The Magic of Slowing Down

June 7, 2017

I’m sitting in the Amtrak lobby of Union Station in Los Angeles, about to board a 12-hour train to Oakland, California. There’s a man playing Billy Joel songs on the piano across the room, and I happily remove my headphones to enjoy his contribution.

As I look to my left I see a young couple using each other as pillows — their bodies sprawled across each other like the unfortunate ending to a frat party. I log on to Facebook and see a message from my friend Billie, who came to a workshop on authentic connection that I hosted last night. She says that she sees a freedom and lightness about me these days, and it inspires her to have more of that in her own life. I feel her appreciation as a wave rolling through my body.

Just as I wrote that last line, a group of people gathered around the man on the piano. They all sang the last chorus of “Leaving on a Jet Plane” and my eyes welled up a bit — people spontaneously singing gets me every time. It was one of those simple moments of humanity and I’m glad I payed enough attention to notice it.

As I think about my train ride coming up, I can feel how excited I am about this opportunity to relax and do whatever I want for the next twelve hours. Most of the time — I wish train rides would never stop.

The man on the piano is now playing and singing “The Boxer” by Simon & Garfunkel and I’m wanting to incorporate the meaning of that song into this article in some significant way — but I’m going to let that go. Sometimes the search for meaning can be exhausting. I choose instead to just listen and enjoy the music.

I’m reminded of something Paula said three years ago when we happened to be in Nepal during a major earthquake where nearly 9,000 people lost their lives. We were making a video about IntimacyFest and she said — when we are truly in the presence of death and mortality we don’t make bucket lists, we don’t try to “live life to the fullest” we just slow down and take life one bite at a time. The little things become the big things.

The man on the piano just began playing “Let It Be” and although I had the impulse to get up and sing the words, I paused. Even now, as I’m relaxing into the beauty of being here, I have the habit of trying to squeeze even more out of this already rich moment. I decide to let that go.

Did you know Amtrak as a company loses money each year and needs to be subsidized by the government? I’d like to become an independent marketing consultant for Amtrak to help people see the pleasure of traveling by train.

I like that Amtrak has chosen an art deco design for their stations, it makes me feel like I’m in the Great Gatsby and that travel by train is a special opportunity that I’m privileged to take part in. I imagine that at some point in history, trains were a fast way to travel. San Diego to San Francisco in only fifteen hours, holy smokes!

It’s now 9:57am and my train leaves at 10:10 so I’m about to get up and walk to track 10. The name of my train is the Coast Starlight, and it covers the entire Pacific coast. In July, I’ll be taking it to Seattle and riding my bicycle back home to San Diego — sometimes even trains are relatively fast paced in the world of travel.

The man on the piano just finished, and as he walked by I got a chance to say thank you, as did many of the other passengers waiting in the lobby.

Maybe in the not-so-distant future, after 1-hour delivery from Amazon has become normal, after the ability to effortlessly stream any piece of media from the palm of our hand anywhere in the world is commonplace, and after technology has artificially met all our human needs, we will all come back full circle to the simple, organic joys of being human.

It’s a lot like the trends we’re now seeing with food. We’ve engineered food to the point where any “new” developments are simply just returning us to how things used to be. Farm to table, made from scratch these are luxuries in a world that incentivizes mass production.

Soon enough, our bellies will be full of distraction, there will truly be an app for everything, and we will figure out that optimizing life for achievement and optimizing life for happiness were never the same thing.

Or maybe we won’t.

Slowing down in a fast paced world isn’t a new idea. Fasting and abstaining from the hustle of every day life has been a tenant of every major religion since the dawn of civilization and it continues to feel like a novel idea, whatever trend we label it.

Sometimes I wonder what’s more bizarre — the fact that we fill our lives with crap we don’t need or the fact that we celebrate humans who live simply. I imagine what civilizations from thousands of years ago would have thought about minimalism, “organic” food, or the tiny house movement. And yet, it is significant, in the same way that a world leader who can also be humble is an accomplishment in itself.

And so — the Coast Starlight rolls on through the valleys of Northern California as I search for a conclusion to this article. The conductor just came over the intercom to announce that the train will be delayed due to track maintenance, and funny enough there were no groans, no sighs, and no complaints. I’m comforted by the fact that in a world of rushing from place to place there are at least a train car full of people who aren’t in a rush. It seems as though the newer the technology, the less patience we have.

And of course — just as I wrote that last paragraph — the conductor walked through the car to announce that there will be another delay, and people started to complain.

Is there anything we can do to help?
That’s a really long delay…
Isn’t that a big deal — a train stopped on the tracks for an hour?
Do we get free snacks?

I laughed, because I had literally written about how gracefully they accepted the news just before the chorus of disgruntled passengers chimed in. I turned my head and spoke up — it’s alright everyone, check out this beautiful view!

No one was impressed.

I laughed, as I turned back toward my laptop — grateful I finally found a fitting way to conclude my essay.

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