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I Learned to Stroll in Sri Lanka

Updated: Aug 10, 2021

Growing up in the US, I was used to everything being fast-paced. Drive-in, take-out, fast food, one-hour photo, drive-thru, schedules, meetings, competitive edge, full out and fast walking.

When i first arrived in Sri Lanka as a Peace Corps Volunteer, I continued my regular workout routines that I'd picked up in college , as best as I could. I would run every morning, even though women weren't supposed to do that. I would wear my traditional Sri Lankan dress and running shoes and head out to the streets of Kandy unaccompanied by a male member of the family. It was frowned upon by anyone who saw me.

After the initial three months of training, we headed out to our respective villages. I went to a beautiful village in the hills above the city of Matara. Inside of my village we had dirt paths leading through the jungle in-between houses and to the local shop/post office/grocery store. The main mode of transportation within the village, was walking. To travel out of my village, I rode a bike.

When I first arrived in the village, I was led around by the village leaders who introduced me to farmers, other families and brought me to village meetings. We were getting to know each other and opening up possibilities for future projects. As we walked around from house to house, I noticed that I was always ahead of everyone. I used to get so frustrated with them. 'Why are they so slow? Don't they know I don't have a lot of time remaining here? We have a lot to do and there are a lot of people and organizations to coordinate and it's got to be done today because tomorrow there's even more to do!' This was my attitude for my first year living amongst Sri Lankans.

But as I settled in to life in the jungle, I slowly began to realize that I was fast pacing for nothing. I was bringing stress, frustration and mis-communication to the area, not them. They were easy-going, quick to laugh or tell stories. Life for them was about the journey, not the destination. No one needed to hurry because there was always time. The jungles were beautiful, the weather was hot, and life was all about appreciating the present moment, not the moments to come.

So as time passed by, I saw my frustrations ease with the pace of my walk. I learned to slow down, and walk next to the villagers, not in front of them . I became part of life there, not always separate like I had been . With more time and less stress, conversations became more enjoyable and I got to know people and their families on a deeper level.

The more time I spent strolling, the more I came to appreciate this slower way of doing things. I still had progress in my head, this is part of my internal make-up, but now it was working with the Sri Lankan system, not against it. I learned how to relax and still get things done. No more self-imposed pressure to outperform or compete against some unseen force. It was all about enjoying my time. Hanging out at the beaches and in the jungles with the villagers, my friends, and soaking up my limited amount of time in Sri Lanka. I spent time watching the sunset outside my mud hut, reading books, writing letters, learning to play the guitar, to read Hebrew and schedule meetings.

Strolling allows smiles, eye contact and communication while passing, as opposed to fast walking, keeping your eyes down, missing the view and a chance to connect with people.

I did get many projects off the ground, including bringing the first electricity line into our village. I worked with farmers, held classes for responsible pesticide education, we had sewing classes, dug wells, and I formed lasting bonds with the people in my village.

Once I saw the value in slowing down, metaphorically, I decided to adopt it for the rest of my life. I no longer stress about deadlines or things that go wrong. I have learned to accept things and people as they are, to move through life like a gentle flowing stream. I've lived on both sides of fast and slow and I see so much more kindness, acceptance, trust and just letting things go on the slower side, so I chose to stroll rather than win races.

Life in Israel is faster than the Sri Lankan way of life, but slower than the US. It's somewhere in the middle, but it is still easy to get caught up in the mentality that we need to do it all and do it as fast as possible. Israelis tend to drive impatiently, talk fast and move on to the next thing before finishing the first one. So each time I see my life taking the fast road, I step back and remember the Sri Lankan stroll. Things that I can't control, are not up to me. What I can control, is what I focus on, but I try to let it happen rather than make it happen. Either way , it usually happens. So why add more stress into my life where there doesn't need to be?

Taking time to accept what is, to take a deep breath and prioritize what is truly important, has made my life easier, less stressful and deeper. I have more patience with myself, with my kids and with all the madness that is the outside world. Let other people fast pace, get all caught up in the craziness of the media and the smallness of the unimportant details. I have learned to be happy taking it slow and simplified. It may not make me rich, but making eye contact and smiling when passing someone makes me happy and spreads joy to those around me.

Meditation, time in nature and doing what I love has helped keep me on the slow track. So has detaching from the media channels. I choose not to listen/watch and let their opinions influence my life. Instead, I spend that time in silence. It's my time with myself, time to look inside, appreciate who I am and see where I can strive to do better.

Less stress also means more health. Stress causes heart problems, health problems, sleep issues, accelerated ageing, and unhappiness. Sri Lankans have beautiful skin and hair, shining smiles, infectious laughter and a trusting nature. I believe a lot of this is based in their attitude of strolling.

I love dancing and working up a sweat. Exercise still has a big part in my life, but when it comes to everyday life, I have adopted the Sri Lankan stroll as my guide in a fast paced world. It has helped me make life long friends, trust my intuition and make balanced decisions that have affected me on many levels.

"Kamak nae" is a popular phrase used in Sri Lanka. It means, "it doesn't matter", "it's ok" or "it will be fine". This phrase can be used for many situations. I always took it to mean, "no stress, it will all work out". I believe in this as well. Take it as it comes, don't rush, learn what it has to teach you and enjoy the process along the way.

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