Lojong Practice Journal: Don’t try to be the fastest
The 59 slogans through a social justice lens
In a practice context, “Don’t try to be the fastest” is telling us not to turn our practice into a competition. Enlightenment is not the end of a finish line, but a process of coming back to the present moment and cultivating wisdom. But there is a significant difference between theoretically understanding what this slogan is pointing at, and connecting with it in our day-to-day lives.
‘Don’t try to be the fastest’ is an interesting slogan to contemplate in our modern, hyper-connected, late-stage-Capitalist world, where speed (or efficiency) is considered a great virtue. What does it mean to not race to a finish line when we are up against deadlines at work and we have bills to pay?
I got the flu this year — chest and head congestion, all over body aches, extreme fatigue, loss of appetite, a bit of nausea now and again, splitting headaches and a mild fever for days. From the day it started I struggled with guilt. I was too sick to move — coughing, sneezing, eyes streaming — and I felt bad about it. Not bad because I was sick, but bad because I could not help around the house or contribute in any way. My body told me to sleep, to rest and give myself time to recover, but the messages of Capitalism insisted I was being ‘unproductive’ and that this was a problem.
My immune system is hardy. When something is ‘going around’, I am unlikely to get it, and if I do, it will run its course in three days. As this illness stretched on from three day to five, five to eight, I only felt moderately better with each passing day (Say, I started at 20% health and by day eight I was at about 40%). I was concerned, but the Internet and a doctor confirmed: the flu typically lasts for ten to fourteen days. On day fifteen, I mostly felt like my usual self. A little weak, perhaps, but my appetite was back, the congestion had cleared up, and I was no longer too fatigued to function.
I realised that perhaps my memory of being ill for three days maximum in the past was not accurate. What I was ‘remembering’ was my habitual pattern of going back to work after only three days, no matter how well I was. Living under Capitalism means taking the time we need to recover from an illness is rarely an option. I certainly didn’t see it as one when I was younger, particularly when I still believed that working hard would lead to financial stability.
As I write this, we are collectively feeling the impact of one severe illness. It would already be hard enough if we were just dealing with something incredibly contagious that doesn’t have a vaccine. But we are also dealing with the knock-on effects of gutted funding in medical care and treatment, in education, and in social services. Whatever was “normal” pre-Covid isn’t good for any of us.
I don’t think it’s accurate to say we’re in the same boat. It’s more like we are all on the same intensely choppy waters facing unpredictable weather, but some people are in yachts, some in little boats, and others are only wearing a life vest. And some folks in life vests are holding onto people without them, doing their best to keep the people they care for afloat. No one is enjoying this time, but our discomfort, dis-ease and outright fear depend a lot on where we sit according to race, ability, class, age, gender and so on.
We want to be well if we are sick. We want to be with the people we love if we are grieving. We want to have the financial security of a job if we are unemployed. We want to celebrate births and birthdays, weddings and anniversaries, in community with the people who matter most to us. We are frustrated. We are restless.
Whether it’s out of desperation or boredom, we are all feeling impatience right now. The impulse can be to rush out as soon as we see a curve flattening or someone we view as an authority tells us it’s okay. We want to rush as quickly as we can to make up for lost opportunities, lost wages, lost holidays, lost celebrations. We want to rush into what we think of as ‘normal’ because normal equates to ‘familiar’ and familiar feels safe.
When we try to be the fastest, it’s worth asking what we are running from as much as considering where we are running to. Uncertainty does not feel good and most of us have not been trained to sit with it. We want definitive answers. We want the comfort of familiar patterns and reliable narratives that confirm and soothe us. We want what was before because before we felt better.
But did we really?
To not be the fastest is to take time to pause — to sit and contemplate. Check-in with your body. Check-in with the collective social body. Was it comfort before, or was it ignorance?
Wisdom is not found in going back to some nostalgic time, a false memory of when we thought things were easier because we didn’t know better. Wisdom is in the space that is always available to us, when we pause and take the time to sit with fear, with anxiety, with rage. We cannot be present when we are always trying to get somewhere. When we can’t be present we cannot see what will serve. When we cannot see what will serve, we risk blindly perpetuating patterns of harm.
To not be the fastest in our modern context is to do the work of unlearning Capitalism. Not being the fastest is taking the time our body needs to heal. Not being the fastest is doing what we can to support others in taking the time their bodies need to heal. Not being the fastest is refraining from letting the system treat any human being like an expendable resource.
This does not mean we don’t act. It means when we do act, we do so with consideration and forethought. Informed actions are skillful actions, centred in compassion, in love, and in our capacity to be better people, individually and collectively.
This blog was originally published on Medium.
This is part of a series of posts I am doing to support my practice.
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