Sunday, January 3, 2021
When we feel stress, or face an unexpected challenge—perhaps difficulty in a relationship or a complex project at work—we sometimes respond with some form of what we believe is greater effort.
This can take different forms for different people. This "greater effort" may compel us to create a compressed work schedule, one in which we tell ourselves we must get more done faster than we ever have before. Or if we have an argument with a loved one, we may feel a need to address and fix that problem as quickly as possible, a goal made more difficult by the emotional parameters at play.
You may tell yourself that this challenge requires you to work harder than ever before. You must put huge pressure on yourself in order to successfully arrive at the other side of the challenge. In that way, you may tell yourself, you will have achieved beyond all expectation, and masterfully solved your problems and those of everyone around you. Everything will be perfect.
You may find that this approach doesn't work so well for you. I know it hasn't for me. When I place myself in such a pressurized state, I make mistakes, lose track of my purpose, and fall short of whatever my expectations had been.
I just came across another possible approach on page 2 of in The Experience of Insight, a book by Buddhist teacher Joseph Goldstein:
"If we have a patient mind, all things will unfold in a natural and organic way. Patience means staying in a state of balance regardless of what is happening, staying easy and relaxed and alert. Milarepa, the famous Tibetan yogi, advised his disciples to "hasten slowly." Hasten in the sense of being continuous and unrelenting in your effort, but to do so with poise and equanimity. Persistent and full of effort, yet very relaxed and balanced."
I came across this quote this week because I decided to join a 30-day meditation challenge and book club offered by the Insight Meditation Society (IMS). The book is the Goldstein volume quoted above and the event is free. It began on January 1, 2021, but if you're interested you can watch the videos and catch up (links below).
Even if I wasn't trying to restart a meditation practice in this new year, I would be cheered by Milarepa's words. We live in challenging times, but we tend to make them more challenging by overreacting, by worrying, by focusing on distractions that take us away from whatever we perceive our greater purpose to be.
"Hasten slowly" is an oxymoron, and on the surface, appears to make no sense. But Goldstein's explanation does. It may provide an answer for many of us in these oh-so-strange times.
- Rob Hochschild