Today I want to discuss an idea that I came across while reading Paolo Coelho’s “The Pilgrimage.” I am only a few chapters into the book but have already been impressed with the amount of wisdom contained within the pages, as I often am with anything written by Coelho. Our protagonist is ironically enough, a man from Brazil named Paulo (unclear yet whether the author himself is the main character but I am suspecting he may be.) Paulo has travelled to the Iberian peninsula on a quest but it is already clear that one of the central themes of the book will be a reminder to enjoy the journey rather than look forward to the destination. This is what Coelho want’s his readers to take from the book, unless I am wildly misplaced in my ideas.
So often in life we find ourselves in a hurry. We believe that happiness and fulfillment are just a few weeks, months, or years down the line, or that once we do X or have Y, then we can finally start enjoying life. Because of our obsession with future-states, we fail to appreciate the present moment. As a consequence, we are never truly content or happy, and before we know it the best part of our lives has slipped away unnoticed as we find ourselves facing the end. If we wish to truly feel happy, we must remind ourselves that happiness, beauty, joy, love, and kindness are all around us at this very moment. We must not delay our gratification for a future state that may never come to be. The future of course is an abstract concept. We will always be living in the present, and if our eyes are always on where we are going and never where we are, what sort of happiness will we ever find in our existence.
During Paulo’s pilgrimage, our character is taught a concept by his guide. The guide calls this exercise, the speed exercise. The exercise is this: “walk for twenty minutes at half the speed at which you normally walk. Pay attention to the details, people, and surroundings.” The purpose is to get us to slow down, focus on the present, and be grateful for this moment that we have right here right now. Time, says the guide “time isn’t something that always proceeds at the same pace. It is we who determine how quickly time passes.” Why are we constantly pushing the fast forward button on our own lives? This is it, right here right now. This is our life. Tomorrow may never come and the future may not be so much better than the present as we imagine it to be. What is wrong with the present. Everything we want and need to be happy already exists, if we but slow down and take the time to appreciate and enjoy it.
I tried this exercise this morning while walking Floyd. It was lightly raining, wet, and dark, but I wanted to put the idea into practice. So often on my walks, my readings, workouts and more, I find myself looking forward to the end. As if gratification lies at the finish line rather than now, or as if every task I do is an obligation or an obstacle to doing whatever it is that I really want to be doing. This is not a good way to go through life. If you think about the present in such a way that you are always waiting for the future, you will soon find yourself 80 years old, lying in bed preparing to die and wondering where your life went. So, rather than rush around the block as I often do, today I walked twice as slowly and took in the moments. I looked at Floyd, stopping at every yard and every tree for a smell, reveling in the wonder of the smells, as blood hounds are wont to do. I looked at the houses all up and down the street and marveled at how much time and effort must have been spent by so many people to build this neighborhood from what once was merely a forested hill. I looked at the trees and was awestruck by their beauty and size, and wondered how long they must have taken to grow. I imagined the hill of our neighborhood before humans and imagined what it must have been like thousands of years ago. It was a simple enough task but by reminding myself to slow down and enjoy the present, I felt a profound sense of connectedness and contentment. I felt at place in the world and happy in the present. Give this exercise a try and I bet you will feel the same way. Remember to slow down and be happy about where you are, not where you are going.