Try Slowing Down

Fatigue is a big problem in diabetes, and there are a lot of treatments for it, too. But the first one, slowing down, is the hardest. It has great potential benefits, but a bad reputation.

Many people can’t even imagine slowing down during the holiday season. Dinners to plan, presents to buy, families traveling around; they all take time. Then you have to work to make money to pay for all the celebration.

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But if you can’t rest during the holidays, when can you rest? Maybe when you fall into a coma? Our civilization is seriously screwed up around doing things all the time. Time not spent “productively” is time wasted. You’re only as good as what you do, how well you keep your house, take care of your family, perform your job, make your money.

Slowing down is equated with giving up, goofing off, being lazy. Spend time in nature? Take a half hour petting your dog? What are you, some kind of deadbeat?

The employing class wants us to make work the center of our lives. Our health, our happiness, and our families don’t agree. All the great spiritual traditions tell us to rest. Jews, Christians, and Muslims believe that God gave us a Sabbath day. He commanded us to spend it enjoying life and appreciating our blessings. Do we?

Lao Tzu founded Taoism partly around the concept of wu wei, or not doing. “You do nothing, and nothing is left undone,” he wrote. “For those who practice not doing, everything will fall into place.”

He didn’t mean skipping work to watch reality television while gobbling chips. It’s more like not forcing things, not trying too hard. For most of us, that means slowing down.

Fatigue brings the issue of slowing down to the front burner. Most of us have things we have to do, or think we have to do. If our bodies don’t want to do them, we are in a stressful no-win situation. Perhaps we could practice some wu wei.

The state of not doing is the basis of meditation. Ideally, you’re not even thinking, at least not with the left brain. But we often find that by not doing and not thinking, we start to have truly creative ideas. That’s because other parts of the brain, mainly the right hemisphere, have room to be heard.

Some think the quiet brain is where all creativity comes from. That’s where I got the idea for this blog entry. Albert Einstein said his insights about the universe came as “revelations” when he was in peaceful contemplation. They didn’t come from crunching numbers or thinking obsessively.

I could have used some wu wei when I played baseball as a kid. I could never hit a fast pitch, because my nervous brain was too busy worrying to let my hitting brain see the ball. A good batter turns his thinking mind off and lets the rest of his mind/body swing the bat. Musicians and artists also create with their non-thinking brains.

I find that the more I let the rest of me swing the bat, the more I get done with less effort. Meditation has been my main way of doing that. Letting go of other people’s expectations helps too. You can’t do not-doing if you’re trying to please everyone all the time.

Diabetes fatigue is a painful, frustrating thing, but it can have value if you roll with it. There are many benefits to doing less. Feeling more comfortable, having more of a chance to enjoy life. You may find yourself being more productive, because you only do the valuable stuff and let the rest go.

But if you fight against resting, you don’t get the benefits. Don’t burn up your down time doing stupid mental stuff. Just be peaceful and let your creative mind come up with new ideas.

I try to keep a pen and paper nearby all the time, even when meditating. That way if something good comes; I can make a note to myself and go back to not doing.

Of course there are things that need doing. You might need to make money or get housework done. Other people might benefit from your help. They might appreciate you. You might even inspire them.

You might want to fight for social change or help those in need. “Not doing” doesn’t mean vegetating. It means being like a force of nature, just doing what comes naturally, without effort.

It also helps to plan. My doctor friend Diane keeps moving — she always seems to be doing something. But she’s never stressed about it and always has time for friends and family. It seems effortless. She says she does this by planning her days in advance and not running around from crisis to crisis.

There is a time and a place for doing, but not all the time. Try slowing down and getting in touch with your not-doing self. If you’ve tried that already, how did it go? If you haven’t, are you willing to try?

  • Joe

    Thank you David. Not much to add except that I agree. Rest has been given an undeserved bad rap.

  • Tricia

    What a lovely, inspiring and well-written article, David. It’s so appropriate for this holiday season time of the year. I really enjoyed it, and it gave me pause for thought. Thank you, Tricia

  • Ferne

    I’m 80, handicapped, have several diseases and believe me I have no trouble slowing down. I sure would like to be able to walk though otherwise I try not to let “stuff” get me down. I’m very fortunate that my husband of over 58 years has the greatest sense of humor and that keeps both of us going. It does get frustrating though when the computer goes crazy. I guess life is like a bowl of cherries because you never know when one has a pit.

  • Kim

    Beautiful, David. And so apt for this time of year. It’s something I often work on with my clients, to slow down and take time for themselves to regenerate and reacquaint themselves with their creativity, heart and resourcefulness. It also makes them more present, available to and efficient in the work they do for and with someone else. It’s like the ‘Put your mask on first’ mantra of airline flight attendants. You have to be able to breathe to assist others.