Monday, November 10, 2008

Thoughts on Slowing Down, While Traveling at Highway Speed

Out here, we measure distance between places in terms of time--as in, "It is six hours to Dallas," or, "It's ten hours to Houston." I am told, by people who come from geographies less wide-open, that this is not how the rest of the world does it, preferring instead to refer to kilometers or miles when discussing matters of distance.

But there is an old saying about traveling the Great State: "The sun is riz, the sun is set, and here we is, in Texas yet." And at the end of a long, exhausting trip to Fort Worth on business, when I set out for home, it was indeed the time it would take me to cross half the state that I felt most keenly. You know how it is--when you are done with your trip and ready to get back to the homestead, time seems to expand into forever. It slows to an agonizing crawl.

But I like driving in the west. When the horizon stretches out wide in front of you, your thoughts just naturally seem to get wider, too. And so when I finally broke free of the confines of the DFW freeway system and hit I-20, heading west, well my heart opened right up just like those big, grassy plains before me. And so instead of feeling impatient and in a hurry, I relaxed and spent my time thinking about those plains, and just how much I love them. It turned a chore into a very pleasant afternoon. And paradoxically, instead of time crawling, it felt like it proceeded at a pace that was just right.

While on the road, I also thought a lot about the effect that slowing things down can have on our lives. Lately, when I've been feeling stressed and in a hurry, I've been trying to consciously soften the pace of my thoughts and actions, and in the same way that my drive home became a pleasant diversion instead of an onerous chore, slowing down helps me to enjoy the journey. And, also paradoxically, I seem to complete the task much more efficiently and quickly when I don't try to hurry it.

Sadly, I don't have a picture of my windshield view to share, so I offer this one I took at the Fort Worth Botanic Gardens. With that good central Texas sandstone facing the arches of the pergola in the foreground, that rustic structure in the background, and the big chunk of sky beyond--well, it just looks quintessentially western to me, even without a grassy plain in sight.


  1. Is it possible to live in Texas or S. CA and hate driving? I have gotten so averse to spending time behind the wheel, especially long stretches of it, but your zen acceptance seems the right way to go. Have you read Thich Nhat Hanh's essays on mindfulness? Either way, you seem to have put this concept into practice on your drive! Hard to do sometimes but seems like such a great idea.

  2. Hi Karen--

    Yes, I am a big fan of Thich Nhat Hanh--mindfulness is a wonderful way to squeeze richness out of the ordinary.

    While drivng, I also listened to some dharma talks by Tara Brach. In one of them, she talked about "not minding," which is not anti-mindfulness, but just accepting whatever was put before us, instead of fighting it. That really resonated with me.

  3. Great advice, Susan. I like the idea of softening my thoughts and actions. Also, your words about the openness of the prairies opening your mind. Lovely stuff.~~Dee

  4. Thanks, Dee! I've been reading the post on your blog about bulbmania--it tickled me.

  5. Just twittered about this post at @CLifeMag. ;-)

    I loved it!

  6. I didn't know my dharma was talking to me. Now I know what to call it. I stay in the eternal state of dharma and voice it too.

    I do know what you mean about driving by the hour to your destination. We've lived N,S,E, and W--and home is best;). When we lived up the Northeast-=you could drive several states in a day. It was not so in those Midwestern states.

    Salina, Kansas always had a tornado. We entered Montana where Custer was buried again at the Little Big Horn. He's also buried at West Point, NY.( That would make a good post for my blog!) Montana is a rugged state. You drive on plateaus and valleys several miles wide until you hit the Rockies or Tetons.

    I wouldn't take back one minute of that whole experience. You are so correct---driving out in the open like that get's the cobwebs out of the brain.

  7. I love to drive too, Susan, and you're right about how we Texans measure distance in hours. I enjoyed your description of slowing down the hamster wheel in the brain to really see the scenery and enjoy it. By the way, what part of Texas are you located in? I can't find it on your homepage.

  8. Hi Pam--I'm up here in Lubbock, smack in the middle of the llano. :-)


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