Russia likes to sit down. There is a Russian saying: “v nogakh pravdy nyet” which literally translates “there is no truth in feet,” meaning “there is no truth in standing,” meaning “a body in a hurry is a mind in a hurry,” meaning “a mind in a hurry is not to be trusted.”
Similarly, there is a custom of starting every journey with a brief sit-down. Whenever a group of people are about to embark on a trip of any significance, somene’s bound to call out “Syadyem na dorozhku!” which means “Let’s sit down before we hit the road.”
The “sit” is no more than a minute – a chance to gather your thoughts, to catch your breath, to clear your mind, to set an intention. It’s really cute when kids remind their parents to do so. I remember feeling quite empowered when I called out for a sit-down before my Mom and I headed out for my first big summer vacation to the Crimea (on the Black Sea). I must’ve been 8 or 9 years old then, but the idea of slowing down and not trusting a mind-in-a-rush had been already culturally programmed into me.
Andrew Kaufman and Serafima Gettys write, in Russian for Dummies, that “sitting down is a big deal for Russians” and describe this culture of sitting down before the road as a “superstition.”
I do not entirely agree with this conceptualization. I see this culture of sitting as Russian Zen. Russia – being geographically sandwiched between Europe and Asia – has long been a culture of East-West synthesis. While the “let’s sit down before a journey” custom reminds me of a brief Buddhist zazen (Chinese for “just sitting”), it’s not a “pure sit.” It is more of mixture of sitting down for its own (meditative, contemplative) sake and sitting down with the explicit purpose of gathering your thoughts to facilitate a successful journey. It has that curious East-West mixture of Eastern contemplation and Western purposiveness.
I see a good bit of old world wisdom to this idea of claiming your time and not rushing the process. Much of our life takes place on the go. I invite you to just sit down now and then to settle down your mind. And if you have a trip coming up, before you head out to the airport, find a minute to literally sit your head down before your feet hit the bricks. In sum, try out some of this quirky Russian Zen.
Suggestion: use these brief “sit-down” moments as an indirect way to model mindful presence to your kids and significant others.
Breathing Corner: Relax (now, not later)
Russian for Dummies, Andrew Kaufman & Serafima Gettys (Wiley Publishing, 2006, p. 319)
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Last reviewed: 9 Jul 2011