Who isn’t in a hurry, trying to cross off impossibly long To Do Lists? The other day I was struggling with the feeling of anxiety, running from the post office to the supermarket and pharmacy, home to make dinner, check my emails, finish an editing job. Oh yes! And if I have time, clean the bathroom and kitchen floor. It would also be nice if I could do two loads of laundry …call my mother, a friend, and wash my hair.
Finally I grabbed a hold of myself. This wasn’t easy, as I felt myself rushing past me to move onto the next task! Whoa! Hold on! Why do you feel so anxious? These things will get done in time. Now take your time. With some effort, I was able to pull myself back into what I was actually doing, standing in line at the post office, waiting to send off Christmas gifts back home. Come on, I said to myself. You are now at the post office about to accomplish one of the tasks on your list. You are doing the best you can. Take time to be in line. Then you can move onto the next task. But for now, this is what you are doing, so just breath, relax and enjoy it!
I soon became aware of a still place inside me, near the center of my chest. Calmer, small things started to come into focus. I noticed the eagerness of a young child as he opened the straw for his juice drink; the quiet, steady kindness of the post office workers; and the Christmas cards for sale by UNICEF. Then I started to pray for all the children in the world that UNICEF is trying to help. Time passed quickly and soon enough I was at the counter and my package was on its way to California. I felt much lighter and able to aptly tackle the next task – slowly, deeply and more joyfully.
Make Haste Slowly
“Make haste slowly” is a classical adage and oxymoron
meaning to perform whatever activity you are doing with a proper balance of urgency and diligence. Festina lente or σπεῦδε βραδέως (speûde bradéōs) was one of Emperor Augustus’ favorite sayings, and supposedly one of the reasons why he was so successful as a commander and ruler. Work is best done in a state of flow in which one is fully engaged by the task and there is no sense of time passing. When tasks are overly rushed, mistakes can be made and long-term results not achieved, In a way, “make haste slowly” is an attempt to express the synthesis of the polarity speed and inertia.
In his book The Act of Will, Assagioli also refers to this phrase urging us to practice it in our daily lives in order to develop our will. He writes:
“To make haste slowly is not easy, but it leads to greater effectiveness, enjoyment, and creativeness without tension and without exhaustion.”
He continues by acknowledging that to “make haste slowly” is not easy because it requires a dual awareness: one part of you performs the action and another part simultaneously monitors the action as an observer.
The beauty of “making haste slowly” is that we can practice it anywhere and anytime. Assagioli suggests another exercise related to this phrase to also relieve stress and further develop our will – resolutely stopping to work when we are tired. Studies have shown that nearly everyone 35 years and younger are sleep-deprived. When we stop to rest, we are using our will to control our inner hurry to get a job done. Short rest taken in time when we feel tired is much wiser than a long rest necessitated by exhaustion. While a short rest does not interrupt our interest or momentum in the job at hand, it does allow us to recover our energy, release our nervous tension, and generate rhythm and harmony in our lives.
Next time you are in a hurry, try to will yourself to slow down and stay mindful of the one thing that is occupying you at that moment. Try accomplishing your task with precision, attention, calmness, and rapidity. See if you can synthesize the polarity of speed and inertia into the higher qualities of harmony and stillness in all that you do this week.