Letting Go of Problem-Solving: Lessons From a Slow Lunch in France

Linda and I are vacationing in France. Today, we have driven to L’abbaye de Valmagne to visit the winery and eat at their well-touted restaurant. I use one of the French phrases I have memorized to ask for a table.

“Bonjour. Je voudrais une table pour deux s’il vous plaît.”

“Réservation?” she asks. My heart sinks.

“Non,” I say.

She frowns. In my head, I prepare my argument about how we tried to make a reservation online, but their buggy website didn’t cooperate.

“Let me check,” she says and turns to the only other wait staff, who looks like she might be the owner. The second woman looks around the room and nods at a table along the wall. Relieved, we slide into our chairs and begin what will be a two-hour lunch that initiates a mini-transformation of my approach to time.

I think of myself as a problem-solver, so problem-solving mode is often my default. When I encounter a situation that differs from what I want, I look for what’s wrong and try to fix it. This mode is often helpful, but as a primary way to walk through life, it is limited. It keeps me on the lookout for problems to remedy; any pain or discomfort needs to be alleviated without first being experienced.

Problem-solving mode works at a speed that skims along the surface. Keeping the mind busy becomes an end in itself, a way of avoiding what is present. It is a mode that leaves me brain-heavy and soul-weary. My spiritual well-being is enhanced when I align myself with the timing of my soul.

Traveling helps me step outside my usual mode. Immersing myself in another culture allows me to observe my thinking and the assumptions I make about how life should work. It loosens the mortar between the bricks of my self-image and lets them shift.

My self-image, for example, is that I am capable and self-reliant. I can meet the problems of life head-on, undaunted by its challenges. I like this aspect of myself, it gives me a sense of agency and achievement. But this self-image throws me into problem-solving mode too often, and ignores the fact that most things are outside my ability to fix.

The wait staff at the restaurant are working steadily but not in a hurry. It takes a while for us to get a menu, longer to order our food, even longer for it to arrive. In the meantime, Linda and I sit. And wait. We talk about our day with a new sense of listening.

We enjoy the scenery. I am embraced by the smells and the aura of this ancient place. I look at the walls of the Abbey, built in the 12th century. Monks have been making wine here for 800 years. My insides calm down and adjust to a slower gear.

I see that the relaxed tempo of the service is not a problem to be irritated about; it is an opportunity for restoration that I am being gifted. The pace of leisure allows me to experience the age and wisdom of a place that has seen wars, plagues and persecutions and knows the precious value of life; has seen rain and sunshine, growth and harvest, drought and bounty, and is still here to serve me a glass of wine made from the vines I can almost touch from my seat.

When the asparagus soup arrives, I have settled enough to absorb its divine flavor and silky texture, to taste and enjoy instead of consume. I am eating beauty itself.

I am not the only one with problem-solving-mode-disorder. Modern culture tilts us in this direction and can easily pull us into the busy pace of getting things done. I need to continually take steps to counter this tendency; to open to a receptive mode of movement that makes room for allowing, emergence, reflection, and the tug of tides that run below the surface of problems and solutions.

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

6 Replies to “Letting Go of Problem-Solving: Lessons From a Slow Lunch in France”

  1. Another valuable and insight work. Even at my age I find value and gifts in your writings. Remarkable. Thank you.

  2. What a beautiful way to explain what and how you deal with a inner situation.
    Your descriptions made me feel I was sitting at the table with you two taking it all in as well.

  3. Love this!

    I had a similar experience while traveling in France – watching with appreciation and admiration – the French folks at a nearby table taking a leisurely two hour lunch during their workday – not rushing back to their desks (or eating at their desks like I do!!). An important take away.

    I have a little stone I keep on my desk that says, “be” – a reminder for me to slow down. Definitely a work in progress.

    Thanks for the reminder, Steve!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *