Fast Doesn’t Have to Be Normal

Blur – cc photo by J. Delp

On Thursday evening I was driving home from Payson. It was dark and the roads were wet from an afternoon of rain showers. I was in no hurry. I had a soda, snacks, and was listening to my “Kansas 2021” Spotify playlist. At the edge of town, I set my cruise control to the designated speed limit (a generous 65 miles per hour) and resolved to go no faster on my descent into Phoenix. For those of you unfamiliar with the Beeline Highway, it is four divided lanes that wind down approximately 4000 feet in elevation to the Valley of the Sun. In the daytime, on dry roads, it can be a bit treacherous. 

As I cruised along (at the speed limit), I did not pass a single vehicle. In fact, everyone was passing me. Cars, pick-ups, pick-ups pulling trailers and even tractor trailers. In the dark. On wet roads. The level of hurry was insane.

It seems like this is the only speed we go these days. Fast. No time to waste. 

I just finished reading A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson. The book details Bryson’s experiences hiking parts of the Appalachian Trail. In one section, he laments the lost art of walking. To illustrate his point, he tells of asking a stranger in a town along the trail where he might find a store selling bug repellent. The stranger suggests he try the local K-Mart, and before giving directions, inquires about Bryson’s car. No car. The stranger then expresses concern that the K-Mart is at least a mile away — almost unable to fathom why, or how, anyone would walk that distance.

For many of us, the issue is not the effort of walking, but the time that it takes. We are always in such a hurry. It is so much faster just to hop in the car and drive. Walking is time intensive. Many of us go through our days in a nearly uninterrupted state of “fight or flight” — rushing from one thing to the next. I often catch myself holding my breath (I literally forget to breathe) and there are days during the week that I completely forget about lunch. This constant state of hurry messes up our brain chemistry and before you know it, your mind craves this sensation and remains on the lookout for reasons to fight or flee. Its like a sadistic adrenaline rush. Somehow, you have to reset your brain’s thermostat to combat this cortisol addiction. To recognize that it’s okay to slow down. To take your time. To breathe. Duh.

The summer after my senior year in high school, my best friend and I participated in an organized bicycle ride across our home state of Kansas — creatively named the Bike Across Kansas (BAK). Over the course of a week, we rode from the Colorado border near Tribune, Kansas to the Missouri border, near Fort Scott, Kansas. We slept in school gymnasiums or camped on football fields in small towns along the way. Each day’s ride was designed to be approximately eighty miles. Some of the participants would rise early and ride as if they were racing to get to the next town. This urgency made no sense to us. Jon and I took pride in almost always being the last riders into town in the evening. We would deviate from the designated path, riding out of our way to visit small towns and points of interest. We logged over one-hundred miles each day of the trip.

Being on a bicycle is an excellent opportunity to reset your brain’s thermostat. We pedaled along at about 15 miles an hour. Slower if there was a head wind, or if we felt like it. Things you would never notice or take time to observe when travelling in a car caught our attention. There was no real sense of urgency. We just needed to arrive at the next stop before dark. This was the first time that I truly recognized the beauty of Kansas and came to realize that going fast causes you to miss a lot. I was recently thinking about this ride and asked Jon if he was interested in trying a cross-country ride on our own. His response: “I’ll assume you are drunk.” I’ll keep working on him.

Lately I find that my brain’s thermostat needs more frequent resets. But, I don’t always take the time to do it and I pay the price. Physically and emotionally. I’m tired. Grumpy. Stressed and burned out. Like any other bad habit, it takes a lot of energy and deliberate practice to slow down. I find that being outdoors is my best opportunity to practice mindful slowness. Noticing a caterpillar in the grass, the brilliant pop of a wildflower’s color, the smell of damp pine trees, and the speckled gold pattern of a beautiful Brown Trout (perhaps the most egregiously named of all trout). All of these things are reminders of what you miss if you don’t slow down. Each small moment gives margin. The majority of our life is spent in little moments. We should do our best to capture as many as possible.

This doesn’t mean you have to “get away” to stop going fast. Walk to the bookstore. Ride your bike to the grocery story. Read a good book. Sit still in the backyard, or a local park, and enjoy the fall weather. Walk barefoot in the grass. Give your body the time it needs to clear the cortisol from your system.

You don’t have to accept fast as your default speed, but you do have to be deliberate about keeping it from becoming the norm. Trust me. I’m aware.

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