In a couple of weeks I’m starting another of my Respond with Resilience courses with UMEUS: UMEbe Respond with Resilience, and the central theme this time is slowing down…
I’ve been reflecting on why I was drawn to slowness as the focus for this upcoming course, as I am hardly an expert in slow living.
It’s not something that comes easily to me and yet I’ve made a daily practice of it and I’ve come to experience it as fundamentally important to my well being. Little by little, I’m undoing a lifetime of deeply habitual speediness -something that requires both intention (making choices that align with my aspiration for a slower life) and attention (checking in moment to moment what’s happening in my body, mind and heart).
I’d really like to share with others some of my explorations into what it means to live slowly.
What’s so radical about slowing down?
Well, firstly and most obviously, by choosing to slow down we are going counter-culture, swimming against the tide of faster is better and what Carl Honore calls our ‘roadrunner’ mentality. We’ve thought up a million ways to save time and in the process lost the art of being ‘in time’, savouring the moments of our lives as they unfold.
Secondly, what occurred to me as I was reflecting on my own need to focus on slowness, is the harm that we can cause when we’re caught up in speediness. I remembered a quote by Pema Chodron, a teacher in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, which struck me years ago when I first came across it:
“Not causing harm requires staying awake. Part of being awake is slowing down enough to notice what we say and do. The more we witness our emotional chain reactions and understand how they work, the easier it is to refrain. It becomes a way of life to slow down, stay awake and notice”.
I can say with some certainty that pretty much every time I’ve unintentionally caused harm, it’s because I haven’t slowed down enough to notice what I’m doing, to feel into what’s appropriate, to act from my deepest intentions rather than my immediate wants and needs. This might be anything from a passing thoughtless comment or action to a way of living that causes harm to plants, animals or the Earth herself. When I’m at my most slow and present -during meditation or out in the hills of my new home in rural Wales – I get to taste the pain of my speediness as a felt, visceral experience. When I’m in the current of getting things done, I don’t notice this pain or the consequence of my actions, not because I don’t care but because I haven’t taken the time to listen.
Slowing down is not only radical but courageous, as it opens us up to feeling what’s really going on inside ourselves and to hearing the cries of the world. But, in my experience at least, there’s also something reassuring and empowering in knowing I can choose to slow down in any given moment. It’s such a simple and achievable starting point, especially when I’m feeling overwhelmed by the crazy goings on in my head, the complexity of daily life, or a seemingly insurmountable issue such as the global climate emergency. The practice of pausing and paying attention, again and again, is the ground from which care and kindness and wisdom can grow and flourish. I like to see it as a simple and humble gift to ourselves and the world, especially at times when we feel we have no agency to make a difference.
I’ve barely scratched the surface here, so I’ll leave you with an invitation to join me in an exploration of slowness starting online on February 1st and a few wise words from Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh, who is the absolute embodiment of all things Slow:
“Drink your tea slowly and reverently, as if it is the axis on which the earth revolves -slowly, evenly, without rushing towards the future; live the actual moment. Only this moment is life.”
Max Richter Sleep Playlist
Join Hilary for her next UMEbe Respond with Resilience course, starting 1st February online.