Slow Down

We need to slow down.

I did a virtual meditation retreat for most of November and I have continued meditating every day. It’s done wonders for my state of mind – moderated my panic levels down as the pandemic shows how exponential math really works, kept me calm in the ongoing political chaos, kept me from worrying about all the things that freak me out at three in the morning (mostly death and money).

But it’s done something else. I have come to realize that meditation, centering, finding that space of calmness, all those things are about much more than making it possible for an individual to live in this over-complicated world or even attaining enlightenment. Those practices are also about changing our attitudes in dealing with the world.

They remind us to slow down and do things deliberately. Multitasking doesn’t work — virtually no one can do more than one thing at a time well. Rushing from thing to thing without taking breaks in between just makes us all feel harried. We rush around to do things and nothing works.

This may seem counterintuitive when we’re in crisis. We need a fix now for so many things. Certainly those working on vaccines and treatments need to focus on their research, but even they need to take regular breaks. Other research has shown that breaks and sleep make it more possible to make progress. And god knows our health care workers on the front lines need a lot of breaks and rest. Unfortunately, many of them are overworked.

Then there are the people who are working multiple jobs just to make sure they have shelter and food; they may not even be getting health care despite all that work. As more people work from home and keep their children home during the pandemic, some are doing even more than they were doing before. This is not healthy for any of them.

Unions in the U.S. often remind us that they gave us the weekend. In Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, there is a statue that celebrates unions and 8/8/8: 8 hours for work, 8 hours for sleep, 8 hours for ourselves. In Australia, where unions still have power, people can make a decent living working 8 hours a day. I’m sure there are people there who are also being squeezed, but perhaps not as many as in the U.S.

But 8 hours a day working in a job over which you have little control and no ownership interest? It’s better than working 15 hours or more a day, but it’s still not what people really want.

Whatever happened to the idea that, with various kinds of automation – which, news flash, we absolutely have now – people would only need to work about 15 hours per week? It seems, as pointed out by David Graeber (whose work I wrote about here), that such a concept has been blocked by the creation of more and more bullshit jobs. Instead of doing the work that actually produces something, many people now do “work” that sucks out their souls and adds nothing to the world.

Some even get rich doing that – hedge fund managers, for example.

If we abolished all the bullshit jobs, gave everyone enough to provide themselves with the basics, paid serious money for the work we really need to have done, and divided up those jobs so that no one had to work too hard, I wonder what kind of flowering of life we could have.

Don’t say we can’t afford it. Of course we can afford it. Certainly we can afford it in the U.S. and I bet we can afford it worldwide. This is a rich planet and if resources were shared fairly everyone on it could have a decent life without working too hard.

Our economic systems are built on scarcity, but the resources aren’t scarce. Our political and business systems are built on keeping most people in a state of need and uncertainty so that they won’t rock the boat too much. Far too many people just voted to continue that kind of system (and the majority just voted for decency and competence, without the illusion that they would get much more).

We have to work together to make it clear to those in power that we have a lot of power as well. And our goal should be the good life for everyone, at a slow pace, with room to spend most of our time doing the things that matter to us.

Economic change is not exactly what meditation is about, but aiming for decent lives for everyone does not contradict a spiritual practice that points out we’re all connected and that love is key.

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