Photo by Alice Zheng

Photo by Alice Zheng

By Alice Zheng, Columnist
(850 words)

"I think I might be addicted to speed." I said to my manager, as we both kicked back in her office at the end of a day of back-to-back meetings and started catching up on our long queue of neglected emails. 

"That is entirely possible." She said with a peal of laughter. 

Speed, the fast pace, not the drug, though it might as well be. It has a way of sucking you into its rhythm. At first you are disoriented as you try to keep up with the stimulus, the chaos. Then you get used to it. And once you do, you feel weird when you stop. Like the moment when your head is still spinning even though you've already gotten off the ride. First you can't stand being on it, then you can't stand being without it. Speed. The thrill of it. The feeling of motion, of going somewhere, achieving something, checking off a list, getting that high five, the recognition, the adrenaline rush. 

It seems trite to comment on our addiction to busy-ness as a society. It's been said again and again, by a multitude of people. Truth always sounds trite, until you feel it and know it. 

I’m addicted to speed, to busy-ness. I know it because I can detect that split second of panic, an emptiness in my heart, when I look ahead to an empty schedule.

I'm so used to motion and stimulus that the lack of it is uncomfortable. In my twenties, I became really good at packing my schedule with activities. I used to schedule a bunch of fun things: dinners, dancing, music, shows, friends, hobbies, sports. Traveling, for months or just a weekend jaunt. Everywhere. Anywhere. Anywhere but here.

Then I started a meditation practice, and I filled my schedule with that, too. Retreats, lessons, study sessions, more retreats. Long periods of silence and stillness and tranquility, yes. But also activities. A different kind of activity, the kind where you sit still. Stillness and space in the physical dimensions. Fullness of schedule in the time dimension. 

Nowadays, it's work. Long hours of work. All kinds of work. Work that I get paid for. Work that I do because I want to. Work that other people hand to me. Work that I pick up for myself. And then, also, fun activities: dinners, dancing, music, shows, friends, hobbies, sports, traveling.

Because we need work-life balance, right? Right. 

I'm so fucking busy I'm tired all the time. I'm taking adrenal supplements. (They work great!) I sleep 6 hours a day during the week, a little more on the weekends. I'm so busy, I bore my cats. They fall asleep waiting for me to play with them. They must think I'm a total weirdo. Always staring intently into a dimly glowing surface, in my hand, on my lap, on a table. Typing, frowning, chuckling, talking to myself. My cats probably mutter "Crazy computer lady!" under their breath as they slink back into their slumber. 

These things that I fill my schedule with, are they fun? Fulfilling? Deeply meaningful? Yes, all of them, else I wouldn't be choosing them. Through the doing, I have achieved amazing things: great friends, deep heart connections, fabulous projects, personal growth, positive change in the world. I do not want to give up any of it. But, at the same time, do I need all of them? All at once? Probably not.  

A balance, then. But how? How do we perform that dance between stillness and speed? How do we gain that grace that allows each moment to unfold in its own time?

Newton’s first law of motion: every motion has inertia. It is just as hard to go from stillness to speed, as it is to go from speed to stillness.

Whatever it is, can we move into it without urgency? Like a fish sliding through water, a dancer's arm snaking through space, in tune with cosmic music. Utter grace. 

My meditation teacher would say meditation gives us "a ledge of freedom." A freedom of body, thought, and spirit that allows us to start and stop on a dime, as natural as our own breathing. It allows us to choose, to not act from compulsion, but from free will. 

I need this, for every single moment of my life. Life is precious, and I don't want to waste it. I'm hungry for experiences, for growth, for a full heart and a full mind. But I also need rest and ease. I want to do it all, and I want to do it effortlessly, with grace, out of freedom. 

This balance is utterly personal. How much motion is right? How much rest? Only we can answer, and it changes, day by day, minute by minute. We dance, or are being danced, whether we like it or not. So we might as well move into it, play with it, be with it. One day we might find ourselves in that precious moment of pause between motion and stillness, where space extends all about us into infinity, and we sigh, a long breath of relief. 

Then, back into the dance. 

Alice Zheng is an author, photographer, meditation practitioner, and senior research science manager at a large e-commerce and cloud computing company in Seattle. She is a recovering perfectionist and over-achiever. Her life's mission is to be a bridge: between science and spirituality, between technology and business, between the inner and outer worlds. Alice shares glimpses of her quest for more beauty and ease as a regular contributing columnist for Lucia.