The Art of Slowing Down

By Jeremy

Stories From Meditators

Jeremy shares some of the strategies he‘s developed to try and master the art of slowing down, even in the midst of a busy life.

I am sometimes a taskmaster. When it comes to time management, I realize that I am one of the best that I know. I am the reigning champion of rajas (a Sanskrit word describing high energy).

One of the things that I realized once I started to meditate daily, however, was how being a taskmaster made my mind wander off to some next future step in a personal or work project. This even happened during meditation.

Plus, I was always doing something. Always doing something meant that I had little time. Having little time led to rushing through tasks to get everything on my growing to-do list done. Which started to lead to stress.

I decided to focus on Easwaran’s point of slowing down, and having more single-pointed focus. I wanted to get rid of some things that I didn’t need to be doing so I could focus more, for longer periods, and take my time with what I wanted to do.

What I’ve learned is that slowing down is an art.  It has also been quite a fun, challenging, and joyful experience. While I would say that I’m still mastering the art of slowing down, there are a number of practices that I’ve learned from Easwaran that can help us learn how to slow down and really enjoy everything that we’re doing – including the chores that don’t normally seem very exciting.

Learn to Red Line

I learned from Easwaran’s stories about how he began to “red-line” events and meetings in his life that were no longer of highest importance. I took that advice by beginning to make clear priorities in the things that I wanted to do more of, and things that I wanted to do less of. I don’t make New Year’s resolutions – I make “more and less” lists. I’ve done this for the last five or so years.

Correctly setting my priorities has been at the core of slowing down for me. I spend much less time doing unnecessary chores, which allows me to spend more time doing the things that I want to focus on doing more: spending time with friends and my partner, studying and teaching yoga, meditating, and focusing on being creative.

I learned to be more practical with my time, too. Being more practical with my time, especially by redlining projects that I don’t need to do, allows me to really slow down and be more focused on the things that I’ve chosen to do.

Take the Time, But Not Too Much Time

Today was a busy day. I paid monthly bills, took care of a long list of personal business, answered nearly a month’s worth of personal emails, and had my scooter repaired. I also had lunch with a friend, cooked homemade food, and am now doing laundry. Oh, and wrote this piece.

To some, a day like this would sound like madness. But the truth is, I only spend time doing my chores when I’ve taken time out to do them. One Saturday per month I do errands. It’s my Errand Saturday.

I do only errands on Errand Saturday, and I do not do errands at any other time (emergencies are the exception). And while I’m doing my errands on Errand Saturday, I’m concentrating on one errand at a time, and don’t try to multi-task (except with laundry). I do my best not to get side-tracked.

I use a similar technique when I’m at work. My job is at a high-paced, multi-billion dollar, internationally-known Silicon Valley tech company, where email continues to filter in during all hours of day and night. I’m surrounded by personalities that are sometimes under tremendous pressure, and need answers immediately, if not yesterday. To manage, I’ve learned to not pay attention to email until I’ve scheduled time to look at email, taking the largest chunks of time to do high-priority projects, and not at all sweating the small stuff. I don’t try to multi-task. I would never stop reading an important document to be temporarily distracted by email, or read an important document during a meeting where I’m supposed to be present.

These are all opportunities to be more one-pointed. We may find something interesting in the document that we’re supposed to be reading, or the meeting that we’re supposed to be attending. I think that being more one-pointed with my attention in even small tasks also helps sharpen my concentration for my next meditation.

Jeremy's altar at home, filled with images and objects that are important to him.

Give Up Multi-Tasking

I also learned to give up multi-tasking. In fact, one of the greatest misconceptions is that multi-tasking is effective – it’s not very effective at all.

To prove a point, we can try an experiment with multi-tasking and time. We can multi-task through two projects at the same time, and then do the same two projects separately; one at a time.

Part One
  1. Find a computer or pen/paper. You will write two emails or letters.
  2. In your first email/letter, write or type one sentence.
  3. Now, go to your second email and enter a sentence. It should be the same sentence as the first email.
  4. Repeat doing this, writing a total of four sentences in each of your two letters/emails, writing one sentence in one email at a time. 
Part Two

Now, repeat this task – again writing two letters or emails. This time, however, write one letter at a time (four sentences long), timing yourself. You should use the same sentences as in your first experiment.

The first time I did this experiment, I finished part two much faster than I finished part one. Imagine now how much time we waste throughout our day, thinking that we’re being clever splitting our attention by multi-tasking through five or even more projects.

Staying Unattached to the Results

This may be the very best lesson. I really learned the art of being less attached to the results of my work, and instead just doing my best. I’ve learned from Easwaran and the Bhagavad Gita that being less attached to how we think things should end up really helps if things don’t end up the way we planned them. Being less attached to results allows me to enjoy everything I do.

I’ve taken to heart that we become what we meditate on, so I choose passages that drive the point of being less attached. Two of my favorite verses are from the Gita:

He is dear to Me who runs not after the pleasant or away from the painful, grieves not over the past, lusts not today, but lets things come and go as they happen. (12:17)

As the heat of a fire reduces wood to ashes, the fire of knowledge burns to ashes all karma. (4:37)

So while I spend days like today getting as much done as possible, I have days like today only once a month, on Errand Saturday. And when they come, I have a great time doing each task, one at a time. My task-mastering has become about freeing up my time, and also freeing up my mind. A slow mind tends to slow down time, and a slow mind is much more one-pointed. I’m free now to spend seven other weekend days with friends, or occasionally hiking with the other YA folks in the Bay Area.