Slow down by half, and half again…Enjoy it twice as much.


I walk Mario the Labradoodle along my favorite path underneath sun streaming through an evergreen canopy…it is glorious. The ground in front of me begins a gentle slope upward – so gentle that you probably wouldn’t notice it. To me, though, it is akin to a steep slope at a high altitude, and I know that if I want to avoid shortness of breath or oxygen deprivation, I must slow down my pace by half…and then by half again, and crank up the O2.

At first, and sometimes still, I get frustrated and exasperated by this betrayal of my body. Sometimes I want to just give up…sometimes I become so impatient….I find I miss the life I used to lead that involved HURRYING to get somewhere or RUSHING to get something done. Hurrying can feel exhilarating and fun.

These days, I say a mantra to myself as we begin our trek up the gradual incline, and it is this: “Slow it down by half, and half again…Enjoy it twice as much…”

More and more often, this helps me shift into acceptance of my physical reality and its limitations. I realize that this is how it is, and that moving really slowly is what I must do to get enough oxygen from my tanks into my bloodstream. I begin to slow down. With that acceptance comes a letting go, and a relaxing…and moments later, a mini-exhale and an opening of awareness. Then, “presence” happens.

In the best moments at my new very slow pace, I begin to notice the wondrous subtleties of what is around me…the soft movement of the air…the shimmering light through the trees and how it illuminates all that it touches…the creaks and groans made far above by swaying branches and trunks…the ALIVENESS that surrounds me in all directions. I sometimes pop into a sense that I AM the trees and the light and the breeze and the ground where time stands still. The hair on my arms stands up and I imagine I feel the vibration of the earth in my belly.  In these moments I feel more present and alive than I have ever known, and it fills me with intense gratitude. By moving very slowly, a whole world opens itself to me that I may well have missed before.

buddha garden peace kindness

Top photos by Art Shirk

There is another phenomenon that awakens in me at my newfound low velocity…it is the profound impact of simple kindness.  

I started thinking about kindness and what it means to be kind a few months ago. This came about because of how deeply grateful I noticed I felt in moments whenever someone took a moment to extend kindness my way. I have led an outrageously privileged life, and never before now have I known what it means to suffer. Over the past few years with Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis (IPF) I have begun to experience a degree of suffering, and at times in the midst of that suffering, have been met with a simple gesture of kindness that has just rocked my world; from people I love the most, and from strangers I have never met…from big kindnesses, to the simplicity of a smile or a kind word.

I have learned that in the midst of suffering, a small dose of kindness can radically shift someone’s (or my own) experience…. and perhaps through that, transform the world.

women friends

photo by Gordon Webb

And so, when I “Slow it down by half and half again… Enjoy it twice as much,” what occupies my awareness are the PEOPLE that I pass by…sitting on a bench or walking along. I see them in the way that we do when we pause and really intentionally look to take in and feel deeply what it is that we are encountering.  And, what I know, and also notice, is that so many people carry heavy burdens on their shoulders every day of the week. In my status quo of moving along at my normal pace, or hurrying faster, I fail to even see them.

My intent these days is to really notice, notice even more, and then act…often with just a smile and a “hello,” and sometimes with a few words of acknowledgement or encouragement. Sometimes I can see and feel that there is an impact…and often I am often uncertain if my gesture has made any sort of difference.

But either way, I know that my own heart is immediately filled with love and unbounded gratefulness. As I contemplate the ending of my life, I know that I aspire to be a conscious, kind, and compassionate person. I am painfully aware of the moments when my ego or victimhood puffs itself up and I react in ugly ways. And so, I begin again — today is always a new day, ripe for being awake, being present, and being kind.

Art Shirk lived in Malden and Rockport, MA with his husband John and best friend Mario the Labradoodle. His favorite activities were walking in the woods and playing frisbee with Mario. Art eased into retirement from his work developing effective leaders and conscious human beings throughout the United States, Europe, and Colombia, South America. In 2014, Art was diagnosed with Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis (IPF), a progressive and terminal lung disease. While navigating the hard parts of IPF, Art and John were engaged and focused on the many questions about living and loving fully that the harsh reality of the disease sparks.    

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Stories of Grateful Living