Taking It Slower
by Ian Doescher
I have a new daily practice that I’ve told almost no one about. I consider it a spiritual practice, though it’s certainly not associated with any religion. Each day, I commute about 13 miles each way to and from the Pivot office, which includes a 9-mile stretch on I-5, one of the primary interstate highways bisecting Portland. My new practice, which I’ve been doing for a few months now, is to go the speed limit when I’m on I-5. When I see the speed limit sign that says 55 MPH, I get my car to 55 and turn on the cruise control. When the curves come and the speed limit changes to 50, I dutifully reduce my speed to 50 until it’s time to go 55 again. Then—and this is crucial—I stay in the right lane as much as possible. Of course, if I need to pass someone I do, and if I need to speed up or slow down for any reason I’ll do that, too.
This sounds silly, doesn’t it? How is going the speed limit a practice, much less a spiritual practice? What I notice, when I go the speed limit, is that most other drivers go flying by me at speeds of 60 MPH, 65 MPH or faster. This has helped me see a few things:
- By slowing down, I am safer. I’ve been driving for more than 20 years, and I’ve driven thousands of miles. In those years, I have been known to speed. Frankly, sitting in the right lane and going the speed limit, I feel safer. The car isn’t veering quite as much, everything is more stable. I stay out of the fast lane, so people can pass me if they want. I’m safer.
- I’m far less stressed. When I was driving as fast as I could to get to work, I was stressed out! Whipping around the curves, trying to pass people, barking at other drivers to get out of my way, it was all unhealthy. These days, I sit in the slow lane going the speed limit, listening to music and not worrying about getting where I’m going as fast as I possibly can.
- I have more empathy toward other drivers. I watch the drivers passing me in the left lanes and my thoughts range from, “Wow, they must feel pretty stressed,” to “They probably have something more important to be doing than I do.” I’m not getting angry at other drivers, I’m not seeing them as obstacles in my way. Slowing down has increased my empathy.
- Time-wise, my commute has hardly changed. The difference between going 9 miles at 55 MPH (9.8 minutes) and going 9 miles at 65 MPH (8.3 minutes) is about a minute and a half. I’m not really saving that much time, and not once since I started this practice have I been late to work due to driving the speed limit. Unless you’re going really long distances, you don’t save that much time by speeding.
Honestly, I can’t recommend this practice enough. Try it sometime and see how you feel. (Just make sure to stay in the right lane—nobody likes a person who drives in the fast lane going slower than everyone else.)
Are there places in your professional life or your personal life where you need to slow down and “go the speed limit?” Is rushing unnecessarily making you more stressed, making your work suffer, causing you to be more angry at your coworkers, family members, or friends? Is it possible that driving the speed limit on I-5 isn’t a terrible metaphor for life? I think so, which is why I’m a convert to going the speed limit and why, for me, it’s a spiritual practice.