Kate Carruthers tweeted:

@cspenn time is all about perception anyway – we’re going nuts & getting cranky at microwaves because they are too slow, it’s madness

There’s a particular state of mind that you can cultivate that can open a lot of doors and relax your mind, but our continued focus on instant – better, faster, richer, stronger, right NOW – prevents us from ever touching it. It’s a concept that evolved out of our warrior and spiritual traditions that’s been adopted by practitioners of every discipline.

In Zen Buddhism, it’s a state called zanshin, or ever present mindfulness. Athletes call it being in the zone. Whatever you call it, it’s the state when you’re doing something where the boundary between you – the person doing – and the thing you’re doing fades away.

You’ve had this experience many times in your life, whether you know it or not. You’ve experienced it watching a particularly compelling movie, when you the viewer and the movie are one – you cry with the characters on screen, and your mind for that movie is in the movie. You’ve experienced it as a tradesman, when the activity – sawing wood, hammering nails, catching fish, and you are one, and everything you do feels effortless, free from stress, and pleasant, even if it’s physically difficult labor. You’ve experienced it as an athlete when all your concerns fade away and the swim, run, or ski slope and you are indistinguishable and you feel like the wind itself.

One of the great esoteric secrets of Zen – meaning it’s in plain sight but you can’t see it until you’ve had the experience – is that this zanshin state of mind is available all the time, every day, every moment. Everything you do has the potential to deliver you into that state of mind. For most of us, myself included, it takes some time to get into that state. We’re not super engrossed in the movie at the opening credits. We’re not soaring along the race track as soon as we lace up our shoes. It takes a little time to find that state and get into it, but when we do it feels terrific.

This is where we make the case for not instant. For the hordes of us that are not Zen masters, we need the time it takes to boil potatoes or knead dough or take photos or tend garden to get into that state. If we reduce everything in life to a few pushes of buttons, we lose those opportunities to practice mindfulness, to practice what it means to be in the moment. Instant, super fast, super convenient has its place, to be sure, but so does the long way, because we all need that time to get into our frame of mind where we can shut out everything else and let ourselves be free.

The second part of this is that any activity that’s sufficiently repetitive gives you the opportunity to develop this state of mind. Going for a walk, baking bread, lifting weights, cooking soup, playing with your kids, watching movies – so long as you have ample time to find your mind.

The final secret in all of this is that not instant stuff gives you a chance to recharge after a particularly draining experience. As a professional public speaker, I find that I expend a lot of mental and emotional energy when I speak, which is good for the people who enjoy hearing what I have to say. In the day or so after doing a particularly energetic presentation, I take the time to do more of the not instant activities to help my body and mind rest, reset, and recharge. If you’ve got something in your life that periodically draws intense bursts of energy from you, doing some not instant stuff will help you recalibrate and get back on track.

Here’s to things taking their due time.


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