If you’re a human being, living in the rich western world, reading this, now, odds are you feel it. The Rush. The Pull. The turbulent torrent of activities, things and people which yanks at your attention from the moment you open your eyes to the clamor of your alarm clock until you close them again when you go to sleep.
“Why do I always feel rushed?” is a question I’ve come across in one form or another throughout my internet ramblings, and the answer is deceivingly simple: hurry sickness. Hurry sickness, as it was designated by the Native Americans, is the ceaseless rush we embody as we charge from one meaningless task to another, with our empty, vacant, dead eyes staring into space.
Without meaning in our lives we drift aimlessly, lost in an ocean of vagaries and superficial dribble. Every experience can be meaningful, but only if we are present to make meaning out of it. We give things meaning by being present to the things as they are.
Hurry Sickness – What It Does To Us
Hurry sickness is everywhere in the rich, western world. That’s where it started. And from there it has spread all around the planet, infecting more and more people with every passing year. It seems that so many of the people I meet, especially young adults, are unwitting carriers of hurry sickness.
We rush from one activity to the next, starting in the morning. We count the seconds it takes us to take a shower. We hurry through our homes gathering up the things we need for our day, clothes, backpacks, socks and shoes. Then we nuke our breakfast and are barely taking our first bite when we’re already running out the door. We don’t even take the time to sit down and enjoy it.
It’s utter madness! And I lived like that for a few years, so I speak from experience.
See, when we constantly rush from one activity to the next, we condition ourselves to live in the future. When we treat the present moment as a stepping stone to the future, by rushing from one activity to the next, we are living as if the present itself weren’t good enough, as if something better waits for us in the future. That’s crazy! Because the present is as it is. Nothing can change the present, so why run from it? Why deny it? Such a habitual mode of existence breeds suffering.
Living In The Future Is Addictive
It’s like the habits of smoking and drinking. And like smokers and drinkers who want to quit their unhealthy habits, when habitual future-livers want to do the same they find it tremendously difficult. Everything reminds them of the of how the now is not good enough. Every moment, their attention is pulled away from the present and towards the future, denying the reality that is in favor of an illusion that exists only in our minds.
When we make living in the future or the past habitual, we discover, much to our dismay, that when the things we work so hard to accomplish finally do manifest themselves, we are too busy living in the past or future to enjoy the fruits of our work. Like the executive who can’t put the phone down while on vacation or the scientist who can’t stop writing while his partner eats dinner alone.
Alan Watts, a philosopher, said it best when he wrote that modern life in the west is “Much ado about nothing.”
Our History As Prey Follows Us To This Day
“But Erick”, you might object, “I have a job, a car, a dog, a family and a house to take care of. I can’t afford to go slowly.” My answer to that is: “If that’s what you believe then that’s how it’s going to be for you.”
It’s in our best interest to slow down. In this article I wrote about how we can either exist in love or in fear and the physiological consequences of embodying each state. When we rush from one thing to the next, what message you think we’re sending our brain and body?
Our History As Prey
Think about this for a bit. We’ve been homo sapiens for around 200 to 300 thousand years. And before we were homo sapiens we were many other species of upright apes, called hominids. Our evolutionary paths diverged away from chimpanzees around 6 million years ago.
For most of our time on this planet as homo sapiens, and before, we have been located in the middle of the food chain. Our ancestors were vegetarians until around 2 million years ago when, with the emergence of the genus homo (meaning “man”), they began scavenging meat off of carcasses. We were not coordinated nor intelligent enough to take down big prey like mammoths until a few hundred thousand years ago. Before then, we subsisted as gatherers and scavengers, eating the leftovers of faster, stronger, deadlier creatures.
And sometimes, many many times actually, we ended up as prey ourselves. We evolved the adaptations of prey; the jittery, cautious alertness which allowed us be aware of any potential threats to our lives. We were not apex predators until very recently, evolutionarily speaking.
In the book “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind” by historian Yuval Noah Harari, the author compares the magnificence and grace of apex predators to the anxiousness of homo sapiens.
Look At A Lion, An Eagle Or A Shark
These animals are apex predators. Look at how they behave; the majesty, the grace, the self-assuredness which comes from being fully capable of procuring the things they need when they need them. A lion doesn’t stress; it knows it’s got this thing o down cold. So why worry?
Now, look at us. Our trembly, fearful, insecure propensities. We with our hairless bodies, clawless hands and big, awkward heads jumbling around on a slender neck like that of a bobble head. We’re the nerds of the animal kingdom. When it comes to confidence we aren’t even in the same league as lions, eagles and sharks. Because we still have the bodies and minds of prey! We remain adapted to living in the middle of the food chain, physiliogically and mentally.
The modern world we live in, free from animal predators, is a novelty. It’s the exception to the rule of our existence which has been one of prey. Despite all of our scientific, technological and artistic achievement, we’re just a bunch of anxious apes. Fearful of falling prey to the next danger lurking just around the corner.
Why This Matters
We can either exist in “rest-and-digest” (or “grow-and-reproduce) mode or “Fight-or-flight” mode. There is no in between.
When do you think our pre-homo sapiens ancestors rushed around? What occasions do you think merited quick, unthinking action?
Probably when they were being chased by a predator.
Running from predators takes a toll on the body and mind. When we run for our lives our bodies/brains tap into our deepest energy reserves through lightning-fast chemical cascades. Think of the stories of mothers who lifted cars off of the bodies of their pinned children. This phenomenon has a name, it’s called “hysterical strength.”
And it takes a huge toll on the body. It depletes us in every sense of the word.
Now imagine what we do to ourselves when we constantly rush through our days, always looking towards the end of our present activity so we may start the next one.
Rushing or making haste, has its place in our lives. Sometimes we need to put in a burst of speed to catch a bus or make an appointment with a friend. But the key word here is “burst”, meaning we rush for a short time.
When we never stop rushing our brain-body exists in a low-key state of fight-or-flight. We are never fully resting and recovering, we are always taking a toll, however minimal, on our body’s energy reserves. We get sick, age faster and die younger.
What We Can Do About This
As unbelievable as it may sound, no one has the power to make us rush. We do it all to ourselves. If we believe we need to rush to get things done then that’s how we’re going to live our lives, rushing.
Because our beliefs determine our actions.
This article is meant to get you questioning your belief about rushing. Are you a habitual rusher? Do you believe that rushing about is the most effective way to live? Why do you believe that? Where did the belief come from?
I’ve never been a rusher, which I’m thankful for. My mother rushes everywhere, but my father has always had a patient, calm demeanor. In this way I took after him.
But my propensity for calm didn’t immunize me against “hurry sickness”, which I contracted while living in the United States as a professional young adult.
Mornings Were When I Rushed The Most
I would wake up late, shower, get dressed, eat and leave the house all in a rush. Because I either had a train or bus to catch to get to my place of employment.
I didn’t realize that starting my day in a rush guaranteed that the rest of my day would be permeated with a subtle rush. How we start our days sets the tone for the rest of it, which means that people who rush first thing in the morning will probably be rushing for the rest of the day. I learned this in “The 5AM Club” by Robin Sharma.
When we consistently rush we keep ourselves in a low-key state of anxiety, the difference is rather than a chemical cascade of stress we experience a trickle.
But even a trickle of stress chemicals compounded over days, weeks, months and years can have a profoundly negative effect on every aspect of our lives. Just look at all the maladies which have been directly or indirectly linked to chronic stress.
We must collectively take steps to reduce the rush in our lives or face the consequences.
What We Can Do About It
In a sentence: assert ourselves.
We have to assert ourselves if we want to reduce the rush in our lives. Our health, well-being and peace of mind come first. Not some job, appointment or other commitment. The world will push us around until we stand our ground and say: f**k off!
Only people who believe they are worthy of peace have the courage to stand up to the Rush. If we believe we are supposed to be at the beck and call of our bosses, spouses, friends or children then we allow the Rush to enter our lives. The world will always demand more from us until we take a stand and put and end to it.
“But what about my demanding schedule, boss, coworkers and family?” you ask “I can’t just do what I want.”
What About Them?
Every excuse we have is valid. But accepting our excuses doesn’t change our situation.
When we make the decision to be more deliberate with our living, to prioritize peace rather than perpetuate rush, there will be resistance from our environment. We condition our environment as much as it conditions us; if we’ve been living with hurry sickness for years and decide to put an end to it there will be frictions between our habitual environment and our new intention.
People may attempt to rush you. Alarms may trigger a feeling of anxiety to get things done. Clocks might get you thinking about the list of all the things you want to do. This is natural. Change won’t happen in a day. But by starting we set the process in motion.
I don’t let people rush me. It has been a source of discord in the past between me and the people in my life. This was resistance trying to get me to rush. But even then I refused to compromise my peace of mind for anyone, even for my romantic partner. Eventually the world bent to my will, I rarely encounter conflict between my relaxed pace and my relationships. Now relaxed presence is a habit.
Does this mean I get no work done? Far from it. I’m more effective now than I have ever been previously in my life.
Success Is A Marathon
It’s a paradox which few of us realize and even fewer resolve. The more relaxed and peaceful we are, the more creative and effective our choices and the more sustainable our creative output. Success is not a sprint. It’s a marathon.
So how will you run your marathon? Will you allow the world to rush you and burn out in the first half?
Or will you take care of yourself, balance peace and relaxation with creative work and burn steadily throughout it all?
The choice is always up to us.
To our wealth and success.