In the first installment of this series I reviewed contributing factors to the pressure-cooker lifestyles that far too many working Americans accept as the norm. These include a corporate ethos that embraces the aggressive pursuit of profit—while increasingly viewing workers as mere tools of production—together with the 24/7 encroachment of work-related matters into our personal lives via e-mails and other electronic intrusions. Added to this is the practice of many companies of routinely laying off thousands of workers when earnings fall below projected targets. That installment also discussed the price we pay, both individually and collectively, in terms of declining quality of life, deteriorating health, and erosion of core values that have historically promoted living in balance with a commitment to caring for others. This second and final installment will provide pointers for freeing ourselves from the fast lane while imbuing our lives with deeper levels of joy and fulfillment, together with truly compassionate relations with those around us.
I personally believe that a major causative factor underlying the increasingly depersonalized and frenetic pace of living foisted upon us is a growing oversecularization of our society. This has ushered in a disturbing decline of traditional values that placed a premium on promoting wholesome individual, family, and community relations designed to promote the common good and dignity of all.
Unfortunately, in many spheres our contemporary society appears to embrace a “winner take all” ethos governed by the law of the jungle. This serves to pit us against each other while precipitating further erosion of our innate predisposition toward caring and compassion. All of this perpetuates a growing sense of isolation and lack of purpose in the lives of many Americans, as underscored by the rising incidence of suicide over recent decades (Friedman, 2018; Scutti, 2018).
Reinventing Ourselves as Human Beings
Years ago, when we lived in Washington, my wife and I hosted a monthly Buddhist studies group led by a Zen master. Underscoring our need to slow down and bring our lives into balance, one of his favorite sayings was, “Don’t just do something, sit there!” An underlying theme of his teachings was allowing ourselves to emerge as genuine human beings, rather than human doings.
We reap abundant rewards when we make a concerted effort to transform our lives and take ourselves off the fast track. Potential benefits include enjoying a renewed sense of vitality, equanimity, and purpose in life while concurrently enjoying improved health and well-being at the physical, mental-emotional, and spiritual levels. For people in recovery, these qualitative improvements translate into dramatically reduced risk of relapse and a deepened commitment to recovery.
Presented next are several pointers you may wish to consider if you truly desire to take yourself out of the fast lane. This is only a sampling; I am sure you can come up with numerous ideas of your own to assist in making the transition.
Take a Midlife Inventory
From time to time we need to pull back and do some serious reflecting on where we are in life and it lines up with where we really want to be. An integral component of this process is both identifying and committing to what is truly important to us.
For example, suppose you are a highly successful (in conventional terms) corporate executive, pulling in an enviable six-figure income while often working over sixty hours per week. Ask yourself: Is this truly the way I want to live my life and, if not, what is missing? What are my true passions—irrespective of opportunities for financial reward—and does my present lifestyle allow me to fully pursue these passions? What are my core intrinsic values, and am I currently living my life in alignment with these values? What changes would I need to make to truly live in accordance with my values? If I were lying on my deathbed, how would I complete the following statement: “I wish I spent more of my time doing ___.”
Deepen Your Relationship with Your Higher Power
As a consequence of the oversecularization that permeates our culture, far too many of us fail to make a heartfelt effort to commune with our higher power on a daily basis. When we earnestly choose to seek divine guidance, we gain invaluable insight in clarifying what is truly important to us, and moving our lives into closer alignment with these aspirations.
Reacquaint Yourself with the Wonders of Nature
When was the last time you took a leisurely stroll through nature, savoring the wonder and beauty that surrounds you? Blessed by living in the beautiful Sonoran desert, I begin each morning with a long walk along a desert trail, attuning myself to the various cacti; the seasonal flowers; the many birds, reptiles, and other animals I encounter; and the majesty of the nearby mountains. I find this to be both enlivening and invigorating, as well as an opportunity to release any discordant thoughts I may be running through my head.
If you thrive on being totally immersed in the serenity of nature, you may want to indulge in some creative brainstorming concerning how you might manage to move to a more pristine locale. The advent of telecommuting and teleconsulting opens up whole new vistas for making a livelihood while living where you truly want to live.
Embrace Voluntary Simplicity
As an example of voluntary simplicity, I love the Slow Food Movement, which originated in Italy with an initial objective, I believe, of encouraging families to use mealtimes as an opportunity to truly connect with each other, while savoring the experience of enjoying a delicious meal together (Slow Food USA, 2018). Core objectives of the movement include “taking pleasure in the process of cooking, eating, and sharing meals with others” as well as “promoting local artisans, local farmers, and local flavors through regional events, social gatherings, and farmer’s markets” (Slow Food USA, 2018).
Tune in to Your Inner Buddha
Having followed a blended approach to spirituality throughout most of my adult life, I embrace many traditions and precepts of Buddhism. For decades I have been particularly inspired by the compassionate, from-the-heart teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Monk and peace activist during the Vietnam War, who was nominated by Martin Luther King Jr. for a Nobel Peace Prize.
My favorite book by Thich Nhat Hanh, known by his followers as “Thay,” is a small treatise titled No Mud, No Lotus: The Art of Transforming Suffering (2014) which I recently completed. In this marvelous book, he teaches us how to gracefully embrace and transform our suffering, finding true peace and serenity in the midst of the intense turmoil we are surrounded by.
Through teaching us to ground ourselves in the present moment through mindful breathing and cultivating a truly compassionate orientation toward ourselves, our suffering, and those around us and across the globe, he provides us with precious tools for attaining and maintaining inner peace and calmness, irrespective of whatever turmoil is going on in the outside world. The wisdom he imparts is truly a powerful antidote to the frenetic, fast-paced environment we encounter during most of our waking hours. I highly recommend any and all of Thay’s wonderful books.
These are just some examples of the growing options for embracing voluntary simplicity to loosen the grip of fast-lane living on our lives. If you truly want to simplify your life, you need to carefully consider both the options and the associated trade-offs. Run your dream by the rest of your family and engage in a spirited dialogue. In many cases, the trade-offs may require that you and your family significantly downsize your financial aspirations. As you brainstorm the options together, keep in mind that the bottom line boils down to what kind to life you truly aspire to, and how you can pull together as a team to make it work.
In closing, I hope I have presented you with practical suggestions for loosening the insidious grip of today’s fast-paced and increasingly depersonalized environment on both your lives and the lives of your clients. I also hope that some of you may be inspired to undertake an in-depth inventory, focusing on where you are at this juncture in your life and how this stacks up in terms of where you really want to be. I also hope that some of you choose to use this as a springboard for freeing yourself from the fast lane and creating a truly fulfilling life. Until next time—to your health!
Friedman, R. A. (2018). Suicide rates are rising. What should we do about it? The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/11/opinion/suicide-rates-increase-anthony-bourdain-kate-spade.html
Hanh, T. N. (2014). No mud, No lotus: The art of transforming suffering. Berkeley, CA: Parallax Press.
Scutti, S. (2018). US suicide rates increased more than 25 percent since 1999, CDC says. Retrieved from https://www.cnn.com/2018/06/07/health/suicide-report-cdc/index.html
Slow Food USA. (2018). History. Retrieved from https://www.slowfoodusa.org/history