This may sound patently obvious, but all rushing is antithetical to mindfulness. It robs you of experiencing the fullness of the moment, and puts the focus on the future, just like worrying. As you scurry about, you get inundated with anxiety-provoking thoughts such as, “Will I make it in time?” or, “What if I miss the meeting/train/appointment?”
Even knowing you have a tight schedule can create some free-floating anxiety. You may not be consciously aware of the cause of your tension and stress, but it could easily stem from a jammed-up day. Free-floating anxiety might seem to have no discernible source but can evolve from a prolonged and constant focus on the future, even if you are looking forward to something joyous. It’s hard to see how thinking of potentially happy experiences—such as promotions, vacations, and retirement—can create anxiety, but it lurks in most future-oriented thinking because, as much as you imagine a rosy outcome, there is always some uncertainty. That promotion could easily entail more responsibility than you want, the vacation could be disappointing, and retirement might bore you to tears.
On a more day-to-day basis, the very act of rushing from one thing to the next can engender panic, anxiety, and overwhelm as it is usually accompanied by thoughts such as, “Can I squeeze in one more errand before the dentist?” or, “Do I have time to order that birthday present and still pick up the kids?”
It is easy to see how all these little choices to pack more and more into a day accrue to feeling anxious, tense, and stressed. By pressuring yourself, focusing on the future (whether five minutes or five years from now), and drawing attention away from your present experience, you remove any possibility of truly being in this moment.
Some people may seem to thrive on overscheduling themselves, but even they get burned out, as incessant rushing exhausts even the most stalwart souls.
On a completely different level, pushing yourself nonstop can be a form of obsessive compulsion whose purpose is to block unpleasant thoughts and feelings from your conscious awareness. Repression uses a surprising amount of energy and ultimately exhausts you.
As many of you know, an essential Zen Buddhist practice is: When eating, eat; when walking, walk. In other words: No multitasking. While doing one thing and thinking of something else may be a more subtle form of multitasking, it overworks your body and mind. All distraction takes you away from the present and robs you of potential enjoyment and connection.
The following are some experiments you may want to try if you think hurrying is leaving you overwhelmed, anxious, and stressed out:
- Ask yourself, “What’s the best thing that could happen if I cross one thing off my to-do list, take time for breakfast, look at the sky for 60 seconds, or just be here now?”
- Consciously choose to focus all your attention on whatever you are doing, whether it is making an elaborate feast, brushing your teeth, singing a lullaby, or writing a brief. Each minute of your day is capable of making you feel fully alive if you attend to it (even the unpleasant).
- Use all five senses to anchor you in the present. For example, when washing dishes, look at the soap bubbles, listen to the sound of running water, feel its temperature, smell the detergent. Marvel at how your hands can efficiently complete this task. Last, but not least, be grateful you have dishes to wash and a sink to wash them in.
- When you feel driven to act: Lay down, read a book, meditate, listen to some music, have a cup of tea, watch the clouds, take a bath, read a poem, do some breath work, or eat a piece of chocolate very slowly.
- Does being constantly busy make you feel important, useful, or indispensable? Ask yourself if you can find meaning by simply being. In our society, where we are programmed to think we are what we do, this can be a very challenging experiment. So, don’t give up too quickly.
- If you have always thought you love racing from one thing to the next, try this experiment: Consciously choose to do less, and notice how you feel with some unstructured time. Take out a piece of paper and write what comes up for you. Are you anxious, tense, or irritable? If so, sit with whatever appears. Find where it is in your body, breathe into that space, and feel it relax. Remind yourself that new ways of acting and reacting won’t feel great right out of the gate. You need time and practice to rewire your brain to choose peace and calm over hurrying and scurrying. Before you know it, you will be reaping the benefits of slowing down, paying attention, and drenching yourself in the pleasures of this moment.
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