Et al. presents: On Slowing Down


According to Google Maps, the walk from my apartment to school is exactly five minutes. I love multiples of five, so this is extremely satisfying to me. Despite this, five minutes doesn’t seem short enough. Whenever I make the trip, I settle into a walking pace just above speed walking and just short of a light jog. My mind buzzes with the items inhabiting my to-do list, and every so often impulsive thoughts of aggravation rise to the surface when my pace is interrupted or even when my progress just doesn’t feel swift enough. Just a few days ago, I thought about how nice it would be to just be able to teleport between home and school. Those five minutes felt like a waste, a purgatory, a holding cell where I had nothing to do but anticipate what was next.

After arriving home, I immediately sat down to write this and to tell you to slow down. You’re probably skimming this, so I’m going to repeat that to make sure you catch it: slow down.

My walk home tonight was different than usual. I don’t know why, but I decided to walk – and I mean really walk, not neurotic-hyper-city-walk. I hadn’t gone a block before I was feeling like a complete idiot for ever having let the New York City pace get its grimy claws on me. Rather than staring at my feet or analyzing the trajectory of other pedestrians, I looked up and saw the stunning facades of buildings caught in the glow of street lamps. I saw the changing patterns of light as car headlights illuminated objects by the curb and cast their shadows across my path. I noticed the then-quiet but still very real energy of city residents as they headed home, closed up shop or stood guard. I even stopped once to soak up that enormous red cube sculpture near Zuccotti Park.

The Red Cube at One Liberty Plaza. Photo by: Ben Gotchel

This experience affected my emotions dramatically. The tight grip of anxiety had lifted in an environment where I most often dealt with it. My thoughts drifted – what an amazing feeling, for thoughts to drift as though down a lazy river! – rather than being fixed doggedly on the tasks that lay at the other end of the blocks ahead. The sharp blows of concrete against my feet felt softer. In fact, the whole city seemed softer.

The truth of the matter is, whether my walk to and from school is five minutes, three minutes or ten minutes, it’s not going to make or break anything. I should not reduce my day to a collection of trifling efficiencies. I can optimize my life while still savoring its beauties and pleasures.

As you probably know by now, I like planning my life. I’m a list-maker. I’m an order-seeker. I think in right angles. With every passing day I become more and more aware of the potential pitfalls of that mindset. If I cannot temper my lust for efficiency with an appreciation for what I cannot or should not control – if I cannot slow down once in a while and soak in life – I am nothing but a dry sponge; a miser of time and experience; a robot with nothing inside but flashing lights and meshing gears.

So I’ll say it again, and I truly hope you give it more thought and a chance, in the name of all that is good and beautiful and worthwhile in this world: slow down.

I'd love to hear from y'all about this. Here's a question to get started: How do you find peace or relaxation in New York City?

- benjamin.