Meditating With Monks: Insight 9 - Pace Of Life
Updated: Jan 22, 2019
This 12-post blog series is dedicated to 12 of the most valuable insights that I gleaned during my 10-Days of Silent Vipassana Meditation at Wat Suan Mokkh, a Buddhist monastery in Surat Thani, Thailand.
Having listened to monks speak for 10 days, I can confirm that most of them are closet comedians. In honour of their light-hearted approach to life, I’ve tried to write these 12 blog posts in an amusing and entertaining way.
The 12 insights are: 1) Silence. 2) Expectation. 3) Fatigue. 4) Adversity. 5) Cleaning Toilets. 6) Impermanence. 7) Attachment. 8) Authority Figures & Control. 9) Pace of Life. 10) The Present Moment. 11) The Pond. 12) The Tree.
I hope that these insights prove to be as valuable for you as they were for me.
Insight 9 - Pace Of Life
Our wonderful yoga/tai-chi instructor, Khun Supol, would repeat the same mantra every day during his morning sessions: “move with the natural flow of your body – not too fast, not too slow, the Middle Way”.
Buddhism advocates the Middle Way. It is a path devoid of extremes, a path of balance. Given that each of us is different, no two Middle Way’s will be the same. Only you can find your own balance.
With this in mind, it makes sense that every single individual person on this planet has their own optimal ‘pace of life’.
Unfortunately, the developed world has dictated a standard pace through which we should progress through life – the educational system, the world of work, retirement, and so on. In general, this pace is increasing, not only in terms of what we’re expected to achieve by a certain time, but also in the hectic day-to-day routines that many of us find ourselves stuck in and the glamorisation of ‘hustle’ mentality.
And with the ever-increasing number of people facing mental health challenges, now more than ever, we need to be able to recognise that this fast pace does NOT fit everyone. In general, the majority of us need to slow the fuck down – myself included!
Think of it this way. Every person starts at a different position on the race-course of life. Your start point depends on who your parents are, where you’re born, where you live, how much money you have, and of course, your own unique genetic blueprint.
None of us start at the same place.
So why should we be expected to progress at the same rate?
We need to not only become aware of our own optimal pace, but also learn to accept it. In some things, we might be faster than average. In many things, we might be slower. This is neither right nor wrong – it is simply what is.
If we’re forced to progress at a faster pace, we become exhausted, overwhelmed and prone to burnout. If we’re forced to progress at a slower pace than what comes naturally, we become frustrated and impatient. If we progress at our natural pace, we flow effectively.
We shouldn’t judge our natural pace – we either accept it as it is, or we make a choice to try to change it. If the reason for change is authentic enough (i.e. not enforced by society and not resisted by ourselves), this process can be relatively painless.
But most of the time, we initiate a change in pace because of what we believe we should be like. We infer from our observations that our pace is wrong and that we need to correct it – but inwardly, we don’t really think we’re wrong. This creates resistance, which leads to frustration, dissatisfaction and feeling ‘stuck’.
Our natural pace will always have upsides and downsides, especially given the pace dictated by the society that we’re born into. We need to play to our strengths, and mitigate our weaknesses.
Throughout my life, I’ve always tended to the faster side of the spectrum in most areas. In part, this was in line with my natural pace. But I also acknowledge that society’s glamorisation of fast-paced learning, hectic lifestyles and the ‘hustle’ mentality has also contributed to this.
In my case, it’s in my nature to look for ways of doing things more efficiently and to cut out ‘non-value’ activities (my parents call this laziness…). I look for effective shortcuts or alternative methods to get things done quicker without compromising quality. But I’m also impatient with myself to achieve my goals. In my rush to do things, I make mistakes. And if I find myself progressing slowly, I become frustrated.
I realised that mitigating these weaknesses was actually quite simple. Often, they manifested when I was trying to move too fast in areas in which I had a naturally slower pace. I had forced myself to move faster because of a combination of pride and society’s expectations – but it wasn’t serving me well to do so. By giving myself permission to slow down and adapting my plans to account for my change of pace, I was able to manage my weaknesses more effectively.
I’m grateful that I’ve learned to appreciate that my pace of life differs across different categories of life. It’s helped me to become less impatient, less stressed, more tolerant, and more peaceful.
And to ensure that I don’t forget this, life brings it to my attention as often as it can…
During the 10-day meditation retreat, two examples highlighted the importance of recognising and accepting my own pace:
1. Mindfulness Practice.
On Day 3, 4 and 5, I found myself entering a state of meditation burnout. I’d been trying to progress too fast through the anapanasati mindfulness practice that we were being taught, to the extent where I was putting pressure on myself to make progress. I became unable to focus and concentrate on my meditation practice – not ideal when you’re meditating for 8 hours a day! I had to remind myself to relax, let go of my desire to progress quickly, and trust that progress would come if I practised at a slower pace.
This was easier said than done. It’s easy to look around a meditation hall and think that everyone else knows how to meditate better than you do, just as we do when we’re at the gym, school, work, and so on. But we need to resist the temptation to compare our pace with the pace that we think others are progressing at – which really represents the pace which we think should be progressing at.
Not only is it a false representation of what others are doing (how do we know whether what we think they’re doing is really what’s happening?) but it only leaves us feeling more dissatisfied with ourselves. We need to find our own pace and embrace it – not look to others to dictate our pace.
As I learned in our first morning yoga session, I have the hip flexibility of an old man with arthritis. Not ideal when meditation requires you to sit-up straight in a cross-legged position for extended periods of time. On the first few days, I tried to push through it despite the pain. My flexibility improved…until Day 4, at which point my hip flexors went into spasm and my flexibility drastically declined! Of course, I was frustrated at my body’s limits. But being honest, I was angrier at my pride for ignoring my body’s signals and persistently pushing it at a pace which was not natural for it.
My desire to progress quickly was not only halted by my rushing, but actually led to regression. In trying to move forward too fast, I ended up moving backwards. If ever there was a lesson about pushing beyond the pace that is natural for you, this is it. Don’t let the mind’s desires mute the voice of your body. If you listen to your body, it’ll tell you what the right pace for you really is.
Ultimately, we shouldn’t be afraid or embarrassed about slowing down. If anything, it takes strength to realise that the pace we want from ourselves is different to the pace we can realistically maintain – and then be able to actually accept this. We need to work in harmony with our body and mind, and resist the temptation to compare ourselves with others and the pace we perceive them to be moving at.
The truth is that, despite our different starting points and optimal pace of life, we’re all going to end up in the same place. The finish line is the same for each and every one of us. There’s no medal for first place, and no wooden spoon for last place.
So, what’s the rush?
Find your pace, embrace it, and enjoy the journey!
Kam Taj is a University of Cambridge graduate (Engineering Tripos, BA, MEng, 2011-15), ICF-Accredited performance coach, motivational speaker and author of 'The Ultimate Guide To Exam Success'. He runs training workshops at schools, universities and companies on personal & professional development, with a focus on performance improvement in their field of choice. When he's not running workshops or coaching private clients, you can find him playing tennis, hanging on gymnastic rings and making cheesy motivational Instagram posts.