It’s midnight in Madrid right now, and I’m headed toward my apartment on the Metro. What might you expect on a Saturday late-night Metro? I hear a group of four friends sharing a joke with each other. I see a pair of friends engaged in a gripping conversation. I see two guys grinning over a YouTube video. I see a group of 20-somethings that just finished partying and have some paint left on their faces, bantering while slightly imbalanced. There’s a guy that got to the Metro a second late and couldn’t board it. He wasn’t stressed or angry – he just smiled about it. So much joy; so much tranquility. I’ve only been in Madrid for two months, but the Spaniards are leaving a lasting impression on me.
I like to compare one’s pace of life to the metaphor of breathing. When we are relaxed, we take in the deep breaths doctors call for in a check-up. But with stress comes pulsating breaths, just waiting to soak in enough oxygen to stay alive, let alone thrive. Breath is what keeps us alive, but the way we breathe is what defines our lives.
I don’t know about you, but I believe our healthiest lives develop when peace is our guiding measurement. We make the best decisions when we are calm. We love others better from a vantage point of peace.
What’s the opposite of peace? I would say worry, and a friend of worry is stress. Americans are good at several things, and one of those is stressing. We like to rush. Going inside for a Big Mac isn’t quick enough? We’ll build a drive-thru. One drive-thru isn’t fast enough? We’ll build a two-lane drive-thru! We don’t breathe enough – we don’t create enough space to simply soak in life. Americans treat everything like a race. I find myself impatiently pacing when I have to wait 10 minutes for a bus in Madrid. Spending 30 minutes preparing a meal is too slow for me – I’ll pop a pizza in the oven instead. But life wasn’t designed to be rushed through. We need more breathing room.
How often have you heard other Americans say, “There is just not enough time in the day”? Or someone asks, “Hey, how is everything going?” The other responds, “Well, you know, busy like usual!” As if it’s a bragging matter. Having your calendar stacked full conveys an air of importance. But to be important isn’t the aim in life – to be the healthiest you is the goal. That’s when you can love people best. Einstein said, “Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value.” You’re not valuable to yourself or to anyone else when you’re drowning in a puddle of stress.
During my master’s degree, I got really caught up in worry, perfectionism, and a lot of unhealthy thought patterns. I look back at that Kyle and want to tell him, “Bro, just chill out. Breathe. Life isn’t that serious.” Everything I did had to be packaged and bowed with a ribbon of perfectionism. Don’t say the wrong thing, Kyle, or people won’t want to be around you. Don’t make a mistake, or people will become mad at you, and you will be worth less. Misbeliefs.
Thankfully, Spain is setting my feet on the right path and teaching me a few things about peace. In Spain, most businesses take a siesta between 2:30–5:00 p.m. everyday. I always forget this when I go to recharge my phone data or buy produce, only to realize, “It’s siesta again!” Every year, there are over 13 bank holidays in Madrid, during which most companies are closed and people enjoy time with their family. Spaniards leisurely walk along the sidewalks, while I quickly navigate past them. My Spanish family here has a family-wide meal every Sunday. Spaniards may be stressed, but if they are, I can’t tell. Their tranquility and contentment is a direct correlation to their relational health and pace of life.
Try giving yourself breathing room. Make space just for its own sake. I agree with Caleb Followill and his lyrics to “Take the time to waste a moment.” The further we’re immersed in stress, the longer it takes to stick our heads above water and breathe again. I was pretty deep in stress, so it has been a 6-month process just to break the surface of the water I was drowning in.
Agree? Disagree? See it differently? Let me know your thoughts!