Note: In 2018, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche became the subject of a number of allegations of sexual assault and misconduct and stepped back from the community he led, Shambhala. While Lion's Roar does not endorse him as a Buddhist teacher, we understand that some may want to access his past teachings in light of recent events, and so we are continuing to make this article from our archive of past issues available for those who wish to do so.
Speed creates its own power and momentum, which begin to rule us, says Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche. When we speed around, are we mastering our life or hanging on for dear life?
A month or two after returning from a trip to Tibet, I ran into Aaron, a physician who had traveled with me. I asked him how it felt to be back in the West. He said that he felt as if he were winding up and getting speedy. I reminded him of our busy schedule in Tibet. People would arrive to see me early in the morning. There were ceremonies to conduct. Monks, nomads and family members needed attention—spiritual, medical and mundane. Yet we were relaxed. We always had plenty of time. Was it the rural setting, or the absence of clocks?
Wherever we are, from one day to the next, the Earth is moving at the same speed. Yet in the modern world, we’ve convinced ourselves that the world is moving faster, and that speed is the way to make our life work. Under the pressure of schedules and commitments, we think we can accomplish more if we speed through our day.
With a speedy mind we never enjoy the fruits of our labor, our love, or our life. We can’t relax.
Speed gives life a frantic quality. It is an anxious state of mind that keeps us from settling into whatever we are doing. There is always something more important than what we’re doing now. We’re double-parked outside a store, trying to find what we need, while talking to our mother on the cell-phone. Rather than accomplishing our activity well, we are nullifying it, because we aren’t really there for it. That self-generated speed creates its own power and momentum, which begin to rule us. It’s a form of small-mindedness that blinds us to what life really offers—the opportunity to develop wisdom and compassion.
The speedy mind is like an internal combustion engine. So much effort goes into the energy it produces, creating the harmful, wasteful byproducts of exhaustion and pollution. Even when we’re reading a book or watching a movie, the idling mind of speed does not shut off. With a speedy mind we never enjoy the fruits of our labor, our love, or our life. We can’t relax.
Speed comes from being overly ambitious. We aren’t content with our own mind, so we become aggressive in how we conduct our life. In an effort to match a concept of what success might be, we fill our calendars and spend the whole day holding on to our “to do” list. We chase after appointments, phone calls and meetings with jealousy, competition, fixation and irritation—whatever it takes to get us where we think we need to go. When life still won’t match our concept, we get mad—mad that others are late, or mad that we are early. We get mad at getting older, mad at getting sick, and mad at others getting old and sick.
Wisdom tells us that we are meant to enjoy our life and use it in a meaningful way. A successful life is not determined by the speed with which we live. If we’re always flapping our wings, endlessly trying to get what we need with aggression, we will always be exhausted. We’ll never find what we’re really looking for, which is our own contentment. Speed only brings us closer to the next speed-fueled moment.
Parts of my calendar are often filled months and years in advance. I could feel completely suffocated by the pressure of knowing what I’ll be doing next year on a Thursday at two in the afternoon. Bouncing from one appointment to another, I could become seduced by speed, as if doing things faster would make a vacation come sooner. I’ve realized now that if I relax into what I’m doing and enjoy it, I am relieved of monitoring myself, checking off every hour as though I’m engaging in a scientific experiment to see how efficient I can be. When I don’t waste energy by engaging in pressure and speed, I actually get more done.
Watching champion runners and golfers on television, I see this principle at work. They often seem to be moving in slow motion, yet they are running faster than the others, or hitting the ball farther. Their discipline looks graceful and effortless, because as masters, they have eliminated unnecessary moves. When they’re asked what they did to win, they often point to an inner balance and relaxation that enabled them to perform well, and rarely to a desperation that drove them to move faster in order to beat someone else.
Some years ago, it was my good fortune to study in India with His Holiness Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche. Khyentse Rinpoche was a great Tibetan meditation master, a teacher of teachers and kings. He was an incredibly soft-spoken person who radiated power in a gentle way. He was old and big, and he would often spend his days just sitting on a bed, his favorite blanket wrapped around his waist, with his students gathered around. In his presence, it often seemed as if nothing much was happening. Yet at the end of the day he would have composed poems, written essays, and taught us dharma. His accomplishment was effortless and graceful, because it was fueled by love, not speed.
When we speed around, are we mastering our life or hanging on for dear life? Mastering our life comes from the ability to be content with life as it unfolds. The first step is recognizing that we can be happy and at peace. Wanting to be anywhere but where we are, doing anything but what we’re doing, are unnecessary moves that throw us off balance. We can develop patience, which means not being so aggressive with our life. We don’t have to buy into speed’s game plan. We can slow down. Eating more doesn’t necessarily make the food more delicious. Getting angry over traffic doesn’t make it move faster.
The practice of meditation offers us the opportunity to slow down for a short time every day. This is how we can begin to step out of the cycle of speed. In sitting still and focusing our mind, we are declaring daily that this human life is precious. Taking time to appreciate it comes from our own determination and wisdom. Through this discipline, we simplify our life. We regain the space to appreciate it, having lost nothing but speediness. We learn how to float aloft, carried by the winds, appreciating what we see in every direction. We learn to relax.
Great masters accomplish a lot without speed, because they are running on the clocks of wisdom and compassion. Wisdom dwells in the moment of endless time, and compassion appreciates that everlasting moment. For the rest of us, aggression fools us into feeling that time is running out before our eyes. Let’s set the clock of aggression back, and the clock of wisdom and compassion forward. We can simplify our lives by canceling our appointment with anger at seven, with jealousy at noon, with pride at five, and with regret at ten. Let’s wake up and realize that we don’t have to speed. With love as our only appointment, we have all the time in the world.