In a rush to get life over and done with?

By JOAN LAU, The New Straits Times, Oct 5, 2008

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia -- ARE you one of those people who is always in a hurry? Think about it: do you get impatient when the person in front of you at the parking lot is taking a while to park his car?

And are you annoyed when there is a long queue at the supermarket check-out counter?

I plead guilty to all the above but I have come to realise that despite all this hurrying about and doing things quickly, not a lot gets done. Or at least, not a lot of what matters. I call it busy work. It's true. A lot of the things we do during our day is stuff we want to get rid of... to cross out on our "To Do" list.

You know what I mean, right? Pick up the dry cleaning, pay bills, finish project report, return call to client, speak to the cleaning lady about vacuuming under the beds, etc.

Very often, we fall into the trap of treating the day-to-dayness of our lives as chores.

We just want to get it over and done with so we can do something else we enjoy. But what is that something else exactly?

We look forward to the weekends but when they come around, we just squander them. We don't really do very much, or do we? One of my friends says her weekends are for running errands she couldn't get to during the week: grocery shopping, cleaning, laundry, etc.

She resents all this busy work and goes back to work on Monday feeling grumpy and "not rested". So what is the solution? Maybe it is as simple as this: slow down and enjoy what you are doing. Be conscious.

At my yoga class, the teacher constantly reminds us to do the warm-up exercises slowly. "If you do them quickly, you will not get the full benefit of the exercise. It is harder when you do them slowly."

The same thing applies to the asanas or poses. If we rush through them, we not only do not get the benefits... there is the danger of injury. The idea is to take your time, be conscious of what you are doing and really... to enjoy the moment.

Take something as boring as shopping for groceries: I like to look at and think of what I am buying. No, I don't take hours but I don't just rush in and out of the supermarket either. Even when I am standing in line, I remind myself not to be impatient.

Instead, I look at the people in front of me and try to piece together what they are like from their shopping baskets!

It is very easy to be infected by this hurry-hurry-be-the-first attitude all around us. But what is the rush really? Do you get a medal or something for driving like a maniac in a parking lot? And is it really necessary to wear a scowl in the post office or bank while you are waiting in line?

When I am preoccupied -- thinking of the next item on my "To Do" list or worrying about tomorrow -- I am more likely to make a mistake. At my old office, I scraped the side of my car badly coming down the elevated parking lot. Both times, I hit the same spot. And both times, my mind was a thousand kilometres away.

Being in the here and now doesn't sound like such a difficult thing to do but you know what, it takes practice. It's so easy to let your mind wander instead of focusing on the task at hand.

How often have you eaten a meal without really tasting it? Probably too many to count, right? I look around me at the lunch crowd and I see people wolfing down their meals. Sure, the food court is not a place to linger but there is really no need to speed eat.

That is why I appreciate my lunch gang. The four of us enjoy our lunches -- doesn't matter if we are at the food court across the road or at the banana leaf place round the corner from our office -- and we enjoy each other's company.

The food nourishes us and the conversation destresses. And laughter, there is always laughter. Lunch is usually just 30 minutes but we are aware and conscious of what we are eating and saying to each other. And that is what counts.

We often come back from lunch feeling happier about the day. I very often notice that we are a little less impatient on the way back from lunch! So what if the elevator is taking forever to come? Or if that group of people ahead of us is taking up the whole walkway?

Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh often writes about mindfulness and shared the story of his friend eating a tangerine in one of his books. His friend Jim was eating a tangerine and engrossed in talk about some future plans.

"He popped a section of tangerine in his mouth, and before he had begun chewing it, had another slice ready to pop into his mouth again. He was hardly aware he was eating a tangerine...

"It was as if he hadn't been eating the tangerine at all. If he had been eating anything, he was 'eating' his future plans."

So maybe doing the laundry or washing the dishes is a chore. But they are important chores, right? So when we do them, we should be fully aware of what we are doing. The miracle here is not that the laundry is done or the dishes washed... it is that we are alive to do them.

And isn't that worth savouring?

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