What Is Your Processing Speed?

Our microwave has an “Express” button on it.  I like that.  I press the button and my coffee is “nuked,” just like that.  Fast.  No waiting.

My BlackBerry delivers my emails to me 24/7.  I never have to wait to respond.

My iMac has a quad core Intel i5 processor.  No waiting there either!

I hate to wait.  It makes me crazy.  Doesn’t matter where:  traffic lights, check-out lines, doctors’ offices.  Especially doctors’ offices.  Pointless.  Such a colossal waste of time, I say.

I move fast.  Very fast.  Perhaps too fast.

As I move back into the work-a-day routine after nearly a month in the mountains, I ponder this.

My mind drifts back… .

I struggled up the steep snow. The clouds moved in and out.  At times I could see down into the valley 6000 feet below where we had trekked a week before.  At times I could catch a glimpse of the ridge above at nearly 17,000 feet where we would put Camp 1.  But for the most part, I was caught in a world right in front of me, a world of slow motion.  A step up.  Five or six long breaths.  A step up.  Five or six long breaths. Another step up.

The sixty pound load bent me forward.  My lungs heaved against the thin air.  It would take me more than an hour to cover the remaining 900 feet.  All that existed was my breathing and the relentless steps.

I found myself, as always, railing against the constraints of altitude.  But altitude doesn’t care. Slowing down isn’t an option. High altitude is the great equalizer:  everyone moves slowly.

And after a time, moving slowly becomes the way one lives. Moment to moment.

Of course, it’s only after being tossed back into the cauldron that I see the contrast. And I wonder whether living at warp speed is the way one should be in the world.

Driving to work, multi-tasking on the BlackBerry, I miss the alpenglow that shines as surely on the ridgecrest of Sweetheart Mountain in Canton, Connecticut as it does on the steep ramparts of Aconcagua. And I miss the swoop of the owl over the fire road in the Nepaug every bit as glorious as the condor above the Vacas Valley.

All we have is here and now; this moment.  And to miss so much of it by moving too fast is a crime.

“How strange it is, our little procession of life!” wrote Stephen Leacock.  “The child says, ‘When I am a big boy.’ But what is that?  The big boy says, When I grow up.’ And then grown up, he says, ‘When I get married.’ But to be married, what is that after all? The thought changes to ‘When I am able to retire.’ And then, when retirement comes, he looks back over the landscape traversed; a cold wind seems to sweep over it; somehow he has missed it all, and it is gone. Life, we learn too late, is in the living, in the tissue of every day and hour.”

“Peace is every step,” writes Thich Nhat Hanh.  “We are very good at preparing to live, but not very good at living.  We know how to sacrifice ten years for a diploma, and we are willing to work very hard to get a job, a car , a house and so on.  But we have difficulty remembering that we are alive in the present moment, the only moment there is to be alive.”

Speed kills.

Slowing down allows us to be  present. It enables us to touch peace.

On the way home from Argentina, I asked Ann what lesson we could bring with us from the mountains.  She answered, “we need to be mas tranquilo.”

It will be a project.

A monk said to Joshu, “I have just entered the monastery.  Please teach me.” “Have you eaten your rice porridge?” asked Joshu.  “Yes, I have,” replied the monk.  “Then you had better wash your bowl,” said Joshu.

Flight Status: Uncertain

The flight has been delayed.  Two hours.  Maybe three.  No one is saying.  A security issue in Toronto, so the rumor goes.

The bags from the  flight with the gear we need are supposed to be on the conveyor belt. They’re not.  They’re somewhere else: another country.

The hotel we planned on is booked.  The busy season, you know.

We have no clue as to how to find another hotel.  The phone doesn’t work.  The server is down. We don’t know the city.  We don’t speak the language.

The airline won’t re-book us on a different flight.  Yes, of course there  are seats available, even though it’s the busy season.  But they’re not the “right class.”  So we can’t get them – at least not at a cost that mere mortals can afford.

The weather sucks.  The wind blows too hard.  The wind blows too long.  We go down instead of up.

The plans change.  They become uncertain.

It all changes.  It’s all uncertain.

How to be ok with that – that is the question.

What a challenge for someone like me.

Here’s the way I think things should go: (i) make the plan; (ii) work the plan; (iii) achieve the goal.

Anything that disrupts this model is, well, disruptive.

I so admire folks who are flexible.  People who can shift gears easily, who go with the flow.

I’m not one of those folks.  When the flow – my flow – gets interrupted, I get frustrated and cantankerous. When the plans get switched up, I come unhinged.

The problem with this, of course, is that inflexible folks (like me) can miss the unexpected opportunities that come with change. New and different flows lead to new and different places. A barrier can become an invitation to a new experience, a closed door an entrance to a new world. If only we allow it, if only we are open to it.

And this requires grace.

According to the dictionary folks, grace is “elegance and dignity in form, movement and expression.”  To be graceful, to be grace-filled, allows one to move easily in the world.  And to be ok with uncertainty.

Grace flows from wisdom.  “Wisdom is not knowing, but being,” says Jack Kornfield.  “The wise heart is not one that understands everything – it is the heart that can tolerate the truth of not knowing,” he says.

Wisdom allows for ambiguity.

Suzuki Roshi once summed up all of Buddhist teaching in three simple words: “Not always so.” Wisdom and grace allow us to let go of our preconceived notions of how things “should” be and permit us to experience the fullness of life as it is, life as it actually unfolds before us.

Although we are supposed to be on a mountain, we stand instead in a city park. At midnight. Long past the hour that should have been bedtime, we watch the Milonga – tango dancers from Mendoza – moving, gliding, spinning across the walkways.  Obstacles for these dancers become opportunities to exhibit style and flourish. The edge of the pavement, the unanticipated intrusion of another dancer, are welcomed only as further chances to demonstrate elegance and grace.

To live with grace.  In the face of obstacles, change, adversity, disruption, ambiguity, uncertainty.

That is the challenge.



You can’t stop the waves.  But you can learn to surf.

– Swami Satchitananda