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Enjoying the Slow Lane

Author: Sam Argenio

It was extremely challenging at first, wasn't it? Do nothing? After years of being trained to be productive and keep busy, setting a daily grind in the early years of schooling, how were we going to do nothing? It's unnatural and counter to everything we've been taught, everything we have known: stay home and keep distance? Yet after a few weeks, or a few months perhaps, we adjusted (as we always do). We found ourselves waving at the Zoom meetings and posting our new "masked up" look on social media. Then something unusual happened: we began to enjoy the departure from "busy."

The Chinese word for busy consists of two parts. One part symbolizes the human heart, the other part symbolizes death. The meaning that can be extrapolated is that when one is excessively busy, his heart is dead. Yet in our society today everyone praises the virtue of busyness. When people ask you, "Are you busy?" you are most likely to answer, "Yes, I am so very busy; I have no time to chat." You will never say, "No, I have nothing to do," even if it is true. We associate busyness with success; only not-so-successful people are not busy. In reality, we find there are plenty of people who are very busy but going nowhere. "Busy" is not always a virtue, it often means the heart is being neglected.

-Chin-Ning Chu from her book Do Less, Achieve More - Harper Collins 2000

Countless friends and family members who despised working from home began to see something new in the mandatory slow lane. In pushing pause on the usual routine; the traffic jams and rush to work, the pressure of deadlines and meetings or presentations, the working through lunch and not having enough time, it opened up room for us to return to things we once knew. Things that were important to us as children.

What we know from the neuroscience - from looking at the brain scans of people that are always rushing around, who never taste their food, who are always going from one task to another without actually realizing what they're doing - is that the emotional part of the brain that drives people is on high alert all the time. So, when people think "I'm rushing around to get things done," it's almost like, biologically, they're rushing around just as if they were escaping from a predator. That's the part of the brain that's active. But nobody can run fast enough to escape their own worries.

-Professor Mark Williams, Stanford School of Medicine

So, we seemed to be addicted to the rush (and the stress that goes along with it). But once we were forced (in a sense) to get on the other side of it, we became happier. In a recent online poll of two thousand people, only thirteen percent said that they were eager to return to their workplace. Eighty-three percent said that they would prefer to remain as work-from-home employees. It's a small poll but the results astound.

If we can glean a few things in the take-away from all this, and make lemonade out of lemons, it seems we can maintain a reasonable level of productiveness while being more efficient in our movements. We're learning that many events we thought we needed to attend in-person don't really require our presence. This break has certainly been better for the Earth. In many places the air quality has never been so good, animals and ecosystems have rebounded, energy use is down, aside from disposable wipes, there is less waste (envision the mountain of disposable coffee cups created each weekday morning during commutes) and, perhaps most important of all, we've had time to reflect on what is really important to us.

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