Waking up to Wisdom
In Stillness and Community

The Great Tragedy of Speed

--by David Whyte (Apr 22, 2013)

Speed in work has compensations. Speed gets noticed. Speed is praised by others. Speed is self-important. Speed absolves us. Speed means we don't really belong to any particular thing or person we are visiting and thus appears to elevate us above the ground of our labors.

When it becomes all-consuming, speed is the ultimate defense, the antidote to stopping and really looking. If we really saw what we were doing and who we had become, we feel we might not survive the stopping and the accompanying self-appraisal. So we don't stop, and the faster we go, the harder it becomes to stop. We keep moving on whenever any form of true commitment seems to surface.

Speed is also warning, a throbbing, insistent indicator that some cliff edge or other is very near, a sure diagnostic sign that we are living someone else's life and doing someone else's work. But speed saves us the pain of all that stopping; speed can be such a balm, a saving grace, a way we tell ourselves, in unconscious ways, that we are really not participating.

"The great tragedy of speed as an answer to the complexities and responsibilities of existence is that very soon we cannot recognize anything or anyone who is not traveling at the same velocity as we are. We see only those moving in the same whirling orbit and only those moving with the same urgency. Soon we begin to suffer a form of amnesia, caused by the blurred vision of velocity itself, where those germane to our humanity are dropped from our minds one by one. We start to lose sight of any colleagues who are moving at a slower pace, and we start to lose sight of the bigger, slower cycles that underlie our work. We especially lose sight of the big, unfolding wave form passing through our lives that is indicative of our central character.

On the personal side, as slaves to speed, we start to lose sight of family members, especially children, or those who are ill or infirm, who are not flying through the world as quickly and determinedly as we are. Just as seriously, we begin to leave behind the parts of our own selves that limp a little, the vulnerabilities that actually give us color and character. We forget that our sanity is dependent on a relationship with longer, more patient cycles extending beyond the urgencies and madness of the office."

--David Whyte

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Previous Reflections:

On Apr 19, 2013 Conrad P Pritscher wrote:

 Wow! Whyte's writing is fantastic.  I didn't know how dumb I was until I read this.  Previously I thought I was smarter by going faster.  Even in conversations of various sorts I too often want to get to the heart of the matter very quickly.  After reading this article I now more clearly realize that being patient is getting to the hearts of all matters.  Being patient helps one be peaceful and compassionate.  I don't seem to recall an experience that came from the belief: "I have time"  I have been reading Awakin articles for a couple of years, and I now believe that this one will probably help me the most..   Most of my accomplishments came from doing things quickly but those were done at the expense of being impatient and  non-compassionate.  You have my deep gratitude for giving me the opportunity to read this and to respond.  Warm and kind regards to everyone.

On Apr 19, 2013 david doane wrote:

 "Speed kills."  That is true more ways than one.  The frenetic lifestyle of our culture hypnotizes and kills us.  Joseph Campbell said we strive a lifetime climbing the ladder of success only to find one day the ladder is leaning up against the wrong wall.  Speed is a wrong wall.  It's the treadmill or rat race that we find ourselves on.  It's important to get off the treadmill, move the ladder off the speed wall, and slow down.  Engage a speed that allows me/you to enjoy the moment, be mindful of what is happening, relax, take time to smell the roses.  My relationship with speed has for the most part not been a happy one.  Moving fast or rushing has resulted in my not enjoying the process, making mistakes, and getting myself agitated, stressed, and sometimes even sick or injured.  Of course we have time.  The issue is how we use it.  I've become more aware of slowing down, which makes it easier for me to be mindful moment by moment which in turn requires that I slow down.  I'm realizing what's important isn't how fast I get to the destination but the quality of my time on the journey.  My awareness of that seems ahead of my action as I have a lot of improvement to make in this area of slowing down.  That I'm doing slowly.

On Apr 21, 2013 amy wrote:

Just weeks ago we read the words of Krishnamurti (in "He Who Accumulates Cannot Learn") that "communion is a very difficult art . . . requiring listening and learning . . . (going on to say that) most of us hardly listen."
"Speed" is the root cause for our lack of communion.  "Speed" is the what takes our ear from another person's story. "Speed" tells us we do not have the time or energy to commune /listen right now.  
As in a NASCAR race, the only things that take a car/driver off it's fast track is a problem.  He/she takes time for that "pit stop" . . . or may slow down for debris on the track/other emergencies related to "speed" . . . BUT this is done very efficiently (with speed) as well.  THE FOCUS is always on "THE RACE" . . . . . . . . . 

Today is Sunday (my favorite day of the week)!  I got to go to church (my favorite "pit stop") to work on my "communion skills".  The art listening, learning and stillness best accomplished at "lower speeds".

The faster we travel, the more blurred the landscape AROUND us appears.  The slower one travels, the more clearly we can focus on the people and things around us.
Blessings and Love to my Awaken brothers and sisters.          

On Apr 21, 2013 Manyam wrote:

That's very beautifully put, The odd irony is that we all do recognize the unnamed race we seem to be on at a conscious level but seem incapable of slowing down. It needs a deliberate effort to slow down, like friction stopping a moving object we need something to slow us down, may be it's finding the source of friction that we are willing to trade off against the speed is the real challenge, not the race it self.

On Apr 22, 2013 gayathri wrote:

 much gratitude to awakin for initiating these conversations/dialogue with oneself..

very full of truth reflections! how lucidly he describes our existential state of affairs...... love it.  
consciously or unconsciously....have never really befriended 'speed'.  to believe we have time -
this question brings up this thought that 'the hour belongs to everybody'.....and how do i get myself to
believe that the hour belongs to me....maybe by thinking that in the same given time....a flower could
blossom, a seed could be sprouting, a river is flowing toward the ocean....all with such gentleness and
constantness.  maybe a combination of nidhaana (slow) and constantness could be a beautiful substitute
for  speed.
personal experience: for me when i am using the precious resources of this earth...speed seems to slow down
...washing dishes slowly - this especially gives me a vicarious experience of having fetched the water
from a great distance,
cutting vegetables....this brings up an image of a cook (helper) in a wedding
hall in india, grating the coconuts with a traditional unmechanized as if he were in his own
personal kitchen....with no sense of hurriedness...
and today in the morn while i was giving bath to my 4 yr old to get her ready to school...suddenly i saw her
frowning and asked her why...she said that i was giving her bath too that was an instant reminder for
me...that there is time
also feel that:
when speed is in the very nature of that being...then i guess speed is apt.  the speed
of light, the flapping of a humming bird's wings....and so on; also speed is desired for when it should be
in the nature of that being...especially...speedy justice!

On Apr 22, 2013 hwatt wrote:

The real tragedy of speed is the false sense of "getting somewhere." Or even, I suppose, that there is anywhere to go.
I come home at the end of the day, unable to decompress, unable to cherish my children or play with my spouse, because I'm confronted withe a to-do list only nominally different from the one I left behind. So I rush through my stories of the day; I rush through listening so that I barely hear. I rush through making dinner so that I often forget the most important ingredient: love.
I want to slow down, but there is anxiety, fear (of what, I'm not sure), that if I sit and enjoy... I might actually sit and enjoy. 

On Apr 23, 2013 CBrooks wrote:

Most folks comment that  my 90-year-old mother-in-law is a role model for all of us. Her calendar is full; she drives to events near and far every day. She is always busy. A younger friend of hers (a mere 75) visited for 3 weeks. She whispered to me, "She never stops to think; she's always going somewhere or doing something.  She is rushing, rushing, rushing because she thinks she is always late. But she never really talks with me about important things. I need that, too." I  listen and reflect on my own busyness. Time to stop and to watch the birds, the river, and the flowers and to play with the grandchildren. And to say out loud every day to each one how much I love them.

On Apr 23, 2013 Audrey wrote:

I often find myself feeling guilty for taking time to have time. This passage is very timely for me. My father just passed away a week ago, and it's funny, when something like that happens, everything in life gets put on hold. But even though a big change had happened in my life, I noticed how my own mind kept spinning, and I only allowed myself a week to fly back, be with family, and help with funeral arrangements and logistical things. At the funeral, I realized that taking time to just be and sit with all the feelings brewing up inside of me is so important. And not only that, but to take time to be present with my family. Born in a lineage of workaholics, I never really valued downtime. But I'm realizing now that if I don't take time to soak up the longer, more patient cycles that underlie our lives, then I am really missing out. By leaving parts of myself (the parts "that limp a little, the vulnerabilities that give us character") behind, un-addressed, and probably pent-up to come out at a late time, I'm just covering myself up with band-aids, and creating problems in the longer term. I'm glad I decided to take a little more time this week to be with my family. Thank you for this passage. It's a humbling reminder of the beauty in taking time to stop, see, listen, and accept things as they are. Life as it is. 

On Apr 23, 2013 Sis Asha wrote:

Excellent posting. When I came to the BrahmaKumaris 26 years ago, I realised then that speed was not such a great thing. I was cooking lunch one day for about 20 souls who had gathered for a workshop. Being an Obstetrician, I was always used to speed. I started cooking also with great speed. At that time,I thought the senior sister would be impressed. After about an hour, the senior sister came to me and said that I should cook with love, peace and calm. I should cook with a gentle touch with no noise. I should be an angel cooking and serving the world. She said that my hurried attitude will go in the food and the souls will not be able to digest all those hormones of hurry and speed that went into the food. I immediately slowed down. I remembered the Supreme Soul and continued my cooking in a gentle loving atmosphere. Made a lot of difference to me. I felt light, loved and embraced by God. Om Shanti !

On Apr 23, 2013 JGD wrote:

 Though I can agree with some of the ill effects of speed mentioned by David White, I feel his is a far too gloomy and negative assessment of speed. There are situations were speed is essential. A more balanced assessment would have been better. Perhaps Mr. White and I define speed differently.:)

On Apr 23, 2013 Marcus wrote:

Taking a few bursts of speed every now and then is OK, the problem is when people start living permanently in high speed and can't decelerate anymore. I think this is what David Whyte was talking about =)

On Apr 23, 2013 amy wrote:


On Apr 24, 2013 someone wrote:

i can see that he is talking about those times when we are so busy that anything which slows us down does not fit in. We dont smile, cant care, we are just running fast to achieve God knows what! We don't see to have patience and listening and start losing on loving relations. We may realize that we missed a lot when we stop by due to some failure or problem and see that we actually did not live at all. 

On Apr 24, 2013 madhur wrote:

 Dear Audrey,

I keep reading your posts and so I kind of feel like a friend who knows about some of your activities and thoughts. Your comment here is very useful as an addendum to the passage to bring the message out more clearly. I agree completely with your decision that slowing down and sinking in when so much is going through head is very important.
Blessings to you and your family. May all attain peace and your father's soul rest in peace.

Love, madhur

On Apr 24, 2013 Someone wrote:

You may want to add 1 word to your dictionary - 'Being vulnerable'
For what is important to you in your life, you my just want to try this. Hope it makes sense and works for you.

On Apr 24, 2013 Audrey wrote:

Dear Madhur,

Thank you for such a thoughtful comment and your touching words of support.

Many blessings to you as well!

With Gratitude,

On Apr 25, 2013 aj wrote:

 Live and Love today, Special and Chosen one.  Start today.  With or without speed, start today . . . always remembering in the story of "The Tortoise and the Hare" who won the race!  (Not that winning matters)  No matter how insignificant our lives "feel", at times, the least is considered the best in/to the only Eyes that really matter!
In all things, love,
To all you meet, love
love to someone! 

On Apr 26, 2013 deepa wrote:

I agree this article has helped me a lot too. I go through life very quickly thinking things needs to be finished. I think if the same thing is done peacefully and with more patience i guess it would be done well. The art of listening is very important as it helps us understand life and people better. We need to realize that our life is mainly to meet some interesting people. We cannot rush it as we might then forget that we have to enjoy the peace and love of everyone whom we have come to meet. 

On Jun 20, 2013 Maya wrote:

 Wow!  What a great line: "vulnerabilities...actually give us color and character."  What a 180 in our society of success.

On Jun 20, 2013 Maya wrote:

 Sis Asha, that is a beautiful example of how we can slow down.  I think our Western culture hasn't quite caught onto this, but it's so much easier to embrace when one retires.  I do think the importance of slowing down is being accepted my the few, and I believe it will keep spreading. I hope so because I believe it's one answer to peace.

On Sep 7, 2013 Vicki wrote:

This has got me really thinking about how I zoom around,loosing the experience of a moment!Days blend into each other,leaving me with the terrible thought that I miss so many precious moments 'not smelling the roses'

On Jan 26, 2015 Rose O'Connor wrote:

 This is the most perfect thing I needed to read at this stage in my life. I can see how I have always tried to do everything in a hurry as if that was the most important thing in the world. I was so impatient with anyone who did not rush and do things quickly like I did. Then my son was diagnosed with Schizophrenia, I lost my job and my whole world came crashing down. I suffered from depression for a long time and that helped me slow down. Reading this has just made me realize that this was my story. I am now living at a lot slower pace and starting to cherish the slowness and appreciate the slowness of others.

On Jan 26, 2015 Thyla wrote:

 My first born is a Senior in High School this year.  As we filled out college applications and it dawned on me that my baby will be going off to college in fall, my priorities underwent a sea change. "I always have time now" for whenever we are able to spend time together.  She sometimes likes to just have a cup of tea with me or we watch HGTV together or cuddle on the sofa;  she is finishing up homework and I am sitting at the other side of the dining table..but I am with her.  This of course was not the case before;  I always had the "to do" list.  But once I started believing that I needed to spend time with her," I was able to have time.'

On Jan 27, 2015 Heidi wrote:

How often I have experienced this at work - everyone rushing forward with no time to consider long-term impact, look back at previous iterations or assess feasibility with any depth.  In the mad rush to "do" or to "make our mark," often the very purpose for our work is even overlooked.  I am grateful for having become more mindful at home.     

On Feb 9, 2015 Chris Martin wrote:
Such a rush to do nothing at all
Such a fuss to get nowhere at all
Such a rush, such a rush

And it's just like you said
It's just like you said

So slow down please
Just slow down
So slow down please
Just slow down

Such a rush

Look at all the people
Going after money
Far too many people
Looking for their money
Everybody's out there
Trying to get money
Why can't you just tell me?
Trying to get money, rush

–– "Such A Rush" by Coldplay

On Aug 28, 2016 Gregor7465 wrote:


On Aug 28, 2016 jin wrote:


On Nov 4, 2018 Car wrote:

Hi... great article!
I believe through the years of facing challenging and happy times in life, chasing carreer goals , etc.. having gratitude for the journey helps me stay grounded, thankful and believe there is a time for everything. Ive learnt that i cannot rush the stages in my life, because i will miss the vital lesssons along the way that were meant to equip me to face the stage in my life...

In this belief, you are more patient with yourself, and when you feel you are ready again... your gut will guide your way. the trick is to be still enough to listen to it:-)