There’s a story about Gandhi I like.
Gandhi’s advisors told him they had a very busy day ahead, with twice as much to do as usual, so could he skip morning meditation and get to work?
Gandhi replied that if they had twice as much work to do, they’d better meditate for twice as long.
There’s something in that story. Something about the correct order of things. The necessity of turning inwards, first, before moving outwards. Not just because it’s healthy, but because it’s essential to doing good, creative work. Without a strong connection inwards, our work in the world will be limited. Nothing truly great has ever come out of stress. It’s as simple as that.
When I listen to stress I’m lost. I might get things done in time, but I don’t feel well doing it. The quality of my work suffers. I can never tap into that magical flow, I only get things done.
And that’s a cheap ambition. To get things done. To get life done.
When I feel stress and, instead, take it as a sign I need to slow down and reconnect with myself, something wonderfully strange happens.
Time bends and stretches around my needs. I find there actually is enough time, where a moment ago there was none. Things I thought would take days, take a few hours. Some time consuming task turns out to be redundant. New information, that is only available to me when I’m calm and connected, leads me on to another path. A smoother, kinder path.
It’s magical. I don’t know what other word to use. Slowing down is magical. Meditation is magical.
And no, it’s not about sitting in silence for hours. Keep it simple. It can be five minutes of conscious breathing, it can be a moment in the shower, where you sink into yourself and the experience of warmth and water, it can be fifteen minutes of writing yourself to clarity in your journal.
The how doesn’t matter. Just return to yourself, over and over again.
That connection. It’s the difference between stress and presence. It determines the quality of our work, our relationships, and our lives. And that connection requires a certain kind of slowness. Heart time, not clock time.
This has been such a difficult lesson for me. To trust life enough to let go of the pushing. For such a long time I just couldn’t do it, even though my body repeatedly asked me to.
First it was the serious bout of meningitis that I did not allow myself to rest more than two weeks from (and as a result, it took another two months to get well).
Then a difficult pregnancy, complete with sickness, immobility, projects crashed and burned. And me, back on my feet and anxious to make up for “lost” time before I had even fully healed from the delivery.
Then the back pain I’ve had for years intensified until it had me on the floor, crying. It wrecked my plans as well as my rather arrogant sense of invulnerability.
And this time I could not get back up again. Finally.
I’m a slow learner sometimes. I’m a slow learner when what’s keeping me stuck is an age-old belief: That my worth depends on what I achieve. That result is achieved in proportion to the hard work I put in.
I’ve been so wrong.
We’ve got it so wrong.
Our whole culture is obsessed with productivity, with busy, busy, with going for the goal first (then happiness). We make it so difficult.
Only last winter I sat late at night, forsaking sleep, ignoring my aching body and the fact that the baby would wake me up four hours later. All to reach a deadline I myself had set. Because the important thing was to get it done in time. And how, if not by pushing?
Yes, how? I’m learning that now, when I’m no longer capable of staying in the race.
How? By slowing down. One conscious step at a time. Taking a pause when I feel the urge to hurry. Stopping completely when I fear I’ll never make it in time.
How I feel along the way is my measuring stick. Always chose the path that feels right and kind in the moment. Awareness first. Then decision and action.
Stress has ravaged my life for so long. But I’m on to something now. A new way of working and being. My feet tickles when I walk this new path (it is truly the road less travelled, I can tell you).
It is the tickle of great adventure.
And I think it might lead me to my true work.
This article was first published on annapurnaliving.com