A fast-paced walk. A time-check every few minutes. A hurried thought: ‘I can still make it if I keep up’. But then, these beautiful flowers, not far away. Soon I will pass them, should I stop?
‘Always stop and smell the flowers’, they say, and I do.
As I inhale the fresh and sweet scent, something shifts.
A new thought enters my head: ‘What would actually happen if I arrived a few minutes late?’
‘I’ve already calculated to arrive 15 minutes early anyway’. And even if I hadn’t. Would I rather arrive stressed, hurried and frantic, or calm, peaceful and with a smile?
The choice is clear. As I slow down my pace, it takes a slight effort to silence the “chop chop” voice in the back of my head. I start looking around, consciously taking in the environment for the first time today. It’s actually a beautiful day, the sun shines brightly through the trees as if to announce a bright, fresh, new day. It started so much better with a slower pace.
Have you had this, or a similar scenario happen to you lately?
It may take some beautiful flowers, a comment by someone or a sudden change of plans that has us standing at a crossroads. Do we take the seemingly smooth and speedy highway, or the (slow) road less traveled?
That slow route might have us arrive at our destination a little later, but so much more relaxed and happy.
We usually have a few of those crossroads-moments on a daily basis: Speed up or slow down? A knee-jerk reaction, or a deep breath and a smile before we reply? Moving from one thing to the next, or taking a tiny break in-between?
The direction we take on those crossroads determines the amount of presence we allow ourselves each day. It determines how much of ourselves we bring to each moment and to each person we encounter. It determines our level of fulfillment in the evening.
Presence is a present we give to ourselves and to others
How often do we prefer the road towards perceived productivity over presence? But when we honestly think about it, are we truly more productive when we arrive at work those few minutes earlier? When we skip our lunch break to get things done? When we talk or type faster?
Of course, we know the answer. It’s just that the pace of society is so easy to get caught up in. Both moods and behaviors are contagious, I realized when I returned to the Netherlands almost four years ago, after years of traveling and living abroad. Social contagion surely is a thing, I found out first-hand. It caught me by surprise how quickly my screen time went up, surpassed only by my speed of walking and talking.
Slowing down is one of the practices that leads to presence
In his brilliantly-titled book: ‘The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry’, John Mark Comer summarizes it as follows:
“The solution to an overbusy life is not more time. It’s to slow down and simplify our lives around what really matters.”
Simplicity. What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think about this word?
That might be a clue as to where you can make your life easier or go easier on yourself.
For me, simplicity was my word of the year in 2021. It taught me a lot, especially regarding prioritization. Last year this meant to make it my main focus to find an apartment in a very stressed housing market. And by the grace of God, it worked out incredibly! I’m grateful to this very day.
Simplifying may also mean to declutter our homes, our schedules, our endless lists of ‘shoulds’, our goals or even our social surroundings at times.
Slowing down and simplifying creates space for presence
There is a third practice that leads us to presence. Simply said it’s: breathing.
Yes, I know. We breathe every day anyway. But when we bring awareness to our breath, we become present. We arrive with our attention in our bodies, in the moment, in our lives.
I’m pretty sure this is nothing new to you. But if you’re anything like me, it helps to have a reminder from time to time.
So here are three simple exercises with which you can use your breath to bring you back to the present moment:
1. Block Breathing: Breathing in for four counts, holding your breath for four counts, breathing out for four counts, holding your breath for four counts.
2. Heart Breathing: Breathing in and out, as you focus your attention on your heart, thinking of someone or something you love. Then smile and see what happens 😉
3. Breathing Break: Simply focusing your attention on your breath. Without judgment, simply observing whether it is: Slow or fast? Regular or not? High or low? Observing any thoughts or emotions while constantly bringing yourself back to your breath.
The more often you use the three presence practices of slowing down, simplifying and breathing, the more they become a part of your daily as well as spiritual life.
For instance, breathing now helps me quiet my mind before praying, which in a way, means simply (speaking with and) sitting in God’s presence. Of course it works the other way around too, prayer and other practices of presence slow down your breath, your system, and support you in simplifying your life.
The most important thing is to remember that each breath, each moment, is a precious gift. Presence simply means unwrapping that gift, time and time again. 🙂
As always, I love hearing from you in the comments. For instance: what one thing (keeping it simplified) did you take away from this blog article? How will you implement this one thing in your daily life?
I wish you a slow, simple and present rest of your day