I don't know how much wisdom you expect to find on the side of your Chipotle soft-drink cup, but when I pop into one of their more than 1,600 locations for an emergency burrito, I desire nothing more than basic sustenance.
Recently, however, the chain has surpassed my expectations by commissioning a series of short essays for cupside publication, all of which you can also read at Vanity Fair.
Contributors include Jonathan Safran Foer, Malcolm Gladwell, Toni Morrison, George Saunders, and Liar's Poker and Moneyball author Michael Lewis, who uses the space to describe his technique for "slowing down time":
I spend too much time trying to spend less time. Before trips to the grocery store, I'll waste minutes debating whether it is more efficient to make a list, or simply race up and down the aisles grabbing things. I spend what feels like decades in airport security lines trying to figure out how to get through most quickly: should I put the plastic bin containing my belt and shoes through the bomb detector before my carry-on bag, or after? And why sit patiently waiting for the light to turn green when I might email on my phone? I've become more worried about using time efficiently than using it well. But in saner moments I'm able to approach the fourth dimension not as a thing to be ruthlessly managed, but whose basic nature might be altered to enrich my experience of life. I even have tricks for slowing time—or at least my perception of it. At night I sometimes write down things that happened that day. For example:
This morning Walker (my five year old son) asks me if I had a pet when I was a kid. "Yes," I say, "I had a Siamese cat that I loved named Ding How, but he got run over by a car." Walker: "It's lucky that it got killed by a car." Me: "Why?" Walker: "Because then you could get a new cat that isn't named Ding How."
Recording the quotidian details of my day seems to add hours a day to my life: I'm not sure why. Another trick is to focus on some ordinary thing—the faintly geological strata of the insides of a burrito, for instance—and try to describe what I see. Another: pick a task I'd normally do quickly and thoughtlessly–writing words for the side of a cup, say–and do it as slowly as possible. Forcing my life into slow-motion, I notice a lot that I miss at game speed. The one thing I don't notice is the passage of time.
I began living my life a little differently — and a little more sanely — immediately after I read this. I've made special use of Lewis' idea of occasionally doing certain tasks as slowly as possible, a practice no doubt to the frustration of my various editors, but one that surely prolongs my own lifespan.
Lewis' perspectives on the use of time come in especially handy for us always-on 21st-century types who, while we do enjoy our work, are never not doing our work. One of them, the writer-entrepreneur Ben Casnocha, blogged about Lewis' "two-minute-minute" and received this comment that extends the usefulness of the idea:
When Andre Agassi, one of the best returners in tennis, was asked how he countered over 130mph serves, he said he could see the threads on the tennis ball when it came close to him. It wasn't going fast in his perspective, and he felt he had plenty of time to respond, not just react to the speed. This phenomenal viewpoint takes a level of mastery and focus built over decades of practice.
In the same vein, one of the mindfulness techniques I teach my clients is called "slomo." It's just like it sounds, seeing life happening in slow-motion so you can pay attention to the small details. Often, people take the metaphor too literally and try to visualize their actions in slow-motion, as if in a movie. But deep, focused attention is the outcome, not the process, and once you're in it, you don't think about being focused, you are focus.
When you treat what you are doing with care and sophistication, the way an artisan would, it doesn't feel like work anymore, it feels like making art. You are literally in the moment, with no separation between you and what you are doing. That's mindfulness.
That solved, now to the real problem: given that the whole thing is too filling and half of it isn't filling enough, how best does one eat a Chipotle burrito?