Thursday, June 9, 2011

An Unhurried Life

I came to the World Domination Summit wanting to learn more about traveling. I knew I wanted to see the world, and for the first time actually believed I could. I grew up thinking it would never be possible for me to wander because money was tight growing up, and I’ve always had my sights simply set on getting into a good college so I could land a good job.

I went to a good college. I have that good job. Now I realize I owe more to myself.

The trouble I had with the idea of traveling was that I wouldn’t know what to do with myself once I landed somewhere on the other side of the world.

I move quickly. I tend to find the fastest route and hurry along, focusing on the task of getting to wherever it is I need to be. I’m one of those people who gets really, really frustrated when caught behind a pack of slow walkers.

So would my travels just be a blur of landmarks and food carts between destinations? What’s the point of that?

On Sunday morning, I awoke in my hotel room with a massive slight hangover. My new group of WDS friends had a fabulous, rowdy, laughter-filled Saturday night out on the town, and it had been a very long time since I’d had one of those.

Despite the fact that I had to be at the Portland Art Museum at 9:00 for the first talk of the day, I moved slowly, ordering room service and otherwise dilly-dallying around.

What’s unusual about this for me is that I acknowledged that I had somewhere to be, yet I didn’t feel anxious about getting there. I wasn’t rushed. I decided that I would get there when I got there, and that would be it.

There was such a stillness in the streets of Portland that morning. I set out on my several-block walk to the museum and for the first few minutes saw… nobody. It was just me, the quiet brick sidewalks and the morning sunlight filtering gently through tree-lined streets.

It was stunningly peaceful and beautiful. I took my time, enjoying the atmosphere and stopping to take pictures of whatever I felt like. Once I took a few shots of some metal barricades left over from the previous night’s parade, then continued walking. I realized about five steps away that I’d like to go back and try shooting a different angle. I would usually keep walking, but this morning, I turned back.

I had time.

I was utterly happy on this walk. Sure, I’d had a great time meeting new friends and enjoying delicious food the whole weekend, but this was something different. This was me really being alone with myself for the first time in a very, very long time. This was me feeling like I was exactly where I was supposed to be, doing exactly what I was supposed to be doing.

I realized that this was what I wanted for myself: An unhurried life. A life in which I could go at my own pace and give myself permission to take time for small pleasures. A life in which I wasn’t anxious about always moving from place to place, but rather was content with this place – wherever that may be at any moment.

My job dictates deadlines as often as every 15 minutes. My beloved running hobby drives me to push for ever-faster times, ever more satisfying PRs. My most cringe-worthy attitude flaw, I think, is my impatience, both with myself and with other people. I’m always, always, always rushing. No wonder I had a panic attack in April that left me flattened for two days.

When I reached the museum, I was so overwhelmed with the idea of living a joyful, unhurried life that I couldn’t go in. I ended up being just a few minutes late, and I wouldn’t have missed much of the first presentation, but I realized that nothing that was said in that museum could have possibly meant more to me at that moment than just sitting quietly by myself in the small park across the street.

I spent about 20 minutes in that park, alternately shooting photos and dabbing at tears – the good kind. I spent at least 5 minutes taking photos of a single tree, following an ant with my zoom lens.

A man not affiliated with the conference approached me and said, in a friendly, curious way, “What is so interesting about that tree?”

Nothing or everything, depending on how hard you’re looking. I had just opened my eyes.

When I finally entered the museum, I sat on the floor in the back of the full room. Somehow I ended up saying hi to the man sitting next to me, and I talked with him through the entire Mondo Beyondo presentation about what I’d just experienced.

That man, as it happens, was Leo Babauta. Although I was a complete stranger to him, he hugged me at least three times as I told my story.

Photo by Armosa Studios
Chatting with Leo Babauta about such a life revelation is like being able to discuss cookie-decorating ideas with Martha Stewart. Talk about feeling like you’re exactly where you’re supposed to be, doing exactly what you’re supposed to be doing.

I wrote "unhurried" on my wrist as part of a conference exercise, and the word remained with me Sunday and Monday. (Leo was my partner in this exercise, and he wrote Joyfear on his arm.)

The emotional intensity of the conference magnified this experience for me, and I saw it as a critical shift in my attitude.

Sunday night at the WDS afterparty, hundreds of "thirsty" partygoers far exceeded the capacity of the small bar and single bartender, yet I didn't mind one bit waiting in the 20-minute line. Instead of becoming impatient and fiddling with my phone, I spent the time getting to know two new people I would have otherwise never met that weekend. We shared our favorite moments of the conference, as well as our goals for the next few years.

In a short period of idleness during which I would normally have shut down, I was able to connect on a deep level with two perfect strangers. What have I been missing all this time due to my impatience and hurriedness?

When I returned to Seattle, exhausted and happy, I had to catch a bus from downtown to head home. I checked my favorite app to see when the next bus would come, and actually smiled when I saw that it was 15 minutes away. Normally any wait longer than 10 minutes frustrates me, but I was grateful for this opportunity to sit, think and soak in my city.

Jonathan Fields spoke about reframing your situation and how it can make all the difference in your attitude. After my experience in Portland, I realized just how important it is to consider inconveniences as opportunities, and to use them to my advantage instead of letting them slowly chip away at my vitality.

Thank you, Portland, and everyone I met at WDS, for helping me realize that what I want is an unhurried life.

I can think of nothing I'd like to do more than to wander through the streets of new cities, sampling food, saying hi to strangers and taking photos of whatever I feel like along the way.

And maybe find a bench, like this one, to soak everything in and reflect on where it all started.


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  1. Wow, fantastic post Devon - seriously! Love it. So happy to have met you on Sunday night / Monday morning too! WDS was just so amazingly awesome I still start buzzing every time I think about...

    Oh, and yep - Leo is simply an incredible human being.

  2. Such a beautiful story! Thanks for sharing this, Devon :)

  3. Excellent post Devon! Thank you for sharing. Just ran across your blog and am anxious to read more!

  4. Wow! I've been on the road the past 10+ months, and 4 of those since quitting my day job. It's been remarkable finding that "unhurried life" moment, especially since I never thought of it that way! Great post!

  5. Sweet read, Devon. Glad you slowed down. We miss so much goodness otherwise.

  6. My favorite WDS inspired post yet. . . Thanks for sharing.

  7. Really enjoyed this post, Devon.

    I've shared a link to it on my blog.



  8. Fantastic post! Very inspiring. Have you read Travels with Charley by Steinbeck? One thing that really struck me was when he spoke about driving as slowly as he could so he could see everything along the way. If you go too fast, everything's a blur and you won't know what you're missing.

    Karen x

  9. Thank you for another reminder that life is for being alive. I really enjoyed reading this.


  10. Devon, I love this post! Thank you for sharing your journey at WDS. I can relate to the feeling of rushing through one's life...and longing for this: "A life in which I could go at my own pace and give myself permission to take time for small pleasures. A life in which I wasn’t anxious about always moving from place to place, but rather was content with this place – wherever that may be at any moment." Gorgeous!

  11. Just found your blog, what an inspiring post! Truly a great reminder of a different way to live. And I LOVE that you had that revelation and just happened to sit down next to Leo! What an awesome synchronicity.

  12. I loved most that I was compared to Martha Stewart.

    Excellent post, Devon, and it was an honor to be there when you were still fresh from your revelation. It was one of the best, most moving moments for me in an amazing conference.

  13. Excellent post! Genuine, and truly inspiring. Absolutely a joy to read.

    I think I may just get up from this coffee shop couch and walk around the city streets for an hour or so :)

  14. This piece really touched me Devon. I talked to you shortly after all this and I could see the peace you had with yourself in that moment.

    Our country, our jobs, and our lives are so busy. They are filled with to do lists and limitless things to do and accomplish. Type A people like you and me put this unnecessary pressure on ourselves to do too much.

    We all need to simplify and un-hurry our lives.

  15. Thanks for sharing your story, Devon! Beautifully written. I love, love, love your photography - very peaceful and unhurried images! I wish I had met you at the conference - I can relate to your story on so many levels. Thanks for reminding me to slow down and mindfully take in every moment.
    All the best and a virtual hug from LA!

  16. Is it totally shallow to read this lovely and insightful post, and then ask you about your shoes? The black ballet flat looking ones?

    In addition to the shoes, I enjoyed reading this post and am subscribing to your blog too, and thank you for sharing this experience.

  17. Really enjoyed this post. I also want an unhurried life. I'm on a yearlong travel sabbatical in Latin America. There have been times when I had it right, but it is a constant struggle to remember to slow down and just be where I am in any given moment.

  18. Living unhurried is such an alien concept. My friends sometimes can not grasp why I want to walk somewhere (2 to 3 miles) when I can bike, read a book when I can go to a bar etc.

    Cool blog. Welcome to cycling. I ride bikes too but our styles are completely different.

  19. This post actually made me tear up because I feel as though I just had this moment on Friday. You put into words so beautifully how I felt!

    Thanks for the great post (even though I'm coming to it much, much later).


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