Slow down by half, and half again…Enjoy it twice as much.
Slow down by half, and half again…Enjoy it twice as much.
I walk Mario the Labradoodle along my favorite path underneath sun streaming through an evergreen canopy…it is glorious. The ground in front of me begins a gentle slope upward – so gentle that you probably wouldn’t notice it. To me, though, it is akin to a steep slope at a high altitude, and I know that if I want to avoid shortness of breath or oxygen deprivation, I must slow down my pace by half…and then by half again, and crank up the O2.
At first, and sometimes still, I get frustrated and exasperated by this betrayal of my body. Sometimes I want to just give up…sometimes I become so impatient….I find I miss the life I used to lead that involved HURRYING to get somewhere or RUSHING to get something done. Hurrying can feel exhilarating and fun.
These days, I say a mantra to myself as we begin our trek up the gradual incline, and it is this: “Slow it down by half, and half again…Enjoy it twice as much…”
More and more often, this helps me shift into acceptance of my physical reality and its limitations. I realize that this is how it is, and that moving really slowly is what I must do to get enough oxygen from my tanks into my bloodstream. I begin to slow down. With that acceptance comes a letting go, and a relaxing…and moments later, a mini-exhale and an opening of awareness. Then, “presence” happens.
In the best moments at my new very slow pace, I begin to notice the wondrous subtleties of what is around me…the soft movement of the air…the shimmering light through the trees and how it illuminates all that it touches…the creaks and groans made far above by swaying branches and trunks…the ALIVENESS that surrounds me in all directions. I sometimes pop into a sense that I AM the trees and the light and the breeze and the ground where time stands still. The hair on my arms stands up and I imagine I feel the vibration of the earth in my belly. In these moments I feel more present and alive than I have ever known, and it fills me with intense gratitude. By moving very slowly, a whole world opens itself to me that I may well have missed before.
Top photos by Art Shirk
There is another phenomenon that awakens in me at my newfound low velocity…it is the profound impact of simple kindness.
I started thinking about kindness and what it means to be kind a few months ago. This came about because of how deeply grateful I noticed I felt in moments whenever someone took a moment to extend kindness my way. I have led an outrageously privileged life, and never before now have I known what it means to suffer. Over the past few years with Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis (IPF) I have begun to experience a degree of suffering, and at times in the midst of that suffering, have been met with a simple gesture of kindness that has just rocked my world; from people I love the most, and from strangers I have never met…from big kindnesses, to the simplicity of a smile or a kind word.
I have learned that in the midst of suffering, a small dose of kindness can radically shift someone’s (or my own) experience…. and perhaps through that, transform the world.
photo by Gordon Webb
And so, when I “Slow it down by half and half again… Enjoy it twice as much,” what occupies my awareness are the PEOPLE that I pass by…sitting on a bench or walking along. I see them in the way that we do when we pause and really intentionally look to take in and feel deeply what it is that we are encountering. And, what I know, and also notice, is that so many people carry heavy burdens on their shoulders every day of the week. In my status quo of moving along at my normal pace, or hurrying faster, I fail to even see them.
My intent these days is to really notice, notice even more, and then act…often with just a smile and a “hello,” and sometimes with a few words of acknowledgement or encouragement. Sometimes I can see and feel that there is an impact…and often I am often uncertain if my gesture has made any sort of difference.
But either way, I know that my own heart is immediately filled with love and unbounded gratefulness. As I contemplate the ending of my life, I know that I aspire to be a conscious, kind, and compassionate person. I am painfully aware of the moments when my ego or victimhood puffs itself up and I react in ugly ways. And so, I begin again — today is always a new day, ripe for being awake, being present, and being kind.
NOTE: Rest In Peace, beloved friend Art Shirk, 1/10/16. From the Boston Globe obituary: “In lieu of flowers, Art wants each person to do something you have been afraid of, without worrying about success or failure.” Art – may your life, lived so fully with love and great gifts and grace, continue to be a source of inspiration to many. You will always be an inspiration to us. The Gratefulness Team.
Art Shirk lived in Malden and Rockport, MA with his husband John and best friend Mario the Labradoodle. His favorite activities were walking in the woods and playing frisbee with Mario. Art eased into retirement from his work developing effective leaders and conscious human beings throughout the United States, Europe, and Colombia, South America. In 2014, Art was diagnosed with Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis (IPF), a progressive and terminal lung disease. While navigating the hard parts of IPF, Art and John were engaged and focused on the many questions about living and loving fully that the harsh reality of the disease sparks.
We invite you to share a story about yourself or another person, reflecting on the question: “How has gratefulness shifted a moment, an experience, or a lifetime?”
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My husband had the same disease, I’m grateful for the 58 years I had with him, his smile, his stories, his laughter, the love for nature and the great dancer he was and love of music, the love for his children and pride in his home. he also slowed down and enjoyed life. i miss him terribly every day but I am very grateful we met 60 years ago and had our life together for 58 years. I wish you many days and years ahead to enjoy your life. ~Sarita
I’ve just arrived in Oslo for a CTI balance lead. This is where my forl journey began and I remember it vividly, I was being jltd by Milne…of course I remember it!
And now here I am to JLT someone else – full circle – who knew?
Thank you for your moving story of what it’s like to be you as you negotiate your way through life with new challenges – the reason I felt moved to write was because I get such a strong feeling that I am you… maybe not today, but some day. The beauty you experience in the glory of being alive is so tangible and I really want to thank you for pointing us to this reality. Life is totally amazing. May you continue to breathe it all in as long as you have breath in your body. And Mario knows. Sending you love and light from the land of the northern lights.
Dear Tony…. you rock! Thanks so much for your very wise words. Art
Your words are so sweet and deep! I could hear the voice of your heart; a grateful heart. With lovely words you showed how to see and to feel the beauty around you. The life is now, right now when we are being awake and being present. You are an amazing person. My best wishes for you, with fraternal love.
Thank you so much for your beautiful words!
Your story is a moving testament to me about how I can learn to do more to slow down and appreciate what is, even if I am not faced with a life-threatening illness…..perhaps ESPECIALLY BECAUSE I am not faced with a life-threatening illness. The jewel-like preciousness of sharing a moment with another, of appreciating the smells, sights, and sounds all around when I just allow myself to slow down…..these are gifts that you have given to me on this day. As I walk home (push my little scooter, actually) on this crisp fall day, I will “slow it down by half and half again…..(and) Enjoy it twice as much.”
With a grateful breath of appreciation for who you are in this world.
ahh…. sam…. thank you. I feel so grateful and honored for the relationship have and have had…
Thank you. I am not gifted with words but I simply had to try to express to you how deeply you touched my heart. I appreciate your sharing the tremendous gift of insight and wisdom you have been given, along with your struggles and ugly moments. I am comforted in my pain and joyful in the encouragement you inspired in me. Yes, think of the detail and variety of each creation. The complexity of it all somehow causes us to draw peace and the vibration and echo and whispering of the Creator is there if we could only slow down and listen.
I am so blessed by your sharing of yourself.
I pray blessing, healing, peace and joy to you and your two best friends!
Thank you so much for your wonderful words…. makes my day.
This is such a beautiful testimony to all who are facing how to live with something new that has changed their life physically. I really appreciated you sharing your story. It’s so inspirational and really came at the right time for me. I will try to always remember your story and the mantra you say to yourself, because I feel it will be a great comfort. I feel you have blessed many people by sharing your story. I am really happy you have Mario in your life to be with you on your walks, and your family. Did you know that trees give off certain chemicals that fight disease, and boost our health? I think it’s wonderful you spend time amongst the trees. I thank you for bravely sharing. Many thanks and best wishes to you.
Thank you Lisa….. I love your comment about the trees!
Your post is a teaching for me. I will try to repeat your mantra when I will be in pain, and maybe it will be better If I will hold it also when I am well.
You live in your illness Without complaining, giving kindness to other people, you are so brave!
Thank you so much Anna for your words.
Thank you for sharing your words and your wonderful self with the world. You are an inspiration 🙂
Thank you so much, Nancy.
I love you, Art. Thank you so much for your wisdom, your insight, your humor, and your words.
thank you….. I love you back!
Art, I just saw your posting from a friend on Facebook and your words touched me deeply. Thank you for opening up about the beautiful insights you’re experiencing. We all would benefit immensely from slowing down and expressing kindness. I was reflecting yesterday how such a simple act like letting another vehicle go ahead of you when traffic is busy can put a smile on someone’s face. And it feels so good to choose kindness in those moments. I wish you peace on your journey. Thank you again.
Thank you so much for you words! You remind me that driving is a really good place to practice!
Art – Thank you. I read your words quickly because I’m always in a hurry and have a tendency to scan. They slowed me down because then I made another cup of tea and read them slowly and even looked at the pictures. Then I spent a minute or two on a website about an autoimmune disease that I’ve tried for years to ignore. I’m 75 years old and the sole caregiver for disabled husband and son and the progression of my disease is making it impossible to ignore the breathing part of it. I’ll probably come back and read your thoughts again some morning because for no reason that I can explain, I feel calmer reading them – probably your connection to nature and description of your response to slowing all the way down to feeling “the vibration of the earth.”. I glad you have Mario (and husband John) – I couldn’t live without a dog in the house (and in my bed). I wish you a spontaneous recovery – it happens and the doctors just shrug. (The Brain’s Way of Healing by Norman Doidge and Spontaneous Recovery by Andrew Weil) I comfort myself with such thoughts. I don’t care if it’s delusional – that would be like caring if the placebo pill wasn’t really the reason one’s pain is gone. I wish you well. Thank you for taking the time and trouble to write “Slowing Down…Appreciating More.” I’ve never responded to anyone’s writing and had to sign up to do so. And now I’m going to see if I can clean the house slower and enjoy it more. Thank you. Cheers, Ella
Thank you Ella — your words really mean so much to me — I wish you the very best.
Ella, I just read your reply and I wanted to pass along a blog that my mom has created. She has suffered from autoimmune issues for almost 50 years. A couple of years ago she found out about the auto-immune protocol diet and while it hasn’t resolved everything 100%, from following it faithfully, she no longer has searing burning pain throughout her body. She started her blog to help others with changing their eating habits by creating recipes that actually taste good. I only mention it in case you haven’t heard about the auto-immune protocol, it could really help. Her blog is foodtohealourselves.com. I hope you can find some relief for your symptoms. Take care, Jamie
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