When I wore a younger man’s clothes I noticed that older people slowed down. As I reflect on that presumption it appears I was correct, but more often, for the wrong reason.
Gray-haired folk drove more slowly, walked more slowly, spoke more slowly, did fewer things, and made decisions more slowly. At the time, I believed it was for obvious reasons. Essentially, they couldn’t move or act more quickly because well, they were old! Their bodies and brains were no longer capable of executing physical actions and mental calculations at the rate of a younger person and they were lazy and lacked the energy to chase each and every adventure and challenge set before them. I further reckoned that those who were the exceptions put in more effort to offset these limitations. Of course, I promised, I would be one of the few who would “keep up the pace” despite my years.
However, today I doth protest the notion that slowing down is primarily a function of physical and cognitive decline. I surmise that it is more often a purposeful result of recognizing the benefits of measured steps and reasoned choices and the oft-ignored limitations of filling every moment and doing so with speed! Now, at the ripe young age of 75 you might be suspicious that I’m simply conjuring up some defensive rationalization that justifies my shift from rabbit speed to turtle pace…and perhaps there may be a part of me that began this thinking process to keep others from judging me now as I once judged those like me, years ago. But I do believe that my story holds merit and thus, I’m sticking to it.
In an article entitled, “The Art of Slowing Down” by Karen Horneffer-Ginter, a psychologist and co-founder for the Center for Psychotherapy and Wellness, the author talks about her realization of the price of the everyday hurried life when she was granted a sabbatical and felt a dramatic shift in her pace and how it impacted her. She mentioned the reaction of patients who, coming to see her for reasons of feeling overwhelmed by the fast pace of life, felt a huge sense of calm and release when they sit down on her sofa simply because they were given the chance to slow down and be present.
The author’s commentary triggered two of my own experiences that were eye opening for me. The first was when I was in the middle of my career as a school principal and trying to be as perfect as possible as I attempted to balance work and family. And while I loved the energy I got from my work and relationships, I was shocked when I found myself in the dentist’s chair for some extensive work feeling an overwhelming sense of mental and emotional calm. In the dentist chair! With painful work going on in my mouth! Afterwards, I realized that I was unable to deliberately allow myself any “time off” from thinking about work, etc. unless someone else (the dentist) forced me into a much-needed distraction. (Interestingly, this also happened to one of my hard-working friends who shared a very similar dentist story.)
The second experience was at the end of my career. Shortly after retirement, I came in contact with a group of my former staff members. One of them asked what I found most different in my life now that I was not working full-time. (I was then working as a consultant only when and with whom I wanted.) What came to mind was that the previous day, a light bulb had gone out in one of the rooms of my house and I stopped what I was doing and changed it. I told her that I now made time to change a light bulb when it went out, and didn’t need to plan it (or similar daily happenings) for some future time when I could squeeze it in to my impossibly hurried schedule. I had just started learning about letting go of getting everything done that appeared before me and I could chose what and when I wanted to do it. Yes, it is easier when working part time. But I wonder if I had begun to deliberately slow down in the middle years, how it would have impacted my life.
As I continue to “slow down” I realize that doing so gives me more time to enjoy my active but less complicated life more fully and with less stress. After all, I am one of the three “Old Guys” who made the time to write this post and who looks forward to Zooming time with my two seasoned colleagues as we nurture ideas of what has been and what may yet be.
What is nice about sharing a blog with two other friends is that we have an opportunity to discuss different points of view – or the same point of view in different ways. I usually look to Hen for an aspirational and analytic viewpoint and to George for connecting on a heart-to-heart basis. In this case, I subscribe to the thoughtfulness of both my friends regarding the need to slow down and sort through what is important and to ‘level’ our reactions to life’s issues by applying some mellow consideration.
My head supports this; my spirit is objecting. Perhaps you’ve seen the TV commercial where Ewan McGregor asks the question, that at the end of our lives, will we regret the things we didn’t buy, or rather the places we didn’t visit? While the commercial is sponsored by the travel industry, it is just as meaningful by substituting the “experiences we did not have”. In other words, when should we slow down our explorations?
Lately, I feel the urgency of the moment. So little time, so much to do. A good deal of the problem centers with the catch-up needed to settle affairs that have lain fallow for too long: such as house renovations and estate planning. A second set of tasks revolves around pledges of assistance given to family, friends, and organizations that need to be upheld. A third area of attention is personal physical and mental maintenance: sustaining the ability to function effectively. I view all of these as necessary responsibilities – time-consuming responsibilities all of us share… and responsibilities that should not be reneged.
But there is also a fourth imperative: exploring new ideas and experiences. No matter how old one becomes, no matter our increasing physical limitations, our spirits are built to grow. Whether you call it self-actualizing or being in the flow, there is no better feeling than following a calling. In my case, it is a strong need to be creative and to collaborate with my partner in that enterprise. The realization that each of us has an expiration date adds to the urgency.
Perhaps folks will disagree with my opinion: which is that responsibilities take precedence over exploration. The piper must be paid. But responsibilities get in the way of exploration. So, my spirit rebels – there simply is no time to slow down!
“Slow down you’re moving’ too fast” the song lyrics go! If you have to make the morning last the best way is to seal it away in your memory cause slowing down won’t do any good. I used to rush through everything I did. When I was young, you know early 60’s, if I was out walking in the winter and came upon a patch of black ice, I would accelerate my pace and slide across the ice! That’s just how it was. Stupid? Sure but I never thought of that until finally in my 70’s I began getting daily notifications that perhaps things like that weren’t in my best interest. Ice is slippery, your bones are more brittle, you do the math! After a couple of defiant experiences where I lost, it dawned on me… yeah- slow down, you’re moving too fast!
That festered, and I constantly tried to dismiss the concept but the reminders were becoming too frequent and too medically damaging! Several visits to ER’s for accidents, falls and stupid mishaps occurred. Ok, I’m intelligent- what are these experiences trying to tell me? Slowdown! I kept rejecting that til I synonymized the concept and referred to my need as mellowing. Yeah, that’s it, I needed to mellow .
Hmmm, how are they connected. My body didn’t know how to slow down. Sure, body parts hurt when I moved the way I used to, but it is what it is! Slowly, over time I began to realize that movement can pause until thoughtful arguments are resolved within my mind. Hence… mellowing. Example- Oh look, black ice- let me slide over it! Mind- You jerk, fall on that now, break a hip, or a foot, or an arm. OR, carefully navigate your path across that ice and get to your destination without any distress! Mellow…. Use your thought process to help you survive old age!
Mellowing not only works for physicality! It also helps with judgment calls and decision making. I used to make decisions by running at them and sliding over the ice to a decision. Now with conscious mellowization, decisions and judgments occur, yes it is true, more slowly but less dangerously and with more support documentation behind them. If I meet a person who kind of annoys me, I run it through my brain. Why does this guy annoy me? Yeah, he says crazy stuff that opposes everything I stand for… he can’t string words together into a sentence but I can understand what he is trying to say, which I really don’t agree with, but he just gave that homeless guy on the street $10 so obviously he has some humanity. Maybe we share other things in common. Definitely mellowing!
I still speed dream however, and that is ok cause I wake up with no broken bones and not in jail!