In Tampa, Florida, you’ll find one of the most remarkable viewing experiences in all of nature. You won’t find it at a zoo or nature reserve. You’ll find it at the least likely of places: the Tampa Electric facility.
Right near the steam emerging from giant towers is a channel about the size of three football fields. It is long and narrow. And if you look across it, you’ll see a dense bustling of aquatic life. Fish darting around and jumping out of the water with joy. Stingrays playing with each other.
And manatees. Lots and lots of manatees.
What manatees taught me about slowing down
During the winter, sea life converges here because the temperature runs a few degrees warmer due to the heated water from the factory pipes. Thankfully, there is no nuclear waste or three-eyed fish darting about.
The manatees look like a giant sack of 400 potatoes that were dropped into the ocean. They are all piled up on top of each other. They move incredibly slow—almost as if frozen in time.
There are orgy-like gatherings of them pushed together, just grooming (it is kid-friendly, no actual orgies happening, that’s only in the after-hours show).
You wonder how this species even survived. They have no weapons. They are terribly unathletic.
But they are happy—it’s unmistakable. You can see their smiles.
They relax as they take turns grooming each other in all their languid greatness. I watched one, who probably weighed 700 lbs. His width and length seemed identical. He rolled like a giant log in a stream, over to one side, showing his big bulbous belly to the onlookers while his “girlfriend” groomed his belly.
I’m still thinking he winked at me.
Perhaps we can learn from such a sloth-like creature, who is spared from the rat race. He lives in blissful ignorance of the accelerating lives we are drowning in. He is in a talentless state of nirvana, in such a laughably simple existence.
How to slow down in the midst of daily demands, when life’s novelty has worn thin
My life feels like the complete opposite. With each step forward in productivity, another digital vampire’s teeth sink deeper into me.
How can we think clearly as more flashing images, annoying ringtones, changing deadlines and priorities, shoot their tentacles at us at all hours?
I’ve come to appreciate the quieter moments.
When I’m in my living room, I’ll try to pretend that time has just stopped. The clock neither moves forward nor back. Deferring reality from its rightful throne gives me time to see the beauty that hides in its shadows.
It brings back a sort of youthful innocence, a time when each day stretched wide into this vast and slow-moving fog of the unknown that I yearned to wander. I feel less beholden and compelled to have so many answers all at once.
There’s less novelty with age. We recognize most of the patterns we see. And so the world speeds up.
But this is also why starting something new—a job, a project, a hobby, a group—can force time to stretch longer. You are thrown all of this new information and experiences. Change is good.
I used to be this absolute wildman, a brute Viking with an inverted helmet full of beer (or so I thought at the time).
Now I’m a dude in front of a computer. It’s fine. I’m certainly happy. But the contrast makes me feel dated.
We have a human need for both novelty and consistency. But it takes more deliberate action to bring novelty into our life. We must make pointed decisions to mix things up or risk being caught up in the blurring speed of aging.
Focusing on quality over quantity helps to slow down and enjoy the moment
I recently read about The Slow Movement, an organization that promotes a cultural shift towards slowing down the speed of life, with a focus on doing things correctly rather than as fast as possible. It was inspired by the opening of a McDonald’s in Rome, which focused on quality over quantity.
I have also read of people who keep 24-hour clocks that prevent them from seeing the incremental changes in time so easily. This practice forces them to be less time-sensitive and enjoy the moment.
We feel pressure to move quickly and accomplish, to finish a task in record time. We likely have more time than we think. Quality becomes its own form of quantity. We produce correctly rather than spending time cleaning up mistakes.
The words “fast” and “correct” are an oxymoron. Yet they are passionate bedfellows these days. Even from the tranquility of my home, working for myself, the outside world seems to demand more and more.
Take a moment to pause each day. Set aside time if you can. Go electronics-free. Read a book. Meditate. Do something that brings back your youth. Reclaim the time before it slips away.