Expanding Awareness

To rush is to try to compress time

By Michael Ashcroft | 5 min read
Photo by Nelson Ndongala on Unsplash

I'm fascinated by the felt experience of rushing, because It seems that rushing can be a sneaky two for the price of one type of deal; we may mean one thing by it, but we usually get something extra as well, something that's easy to miss.

We usually use rush to mean simply "to move quickly". I am late for work, so I will rush in order to get there on time. That makes sense, and my interest would stop there if that were the whole story.

But it's not the whole story.

Consider that felt experience of rushing. It's usually also stressful in some way. Rushing creates a generalised tension in our bodies. There's a strong need for the rushed experience to be completed, a kind of embodied "come on already, come on, come on".

To me, this experience is markedly different from merely moving quickly. Olympic sprinters don't rush, even though they move as fast as they possibly can. Olympic sprinters know and fully accept that running 100m takes as long as it takes. Their aim is for it to take as little time as possible, yes, but they don't begrudge how long it takes. Those ten seconds from starting block to finish line don't annoy them.

Contrast this with your rushed drive to work. Behind this there is often a feeling of resistance to the experience taking the amount of time that it takes.

The felt experience of rushing, beyond any simple intention to 'move quickly', is in fact a strange, misplaced effort that seeks to compress time itself. It's almost as if we're trying to get a future moment to arrive before it otherwise would if left to its own devices, which of course is the only way any moment of time can ever really arrive.

This can be made clearer by looking at one of the main side effects of rushing: muscle tension.

Coming back to the sprinter, the level of muscle tension in their bodies is the appropriate amount. Not too little, not too much; just the right amount to get them to move as quickly as possible. This may indeed be a lot of muscle tension, but it's a performance-reducing waste of energy to be more tense than necessary for the task at hand.

Back to your rushed commute, then. In this case it's clear that the speed of your car is constrained by traffic and speed limits. It's also clear that driving a car does not actually require that much effort. Whether you're late for work or not, the energy required to turn a steering wheel or change gear is the same.

Yet consider how different your body feels when you're rushing, compared with when you feel you have all the time in the world. At the end of a rushed drive you may be sore all over, sweating hard with your breathing fast and shallow. What's going on here? None of these things helps you arrive at your destination any faster. The amount of energy needed to drive the car hasn't changed.

All this extra stuff, I suggest, is the effort that some part of your system is applying, ineffectually, in its attempt to compress time, to try to manipulate a future moment into arriving sooner.

This effect, of course, is not constrained to driving. In fact, it happens nearly constantly for a lot of people who seem to be rushing incessantly through each moment, longing for the current thing to be done so the next thing can begin. A life defined by chronic cognitive and muscular tension that result from habitually living as if ever so slightly in the future, existing within a simulation of the next moment rather than a deep experiencing of this moment right now.

The enormous upside to all this is that this extra energy can be liberated if we just allow things to take as long as they take. This doesn't even mean having to move slowly in circumstances that require us to move quickly, but to be able to move quickly in an easy, non-rushed way!

A waterfall doesn't have a little voice in its head saying "come on, faster, we're on the clock here", yet it can move with incredible force and speed.

Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished. Lao Tzu

We humans are the same. Rather than getting caught up in rushing, we can notice that compulsion to add more effort than is required, gently decline to give consent to it, and then welcome the enormous reserves of energy that are made available once we stop wasting it in such futile endeavours.

When we do this, we suddenly realise that not only can we be just as effective as before, but an even greater capacity for action emerges. Only now, rather than having things feel difficult, we can be engaged in all the activities of our lives as if we have all the time in the world.

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