A common lament in philosophy circles is the refrain that “busy is bad.” Hectic days and restless nights repeat themselves in hard-to-break patterns. Though we may well know better, we keep saying “yes” to everything and race on.
Rather than give in to a pace that our bodies and minds remind us needs slowing down, most yearning philosophizers determine to try and reconnect with the beat of the natural world. Ancient Chinese sage Lao Tzu writes in the Tao Te Ching that this beat “flows through all things, inside and outside.” Ah, if “natural rhythms” are within all things, that includes humans. We can do this! We can recover the pace best suited to good living.
What does it take, as Lao Tzu suggests, to “hold fast to the center” where nature's universal beat thrums steadily? Even with many responsibilities, how can we get closer to living “fluid as melting ice / clear as a glass of water?” Here are four activities that participants in recent groups have tried with success, discovering inner peace that grows with practice.
1) Promise yourself three times a day devoted to quiet. Noise and distractions drown out the slower, steady beat. Nothing fancy here, just the discipline to step back and away for even five or ten minutes three times a day. No electronics!
2) Focus on something in the natural world and pick up every detail: the sounds as you sit outside; the uncoiling of the frond on a spreading fern; the blooming burst of color on the cactus; the taste of the peach; the movement of water. Just this.
3) Sit quietly with a partner. Communicate through handwritten three-line poems known as haiku: five syllables in the first line, seven in the second, five syllables in the third and last line. One person starts as the other waits … The paper passes for a reply and the partner waits … Make sure that one word of your short poem comes from nature: monkey, waterfall, banana, firefly. When asked how this silent, patient communication feels, one new poet’s response was seconded by all: “It feels right. Normal. Sane. A luxury.”
4) An art teacher introduced one group to “zentangles,” a repetitive and relaxing art exercise. Check out this simple slowdown technique in a library book or on the internet and become an artist for life.
It’s a start, chipping away at the habit of busyness, bit by bit. Gradually….
Marietta McCarty is the author of Little Big Minds: Sharing Philosophy With Kids and How Philosophy Can Save Your Life: 10 Ideas That Matter Most.