Slowing Down

In September my husband and I rode a train from Chicago to Sacramento, CA. For two days I read, dreamt, dozed, looked at spectacular scenery, and worked on crossword puzzles. Or, did nothing. West of Denver, we were privileged to see  inaccessible country we would never be able to see any other way.

We’ve been traveling by rail for years and love it. When you take a train, you have to slow down. You have no choice. Delays are common and there’s nowhere to go, although you can walk around whenever you feel the need to stretch your legs. One of the most interesting parts of the experience is being seated with strangers at every meal in the dining car. For a career coach, this is heaven.

I love to ask people about their work. My favorite person on this trip was a cowboy who got on in Winnemucca, Nevada. Judging by his grey hair, I guessed he was in his fifties. For the last ten years, he’s ridden horses on a 3 million acre ranch helping tend 12,000 cattle. His libertarian attitudes fit the solitariness and independence required by his job. It made me wonder once again if we gravitate to the jobs that fit our personalities, or do our jobs shape us? Maybe it’s a little of both.

Learning to vacate

Over the two weeks we were away, I checked phone messages twice and logged into emails just long enough to clear out the deluge of communications from activist organizations and respond to a few clients. Otherwise, I used my iPad to read books (yes, I love it!) .

We rented a car in Sacramento and drove to Yosemite National Park to immerse ourselves in the beauty of this special place. The massive granite cliffs and 3,000 year-old giant Sequoias are as awe-inspiring as the literature about them claims. Although the park culture encourages slowing down to enjoy the experience, paradoxically, that same ethos is also highly competitive and full of adrenaline. Serious hikers and daring rock climbers are in abundance. Many of them risk their lives by climbing alone without ropes.

We took easy hikes but even then I had to concentrate and watch my feet to avoid tripping and falling. If I hadn’t stopped occasionally to look around, I would have ended up missing the beauty surrounding me. It made me wonder whether hikers and climbers appreciate what is around them as they struggle to arrive at their destinations. You might say that’s not the point of climbing and I understand that, but I think we need to slow down. We’re in danger of missing our own lives.

Taking deep breaths

If we don’t slow down, we’ll miss our children’s sorrows and joys. We’ll miss coming up with a great insight, a creative solution, or a breakthrough. We’ll miss brilliant sunsets or the feel of the air in October and the crackle of leaves as we walk. We’ll miss the pleasure of working with bright, honest, and funny coworkers. If we slow down, then we can really hear what employees are saying to us: their genuine complaints, real concerns, or even, serious warnings. People are longing to be heard.

Pema Chodron also wisely advises that we slow down, especially in the heat of the moment when we’re upset about something. In her wise and wonderful book, Taking the Leap, she suggests we take three breaths before responding, so that our natural intelligence, natural warmth, and natural openness can surface. What a difference that would make.

When people hear we took the train, many of them say, “Oh, I’ve always wanted to do that,” but then they get caught up in the frantic pace of their current lives and end up flying again. Maybe this time, you’ll actually do it?

If you slow down wherever you are and bring yourself present, the best gift you might receive is to find yourself again.

Keep living an inspired life,


This is reprinted from Heart at Work Newsletter, November, 2010.

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