Recently, I was feeling scattered and my vipassana practice was going through a rough patch. There were looming deadlines, not enough time for myself or anyone else, and a general feeling of being overwhelmed. The problem was I was trying to speed things up when I should have been slowing down.
I turned to my favourite Buddhist monk who is a well-known figure in the world of meditation, Thich Nhat Hanh. One of his meditation exercises is to have mindful days where you slow down everything to be in the moment and when every task is a practice in meditation.
This can actually be tougher than sitting on a cushion because most of us have a tendency to speed up to finish a task. And then, of course there is the smartphone.
However, I was determined. I started with the simplest thing–breakfast. Instead of rushing it. I tried to slow it down by compelling my mind to slow down. I started buying unsliced bread. You automatically slow down when you have to slice the bread before making toast.
My breakfast staple of one boiled egg was no longer boiled randomly. I let it reach boiling point and switched it off to rest for six minutes as prescribed by top chefs. Six minutes of watching an egg rest are quite meditative though there are times when you want to scream. I like to believe it was a calmer, cooler egg when I peeled it.
I would then pull out my marble mortar and pestle to crush two peppercorns to sprinkle on the boiled egg. Watching each corn burst open to release its strong fragrance became my favourite part of the breakfast ritual.
Then I found ways to decorate the toast. A slice of avocado or tomato and some micro greens washed and gently placed over. The day I took fifteen minutes to place each microgreen on the toast was a triumph of concentration and silence. I had actually slowed down.
When you take that time to assemble something, you can’t just gobble it up on the fly. So eating became a slow gentle exercise as well. And as breakfast became a daily practice, I segued into the world of washing, cleaning and chopping vegetables.
Working in the kitchen has never been my core competence but I stuck with it: Getting the vegetables out. Washing them, rinsing them in vinegar, using a salad spinner to dry the greens. When you choose, clean, chop, cook, you notice the details. You watch the medley of colours change as vegetable steam or simmer gently.
Massaging kale turns it into emerald green as it releases its oils. Each carrot shaving forms artistic whorls as it falls onto the chopping board. The veins of Swiss chard look human. Fresh water chestnuts are almost painterly to look at but a pain to clean.
Slowing down not only changed my cooking style, it also made me observe more and eat slowly, mindfully chewing each morsel. Suddenly I was eating better. I would eat less and feel full. Without trying, I lost a couple of kilos even though I never intended to.
Clarity comes when you slow down. It may not be the let-me-make-important-life-decisions-and-be-successful kind of clarity but it definitely is a quiet, private clarity where you look inside and no explanations are needed.
It isn’t easy and it is time consuming. There is a tendency to multi-task because we are used to speed. But sometimes, it’s important to halt and be bored.
A slow, mindful breakfast has made me approach my desk with great calm. My thinking is clearer and I don’t crave a mid-morning snack or coffee at 11 am. Slowing down has made me more efficient and healthier.