Slow the Fuck Down

Salton Sea, 2004

Weee. Salton Sea, 2004

The meaning of life is just to be alive. It is so plain and so obvious and so simple. And yet, everybody rushes around in a great panic as if it were necessary to achieve something beyond themselves. – Alan Watts

Hold on. We’re runners, right? Why would we want to slow down? This is a race, man! Win! Win! Win! (Or at least place in my age group…)

But the ultimate destination of life is death. That’s where it ends. Death. And I’m in no rush to get there.

Americans seem to always be in a rush.

Take food, as an example. A recent statistic shows that Americans spend only 11 minutes eating a meal in a fast food restaurant, and just 2 minutes more in a cafeteria. 13 minutes on a meal. There’s no time to savor the taste, to enjoy the smells, the textures, the colors.

Here are more statistics:20% of all American meals are consumed in a car. 10% of our disposable income is spent on fast food. We consume more packaged food than fresh food—31% more—which means almost 60% of the food we eat comes out of a package, is packed full of preservatives and was probably made a few years ago. The average American consumes more that a ton (!!) of food a year, most of it in a rush, a fifth of it in the car, a tenth of our paycheck going to some fast-food franchise. A ton of hastily eaten crap a year.

No wonder we’re such a mess.

Slow down.

Why treat a run in the mountains or on the trails like a fast food burger, something that needs to be finished as soon as possible so that you can rush on to, and through, the next thing, and the thing after that, and the thing after the thing after, and on, mindlessly, with no enjoyment or pleasure? How many of you reading this are actually in competition to win anyhow? And what happens when it’s all done? A couple of medals for 3rd place in your age division at some obscure ultra marathon in the middle of nowhere that only 100 people ran? Nobody cares. Your friends probably all think you are obsessed and are just humoring you on this ultra running stuff.

Stop for a moment before your run and realize how fortunate you are to be able to take this run in the foothills, or along the Arroyo, or in Griffith Park, or Topanga, or down the streets in the neighborhood. Count your blessings. Actually count them. You have been blessed, whether by God or nature or just plain ole good luck. Not everyone is so fortunate. When you fill your lungs with that big gulp of mountain air, acknowledge for a moment just how fortunate you are.

Running is the simplest thing in the world, even though we seem to complicate it a lot with arguments about barefoot vs minimalist vs maximalist and handheld water bottles vs hydration packs or whether you should even hydrate at all. The rest of life can be nearly as simple as running, if we slow down and pay attention to what it is we are doing instead of just barreling through in a rush.

There are sounds I hear on the trails—sounds I hear because I’m usually not running with an iPod—and those sounds have taught me all sorts of things about nature and about life. Have you ever heard the sound a woodpecker makes? Have you ever wondered after hearing that sound how the woodpecker’s brain doesn’t turn to mush? Turns out woodpecker’s brains are protected by super spongy softly padding thick bones. Would I have ever learned this if I was distracted from my surroundings because I was listening to Slayer? (Or Coldplay, if that’s your bag).

Earlimart, Tulare County California

Mellow & Sons. Earlimart, Tulare County California

Here’s something I’ve learned along the way: nothing is enjoyable when it’s done in a rush.

What’s the point of rushing, anyhow? To free up more time that you can fill by rushing through more stuff?

I want to live a full, expansive life, not a cluttered rushed one.

Of course, I’m going to make this argument now that I’m naturally slowing down. Time and aging do that to you, or at least they are doing it to me, and if any of you know a way to arrest the process, I’m all ears. But even if I weren’t naturally slowing down, I’d advocate slowing life down just a little…or maybe even a lot.

Man suffers only because he takes seriously what the gods made for fun – Alan Watts

Americans in particular seem perplexed about the idea of leisure. Studies have basically shown that engaging in leisure activities has a positive effect on pretty much everything. Subjective well being, quality of life, marital satisfaction, family life satisfaction, and psychological functioning have all been shown to improve with the addition of leisure. Rushing through shit has not been shown to have a positive effect on much.

Alan Watts was an extraordinary, (but, apparently, rather ordinarily flawed) Englishman who more-or-less popularized Zen in the West. He and Jack Kerouac traveled in the same circles, and he makes appearances in several of Kerouac’s largely roman à clef books, as Arthur Whane in The Dharma Bums and as Alex Aums in Desolation Angels. A favorite quote of mine is “Zen does not confuse spirituality with thinking about God while one is peeling potatoes. Zen spirituality is just to peel the potatoes.” I’ll end with this:

Real travel requires a maximum of unscheduled wandering, for there is no other way of discovering surprises and marvels, which, as I see it, is the only good reason for not staying at home. – Alan Watts

Freedom, Austin Texas 1983

America likes the freedom. Austin Texas 1983

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