Even as I fall victim to it, I’ve always lamented the speed at which we live these days. As our life flies by, we try gamely to keep up. Exhorted by popular culture, business gurus, and super achievers, we numb ourselves to living fulfilled lives and enjoying the moments … because there are no moments.
Popular culture would have us believe life is best lived at warp speed. We fill our days with activities and obligations and slip, exhausted, into bed at night only to wake up and hit the rewind button to do it all over again. Eventually, when we find ourselves idle, we’re at loose ends, uneasy — and we do what’s become second nature: find something to occupy our time.
We’re crazy busy, yet we pay money for time management classes to learn how to create more free time to do all the things we must do. We eagerly accept the newest time-saving gadget. We buy planners and calendars and Blackberries and other eagerly touted tools to help us navigate life from appointment to appointment. And the merry-go-round goes ’round and ’round.
In stark contrast to the “filled life,” my coach training tells me – no, screams at me – to slow down and experience the moment, to live a “fulfilled life.”
I liken life to standing in a fast-moving trout stream. There it goes, flowing and rippling along, with obligations to be here, to do this, to see that, to cram more and more into the day, to achieve, to accomplish, to do, to conquer. All valid and honorable goals! To me, that trout stream illustrates the nature of life; it’s never the same from instant to instant. What’s real in this very moment is light years from what’s real in the next. Life flows, unrelenting, continuously, ever-changing … and we’re swept up in the current.
But if we’re lucky, every once in a while time seems to stand still, although frequently it’s when something monumental and often tragic happens. Then, it’s as though each droplet of water in that trout stream is frozen in time, hovering, quivering, loath to move on, compelled to stay.
It’s at these times that we truly are most alive and most aware. And it’s this intimate dance with our moments that we so desperately need in our daily lives. It’s an intentional sharpening of our awareness — and seeing, really seeing, who and what we are in that very moment.
In the Star Trek movie Insurrection, Captain Jean-Luc Picard learns about living in the moment. In the midst of very real danger to a woman he’s learning to love, he finds within himself the ability to slow, even stop, time. Mesmerized, he reaches out to gently caress a speck of dust, a droplet of water. And it’s apparent that he’s intensely alive, aware of that moment and of the world surrounding him.
Ironic, isn’t it? We believe life is made up of living and doing and becoming and creating and moving, yet we are most aware and alive inside the stillness of a moment, when we simply focus our awareness on being, on existing in that place and that time, and experiencing it completely.
For me, it’s like the moment after I’ve been startled. That quick intake of breath that’s held — the “bated” breath — and the intense awareness that focuses in that instant. That’s the closest I can come to defining it, but, oh, I know it when it happens.
Coaches call this living intentionally.
Scoff if you like, but I read something once that, to this day, gives me pause. Scientists warn that rapid-fire TV news bulletins are detrimental because they happen way too fast. We don’t get a chance to fully experience and deal with the emotion of whatever’s happening in that TV blip, that soundbite. In fact, research from the University of Southern California shows that this barrage of information actually happens too quickly for our moral compass to process. Before our brains fully digest – or in coaching terms, fully process – the anguish or suffering or even the celebration of a story, another nugget has arrived, and the next snippet is right on its heels.
This study shines a stark light on what our youth – but also the rest of us – may end up paying because of our attention to and reliance on this torrent of news in nutshells: our loss of humanity.
Perhaps USC researcher Manuel Castells said it best: “In a media culture in which violence and suffering becomes an endless show, be it in fiction or in infotainment, indifference to the vision of human suffering gradually sets in.”
I encourage you to slow down. Savor the living. Let the wonderful, terrible, exciting, frightening emotions of your moments engulf you. Experience them! Love them! Learn to stand still in the trout stream, to experience the droplets of water and the moments that surround you.
That, my friends, is intentional living. End the frenetic rush.