To Slow Down

A city is supposed to be fast, and its time is always speeding. But the whole Metro Manila learns the opposite – it slows down. Its road traffic trickles like an aged tar. Its patience, in the words of a friend, is a shorter fuse, ready to spark and explode.

EDSA is a long, irritating procession of taillights glowing sore red where drivers breathing out curses in every pressing of the brake. I often call it the nation’s longest and largest parking lot. An almost similar situation also happens in most major city roads and streets. Today, our government has been expanding our roads and building new ones that stitch the skyline. A clogged artery suffering aneurysm, and has undergone several bypass surgeries to revive an otherwise dying circulation.

I never mean to be critical against it, and to whomever there is to blame. I am trying to observe.

I live outside the city, but this traffic occasionally affects me. Spending 3 to 4 hours bus ride from north to south end of the Metro is a terrible waste of time. Sitting as a passenger – helpless, with no choice but to wait – is a new virtue to exercise. In this very long wait, a passenger seat can either turn into a chitchat lounge (if you have a companion) or a sleeping couch (if you are alone). For a few, it can be a reading spot or a meditation cushion.

This crisis in our transportation is a collective making. We must hold responsibility in many levels of our awareness. Fixing this massive traffic problem may seem to be beyond our control. But in those moments we helplessly wait and waste, we have a practical lesson of equanimity.

Yes, it has always been the journey, however slow, and not the destination.

I do not mean that we have a stronger excuse for being late. Or neglect our social actions to address this problem. What I mean is at least to find ourselves in the moment and breathe awareness into it.

As the traffic slows down, our hearts beat fast in frustration. Our bodies either slack or grow more tense. Our minds race in an endless speeding of worrisome thoughts.

To be too fast and forget to slow down is to forget to witness life and its beauty in the slowness.

No spiritual teacher or sacred scriptures can teach us the way this world’s worst vehicular traffic does. Yet it smacks our faces an unpleasant teaching of our helplessness in what city and society we have become.

For people who have been living in the fast lane, this is a nightmare of time. How such slowing down displaces them from the precise rules of the clock, and finding themselves lost in the realm of the timeless.

The power of now, says Eckhart Tolle.

This power rests in the very call of slowing ourselves. We begin by asking why we are always in a rush. Worse, why we are rushing together towards the end of time’s illusory funnel.

One night a week ago, before I hang my clothes after laundry, I almost stepped on a snail. I stopped and watch it for perhaps 15 minutes. I looked at every movement of its sluggish flesh, every stretch of its long eyes. It stopped for a while, surveying the grass blades before it. A slow creature that still slows down and pauses. It relishes its own time – a time that remains elusive to us, until we “take time” to slow down and stop.

To be fast is not wrong. We need that so we can work together, effectively and efficiently. But to be too fast and forget to slow down is to forget to witness life and its beauty in the slowness, the only speed by which every natural thing transforms in its own time. Look at the snail. And look at the butterfly in its metamorphosis. Look at the blooming of the flowers. To favor too much and be hypnotized by the hyperspeed of the world is to spin ourselves into an incurable vertigo that forces us to scatter our attention away from the most important essences in the very core of being alive.

This everyday suffering on our urban roads pins us down to our seats. The seeming torture is a training of determination, poking our fast lives to halt the speed and begin to contemplate. Are our lives too fast? Are we missing life in this harrowing speed?

It is time to slow down. We must begin to catch our breath. We must stand still. We must open our eyes.

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