Happily Abandoning the Fast Track

I know the importance of rest now, but I didn’t prior to my journey through cancer. Before, I’d race along the multi-tasking interstate at mach speed. Before, I took pride in how much I could accomplish in a nano-second and how clearly I saw through the blur of so much momentum. Before, I wasn’t paying attention to the stop signs. I was too busy.

After my second diagnosis in 2007—a year after my first—neglecting the stops signs was no longer an option.  It became clear that the vehicle I was in could no long sustain the demands I placed upon her. After such a hectic pace, my world suddenly crashed to slow-mo…like the parts in a movie where the main character’s life goes awry and strangely out of focus. That’s when a friend gave me the book, Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal and Delight in Our Busy Lives by Wayne Muller.

Half way through the book, I bought 10 copies and gave them to my closest girlfriends. (Right or wrong, I think men are better at chilling out.) They accepted my gift like eager children clamoring for candy on Halloween.

Then, for a solid year, I devoted one day a week to doing nothing. Once I lay in the summer grass and for two lollygagging hours, watched the clouds overhead. I was transported back to childhood when doing nothing was a regular part of life.  And it’s no wonder: it’s good for us.

In his book, Muller writes: “If we do not allow for a rhythm of rest in our overly busy lives, illness becomes our Sabbath—our pneumonia, our cancer, our heart attack, our accidents create Sabbath for us….I am always struck by the mixture of sadness and relief that (people with life-threatening illness) experience when illness interrupts their overly busy lives. While each shares their particular fears and sorrows, almost every one confesses some secret gratefulness. ‘Finally, at last, I can rest.’”

Even though it was hard for me to stop my busy life to recover from radiation or surgery, I too felt relieved at no longer living in a constant rush. I wondered why I hadn’t learned to rest before.

Animals are not shy about resting.

I recently had the enormous pleasure of meeting one of the great minds of our time, Ellen Langer. She is a psychology professor at Harvard and an artist.  For decades, Ellen has researched how our minds work and how habits can follow if gone unchecked. I told her my notion that multi-tasking is the downfall of contemporary women, and she balked. “I disagree.” My eyebrows rose. As such an accomplished woman, I assumed she was stressed out like so many of us. But Ellen is great at deconstructing assumptions. “The observer never knows what goes on inside of the actor,” she said, followed by: “I like multi-tasking.” Apparently, she gets a flow going between the different things she’s doing, which is rewarding to her.

“Don’t you feel torn between what you’re doing?” I asked, still aghast that someone wouldn’t agree that multi-tasking is hazardous to our health. “You only feel torn because you’re either feeling inconvenienced by the task or you think that by not doing it, some tragedy will occur.”

In her typical fashion, Ellen made me rethink my experience and examine my thoughts and habits. Even though I used to love the feeling of accomplishment that multi-tasking in the fast lane provided, I was in a constant state of frustration and never found the flow she referred to. Rather, I felt inconvenienced at having to do one thing or another while thinking something else was more important. In that track, I could never be fully present as a wife, mother, employee, playwright, cook, or anything else. And meditation? Are you kidding?

I have somehow lost the habit of doing nothing one day a week. And I still don’t multi-task. But I have found the flow that Ellen speaks of. For me, it requires doing one thing at a time and being fully present with it. I don’t get as much done, nor am I as organized. But I’m happier, I have more time for the small pleasures, and my family says that life is better now than it was before cancer.

I still have lots to do. Emails to answer. Dust bunnies to wrangle. More blogs to write. And I’ll get to them all, I promise. But first, my beloved nap.

Resources to help you slow down or be mindful and feel great about it:
Why Meditation Is So Cool
Gratitude is Good Medicine
Simple Bliss Relaxing Tea Recipe
Mindfulness (Book by Ellen Langer)
Relax Into Greatness (Yoga Nidra CD by Rod Stryker)

Love This? Never Miss Another Story.


Past Member
Christine W.3 years ago

Thanks for the tips.

Tim Cheung
Tim C.4 years ago


Rita White
Rita White4 years ago


Holly Lawrence
Holly Lawrence4 years ago

Thank you so for sharing! Best of ALL to you!


Magdalena K.
Past Member 4 years ago


Amanda M.
Amanda M.4 years ago

Mary B, I've said more than once that if the government actually PAID us stay-at-home moms for what we'd do, that would be a major economic boost right there-after all, we're shaping and molding the next generation of (hopefully) decent, law-abiding, responsible adults capable of making a solid contribution to society! I read an article in Forbes years ago that listed all the jobs we do in the course of an average day, and it said that if we actually rated a paycheck (which I insist we SHOULD), that it would come up to six figures easily. I still can't figure out how the job of homemaker got thrown under the bus when women started working outside the home-after all, it's still a full day's work and then some!

june t.
june t.4 years ago

great article, thanks!

Lynn C.
Lynn C.4 years ago

You can make up your mind to stop running in the race, but the real difficulty lies in getting the rest of the world to leave you alone!

Denise W C.

Even God stopped creating and rested for one day. So why can't we do the same? A day a week just doing nothing, just letting go and enjoy every minute of a quiet day. Thanks. Great post!

sandra m.
Past Member 4 years ago

I know what you mean by men being better at chilling out--I can't help but have a thousand things run through my mind,while I'm doing others.Seems like men can just turn OFF.