I’m constantly in a struggle I often lose. I want to slow down, breathe, have a sense of the leisurely passage of time, space in which to contemplate. Instead, I live like a typical contemporary American with a huge To Do list and constant pressure to make sure that every minute is productive.
I preach and practice at work (with my clients) showing up with awareness. This is impossible without slowing down, sometimes without bringing time to a stop, even retracing our steps. It’s so important that a couple of weeks ago, I woke up in the middle of the night with the outline of this post etched into my brain. I haven’t had the time to act on it since then!
Why is it so necessary to slow down? I think it’s crucial to accessing our true selves and to actually enjoying life. Four major things that happen when you slow down. I’ll write about two here and two in the next blog post.
1.) When you slow down, you have time for the signals from your body to get to your brain. I got really excited when I learned that the nerve fibers that go from your body to your brain are not myelinated (covered with a sheath that speeds the conduction of electrical signals). This means that the message takes longer to register than a brain-to-brain signal.
Knowing your thoughts is quick. Knowing your experience is slower. If I ask you what you’re feeling or experiencing internally and you give an instant answer, I’ll know that your brain made something up instead of listening to your body. It takes time, and it’s not our fault or our stupidity that it takes time. It’s how we’re wired.
When we’re operating on brain function alone, we don’t actually notice that we’re alive. That sensation also takes time to get to our consciousness. Slow down right now and pay attention to your breathing. No, really, I mean it. Stop reading and pay attention. How is the second breath different from the first? If you keep paying attention, how does feeling your breath make you feel? Next, take time to sense your limbs. Now, go to what’s going on in the space inside your torso–your chest, your gut.
None of the space inside your skin is inert. When you slow down and pay attention, you come alive. Most often, the feeling that automatically comes with that is joy. A bonus byproduct of this state is that you are no longer subject to the self-criticism and judgment that is the result of thinking that is untethered to present time experience.
Why slow down? You’ll like yourself better. You’ll enjoy being alive more.
2.) Without the active awareness that can come with slowing down, you are the slave of automatic responses conditioned by the past. Often these do not match the requirements of the present. I’m sure you’re familiar with your unhelpful reactions to current situations, but unless you slow down, you don’t know where they come from or what to do about them.
A simple example: one of my writing students would refuse to read out loud to the class, despite all the conditions of safety we had established and all the sharing others did that she appreciated deeply. When we took the time to examine what was happening in the moment that she’d open her mouth to read aloud, she at first went blank. She didn’t know what she felt, which is a sign of freezing in fear. We took the time to be there with her in that moment without pushing for anything. Reading aloud was a choice, and I wanted her to truly have the choice, not just abdicate it automatically.
She took a breath, started reading, her voice lifeless. I stopped her so we could SLOW DOWN and see what was going on in the moment. You can’t bypass these crucial times and forge ahead. You miss what matters. So we backtracked to the moment just before opening her mouth. She looked around at the class and realized she was bewildered. “What it this?” she asked. “I don’t know what this is.”
When I asked what she was referring to by “this,” she said, “You all looking at me like that. What is it?”
“Attention. We’re giving you our attention.”
“Oh.” She paused. She breathed. “I don’t know what that is.” And then the tears came. She realized she had never actually experienced supportive attention before and what a deep wound that was. She had to discover something new in the world in order to get to her next step.
After reading, she got some feedback that made her realize something else. The class told her how much they had missed her contributions, how much it mattered to them that they hear from her. She was astonished. ‘You mean, you want to hear what I have to say? I matter?”
That’s a lot to gain by slowing down to be aware of what’s actually going on instead of skipping ahead of the crucial moment just to get the job done. “Don’t just do something, stand there.”
Stay tuned to the next post for two more life-giving benefits of slowing down.