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Learning to Take It Easy

I can’t count the number of times in my life that someone has said some version of, “Hey, slow down. Take it easy” to me. Whether I was talking or walking too fast, getting worked up about something over which I had no control, or making a complex plan about something way in the future, I have been frequently reminded that this is not an approach that works for everyone. The problem is, as easy as it might sound to go at a different pace and not take things seriously, for me people might as well be saying, “Hey, cure cancer," or "Achieve world peace.”

And so, I never really took the "slow down" advice very seriously. I knew it was well-intentioned, but I just believed deep inside of me that it wasn’t something I could do, nor was I particularly interested. I think I liked the adrenalin rush of racing around trying to do 10 things at once or mobilizing a bunch of people to accomplish something quickly. Truthfully, I didn’t even see the value in a laid-back approach for someone like me.

We all know we wouldn’t be where we are without having been

where we were.

This spring and summer, in the midst of life grinding to a pace I’ve rarely experienced in my 69 years on earth, I have begun to see the light. Despite a calendar of Zoom meetings and stacks of paperwork in between, my true interactions with people are few and far between. Like everyone else, when I do get to see someone, I can’t hug them, I can’t sit next to them on the couch for hours and talk about life and creativity, and I can’t move freely in the world without a plan. I can’t even know what comes next in the bigger picture. It's terribly frustrating, but it has made me appreciate more deeply every small, authentic moment I have with my friends, family, and dogs.

All of these pandemic rules, combined with a growing sense of my own mortality, have made me want to stop and honor each thing I see and hear and experience. It’s become the biggest, truest “slow down, take it easy” lesson of my life. But of course, our feelings are one thing; our behaviors are entirely another. As much as I want to stop and smell the roses, my lizard brain still pokes me to write that to-do list, make those phone calls, respond to those emails, and get stuff done. Fortunately, I feel like better judgment is winning out.

As I’ve said many times, my biggest regret about getting older is that the path ahead of me is so much shorter than the one behind me. I can lapse very quickly into self-flagellation about wishing I’d enjoyed every one of those past moments more, but we all know we wouldn’t be where we are without having been where we were. Every second before this one prepared me for now. And this odd form of downtime has proven to me that I am not interested in continuing to live at the pace I did pre-COVID.

So, I’m practicing now. I’m working mostly on staying in the moment, any way I can. I have to remind myself at least 10 times an hour to notice what’s right in front of me, to pay attention to what’s going on right now, to appreciate the basics of my life. One afternoon last week, I found myself getting angry because I felt behind, and I felt besieged by too many things to do. It’s an old feeling, and one that has never resulted in me actually getting anything done. It usually results in an argument with someone or a headache. So, I took some deep breaths, looked out my back window at some tall, gawky roses in my yard. Immediately I saw some things in the yard that needed my attention, but I made myself look back at the roses. I’m an amateur at this, but I’m willing to do the work.

My longing now is to connect—with other people, with the world around me, with myself. I want to live with more attention and more intention, and I want to feel like every one of the maybe 25 years I have left is as sweet as it can be. It might be as simple as slowing down and taking it easy, and I may wish I’d taken that years-long advice a long time ago. But this is my road, and I want to memorize every turn and dip and vista in my own way now.

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