By offering helpful anecdotes and stories through eight chapters, Haemin Sunim takes his readers on a journey of self-discovery. He provides spiritual advice regarding various aspects of everyday living, whether this may be overcoming the workplace's struggles or finding one's existential purpose. Sunim emphasizes the importance of creating deep and meaningful relationships with others and ourselves, ultimately showing us that when we slow down, we get to see the world in a much more positive and meaningful way.
The book starts with a prologue of the author's journey as a monk trying to help people overcome their daily struggles. His philanthropy eventually served as the inspiration for Sunim to write this book. In each of its eight chapters, Sunim talks about some reflections he has learned as a monk and gives some advice when it comes to dealing with the different aspects of life.
Life isn't a hundred-meter race against your friends, but a lifelong marathon against yourself.
— Haemin Sunim, The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down
In the first chapter, Sunim talks about the illusion of thinking that the mind and the world are separate entities. As he states, the boundary between the mind and the world is thin, porous, and ultimately illusory. How we view the mind is ultimately limited to our experiences in the world, as our realities as human beings are not necessarily the whole universe in its entirety but the small part that we choose to zero on. As he mentions, "the world has never complained about how busy it is." So when onefeels overwhelmed with the stresses in life, they are not necessarily helpless to the situation at hand. For when you let your mind rest, the world rests with you.
In the next chapter, Sunim talks about the importance of emotions, particularly the so-called "negative" ones. Often, we get caught up with the idea of "managing our negative emotions" and "suppressing our negative feelings" instead of what Sunim states as befriending them for what they are. The first step in better understanding our negative emotions in the hopes of resolving them has to do with the linguistic labels that we put with these emotions (e.g., "hate," "anger"). Once we can separate the labels from the feeling itself, we get to see that energy morph into something else. Although subtle, when we can separate the label's emotion, the raw energy behind these emotions gets to change, but the "label" ultimately stays the same. When we observe our emotions rather than be subsumed in them, we see that these negative emotions are only temporary and not the defining characteristic of our lives. He states that we should not fight with our emotions but observe and befriend them for what they are.
We then reach the third chapter of the book, which talks about the concept of passion and the pitfalls that can come with it. In this chapter, Sunim talks about his experiences as a professor in a liberal arts college in Massachusetts. During his first semester of teaching, Sunim would be overzealous in giving out homework and readings for his students. The philosophy behind it was simple: the more they do, the more they would ultimately learn. This backfired for him, as some students would stop doing the assigned work and not come to class altogether. After this blow to his ego, he realized that the students had other things to attend to. Once he struck a balance with the amount of work he gave, the students began to gain more interest in his class. With this, he learned something important about our eagerness. We often mistake the idea of effectiveness with enthusiasm, as we get blinded by our ideals of what we want and neglect the people around us. It is through tempering our overflowing passion that we get to work harmoniously with others. Only then do we get to share our passions successfully with others.
Making relationships is undoubtedly a tough balancing act. Sunim quickly realized this when he went on a backpacking trip with his friend in Europe. After getting irritable after staying together during their trip, Sunim suggested that they go their separate ways for the next day. However, he quickly realized that the trip did not feel as fulfilling without his close companion. It is with this that Sunim realized that maintaining good relationships was like sitting near a fireplace. If you sit too near to the fire, you might burn from the flames, but if you stay too far, you will be left out in the cold. If we stick too close to others without respecting each other's space, we get to feel suffocated. However, if we neglect to connect with others, we lose the chance of creating meaningful relationships with one another.
He also touched upon the idea of forgiveness. We all make mistakes, and we all inherently know that, but we often forget about our "humanness" in the midst of all that is happening. Learning to forgive is an essential part of any relationship. It allows us to grow and be free of the shackles of fear and anger. It is only then that we can connect with people on a deeper level.
In this chapter, Sunim talked about his first experience with love and how he ultimately dealt with such feelings. He spoke about how he was inspired by Kahlil Gibran's poetry and his eagerness to find love in his life. He talks about his experience of his first love, as well as the painful realization that they were not meant to be. Sunim then talks about how love is not something that readily comes to you. Like any good thing in life, it takes time, effort, and sometimes a bit of luck. He then talks about how unpredictable love can be. You never know who, what, when, where, why, how, or if it will happen. It's often the case that relationships happen accidentally, but we usually choose when it comes to endings. It is up to us to choose our conclusions wisely.
Sunim then gets to talk about three essential and liberating things that he learned when he turned thirty. For starters, he realized that people are not always interested in what you are doing. We often get scared about what others think about us, but that is not usually the case. If we think about others, it is almost always for a brief moment, then we immediately drawback to our attention to what is essential during that period. We should not worry about what others think about us. That's if they are even thinking about us in the first place. Secondly, you don't have to be liked by everyone. It is human nature to like and dislike things, so why torment yourself when someone doesn't want you? As Sunim says, it is a part of human life. If someone doesn't like you, who cares? You definitely shouldn't. Lastly, we must realize that most of the things we do in our lives are for ourselves. We pray for our family's well-being because we don't want to be lonely. We want our children to succeed in other for them to help us when we get older. However, Sunim tells us that it is not wrong to think about ourselves. He says that we should own up to our desires. Only then can you make the world a happier place to live in.
Sunim mostly talked about the power of words when it comes to forming others' outlooks and actions. When he was younger, he had a rigorous teacher named Ms. Lee. When Ms. Lee's son asked him to play at their house, Sunim was initially scared to go because of the prospect of meeting Ms. Lee. After some convincing, Sunim decided to go to his friend's house, and to his surprise, Ms. Lee was very friendly and complimentary about him, even saying that he was a good student and an inspiration to others. It was through this that he studied harder as well as tried to be a better role model. Just with a few words, people can get motivated to be better. We often neglect the power of words, but the mere fact that a few names have so much impact even after so many years tells us that it can have a lasting effect on how we view the world as a whole.
Spirituality can be a source of stress in any relationship, especially when people in the same household or friend circles have conflicting beliefs. Sunim says that it is ironic that these types of conflicts arise as religion often preaches about acceptance, tolerance, and, most of all, love. When a dispute arises due to spirituality, Sunim suggests reading a book from a respected member of that religion to understand it better. You cannot force yourself to believe it, but it helps you know what it is in the first place. Sometimes, you might be able to find similarities that you may be able to relate to. Those who embody humility and peace are the ones that can understand the purpose of what religion is about, as well as be able to connect with others even when they do not necessarily believe in the same things.
You often hear in so-called inspirational books to "be happy" and "to always look at the bright side of life." While those ideas are not necessarily wrong per se, consistently forcing ourselves to be positive can lead to incredibly harmful habits and beliefs. Sunim teaches us that we will experience various emotions in our lifetime, whether they may be positive, negative, or even a combination of two. Sometimes, perceiving our sadness as something to overcome rather than a feeling that we genuinely experience can have deleterious effects on our outlook in life and our mental health. Embracing that we have emotions is the first step in embracing the life we have. After all, emotions are an integral part of what makes us humans.
As the saying often goes, "we are only human," and an inevitable part of being human is making mistakes. We are not robots programmed always to do the right thing in every circumstance. Being angry is a common reaction to mistakes, whether we may be mad at others for making an error or being mad at ourselves for messing up so badly. However, Sunim posits that an integral part of self-development comes from learning to forgive. Having pent up thoughts of persistent anger towards something is never healthy in the long run. It eats us up inside, and it almost always never leads to any good. Learning to forgive helps us make amends with the situation around us, as it helps develop peace not only with others but also within ourselves.
We often make our happiness dependent on our successes. It is human nature to want to succeed, and there is nothing wrong with wanting to achieve. After all, no one in normal circumstances wants to fail. However, sometimes we get so focused on the idea of success that it essentially overrides how we think. We look at success as the only way of becoming happy, and it leads to this harmful cycle of continually looking at the outcomes but never the process to get there. Happiness should be an emotion that we experience regardless of whether we succeed or not. When we get to look at joy as a separate entity from our success, we get to enjoy our lives more for what it is: not a series of various destinations, but a continuous journey just waiting to be unraveled.
Warm and comforting, just like chicken soup, The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down is a book about everyday struggles that everyone faces, no matter one's color or creed. For others, Sunim's advice on different things might come across as a bit trite with the ever-so usual messages of "believing in yourself" and "loving one another," but the way he manages to say it somehow gets right through you as if you were in the same room with the Buddhist teacher. For anyone who is still struggling with what to do in life, his words are calming, particularly when he talked about slowing down and enjoying the little things in life. Arguably, his advice is nothing groundbreaking, but it could be argued that his words' simplicity is the greatest strength of his book. With its illustrations and quotations, the book is like that gentle pat on the back reminding us about the truths in life that you probably already knew deep down inside but constantly forget. This book is highly recommended to anyone struggling, as it gives the much-needed calmness from this crazy and unpredictable world of ours.
The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down is a must-read for those overwhelmed with everything around them. Through various chapters filled with precious anecdotes and quotations to think about, the book helps people reevaluate what is going on around them, as Sunim guides you to think about how to deal with hardships and overcome them with a new-found appreciation for it. The book doesn't stress you with mind-boggling ideas and seemingly insurmountable challenges for self-improvement. This book is definitely for everyone, as it serves as a constant reminder of valuing what is necessary with the limited time that we have in this world.
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