March 22

Take Your Time: Embrace the Joy of Unhurried Living

Take your time. Embrace uncertainty. Some of the most beautiful chapters in our lives won't have a title until much later. Bob Goff.

The Road Less Traveled – Scott Peck

In The Road Less Traveled, Scott Peck recounts his journey of learning patience and problem-solving. He writes,

"One day, at the end of my 37th year, while taking a spring Sunday walk, I happened upon a neighbor in the process of repairing a lawn mower. After greeting him, I remarked, “Oh boy, I sure admire you. I’ve never been able to fix those kinds of things or do anything like that.” My neighbor, without a moment’s hesitation, shot back, “That’s because you don’t take the time."

The neighbor’s simple advice resonated deeply with Peck. Soon after, he had the chance to test the “take your time” theory when faced with a stuck parking brake.

"At first all I saw was a confusing jumble of wires and tubes and rods, whose meaning I did not know. But gradually, in no hurry, I was able to focus my sight on the brake apparatus and trace its course, and then it became clear to me that there was a little latch preventing the brake from being released. I slowly studied this latch, preventing the brake from being released. It became clear to me that if I were to push it upward with the tip of my finger it would move easily and would release the brake. And so, I did this. One single motion, one ounce of pressure from a fingertip, and the problem was solved. I was a master mechanic!"

Take Your Time

Scott Peck goes on to describe why the lesson he learned then was universal.

Before my mechanical enlightenment, I would have awkwardly stuck my head under the dashboard of my patient's car, immediately yanked at a few wires without having the foggiest idea of what I was doing, and then, when nothing constructive resulted, would have thrown up my hands and proclaimed, “It’s beyond me.” And this is precisely the way that so many of us approach other dilemmas of day-to-day living.

Whether the problem is mechanical, intellectual, or emotional, if we can curb our tendency to rush to fix things and instead take our time, most problems, Peck reckons, are “solvable.”

The biggest obstacle, though, is that it often feels uncomfortable to sit with the uncertainty of an unresolved issue. We tend to poke and prod to feel we’ve done something because doing nothing is harder than it seems.

The trouble with uncertainty

The root of suffering is resisting the certainty that no matter what the circumstances, uncertainty is all we truly have. Pema Chodron, Comfortable with Uncertainty

In a world that constantly demands quick fixes and immediate solutions, embracing uncertainty can seem like rebellion. We're often taught to chase certainty, to seek answers and resolutions at every turn.

When we encounter uncomfortable situations, we assume they demand immediate solutions. So, we are tempted to brute-force our way to solving our problems, often purely by chance rather than through reason and logic. We hurry to find solutions because we want to feel in control of the process.

But uncertainty is all we have, and according to the English poet John Keats, it differentiates the creative masters from the rest of the flock.

Negative Capability

Among John Keats’ many contributions to literary theory, one concept is particularly intriguing: Negative Capability.

Coined by Keats in a letter to his brothers George and Thomas in 1817, Negative Capability refers to the capacity to exist within uncertainties, mysteries, and doubts without resorting to the urge for immediate resolution or conclusive answers. It is the ability to embrace ambiguity and paradox, to hold conflicting truths in tension, and to explore the depths of human experience without the need for certainty or closure.

Keats famously wrote,

When a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason, he possesses Negative Capability. This state of mind allows the artist to immerse themselves fully in the creative process, allowing them to explore the depths of human emotion and experience with depth and nuance.

“Being”. Not “Doing”.

Keats called Negative Capability a state of “being,” not “doing," and used the example of Coleridge and Shakespeare to illustrate his case. The former, he said, was unable to fully embrace uncertainties and mysteries, often seeking rational explanations or factual accuracy. In contrast, Shakespeare had the remarkable ability to transcend reason's limitations and delve into the depths of human experience without the need for conclusive answers or logical explanations.

Negative Capability remains a cornerstone of artistic philosophy, inviting artists and thinkers to embrace uncertainty, mystery, and the ability to dwell comfortably in the unknown.

What is good for art is, by extension, good for life. So, how do we cultivate the capability to “take our time” in the face of ambiguity?

What does it mean to “Take your time”?

The willingness to tolerate discomfort and delay gratification is crucial for effective problem-solving.

Buddhist teachings, for instance, encourage us to embrace the fluidity of life and the ever-changing nature of reality instead of clinging to rigid beliefs or preconceived notions. This doesn't imply resignation or apathy but rather an active engagement with the present moment, however uncomfortable it may be.

In his 2020 essay in the Guardian, Oliver Burkeman refers to the capacity to tolerate minor discomfort as a superpower. He writes:

It’s shocking to realise how readily we set aside even our greatest ambitions in life, merely to avoid easily tolerable levels of unpleasantness. You already know it won’t kill you to endure the mild agitation of getting back to work on an important creative project; initiating a difficult conversation with a colleague; asking someone out; or checking your bank balance – but you can waste years in avoidance nonetheless.

Burkeman's words resonate deeply in a society that often equates discomfort with failure or weakness. We are conditioned to seek comfort at all costs, even if it means sacrificing our long-term goals and aspirations.

In Short

The road less traveled is often paved with uncertainties, challenges, and mysteries waiting to unfold. As we navigate this journey called life, let us heed the wisdom of those who remind us to take our time, embrace uncertainty as a catalyst for growth, and find beauty in the untitled chapters awaiting us. It is in the discomfort of the unknown that we discover our true resilience, creativity, and capacity for profound transformation.

Sticking with uncertainty is how we learn to relax in the midst of chaos, how we learn to be cool when the ground beneath us suddenly disappears. Pema Chodron, Uncomfortable with Uncertainty.



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