Piano Piano – The Art of Slowing Down
Why rush? I’m asking myself this question more and more. Italian life, and the emphasis on slowing down to savor the present moment, steadily has been exposing my American conditioning of go, do, and achieve.
My favorite saying here in Italy is “piano, piano” which translates as “slowly, slowly” or “softly, softly”. You’ll be hard pressed to find this exact translation if you refer to an Italian-to-English dictionary. This puzzles me because it is used so frequently. My best understanding is that it originates from musical terminology, and is an indication to approach and play a particular piece or section of music more slowly and softly. Nonetheless, it has become a new mantra.
My neighbor Carlo is largely responsible for getting me to downshift. He has seen me, many times, in a state of anxiety to finish my to-do list, or to resolve a particular situation associated with the logistics of becoming and being a resident here. When Carlo says “piano, piano” to me, he does it with a soft voice, a comforting hand on my arm, and a look directly into my eyes. He has become a wonderful teacher of this important lesson.
I’m painfully aware that I have years and years of conditioning to undo. Yet, I don’t need to make “not rushing” a task, which only would create more angst and another thing to tackle. I believe I merely need to shine the light of awareness on the fact that my internal throttle has been stuck on “high” for as long as I can remember. More and more I am remembering my new slowing down mantra, and I breathe and come back into the present instead of charging like a racehorse towards an imagined future.
I believe, as a general rule, taking things slowly, and pausing to appreciate life, is hard-wired into Italian DNA. You might argue that Italians are masters at coffee consumption and, therefore, always amped up. However, like many things here, coffee is consumed in moderation, and Italians take their coffee seriously. A few espressos may be part of the daily ritual, but while an espresso packs more intensity into a few sips, American drip coffee is higher in caffeine octane. “Less is more” with an espresso or a cappuccino in Italy. The taste is everything, not the quantity. Compare that with a Starbuck’s Venti. Italians laugh at the extremism of American coffee consumption, and how many Americans know how to “muck up” a good thing.
The only concession I give to arguing a tendency to rush here is when some of the Italian drivers hit the autostrada. Those of you who’ve driven here surely have experienced the drivers who race up behind you and ride your bumper within a few inches, often flashing their lights insistently so that you will move over and they can get on with it.
Yet, just as frequently, are the little old Fiat Pandas puttering along the secondary roads at a snail’s pace. This is one of the greatest tests of my patience, because these folks are rarely topping 30-40 kph. I’ve asked myself “Why the hell are they going so slow?” And, then another question follows this one…”Jed, why are you in such a hurry?” Good question. it challenges a deeply held belief that in order to satisfy the hungry achiever in me – I need to do as much as possible in the shortest amount of time – or I’m a failure. Yep, there it is. The underlying belief that has kept me on a tight, neurotic leash.
When I moved to Italy, I knew I wouldn’t be able to stay hypnotized by the conditioning that has kept me anxiously working my way to a future idyllic state. I realize, early on in my life, I swallowed an unhealthy bill of goods, hook, line and sinker. And, only now do I see there is better way. I thought I would have to go to a place like India, or some other spiritual Mecca to learn mindfulness. Italy has been an unexpected surprise in this regard.
Italians are serious about a life that centers around relationships. Much of life here is about gathering around the dinner table with friends and family for un-hurried communing. In Italy you’ll see more people “just hanging”. You might be tempted to say some people here have boring lives because a life of driven purpose isn’t manifest in their comings and goings. What I have found is people who are incredibly present. There has to be something to spaciousness in daily living.
I’m learning the wisdom of slowing down, and doing things more purposefully. And, I’m learning that multi-tasking having any kind of real productivity (or health benefits) is a complete myth.
Dr. Jim Taylor well articulates this myth in his HuffingtonPost.com blog post The Myth of Multitasking. I’d highly recommend reading this article.
The fact is that multitasking, as most people understand it, is a myth that has been promulgated by the “technological-industrial complex” to make overly scheduled and stressed-out people feel productive and efficient.
If you’re like me, you’ll probably be shocked to see that research solidly debunks the myth that multi-tasking is effective.
So, the lessons about being present for life keep coming. I’m grateful to Italy for teaching me to downshift. Have the neurotic tendencies to rush abated? No, but they don’t have the vise-grip hold on me they once had. Patience, even the “piano, piano” lesson is coming slowly, slowly.