Want Deeper Meaning in Your Life? Stop Rushing and Savor It

Parent and young child with glasses, barrettes, braids sit on daybed and pet cat“When someone knocks on the door, think that he’s about
To give you something large: tell you you’re forgiven,
Or that it’s not necessary to work all the time, or that it’s
Been decided that if you lie down no one will die.” —Robert Bly, Morning Poems

If you lie down no one will die. Right. As a matter of fact, you will probably live longer and more happily. Getting enough rest really can improve all your relationships, especially the one with yourself.

But the culture we live in discourages rest and values speed. Whether it’s how quickly a drive-through can deliver your meal, how many gigabytes your internet service can download per second, or how many minutes you can shave off your commute, everyone’s looking for ways to live “faster.”

For what, though? What are we doing with all the extra time we’re supposedly saving? Are we spending it staring at a sunset? Reading poetry? Listening to music? Hugging our family? Perhaps. It’s just as likely we’re spending it surfing the web, comparing the best prices for our next purchase, or watching Netflix. Like you, I whittle away some of my free time on those things, too.

Stop Rushing to Start Living

In order to create calm, connection, and more meaning in life, however, we need to luxuriate in the expansiveness of an unstructured chunk of time every day. One of the best ways to experience the vastness of each moment is to actually stop rushing.

I know that’s a tall order. I’m a mother, and I lived through years of rushing. I rushed to get the children out the door to school on time, dressed, and with lunch; I rushed to get them to all their appointments and activities; and I rushed to put a nutritious meal on the table at a decent hour. I rushed and rushed and rushed so I could finally have a little quality time and peace at the end of the day. On reflection, I feel sad.

What would’ve happened if I hadn’t rushed so much? What would’ve happened if dinner wasn’t perfectly balanced, nutritious, and organic? What would’ve happened if—gasp!—I had taken it easier? I doubt the world would have stopped spinning on its axis or my children would have turned out badly. Maybe I would have felt more out of control. Rushing, doing, and achieving all paved the way for Pyrrhic victories where I felt as if I was in control but really wasn’t. So much of that behavior, in pursuit of goals I thought so important at the time, pandered to my ego. Of course, I didn’t know any better or I would have done better. I would have shown my children that the art of resting is to be cultivated, valued, and applauded to the same extent as productivity, achievement, and mastery.

Thankfully, my children also saw me lie on the couch reading, spend time socializing, sing them to sleep, take a vacation, go for a hike, savor a piece of chocolate, dance with them, and listen to anything they wanted to share with me.

The Power of Rest

Would I do things differently if I could go back and do them again? Who knows? One thing I’m pretty sure of, now that I’ve reached my mid-60s, is the healing, nurturing, and inspirational power of rest. The strength it takes to do less. To meditate and just be.

What if the real measure of success was whether we could feel peaceful in the moment?

Why does meditation work so well? To the uninitiated, it looks as if you’re doing nothing, after all. But actually you’re watching and naming your thoughts, paying attention to the various sensations in your body, and focusing on the breath. I frequently read of new studies showing how meditation calms the body, decreases pain, and soothes the nervous system. And yet we still focus on teaching our children how to excel at sports, get good grades, and work hard so they can be “successful.”

What if the real measure of success was whether we could feel peaceful in the moment? The truth is none of us know why were here. We may have theories, and they may make sense to us, but not one soul on earth knows why we are here. It’s just as likely our tasks are to celebrate and enjoy everything we possibly can. If so, a valuable skill set would be learning how to take it easy, slow down, and squeeze the joy out of each bird song, smile, and morsel of food.

Once we take the time to savor life, we almost inevitably find ourselves suffused with gratitude. It’s hard to feel grateful when you’re rushing constantly. It takes time and space to focus on what’s good in life, and sometimes, just giving yourself permission to be, not do, enables the grace of gratitude to surface. And when it does, each moment feels a little fuller, a little more satisfying, and a little more connected to everyone and everything.

Yes, I want my children to be able to navigate the world. I want them to feel confident, compassionate, competent, creative, and courageous. But at the same time, I want them to be able to rest. To notice, feel, see, hear, and take in all the beauty their hearts and minds can contain.

As my friend Robyn says, “Rest is a sacred act.” Unfortunately this act is not really valued in our culture. So if you want your children to fully embrace both the joys of accomplishment and ease, show them. Take time to lie on the couch and read a book, play games, make sand castles or brownies, look at the night sky, feel the cat purring on their lap, eat something slowly, or even to just be. At the end of the day, those unheralded skills are just as important as self-discipline, hard work, and grit.

© Copyright 2017 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Nicole Urdang, MS, NCC, DHM, LMHC, therapist in Buffalo, New York

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Wallace

    Wallace

    August 24th, 2017 at 10:48 AM

    Isn’t this the truth? There are families who spend so much time with one another but only on the road going from place to place. There is never any time to actually savor that time together because most of the time it is only about getting from point a to [point b by a certain time. That’s the main concern, not the dinner and conversation with one another that lets you understand how they are really feeling.

  • Nicole Urdang

    Nicole Urdang

    August 25th, 2017 at 4:11 AM

    Hi Wallace,
    I agree. It’s very difficult to prioritize the value of real face time. The truth is, we all want to be seen, heard, and known. I still believe we accomplish that best face to face, not screen to screen.

  • Margaret

    Margaret

    August 24th, 2017 at 2:25 PM

    While I agree that at times it does take some s lowing down to see the things that really important in your life and the things that need more focus, I also understand that as a younger adult there is no time like this minute to make my name known and to get it out there.

    That;s the point when I think very logically that I can’t take that time to slow down, because if I do then someone else will jump into my spot and I will lose my own opportunity to advance.

    That is neither being selfish or cynical, simply realistic.

  • Nicole Urdang

    Nicole Urdang

    August 25th, 2017 at 4:08 AM

    Hi Margaret,
    Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts.
    I have come to realize that even though it sometimes seems as if opportunitiesare fleeting, new doors are always open. Furthermore, whatever you have to offer will only increase with your experience on this earth and there will always be ways to share your unique gifts. Not everybody makes their mark in the world when they’re young. Grandma Moses didn’t even start painting until she was in her 70s and became wildly famous.
    There’s nothing wrong with ambition and hard work. And, you’re right about one thing: when you’re young you have a lot of energy to accomplish many things. I’m simply suggesting that making rest a priority and a valued part of your life is important, too.

  • wyatt

    wyatt

    August 25th, 2017 at 7:40 AM

    Most of us have been made to feel like if we are not hustling then we are being lazy

  • Nicole Urdang

    Nicole Urdang

    August 25th, 2017 at 2:59 PM

    Hi Wyatt,
    You’re so right!
    I’m suggesting you be the change you want to see, to quote Gandhi.
    Busyness is not the same as productivity. Other countries, where people get four weeks paid vacation a year, have higher productivity.

  • Walt

    Walt

    August 27th, 2017 at 2:30 PM

    We are so busy looking toward the future us that we forget about the here and now

  • Nicole Urdang

    Nicole Urdang

    August 28th, 2017 at 4:06 AM

    Yes, Walt, looking towards the future and getting anxious or looking back at the past and feeling grief stricken, regretful, or depressed. While those are not the only options they are the ones we often go to.
    This is not our fault, but part of our species’ evolution. During thousands of years our brain has developed certain defaults it goes to whenever we’re not engaged in a specific task. The five main defaults of the brain seem to be:
    Looking for danger
    Seeing if there’s a problem we need to solve.
    Self criticism.
    Comparing ourselves to others.
    And, criticizing and judging others.
    There’s nothing neurotic about any of this, those defaults developed as a way to protect us from potential dangers.
    Meditation teaches us how to be in the moment and allow us to watch these thoughts to come and go. Mindfulness practices help us be grounded in the experience we’re having in the moment. Both enable us to skillfully work with the mind’s natural defaults. Rest helps us prepare fertile ground for mindfulness and meditation.

  • Savannah

    Savannah

    August 29th, 2017 at 3:12 PM

    When I was younger I never understood how the adults all felt like time was rushing by. It felt like everything always dragged for me. But now, now that I am older I see what they mean. You think that a week has gone by and boom! It;’s been a month or even a year. I can’t believe how much time I wasted when I was younger wishing my days away, and so now I am more committed to savor my days, the good and the bad.

  • Nicole Urdang

    Nicole Urdang

    August 29th, 2017 at 3:50 PM

    Hi Savannah,
    I love your Buddhist approach to savoring both the good and the bad. After all, we’re here for the full catastrophe as Zorba the Greek said.

  • Cathy

    Cathy

    June 15th, 2018 at 6:04 AM

    Hello Nicole and All,

    I have to agree with both sides of the coin on this one. I remember being in my 20’s and full of ideas and things to do and it sure did seem like there was tons of time!! Now I’m mid 50’s God that sounds so weird to me, anyway being this age has been difficult as I lose family members and find myself alone longing for the past and days with my children. I’m no longer working due to stress and ultimately a nervous breakdown, if you will. I try my hardest to take time to smell the roses and savor conversations with my children. When they are on the phone with me I can hear it in their voices for me to hurry up with my conversation as they have ‘Things to do’. It’s hurtful and just before my youngest moved to Texas they had a party to send him off. Well I was not invited and even inquired of stopping by for a little while but was quickly shut down with excuses as to why I would be a burden to their plans. Now I know in my heart of hearts that they do not hate me, they are merely young and feel there is plenty of time to spend with me later. Of course, I thought the same and hurried through conversations with my mother as if they were obligatory and I was getting them out of the way so I could proceed with my day and things I had to do! Now she is in a memory center and does not know who I am….It’s a tangled web for sure and I do have to say that my happiest days were ones where I practiced mindfulness much more than I do now. It seems like I stopped the practice and things began to fall apart or maybe they fed off one another? I don’t know but I do know that no matter what anyone says or thinks I’ve got to feel good for myself and I cannot make another spend their time with me,so I can only focus on today what I need to do now because worrying about the future makes me very anxious and it’s not worth it. I wish Peace to all of you it is the best feeling I’ve ever felt!!! I’m hoping to get it back someday soon. Thanks,
    Cathy

  • Nicole Urdang

    Nicole Urdang

    June 15th, 2018 at 7:42 AM

    Hi Cathy,
    Thank you for taking the time to write.
    Even though it can feel disappointing when adult children seem insensitive, they are usually oblivious to the effect they’re having. I know, not much consolation, but still true most of the time.
    You are right: the peace you seek is already within you. I would suggest going back to your mindfulness practices. You might like a free app called Insight Timer. I especially like Colette Powers’ meditations…classic vipassana style with a focus on the breath.
    Wishing you every goodness,
    Nicole

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