The Speed of Americans
When I consider the life of a typical American, I think of the game Mario Kart. Remember this old-fashioned 1990’s Nintendo’s hit?
Here, as you may recall, Mario and his friends race around a seemingly never-ending track competing for a first place prize. The characters continually speed off into the abyss, dodging banana peels and pursuing their magic mushrooms in an effort to reach that sought after finish line — as quickly and efficiently as possible.
How often do we, as Americans, get caught up in our own “race” towards a never-ending “finish line?” In what ways might we prioritize speed, or compare and compete with the speed of other fellow “racers?”
While it may not play out in the same way as the classic Nintendo game may suggest, we have a pattern of keeping to ourselves in our own little cars, speeding away in the name of individualism and self-sufficiency.
Consider your speed
Consider for yourself: How fast you move in a day? Are there ever any times when you stop doing things? This includes checking your phone, planning out what you’ll fix for dinner, or pondering how you’ll respond to that work email waiting in your inbox. We live in a world that encourages us to always “do,” which can make it hard to shift into places of just being.
Perhaps you can acknowledge your own reasons to slow down in life, which may include greater peace, less pressure, or more time for yourself. Maybe you long to slow down, but are not sure how. Or perhaps you’ve tried, and can’t seem to maintain a slower pace because of factors outside of your control.
What it means to slow down
Here’s an important point: slowing down isn’t merely about adapting a slower pace. If you find yourself caught up in the busyness of life, setting a slower pace won’t necessarily solve everything, nor it is always possible to step away from life’s responsibilities and commitments. You don’t need to quit everything you’re doing (although, at times boundary setting is needed). You can still slow down without fully disconnecting yourself from the world, or moving to the country and homesteading for the rest of your life (although that does sound lovely).
Slowing down is more about practicing presence, and prioritizing your values (family, friendships, simplicity, freedom) over the pressures, pursuits, and deadlines of life. It’s about paying attention to what you’re doing, rather than just mindlessly moving about your day. Slowing down involves setting boundaries, not only with external forces, but with yourself and your own mind.
Today, if you find yourself swept away in life’s busyness, or feeling caught up in an endless game of our culture’s version of Mario Kart, I’m here to remind you that you can shift gears. You can let go of the need to keep up, and it’s OK if you don’t get to the finish line as planned.
My fellow exhausted racer, you may have your own reasons to slow down in life. If you need more, here are mine:
1. No one is chasing you
When you find yourself moving through life at a rapid rate, consider who, if anyone, you’re running from.
Go ahead, and turn around… who do you see?
If you’re anything like me, you may notice that no is actually there. No one is standing behind you, pushing and demanding for more. The only thing that’s there is a shadow of your own self. That inner “coach” who won’t stop yelling, or that overbearing critic within who isn’t satisfied with anything short of perfection — that’s you. That’s your shadow.
Consider again the game of Mario Kart. No one is actually chasing anyone. They are all racing around alongside each other, trying to maintain the pace of the race.
When you find yourself running around in circles trying to meet the next deadline, goal, or career advancement, turn around and notice who you see. Maybe you do see glimpses of a demanding boss, teacher, or parent. Or maybe it’s just the quietness of your shadow trying to keep up.
This simple practice of stopping and noticing who (if anyone) is behind you may help free you from the race. When you stop to consider why you’re running, consider for a moment, is it worth it? Maybe you’ll find that it’s not worth trying to keep up the pace.
2. Your body will thank you
In Mario Kart, you get to pick from a wide variety of dazzling race cars to fuel your high speed missions. Aside from the occasional crash or spin out, these invincible cars never seem to burn out or lose their steam.
This is not the case with our bodies. They simply cannot keep up with certain paces we set. Our dear bodies, they will give it their best shot, but fatigue and burnout will eventually catch up.
In what ways might you push your body to perform past reasonable limits? Do you persistently press your accelerator, even when there is no more gas to give?
Many of us acknowledge the limitations of our bodies and our need to set good boundaries in our responsibilities and commitments. We crave rest. But us Americans, we’re not always great at honoring this.
While a degree of stress can be helpful, and needed, our bodies can only hold so much. At some point, they will eventually collapse out of sheer exhaustion when pushed beyond what they can bear.
On the other hand, when we take the time to slow down and intentionally calm our fight-or-flight response, our bodies will reap the benefits. The simple practice of deep breathing, for example, can significantly help with taming the stress response (1). When we practice taking slow, deep breaths, we activate the vagus nerve, which is a part of our parasympathetic nervous system. When the vagus nerve is stimulated, the heart rate slows, blood pressure decreases, and muscles relax, increasing feelings of peacefulness and relaxation throughout the body. And when our bodies feel relaxed, they send calming messengers to our brains, which helps them feel more at ease.
When you intentionally slow down, pay attention to your body, and respond with grace and compassion through your breath, your body will feel rested and recharged. Your body will take care you, as you also take care of it.
3. You can walk in step with God
One Sunday morning after a small outdoor church gathering within my Anglican church community, I started a conversation with a visiting army chaplain about this very topic: the hurried pace of our world… and its unintended consequences on our emotional and spiritual health.
The pace of God
We talked about the speed of our culture and how it’s nearly impossible to stay ahead of everything, especially within the demanding, fast-paced military lifestyle. It’s easy to get lost in pursuits of productivity, efficiency, and outcomes, while neglecting the rest of life, including our family, friends, values, and walk with God.
“There’s no way to keep up,” my chaplain friend said. “If you try, you’ll always be chasing and running down whatever is next.” We continued to talk about the pace of God, and how difficult it is to experience God when we’re consumed with trying to “keep up.” He then said something to me that I’ve continued to dwell on and consider. My chaplain friend said,
“You either choose to walk in step with God, or with the world. You cannot do both.”
I think he’s right. We cannot keep our eyes fixed on God, while also chasing after the cares and pursuits of this world. It’s just not possible to do both.
When we step back from the busyness of life, prioritizing places of rest and reflection, we place ourselves in a position where we can better see, know, and walk with God. For He does not exist in a realm marked by time and deadlines. God is free from man-made expectations, and does not succumb to the pressures or pursuits of our world.
Picking does not mean we neglect all of our worldly goals or responsibilities, and commit ourselves to a monastery for the rest of our days. But it does mean choosing each day who you will primarily follow, and prioritizing your work as worship, rather than worshiping your work.
My friend, let’s step out of this never-ending, exhausting Mario-Kart game together. May we work hard and give this life our best shot, yet at a speed that makes space for our bodies to rest, and souls to breathe.
- André, Christophe. “Proper Breathing Brings Better Health.” 2019. Scientific American. Retrieved from: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/proper-breathing-brings-better-health/
Originally published at https://elizabethanndixon.com.