The other morning I caught myself wandering in circles as I pottered about my living room doing bits and pieces of of the morning rituals I do almost every morning.
It looked something like this: jiggling my mouse to light up my sleeping desktop, then flipping open my laptop and typing in the password, suddenly getting up to put a piece of incense in a burner, then moving to the kitchen to fill the kettle with water, remembering I originally wanted to turn on my iTunes on my desktop, heading back to my desktop to find it sleeping again, again shaking the mouse, again looking at my laptop trying to remember why I wanted to open it, and then realizing that I still had not filled the kettle or lit the incense!
If it sounds dizzying, it IS. And if you’ve ever found yourself whirling around like this you might (like me) be experiencing a symptom of … the hurry sickness.
I’m not usually a fan of labeling personal experiences as a “sickness” because (at least in our modern society) it implies that it is an immutable condition that can only be cured by one of Big Pharma’s latest products. But the label is humorously fitting of the scenario I just described for you, and many scenarios like it that I experience occasionally (as I’m sure you do too).
Plus, I know a cure for the hurry sickness that doesn’t involve pharmaceuticals or doctors (keep reading and I will tell you about how it works).
I am not making this stuff up. The “hurry sickness” is a real medical diagnosis that was first coined 40 years ago by two cardiologists who noticed a common trait in their heart disease patients: a chronic sense of time urgency.
Back then the cardiologists described the symptoms of the hurry sickness as constantly rushing around, overbooking appointments and obligations, and an ongoing feeling of frustration for not being able to accomplish more. Sound familiar?
In our modern era of rapid change, social media, and ever present smartphones the obvious symptoms of hurry sickness have not lessened–they’ve actually multiplied.
Do you ever notice yourself getting impatient waiting in a check out line because the person in front of you is moving so slow? Are you constantly looking at your smartphone to read emails/social media feeds in order to “fill” empty time while commuting? Have you tried to multitask so many tasks that you lose track of what you were doing in the first place (like I did the other morning)?
These are all symptoms of the hurry sickness, and so many of us are suffering from it.
It’s like we are addicted to haste. And we are allergic to those moments when we are not being productive and getting something done.
It might sound a little funny, but the hurry sickness is seriously bad for our health. The problem with a chronic sense of time urgency is that it keeps us in a heightened state of stress. You know, the famed “fight or flight” nervous system response that gets triggered when our primitive brain perceives a threat? (I’ve written about this before here). It’s bad for the body and bad for the mind.
So what can we do to cure our hurry sickness?
One word: mindfulness.
Mindfulness is a common topic of discussion these days, so I know you’ve heard about it by now. The word “mindfulness” has many different meanings, but lately it’s most commonly understood to be a type of meditation (once Buddhist, now secular) that is easy to learn and beneficial to practice.
But mindfulness has another meaning that is at once more abstract and more immediate to our moment-to-moment experience.
One of my favorite teachers, the infamous Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, was a master at explaining how mindfulness can be a common part of life.
Awareness is the key to Trungpa’s common mindfulness. He would say that being aware during the seemingly insignificant moments of life–like boiling water for tea, getting ready for work, walking through the train station, cleaning our clothes, bodies, and spaces–is the way to be free from the speed, chaos, and neurosis that often oppresses us.
The kind of moment-to-moment awareness that Trungpa is talking about is hard to maintain, but it’s easy enough to incorporate practices into our life that will cultivate it.
Here are a few suggestions of ways you can work on your ability to tap into moment-to-moment awareness on a regular basis (the list is by no means exclusive):
1. Start your day with a pause (or a few) in which you notice your breathing and observe how your body feels. Do this BEFORE you grab the smartphone.
2. Practice mindfulness meditation for 5-10 minutes daily. I always recommend to beginners that they practice right after they wake up (and use the bathroom)–and before they check email or have coffee. But once you get established in a daily practice you can play around with the time.
3. Sprinkle mindfulness pauses throughout the rest of your day, especially when you notice yourself getting harried from your hurry sickness. For example, pause and breath a few deep breaths before you send a difficult email or right after you have accomplished an important task. Let yourself fill up the moment with just being, rather than doing.
4. Eat mindfully. Try as much as you can to eat away from your computer and while sitting down. If you can spare a few more moments, then pause before you dig in, and just notice the colors and smells of what you are eating.
5. Practice walking without looking at your phone. Give your awareness to the experience of walking, and save those emails and texts for later!
Cultivating moment-to-moment awareness is not easy, but thankfully it’s something that anyone can get better at with practice (no matter how busy you are).
And it’s a habit that will sometimes lead to another type of experience I recently had (one that is the opposite of my hurry sickness symptoms).
One uneventful Wednesday evening, I was walking through the subway station on my way home from teaching a class and I was practicing just walking: my phone was tucked away in my bag, I didn’t have my iPod with me, and I wasn’t rushing to get on my next train. All I was doing was walking, and watching everyone around me go wherever they were going. Suddenly, I had an intense feeling of not being aware of anything other than my body, my mind, and my breath. For a few seconds, I didn’t even have any thoughts. Just pure awareness of myself and my surroundings. It was a feeling of incredible freedom from haste, hurry, and worry.
The feeling left shortly after it had arrived, and then my mind started churning out thoughts about what I had just experienced. Of course, I was a little bit giddy from having had such a feeling of union with the moment free from any kind of cognitive judgment.
In those moments after my subway experience, I realized that this is why I practice mindfulness.
And this is also why I want to share the practice with you.
So here’s to curing the hurry sickness! I hope you will try to incorporate mindfulness meditation and cultivation into your life. If you want to know more about how to do it, I can teach you. Go here to fill out an inquiry and get started.
If you enjoyed this post, please share it with your friends, because they too might be suffering from the hurry sickness.
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