Life can be exhausting, overwhelming, and numbing — in a word: relentless. It always moves forward at a steady, inexhaustible pace that can feel impossible to keep up with.
If you struggle with the desire to just slow down a bit at times, you’re not alone. Unsurprisingly, though, the solution doesn’t lie in the material, nor in events outside of your own control. It lies within yourselves, in the way you think, how you feel, and the way that you approach life.
In 2005, David Foster Wallace gave a commencement speech at Kenyon College. Most speeches of this nature are filled with empty platitudes about the vigors, challenges, and potential (though often unrealized) excitement of the life that lies ahead.
In his speech, Wallace fought back against this unrealistic mindset by pointing out that, “The plain fact is that you graduating seniors do not yet have any clue what ‘day in day out’ really means. There happen to be whole, large parts of adult American life that nobody talks about in commencement speeches.”
He went on to explain that boredom, routine, and petty frustration all factor into the realities that everyone faces. Going to work each day, shopping for food, driving in traffic, trying to unwind, and then getting up to face it all over again the next day whether you like it or not — these are the true challenges of a well-lived life.
However, this isn’t a math problem, waiting to be solved. It isn’t an item waiting to be purchased. To quote Dr. Seuss’s venerable bright green holiday icon, the Grinch, the solution to how to slow down and enjoy life comes “without ribbons… without tags… without packages, boxes or bags.” Friends, the way to truly slow down the life that perpetually swirls by you is by mentally stepping right out of the current itself.
The Here and Now
So, how do you step back from the current of life? By practicing the mental discipline of being in the moment.
It may sound counterintuitive to focus on the minutia of life as a solution to feeling overwhelmed by it all, but chances are, the freight train of thoughts that continually rumbles through your mind rarely consists of the here and now.
As you’re pumping gas, driving to work, or sitting at the dinner table, are you focused on that very moment taking place before your eyes? In all likelihood, you’re not. You might be fretting over what will happen tomorrow or obsessing over concerns in the past. Either way, as you sit there worrying, life passes you by.
In order to combat this tendency, it’s critical that you fight to find the present. Mindfulness, meditation, awareness, call it what you like, one of the greatest challenges of life is simply being aware of where you are. If you struggle with this concept, here are a few suggestions for ways to start to focus in your attention and break free from this devastating cycle of distracted thinking that paralyzes so many people on a daily basis.
Call it introspection, prayer, or just sitting and clearing your thoughts, but taking time to mindfully meditate on a regular basis forces you to face the moment. Clear your mind, shut down the buzz of your thoughts, think of positive things around you, listen to your breathing, and just let the stress melt away.
Exercising isn’t just good for your physical health. It promotes mental health as well. When you exert yourself, it releases endorphins that trigger a sense of well-being. Exercise also helps you focus on an activity that is taking place in the present. This combination can be an excellent way to rein in those runaway thoughts.
It doesn’t matter if you’re trying something new to help jumpstart your activity or simply going for your routine morning walk, getting exercise can have a huge impact on the journey to finding peace.
Loving those around us is a key part of life. Two thousand years ago Jesus described the second most important commandment of human existence as “you shall love your neighbor as yourself,” and the exhortation rings just as true today as it ever has no matter your spiritual practice.
Loving your neighbor helps to extract you from obsessing over your own situation. By doing something kind for someone else — whether it be through giving your time, sharing your resources, or simply giving someone a hug — helps you improve your mental health by allowing you to focus on positive moments regularly.
Change Your Perspective
Perspective can color everything. If you’re feeling miserable at your job, for instance, perhaps you should consider how you see your occupation. Is it merely a money maker to pay the bills? Shifting your perspective in order to see it as a career or even a calling can allow you to get more satisfaction out of your work without needing to change a thing outside of your own head.
Living in the Moment
Daily life is full of the mundane. It’s a simple reality of being alive. And yet, you can still find meaningfulness amidst all of the bustle. The trick is focusing on your own attitude rather than trying to control your circumstances.
If you can cultivate a steady awareness and attitude of gratitude that prioritizes the present, you’ll be able to slow down, hit the pause button, and actually enjoy your life, regardless of the specific situation you’re currently facing.
Image courtesy of Anton Darius.