Remembering to Breathe

A friend recently complained on Facebook about how long it takes her to do even the simplest things in this town. For example, she had to take an entire day off work just to complete the mandatory annual vehicle safety test all Virginia car owners must do (and pay for). Imagine having to take an entire day off work to do vehicle maintenance work as mandated by law! Did she really have to take the whole day off to do this? Probably not. I’ve spent about half a day of my weekend doing the same exam, but I didn’t like it—weekends are precious to me.

She then went on to vent about how taxing it is just to buy a loaf of bread at the grocery store. That is literally true. Here, you have to deal with traffic, crowded grocery stores and long lines at the check-out. (That’s why I buy the majority of my groceries online and have them delivered to my home. And for items—especially certain produce and health and beauty products—that require an in-person visit to the store, I wake up early on a weekend and hit the shops before 10:00 a.m. when the streets and stores are empty. With the exception of getting up early, it’s relatively painless, and I still have the entire day/weekend to do non-errand-related things.)

But I do get her point. The suburbs of DC are not really suburbs. They are very urban and have extremely high population densities which means congested roads even on weekends, crowded shops and long lines. Coming from rural Minnesota, I can confirm that her complaint is legit, it truly is a chore to do the simplest things in this town due to the massive amount of people wanting to do the same thing as you at the very same time. (Happy are those who telework or have flexible schedules during the week while the rest of us are at the office!)

Because such daily struggles are so real here in DC/Northern Virginia, this article really spoke to me. It talks about eliminating certain things from your schedule so you can do more of the things you enjoy. It sounds simple and rational, but it is harder to do than it sounds. But if you can manage to make some small changes in this direction, noticeable benefits do arise. Some key take-aways from the article (emphasis is mine) include:

“With fewer activities, there’s less stress on your calendar and your budget. You have less worry about carpools, traffic, and arrival times. You relieve that feeling of living through over-full, overcomplicated days.

“More free time means more space for stillness and contemplation. It means more space for dreams and growth. It means more time for listening and reflecting.”

“When there’s open space in your calendar, there’s more room in your heart for considering your place in the world, for thinking about who you are and how you intend to live.”

This may all seem boring to some people out there. Especially those who need constant motion and company. But I think there is value in this philosophy for everyone.

A good friend of mine is recovering from surgery and has been told to give herself six weeks of physical rest before she can live the way she was living before her procedure. Already in week two, it is driving her nuts because she wants to go to the gym, move around and push herself physically, much like she did before her operation. And she even tried to do so after her surgery, but quickly learned it was a bad idea. There is something to be said about rest and disciplined stillness, whether it is physical or mental. There is nothing wrong with slowing down and reflecting. In fact, that is how some of the greatest inspirations are born—out of thoughtfulness, silence, thought. Action followed, but it required some silent thinking first.

So while the Western world (and DC especially) glorifies constant movement, busyness and action, I no longer buy into the hype that those who don’t constantly hustle fall behind. Those who don’t also remember to breathe and reflect will, in the end, cause themselves more harm than good. The challenge is making those arrangements in our lives to be able to do all this—to slow down, reflect and contemplate.

It is possible though and it does require sacrifice. But, I have found, it is totally worth it.

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