As I get ready for a two week vacation, I want to share a reflection that I published in a column for Madison Magazine a few years ago. It contains a good message for all of us to remember – slowing down to the speed of life some days can actually speed up our creativity.
I buttoned my skirt, not anticipating the implications. The ankle-length garment’s straight lines markedly shortened my stride.
By noon that day, my slowed speed had forced me to recall the vital but easily forgotten lessons from a sabbatical I had taken from my business. The unfilled calendar space of those months enabled me to move at the speed of life versus the speed my crammed schedule demands.
I’m not alone in seeing any open space in a day as an opportunity to accomplish just one more thing. There’s even a new word for it– “hyperliving”–a reference to skimming along the surface of life, ruled by pressure rather than priorities, caught between the urgent and the important.
Pre-sabbatical I believed that slowing down reduced the fullness of life. Exercise and massages had become tools to enhance capacity. My sabbatical taught me otherwise as I moved into a previously unexplored existence–beyond vacation, but not yet retired. With day after day of empty calendar pages, I had time to listen to birds awakening at four in the morning, reconnect with old college friends and explore multiple experiences and books that would never have even appeared at the bottom of my pre-sabbatical to-do list.
The silence that calendar white space afforded me forced self- reflection. I came to acknowledge that in the twenty-plus years since graduate school, I’d forgotten my thesis advisor’s best lesson: “Go play. You’ll find the answer.”
Unscheduled time is an adult’s version of child’s play, with new ideas replacing imaginary friends and battles. Freed from the mental clutter of too much to do, we see and make connections between things, connections that are the raw ingredients of creativity–an asset our companies, communities and the artist residing in each of us sorely need. When hyperliving, I learned, these connections trickle out at best. In contrast, when living at the speed of life, insightful and promising ideas gushed like a wellspring.
Connections occur on still another level, invisible as we rush to complete the day’s demands. During my sabbatical I’d think about a long-lost friend, and the next day she’d call. Listening to my car radio after leaving the house later than I had planned, I’d hear the exact answer to a challenging parenting question I was wrestling with. Living at the speed of life, I frequently experienced this synchronicity–the unexpected and very-low probability coincidence of two seemingly unrelated items. I don’t know what causes it, but I do know that the truly magical experience of interconnectedness is not only lost but the concept is easily forgotten when I am rushing through life.
Slowing down also made it harder to skip past events of the day that tug at deeper emotional yearnings. Hurriedly paging through the newspaper recently, I was frustrated by the headline about our State Legislature’s inability to resolve our state budget mess. In a blink I was onto Penn State’s football score and movie listings. Slowed down, I know my heart would ache for the days when Wisconsin was a model of good government and policy innovation, and when education, not prison spending, was a priority.
How would our lives, our relationships and our community change if we moved slower? If we each created more unscheduled time? If cell phones were used as an exception, work truly ended at 5:30 p.m., husbands and wives or parents and teens talked together from nine to ten p.m. each night, neighbors had time to be neighborly? If only … what might we create? Instead we imagine retirement as the answer to an unnamed, often unacknowledged yearning.
Post sabbatical, I use silent retreats, long walks in a prairie and forcing myself to schedule days with nothing on the calendar to help me reconnect with living at the speed of life. I hate to admit that I all-too often forget these practices, or, remembering, lack the courage to forgo crossing more off my growing to-do list.
Thankfully, an ankle-length skirt becomes a welcomed reminder to stop doing and just be.
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