When you forget to slow down, you react to whatever comes your way according to how you feel at the moment. You rush through your days, trying to be the thousand-armed Goddess or the unstoppable Hercules. You yell at your children while you struggle with your pantyhose or shave, because you are late for work or school, the phone is ringing, and you need to remind your spouse to pick up the dry cleaning; you throw food toward the dog’s bowl, clothes in the washer, and then forget your keys — and that’s only the start of your day.
You are always doing several things at once, with a nagging feeling that your soul, your spiritual being, is waiting on “hold,” and a festering fear that it may finally give up and hang up on you. Any spare moments are spent worrying about the future (that doesn’t exist) or fuming about the pst (that no longer exists) or making lists of how to make tomorrow even more stress-packed than today, so that you can finally get it all done and relax. But you are operating under the fallacy that it will all get done, and deep down inside, you know it.
In your heart, you may be terrified of relaxing. What if all those things from the past and future come up for review, tighten you up, and destroy your relaxation and connection to Spirit? So, to convince yourself you are relaxing, you schedule a grueling weekend of sports, yard work, projects, or entertaining that completely wear you out, just in time to start all over again Monday.
This may be an exaggeration for some people, but for many, unfortunately, it is not. Even if it is only partly true for you, the concept of what is not Principle Two is within your reach, within your own experience. Something I heard once has always stayed with me: If you are trying to do or be something, you are not actually doing or being it. So forget trying. Slow down. Literally. It is not a metaphor.
See what happens if, just for one week, one day, or one hour, you slow down as if your personal movie — including your thoughts, emotions, and speech — has gone into slow motion. This slowing down has nothing to do with depression or low energy. Just slow the pace while keeping your energy positive and your head up. Allow people to notice how slow you are, and even to get impatient with you. See what happens.
Keep a journal at night, documenting the times when you slow down. At first, they may bring pain, inconvenience, and confusion. But toward the end, you will realize more about how you can incorporate this principle into your life. If you can find time to just sit alone, without fretting, and simply be who you are and face the fear that aloneness and quiet may bring, you have gotten it.
Principle Two is not rushing through the grocery checkout lane without noticing the clerk who is working hard to provide you with food and who may not be having such a great day. It is not “road rage” — the internal emotional combustion of being behind a slow-moving vehicle and wishing harm to the driver. It is not diapering your baby without making eye contact. As someone once said, “Accept the limitations of the day.”
The Consequences of Rushing
Another way to increase your understanding of Principle Two is to look at your life for a week — say, the past week, if you weren’t rushing so fast you don’t remember it — and list all the elements of it that are not Principle Two. Then list the potential consequences of those things. For example, the potential consequence of road rage is an accident, which could cost you even more time, energy, and resources, and possibly physical, mental, and emotional pain. The potential consequence (scientifically documented) of not making eye contact with your baby is that your child will grow up unable to connect with others, and may distrust you, having never felt the love in your eyes, the windows of your soul, during the most intimate moments of your child’s infancy, at the time when all imprinting occurs. Again, the loss of this connection costs you both more time, energy, money, and physical, mental, and emotional pain down the road.
Observe an expert doing Tai Chi. Notice the slowness and deliberation of the movements, and the awareness that encompasses every movement. How can this type of awareness be brought to your everyday life?
Choosing the Speed of Your Life
In American society today, and in many others around the world, from the moment a child is of an age to do so, he or she is trained to rush, to hurry, to do, to produce, to win, to excel, to achieve. Many of these things aren’t bad in themselves. It’s when rushing, hurrying, and achieving become requirements of life that we must question why. It is when earning one’s very place as a being on this earth, regardless of personal tragedy or hardship, is normative, that we must begin to rethink what it means to be here.
Think about the speed of your life, and whether it feels comfortable to you or not. Each person has a different comfort zone. Some need more stimulation than others. This is the difference between Tai Chi and aerobics. In an aerobics class everyone moves together, on-and-two. In Tai Chi, the key to finding chi, the flow that makes it possible to do the movements correctly, is to find your own rhythm, your own internal pace and power. It is a continuous flow. A group of people doing Tai Chi properly will not be in perfect synchronization. The idea is to ask yourself if there are times in your day when you can slow down. Controlled belly breathing (described in previous posts), morning and night, can help, and increasing our awareness always helps us to control our thoughts and behavior.
It Takes Practice
When you get some time to yourself, practice slowing down. Relaxing (Principle One) and slowing down (Principle Two) are natural mates, so both can be accomplished at once. Some ideas:
Do gentle, slow yoga regularly.
Practice Tai Chi if you can.
Use traffic slow-downs to help slow you down internally.
Wake up slowly. Get a CD player that will automatically turn on and play music or gentle sounds to wake you up gently and remind you to do your breathing, prayers, or mediation, and to move slowly. It is worth getting up fifteen minutes earlier, rather than jumping out of bed and rushing off.
In many parts of India, bathing is a slow-down ritual. After bathing, a prayer or song is given to the direction of the sunrise. Try it. See if you can come up with an after-shower ritual that feels uncontrived and helps you slow down and acknowledge your connection with the larger universe before beginning your day. Perhaps an affirmation or prayer, followed by greeting your sacred self in the mirror with something like they say in India, “Namaste” (meaning, “I bow to the divinity within”).
Use cooking time, if you cook, to slow down. Chopping vegetables is a great mini-slow-down break.
If you have a baby, use diapering or massage as slow-down time, and connect emotionally and spiritually with your child. With older children, a bedtime ritual is often the best slow-down time you have. Light a candle, say a prayer, look into the eyes of your child and say, “I love you,” in your own special way.
Use one of your breaks at work for a slow-down ritual such as Tai Chi, yoga, or simply sitting in the bathroom behind closed doors, doing five minutes of controlled belly breathing. Rather than making yourself stop moving, consciously allow your movements to subside and your body to relax.
It is my hope that Principle Two will stay with you and give you a refuge to go to during times of stress. It can prepare you for the natural slowing down that comes with growing older, and, rather than creating a sense of being useless, slowing down will bring you an experience of peace and oneness that many monastics strive for all their lives.
Next: Parenting With Principle Two: Principle Two in Pregnancy
© 2015 Vimala McClure