A ‘fasting of the mind’: Some reflections on being in a hurry

In The Inner Chapters, Confucius, in the role of a Daoist teacher, advises his pupil to undertake a ‘fast of the mind.’ Yesterday was spent fasting in silence. I recorded the following reflections neatly in my notebook.


1. Hummingbirds make a sputtering sound like a boy’s radio-controlled airplane. The wind crinkles in the early morning. Quails honk in unrepresentable notes.

2. To be hurried is to value the next more highly than the this. (Why?)

3. This kind of day feels very slow. My hand moves more slowly.

4. My sensorium is reawakened to the world qua world. Unencrusted from habits. Saturated. Near-ecstatic. Colors, textures, crisp sounds.

5. Attention to what is here is to be practiced in each instant. Do not wander quickly onto the next. Do not wonder about what cannot be ascertained.

6. A transition is to be loved in itself, not as a conduit for what comes next. Let the mind concentrate on this event, not looking too far up ahead. Is movement better than rest? Is speaking better than silence? Is newness as such better than genesis?

7. What remains of the day after you remove needless chatter, trivial thoughts, needling interferences, disastrous interventions into the lives of others, the reading of the news, the checking of email to see whether anyone needs you or seeks your assistance with anything whatsoever? The day!

8. There is a very short book to be written in praise of silence. Taciturnitas.

9. Why would I value what comes next over this very instant? Because this instant is painful, unpleasant, or less pleasant than other things, and the next moment promises to be less painful, pleasant, or more pleasant than the last. But is this true? No, not always: things may turn out otherwise. But is something that is painful, unpleasant, or not very pleasant something to get over in a rush? No, it is something to be considered or an experience to be perceived as fully as it can.

10. ‘I am in a hurry because something important needs to be done soon or next.’ It may be true that something important ‘lies in wait’ for me, but still in all things one must govern oneself. Is there a graceful way of drawing the present engagement to a close? The feeling of graceful leave-taking would be one of not being detained by the other and of not rushing headlong out of the room. Imagine: a fish, nearing the edge of our koi pond, makes a graceful turn and continues on in another direction. The edge of the koi pond smiles.

11. I don’t think most people would like eternity if it were anything like a day in which they had nothing to do. Oddly, such an eternity would seem dull to them. Just as odd is the value of being busy, which seems good to many because it seems exciting. But this gets a good life backward and upside down. Philosophy teaches us to unencumber our senses, to remove ourselves from our appetites, and to love the beautiful stillness, for this is the highest form of life. This is the life of eternity.

12. ‘There is happiness in stillness. Lack of stillness is called sitting while wandering.’–Chuang Tzu, Inner Chapters

13.  ‘I wonder…’ is rarely a good way to begin a sentence. Wondering is wandering.

14. Reasons for hurrying:

*(i) Next valued more highly than this;

(ii) Something important and timely to be done;

*(iii) Good to fit everything important in (e.g., itinerary).

* = questionable

Replies to (i) – (iii):

Regarding (i): give to each moment its due. No more and no less. Respond to this properly. E.g., a wondrous sunset is ‘owed’ a more profound response than a query from a busybody. Etc.

Regarding (ii): true (if the value is properly assessed), but there need be no urge to hurry on ‘toward’ it. Recall graceful exits, smooth transitions. Turning koi fish.

Regarding (iii): not everything important needs to be ‘fit in.’ Use discernment. In some cases, it’s good to be open–very open and very receptive–to the ‘pregnant this.’ Open your ears and place them close to the world.

15. ‘All that is in tune with you, O Universe, is in tune with me.’–Marcus Aurelius, Meditations