Last night’s event at the mid-Manhattan branch of the New York Public Library was an incredibly humbling experience. People from China, the Ukraine, France, Puerto Rico, Latin America and North America assembled to talk about time abundance. Since several audience members had heard my speech the week prior at the National Arts Club of New York, I varied some of it to make it interesting. Eighty people showed up. I was astounded at the level of interest and the yearning for permission to slow down in this 24/7 world of ours. Young and old,  foreigners and citizens gathered together in the most extraordinary way.

This week has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. May we all embrace the slow and in doing so realize how connected we truly are.

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First off, let us take a moment to say thank you to the plucky Spaniard who set sail to discover the Orient, only to find America. Christopher Columbus, we express our deepest gratitude to your noblest cause and appreciate the error of your compass. You see, making mistakes end up teaching us things. Even though your statute at the harbor in Barcelona has you pointing to the Mediterranean (and most likely, woefully wishing you really had gone East instead of West), you are a star in our eyes.

Barcelona 2009 081Ole Chris took a faith journey into unknown waters. With only his inner strength and navigation prowess, he set off to change the world with his exploration. And he did.

Whether we realize it or not, we are all on some type of faith journey. For some, it comes in the form of exploration. For others, it shows itself as creative inquiry. Jennifer Haupt, a marvelous cyber-buddy/writer friend of mine whose resumé humbles me beyond measure, generously offered to interview me about the power of slow for her blog, My Faith Project. She calls faith the master key to access a meaningful life. She went to Rwanda, for instance, on a leap of faith. She writes:

Faith gives us hope; it’s the knowing that there is something more than what we see in the mirror.

I’m going to New York (not quite as exotic, but equally exciting) to introduce The Power of Slow in just over a week, and I’m tucking some of that faith into my toolkit because, like Columbus, you never know where it will lead you. 

May we unlock the treasures of existence together.

Last week in New York City, I sat down with Distracted author Maggie Jackson for a rare face-to-face interview. It was rare because most of the interviews I conduct are through the digital medium, either via phone, Skype or email. We enjoyed a cup of chamomille tea at a quaint Swedish cafe just off Columbus Circle where, during one of my previous visits, I had spotted Scarlett Johansson rushing by while chatting on her cell phone.

Once we got acquainted, our discussion quickly turned to one of the subjects in her book that is most pressing on my mind – the blending of man and distractedmachine. Digital devices are rapidly becoming extensions of ourselves. Quickly surveying the Manhattan landscape, you are guaranteed to see at least five people with a cell phone or BlackBerry pressed to their skull at any given moment. I had to ponder whether that man on the corner who was smiling into space was actually directing his humor at me or at the pinky-sized ear attachment that blinked periodically as he spoke.

“Our constant connectivity leaves little time for self-reflection,” Maggie aptly stated. She pointed to the surfeit of information we handle on a daily basis. “Virtuality [on some level] trumps ‘reality’.” We have built worlds based on digital data. And now it’s portable, too.

Cultivating our inner self comes when we give our thoughts time and space to unfold. Take the recent Miss USA debacle in which Miss California took a stand against gay marriage. It is said that Miss California felt she was the true winner of the Miss USA pagent because of the number of Facebook friend requests and tweets she received. If that is true, it does not bode well for our children’s generation. Internet ranking as the benchmark for morality? A scary prospect indeed.

“Twitter, by its nature, is very reductive. It accentuates the trivial,” Maggie suggested. She was quick to point out how Twitter exacerbates our love of the instantaneous. Instant gratification informs who we are as a nation. Don’t make me wait. Give me the answers now. Yet, at what cost?

I thought about this as I stepped off the plane at Munich’s International airport. The air was a blend of spring and serenity. People weren’t generally moving at the speed of a Tweet. I returned home to my non-existent couch that I had ordered seven weeks ago.

“You’ll receive it in the eighteenth calendar week,” the sales rep stated, not without a tinge of annoyance that I should expect it any sooner. I marveled at the cultural differences between the US and Germany for a moment. The power of slow shone through once again. Some things take time. We needn’t rush it. The furniture store hasn’t learned about citizen journalism or Twitter yet. Perhaps a new social media movement will provide the tipping point that will make the furniture industry in Europe self-adjust. Given the speed at which Germany moves, it may take decades before they catch up.

And that might not be such a bad thing, after all.

I have been to New York City at least five times in as many years. Something has changed in the City. It is softer, kinder, more humane. After spending five days there, I experienced nothing but kindness wherever I went.

Someone once told me you see the world through a mirror, not a lens. That which you project is what you see. But there was something more than friendliness returned. There was a deeper level of authenticity I had never known New Yorkers were capable of before.

We attended the very last performance of Don Giovanni at the Metropolitan Opera. Right before intermission, the general manager came on stage with the entire cast to honor one of the lead singers for his twenty-five years of service. The award was swathed in a piece of the old Met’s curtain. That they all spoke English, not Italian, pulled me from my reverie. I suddenly realized where I was again (their performance was that convincing ~ the second act was equally so). By doing so, they created a new connection with the audience. These were real people up there doing what they love for us. I felt myself steeped in profound gratitude.

Consider my fabulous hotel, Portland Square Hotel, whose unbelievably accommodating staff matches its equally cool location just off Time Square. It had a different feel than I remember it. They cared. And they showed it.

Perhaps there’s something in the water on 47th. I don’t know.  Cheryl Huse, new-york-040the hotel front desk staff member remembered my name, cheerfully reminded me of package pick-up as they arrived, and even hugged me at the end. Or Lee, the manager, who skillfully handled an upset taxi driver negotiate another $4 from some British guests who unwillingly stiffed him of some toll money.

starbucksOr what about the Starbucks next store at the 47th and 6th NHL store location? You’d think Starbucks is the same wherever you go. Not so. These people stood for making a difference.

Ted took orders while the baristas carried out our orders. In his loving style, Ted asked us what we preferred, then asked us our names. The best part was he remembered them. With a swarm of caffeine-craving people, he remain undaunted. In fact, his laughter and bright eyes were infectious.

It wasn’t only the convenient location that prompted me to go there again. It was the feeling I had while in the store. On the morning of my departure (Sunday) Adam and Andy cheerfully helped a Spanish couple who was struggling with their English.

“Hablo Espangol?” Andy asked.  Visibly relieved, they ordered in their native tongue.

“I know you, but I don’t know your sister,” Adam said to me as I ordered a tall coffee with room for milk. I smiled, then introduced my mom who was celebrating her 68th birthday. He gave her her chai latte for free.

So listen up, Jerrel, the store’s manager at the NHL location. Whatever you’re doing, you’re doing it well. We walked away feeling warm on the inside, not only for the hot coffee I eagerly poured into my jet-lagged system, but for the feeling of humanity that has entered New York.

Kindness rules no matter where you are in the world. I am inspired by the people I have met. It makes me ask: what kindness can I bring to this day?

Safely esconced in the confines of my tiny New York hotel room, I am typing this in rhythm with the traffic nine stories below. I can see why New Yorkers have a hard time slowing down. It is natural for human beings to adapt to their surroundings. As far as I can tell, the Slow Movement has not yet hit the streets of Manhattan.

There is a softer lilt to the City now. Cabs are easier to hail as drivers fight for the shrinking pool of rides. Much of what I’ve observed has to do with the financial crisis. I sense more humility, less brash. In a way, the slowdown has slowed people down just a tad. It’s made them pensive, thoughtful, almost inward in a new kind of way.

Yesterday’s airport shuttle bus ride taught me a lesson or two about the power of slow. If you’ve ever taken a bus of collective travellers/hotel guests, you’ll know you typically get a free tour of the City before landing at your own hotel. Yesterday’s ride was no exception.

After a nine-hour transatlantic flight, I just wanted a shower and some dinner. I noticed how my ungrateful thoughts soured my attitude as I sat in the bus with the other passengers. Then I realized I could take the opportunity to keenly observe my surroundings.  After all, that was why I had come to New York in the first place: to feel the vibe of America’s most pulsating city. I was being presented a free tour of New York. Why not enjoy the ride? I started to engage in conversation with the other passengers.

Outside the shuttle van I saw more people talking on their cellphones or listening to their iPods than anything else. Even the bus driver checked his PDA at every red light. I made a mental note about the challenges I might face bringing the power of slow to this place.

The biggest test of my own slow resolve came when we finally arrived at my hotel. The driver had handed a prior hotel guest my bag instead of his. It wouldn’t have set me into a full-fledged panic if my laptop and hand-edited manuscript of The Power of Slow hadn’t been in said bag. We looped around Time Square (again). It took ten minutes to drive two blocks. An arterial vein almost exploded in my core.

“Remember the breathing…” I told myself. Breathe the slow. Love the slow. Embrace the…oh the heck with it! There are moments when impulse just has to take over.

Get outta the way, buddy! I nearly shouted at the pedestrian blocking our way to absolution.

Moments later, we reached the other hotel. I asked for the hotel guest, whose name we had luckily gotten through our friendly conversation during the ride. He came down with the bag, wearing a sheepish grin.

“I hadn’t even noticed.”

The blood slowly returned to my face as I returned his smile.

“That’s okay. It’s just that, well, my life dream is in that bag.”

The very experience of loss and return had given me more than I knew. I now understood how the power of slow, with its softening reassurance, can move mountains…and road-blocking pedestrians when it has to!