Those of you familiar with my outlook will know that I don’t subscribe to the idea that there is something wrong with us that needs fixing: instead, I believe that there is something deep within us that awaits our discovery. The art of delving into ourselves to find that something requires a mixture of self-honesty, clarity of mind and gentle, persistent effort. Working together, these three elements enable us to perceive the subtleties of our thoughts, feelings and self-beliefs. And key to these elements is the fine art of slowing down. Perfecting this art sharpens the drill, and with it, we mine out the magick which lies within us.
I’m sure you don’t need me to explain that modern life encourages us to think, work and act at supersonic speed. The arrival of the internet and its handily portable smartphone / laptop outlets enables us to rapidly access just about anything anytime anywhere. And we are all free to publish our own offerings with the tap of a button. The span, or range of stuff on offer continues to mushroom, and this drives our fast-forward culture.
The shelf life of a blog post is around two years on average, and most media posts tend to get ignored after mere hours or days. In order to maintain professional or social visibility, many people maintain a steady output of material, which, over time, (in my opinion) degenerates into the bright and blingy because your attention needs to be grabbed and quality material just cannot be churned out in industrial quantities. Regarding what is revered in modern culture, style and span have replaced substance and depth over the last few decades. As a result, our ability to reflect on what we read or hear or see has been eroded and replaced by consumption – of things that will hook us into reading beyond the Google metadescription. This dilutes our ability to introspect because we are too busy looking outwards for the next fast-grab. When most of us do choose to reflect on ourselves we go for the rapidly-digestible-and-soon-to-be-forgotten format of modern pop psychology: the dreaded List: Five ways of turning sadness into joy etc. When did you ever spend a calendar month actually carrying out the advice of one of those lists? Seriously?
This overview is a serious generalisation and of course there are always many exceptions to the picture I present here. The point I want to make is, in order to engage in meaningful and lasting personal transformation, we need to slow down. Mindfully applying the brakes enables us to get in touch with how we feel in response to what we experience. It takes longer to feel-into than to think-about any given situation, whether you are studying, working or relating. So when we clickety-click from one thought to another in rapid succession, we fail to experience the many and varied strands of our emotional responses. In so doing, we cut ourselves off from our core. This may serve well in a working environment which values expediency over emotion but if we try to analyse the responses of our partners, it can sour our relationship. Fast overthinking is like bolting down a meal without savouring the taste. It diminishes our quality of life.
I want to suggest here that permanently slowing down is not realistically going to be a way of life for you because being a tortoise in a hare culture may not give you complete life satisfaction (although for some, it might). I’m no social Luddite: fast is fun. But as a life coach, I teach the fine art of slowing down as a skill which my clients can learn and deploy when they choose to. I’m a slow-coach. I value versatility and encourage my clients to explore versatility for themselves.
Here are five ways to cultivate the fine art of slowing down. (Yes, it’s a list! I didn’t put it in the blog title, though.) I suggest you cut and paste it on your bathroom mirror and use it for a calendar or lunar month and evaluate the difference this makes in your life. True transformation, the deep and lasting changes, happen when you apply yourself consistently in small ways over weeks and months. There are no instant methods.
- Slow down your breathing. Get yourself a mindfulness app which prompts you to pause at random times during the day. At these times, take five deep breaths and exhale slowly as you can. Soften your gaze and really see all that is within your environment. Note how different the world looks when you are not focusing on the objects or people you give value to.
- Slow down your conversations. We all like to be recognised and listened to, so stop and acknowledge what the other person has said and respond in a way that blends in their contribution with your new one… ’Yes I can see how you would feel that way: I’ve felt something similar when I….’ Note how this contrasts with knee-jerk responses that arise out of your own sense of importance and rightness.
- Slow down before you sleep. Avoid TV thrillers and fast music for at least an hour before you go to sleep. If you can, avoid media scrolling, caffeine and aerobic exercise. Except for sex.
- The slow-down aesthetic. Once a day, take fifteen minutes out of your schedule and read a short poem or listen to a piece of ambient music. Feel your reaction in your body. Note what you feel without trying to analyse your ‘subject matter’.
- Slow down and listen to your body. Take up restorative yoga or tai chi or a vipassana meditation practice. Drop me a line and I’d be happy to guide you in this.
If you master the skill of slowing down at will, you can set aside time for personal reflection, contemplating / journaling questions such as ‘Who am I?’, ‘What do I want out of life?’ and ‘What are my core values?’. Slowing it down enables you to connect with your inner depths and enables you to have a more intimate relationship with yourself. And this makes your life journey far more satisfying.