“Slow down” is more similar in meaning in the East and in the West than “relax” and “yield,” but a Taoist view deepens its significance. In the Taoist way of thinking, slowing down brings us the ability to perceive the more subtle, or unseen, aspects of a situation. It brings awareness to those things we may forget or ignore when rushing to get something done, settled, over-with, or achieved. Many people link busyness to productivity, and they are shocked when, as a new parent, that busyness inhibits good parenting.
Slowing down helps us immensely to remember and practice Principle One (Relax) because it is difficult, if not impossible, to relax in a hurry. When you have mastered the art of living in a relaxed way, you know how to move quickly in a way that does not tighten and harden your energy. That type of mastery takes conscious, everyday practice, yet it is possible for parents to achieve at least enough of this quality of slowing down in the midst of hurry to reap its benefits.
As you begin to slow down, your life begins to change. Your ability to focus on one thing at a time increases as you learn to dismiss distractions. You begin to enjoy the very process of living. Aspects of life that you had taken for granted become sources of interest and joy.
Superficial changes don’t work. If you move to the countryside, you still take your thinking with you. You need to slow down from the inside out. After you learn to live in a calmer state of mind, you may decide to make some lifestyle changes. You will enjoy them because they aren’t another gimmick to help you cope — like that relaxation CD you never listen to, the yoga mat in your closet. Especially with a new baby, the world will not accommodate you by making fewer demands. Your experience of stress results not from the circumstances of your harried life but from your habitual way of perceiving life.
In Slowing Down to the Speed of Life by Richard Carlson and Joseph Bailey, they give us eight principles you will learn by slowing down:
to slow down and enjoy each moment
that slowing down doesn’t involve major changes in your lifestyle
that your productivity will actually increase
that other people’s attitudes, behaviors and moods don’t have to affect the quality of your day or the speed of your life
that even though your work setting may be rushed or stressed, you can maintain calm
that by slowing down you will be more prepared for the unexpected
that even life’s serious circumstances and events don’t have to be taken so seriously
that you can be happy
“Slowing down is a qualitative experience that comes from the inside out.”
Surrender Your Limitations
In the martial art Tai Chi, slowing down helps to create an awareness of all that is going on in the moment. One is able to step into a place that is purely present time, in which the past and future do not exist. A passage I interpreted from Lao Tzu’s Tao te Ching in my book, The Tao of Motherhood, captures the moment I understood this principle in my life as a parent:
Everything that endures can
only do so because Eternal
Consciousness gives it sentience.
A mother who gives herself
completely to her infant meets
herself in the dark and finds
In the hours between midnight
and dawn, she crossed the
threshold of self-concern and
discovers a Self that has no limits.
A wise mother meets this
Presence with humility and steps
through time into selflessness.
Infants know when their mothers
have done this, and they
Who, then, is the doer? Is it the
infant who brings its mother
through the veil of self-concern
into limitlessness? Is it the
mother, who chooses to hold
sacred her infant’s needs and
surrender herself? Or is it the
One, which weaves them both
through a spiraling path
You can sit and meditate while
your baby cries himself to sleep.
Or you can go to him and share
his tears, and find your Self.
The ability to do this — not all the time, but at appropriate times — increases the energy you have to give to your children. Why? Because the present is, literally, the heart of God or the Tao. We find a second wind when we slow down enough to really be present, even for a few moments.
Tai Chi teacher Douglas Lee talks about kinesthetic perception in relation to the benefits of slowing down. Especially during the period of time from the beginning of pregnancy until your child is fully able to communicate with words, this ability to perceive on a subtle level is valuable to every parent. It enables you to tune in to your baby’s body language and respond accordingly. It also allows you to learn how to listen to your own body and your own intuition or inner sense of what is best for you and for your child. You pick up the signs of stress before they have turned into full scale alarms, and you have the opportunity to de-escalate, to take care of your needs appropriately, at the appropriate time.
Many health professionals these days talk about “cues” — sensory signals babies give that mean they are experiencing on thing or another. It is very good that the medical profession finally acknowledges the need to respond to babies as more than just unfeeling objects. (When I had my first baby, scientists were still saying babies don’t feel pain!) As a parent, you are the one best equipped to learn your child’s cues or body language, not only because you’ve carried the baby around for over nine months and are intimately, cellularly connected, but because you live with your baby twenty-four hours a day and can translate all those signals much better than a strangers (We’ll talk more about this in Priniciple Five). To access this knowledge you need to slow down, observe, and receive what your baby wants to communicate.
In a society like ours (and increasingly around the world) slowing down is perceived as being tantamount to growing old, being depressed, dying, or inviting failure. We are afraid of falling behind; we have lost respect for the slow wisdom of our elders and the natural ebb and flow of the life force. So we literally wear ourselves out, and in the meantime we miss so many of the most valuable treasures of our lives.
Remember the American cartoon character Roadrunner? We admire the roadrunner figure; he is always faster, way ahead of the crafty coyote. But if you think about it, that style of life, while bringing certain kinds of success, eliminates any possibility of being. As a parent, this style is disastrous, because the things we miss in our frantic race to beat the odds, or the next person, or to reach a goal, are the things of which life is made. We rush toward hardness and death having never enjoyed the very thing we are rushing to secure — the soft, juicy stuff — our children, our families, our lives.
Like the fable of the tortoise and the hare, we ultimately find that, as the Taoists say, “perseverance furthers.” Rather than bringing into being all the things we fear, when we slow down we’re given the tortoises’s endurance to outlast the speeding rabbit, the endurance to face our fears courageously and master our challenges.
While a rushing stream may push obstacles out of its way, a lazy river will flow over, around, and through all things in its path. There is harmony and serenity outwardly, and great power underneath, where the current is very strong. All rushing streams end up in lazy rivers that follow their nature to merge with the great ocean. Similarly, when we slow down, we find the great internal strength available to us, and we begin to both communicate with and follow that deep tug of the”ocean” — the Oneness of all things, the Tao, the natural order of things. Outwardly, we appear calm, relaxed, and we seem to be doing little. Ambitious strivers rush past us with a look of disdain.
Perseverance is definitely a quality of Principle Two. In 365 Tao Daily Meditations, Deng Ming-Dao says,
“When it seems as if nothing encouraging is happening to us, it is important to remember such perseverance. Work may be drudgery, maintaining a home may be routine, and we may find our goals quite distant. But we must persevere toward our goals, and buoy our faith in rough and threatening times.”
In the anthology, Vitality, Energy, Spirit: a Taoist Sourcebook, Taoist master Huai-Nan-Tzu said:
“How could the vital spirit be forever rushing around without becoming exhausted? . . . When the vitality, spirit, will, and energy are calm and slow, they fill you day by day and make you strong.”
©2015 Vimala McClure