Hurrying forward while running away
Our modern lives are very speedy, filled with constant activity and continuous stimulation – deadlines, commitments, obligations, forms of entertainment, trips to the store, picking up the kids from school, getting to and from work, doing the laundry, cleaning the kitchen, running errands and so on. Caught up in this speediness, our minds become speedy too, jumping from thought to thought, emotion to emotion, feeling to feeling. This pace becomes our customary experience of the world, and even when external demands end, our minds continue speeding right along.
Speediness is commonly felt as impatience, a gnawing and even angry sensation of urgency about things not happening quickly enough. This tension arises even when nothing urgent is actually happening and anticipating the next moment has nothing to with a sense of excitement or enjoyment. Chronic impatience is simply a recurrent, irresistible urge to move along; it’s not as if hurrying from the market to get out of the parking lot quickly so that we can sit in street traffic is alluring, but we do it.
Those of us who are impatient are always in a hurry, trying to get the present moment behind us as quickly as possible. It feels like we’re running a race, rushing to cross the proverbial finish line; of course, once at the finish line our next race begins. This experience points to the likelihood that impatience is not really about “hurrying towards,” but rather about “running from.” Not in pursuit, but instead pursued, our impatience is motivated by fear.
Constantly anxious, we try to stay ahead of our shadows – failure, defeat, shame, self-pity, arrogance, anger, depression, and all the other unpleasant feelings real and imagined. We can’t outrun these any more than we can escape our own shadow, but caught up in our illusions we are fooled and fall into the trap of speed. Fueled by adrenaline and corticosteroids, our ramped-up physical “flight” response never rests; our blood sugar rises, our heart beats faster, and all our organs suffer grievously from long-term effects of stress.
We are all pursued by death, and that knowledge is the longest shadow from which we flee. Indeed, the great irony is that in haste to escape our fear of death, we propel ourselves more quickly into its hands. Life becomes a rat race as we vainly try to stay one step ahead of everything, never knowing when and how death will overtake us. So fearfully do we race that enjoyment of life itself is often left behind.
The antidote to impatience is relaxation and acceptance, but learning to relax requires confronting fear and it is our fear that we have been tirelessly avoiding. Just as we taught ourselves to be in a hurry, we can also learn to relax; however, after years of running away learning to relax takes discipline, time and training. Yoga, meditation, Tai Chi, and various other well-established techniques to synchronize mind and body can be effective tools for cultivating confidence in relaxation. Each in its own way can help break the chain of fear and impatience by focusing on the present moment, but they also force us to confront and work with our speed and anxiety directly; undertaking such brave effort is not for the light-hearted.
Learning to relax requires courage? Indeed it does, and always has.