. After a surgery that ruled him out of competitive tennis for 6 months and an unbelievable low ranking of №17, Federer started his own slow cycle race. He chose to play where he has highest chances of winning and lowest chances of picking up injuries. He played far fewer and lesser matches than his professional competitors. Since his return in 2017 January, he has won 3/4 grand slams he participated in and achieved an unimaginable 20 grand slams. Last week, he became the oldest player in tennis history to become a World №1.

The animals that move slower are the ones that live longer. Tortoise lives for 100 years because the slower an animal moves, the slower the heart has to beat resulting in longevity. Adam Grant, the Wharton Professor, in his superb book ‘Originals’ talks about how being slow (even procrastination) helps to be more creative and that first movers & fast movers are not the best movers. He gives several unique examples of how Leonardo Da Vinci spent around 15 years developing the ‘Last Supper’; how Martin Luther King kept fine tuning his speech till the last minute and even, added the ‘I have a dream’ line just before his speech after someone in the audience asking him to talk about the dream; how Alfred Hitchhock delivered three straight hits — Vertigo, North by North West and Psycho — at ages 59,60,61 respectively in his third decade in the film industry. It is not about the speed always.

Speed is good but that doesn’t mean slow is bad. Sprinters are great but marathoners are even more greater. The more I think about it, I realize that, in a metaphorical sense, the world is designed for sprinters to succeed and as a result, many people who could do long distance running were left out. May be these marathoners lack the spaces to succeed. The Lions and Cheetahs are glorified while the Hyenas, which can run for long distance at a steady pace, are typecast as villains in movies. It is high time that Pixar creates a ‘Lion King’ equivalent for Hyenas.

The slow cycle races help us to become still and respond better instead of reacting. A person with a still mind can respond effectively and even faster than a person who moves faster physically. Remember the scene on the left in the popular Hollywood film ‘The Matrix’. The idea here is that if you are still and slow, you can actually be faster than a bullet. Though it may sound exaggerated, it is actually true in life. A plane moves so much faster than a bus or a train but once inside, you feel like you are moving very slow. It is the vantage point at which you operate that determines how fast you can go without experiencing the speed.

If you go to certain cities in India, like Kolkata or Madurai, you will find that people shut down their shops in the afternoon and relax. Nobody asks ‘What’s keeping you busy?’. They are fine with the lost business and instead, spend time with their families, relax and start again. These folks also make money but work is a subset of life and not vice versa.

With life expectancy greatly increased by technology & advanced healthcare, there is high likelihood that people will start working longer than their usual retirement ages. Longevity at work and career comes through careful choices around food, fitness and fun. Most importantly, it requires one to slow down so that they can speed up in areas where it is required and experience life to the fullest. We need to create our own slow cycling races in our lives to manage the vicissitudes of life and remain equanimous against its ebbs & tides. Every person runs her own race in this world and that race is lonely. We try to make it as a competition. Slow cycling races in a fast changing world may sound paradoxical but it will help us to succeed in our lonely journey as a human being on this planet.

Originally published at medium.com

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