It’s 8 pm on a Wednesday evening, the sun is setting, the horizon turning bright orange over the Jemez Mountains. The eastern sky turns purple and pink in response. The mountains of New Mexico have begun to have their way with me. It’s always like this when I return home—a place that breaks my stride, causes me to stop, breathe, look and listen.
Taking time away from the usual pace of my life and spending time in the cradle of the Sangre de Cristo range has allowed me to follow a different tempo, one informed by inspiration, whimsy, and intuition. My two children are here with me also, spending time together post-divorce, to discover who we are, just us three. Our days are simple, we awaken and just follow the thread of the next right thing — the thread of the heart. Sometimes it’s breakfast, then a hike, then we might follow the thread to an unplanned adventure to a hot springs, arriving home late for dinner, and finally just eating French toast for our late night meal (there’s plenty of time for vegetables on other days). Or, we might lay around until two in the afternoon, play a game of cards and hang out some more until evening. This holiday, it seems, wants to be lead by being rather than doing.
So often holidays become just another relentlessness to add to our already relentless lives. We have to pack in all the good things: sight seeing, shopping, visiting of friends and relatives, as many wonderful memorable experiences as possible. Then we return home feeling exhausted, facing piles of mail and a list of tasks that have stacked up in our absence. We’ve never actually stopped, pulled in, become dormant and regenerated.
By some grace, this holiday is turning out differently. My son even came down with the flu lasting for days, grounding us deeper into yet an even slower pace. Even the hikes were too much. Now it’s conversation, lingering cuddles in bed and thousand-piece puzzles, and sometimes even, yes, hours in front of video games.
Such an experience has revealed an important rhythm and speed, one guided by the heart, rather than the mind. Wayne Muller, author of Sabbath: Restoring the Sacred Rhythm of Rest distinguishes between two kinds of time, ‘mind’ and ‘heart’. The mind can process thoughts and images at lightning speed. The heart, however, takes much longer to process the emotional information that comes along. Just try shifting from sadness to happiness in the same time it takes to think of a pink elephant and then a blue one. ‘Unfortunately for our hearts,’ he says, ‘our culture has designed our technologies to move at the speed of the mind.’
So the heart is constantly trying to catch up, and process all the new information and circumstances brought about by our daily goals. More importantly, in following the constant pull and ambition of the mind (and succumbing to the culturally imposed pace that does the same), we miss the heart’s most vital wisdom to inform our lives. ‘But to relentlessly push and push…the thoughtful reflection of the human heart to conform to the ridiculous, impossible, inhuman speed of the world, is to cause violence to our most precious and valuable treasure,’ says Muller. ‘The necessary guidance of the human heart.’
I know the consequences of following the speed of the mind in my own life. iPhones, Skype, MSN, email and wireless Internet has facilitated a blinding daily pace, one shaped by mental agenda and the lightening-quick ability to change plans on a dime, or fit in an extra task or two within a five-minute window. It’s not that this capacity is inherently bad, it’s just that it’s becoming the whole game. Each day I can get more done, however, each day becomes less fulfilling.
The other day, I was taking a hike with the kids and some friends. One of the women travelling with us brought her cell-phone. On the way down, she mentioned that we had made such good time and she didn’t expect that we’d finish the hike as early as we had. There was now an additional half hour available. She would therefore call her daughter re-coordinate their day. The next 15 minutes was spent calling, recalling, re-coordinating and rescheduling. All this while we were walking through some of the most spectacular country in the world. And she missed every moment of it.
In slowing down my heart has finally caught up. And it has much to tell me, and much to explore. An opportunity arises to follow its lead, its tempo and direction, rather than the agenda of the future-projecting, time-strategising mind. My actions begin to feel more authentic, and my ability to stand by those actions, more firm. The mind becomes servant, and therefore quieted. Everything becomes technicolour.
Without the need to fill every minute efficiently, and in leaving my own cell-phone at home most days, the gaps and unexpected changes of plan that can’t be reconstructed by calling someone up and ‘keeping things on track’ result in serendipity, coincidence and grace. Some things are created by whimsy, and can only happen in the soil of the spaciously unplanned. In living this way, one gets a strong sense that Something Else is in control, and has much bigger and more beautiful plans for you than you could ever dream.
Gerald May, author of Getting the Love You Need, writes extensively about love verses efficiency. Say for example, you want to spend the day at the park with your children (love), and to get there you need to have breakfast by 9 a.m. and be in the car by 10 (efficiency). But the kids are lingering over breakfast, enjoying your company. Somehow things just aren’t moving along, because the thread seems to be leading elsewhere. In these moments it’s so easy to forsake our original intention of love, for our mental plan to get in the car by ten. So we start pushing the kids to get moving, and before we know it, we’re stressed and resentful and no one is having any fun. Sound familiar? I’ve had millions of these moments with my children.
However, if we had followed the thread of love, we might have settled into a different kind of day; perhaps we might have all ended up on the living room floor telling stories, or opted to take a stroll around the block. And perhaps, something magical might have happened between us. Such is the way of love. Efficiency is meant to be the servant of love, not the other way around.
Is it possible to lead a functional professional and family life, while allowing love and the heart to lead with their own tempo, or at least while allowing them to have equal merit to mind and efficiency? I don’t know, but I intend to spend some time exploring the possibility