Going Slow

“Speed hides all subtlety, and reality is subtle.” ~ Arthur Zajonc, Meditation as Contemplative Inquiry

The ancient Greeks had two words for time: chronos (sequential, quantitative time) and kairos (the right time, qualitative time). Kairos is right now; it has a sacred, timeless quality. Last week, we practised being still or doing nothing. This week, let’s go slow, and possibly enter into kairos time.

The Movie, Smoke

You may have heard this story from me before. If so, forgive me, but to me, it shows the value of slowness. 

In the movie Smoke, Harvey Keitel plays Auggie Wren, a cigar store owner in New York City. Wren has taken a picture every day from the same spot on the corner of Third Street and Seventh Avenue at eight o’clock in the morning. His collection includes more than 4,000 pictures. 

Auggie’s friend, played by William Hurt, is looking at the pictures one day, and he just doesn’t get it. As he flips through the album, he says that they all look the same. Keitel responds, “You’re going too fast. You’re hardly even looking at the pictures. You’ll never get it if you don’t slow down, my friend.” Only when his friend sees a picture of his ex-wife in one of the pictures does he get it. The world is constantly changing at every moment, offering unlimited perceptions and possibilities. And, we’ll only see clearly when we slow down. (Watch Clip)

In his book, The Path of Encounter, Jon McAlice invites us to slow down, savour the moment, and be attentive to the unexpected. Why? Because busy-ness has a reactive quality, while slowness has an element of openness that invites a response rather than a reaction. If you look too quickly, you might miss the surprises, and only see what you’re expecting, rather than discovering new opportunities and possibilities. 

Carefulness for the little things grounds us in the present.

Why do many of us find it so difficult to slow down? It’s just counter-cultural. We’re so used to needing to get somewhere! McAlice says that people generally have either of two approaches when walking in nature. Some zig and zag, exploring what catches their fancy, and staying at promising spots longer. Others slowly wander, noticing everything with equanimity – taking in everything as equally worthy. They stop and look closely along the way. Amidst the rubble, they find gems. 

Which type are you? Maybe a bit of both, but you probably lean one way. This week, we’ll practice the second way.

Slow Walking

When I was in New Mexico, at a writing workshop with Natalie Goldberg, we did a slow walk around the facility. Seventy of us, walking at a snail’s pace, in deep concentration. An aerial view probably looked hilarious. 

Goldberg said that most of the time when we walk, we’re focused on the destination. Our minds are already at this future place, imagining or planning what we’ll do when we get there. Slow walking is a practice that helps us to focus on the journey, not the destination. She advised a radical reframing – receive the world as it comes, one step at a time, and respond accordingly. Goldberg describes this type of meditative walking in her book, Thunder and Lightning.

“The walk is not a hike; I might just circumambulate my room. I probably look like a zombie, but I’m not in a trance; I’m actually paying very close attention to my feet. I’m feeling my right foot flex – those adorable toes spreading, the light spongy mass of my heel lifting, my weight shifting to the left side. Then I sense my knee bending, my right hip dropping, my body falling forward as I move my foot a small space above the floor, then settle it on the ground again. As I slow down, space becomes immense, time is huge. Lifting, bending, placing – who am I? In this unhurried, compassionate life, what is it I want to say?”

We had to concentrate to go slow! In this unhurried place, we could see better what was right in front of us. We could hear what we were thinking. Have you ever practiced walking at half your normal pace? If you can find some time to give it a whirl, even for five minutes, you might just enter kairos time.

Learn to loiter and linger. 

In his book of delights, Ross Gay writes of the concept of loitering, which can have a negative connotation, especially for people of colour.

“The Webster's Dictionary definition of loiter reads thus: to stand or wait around idly without apparent purpose and to travel indolently with frequent pauses. Synonyms are linger, loaf, laze, lounge, lollygag, dawdle, amble, saunter, meander, putter, dilly dally, and mosey. Any one of these words, in the wrong frame of mind, might be considered critique or, nouned, an epithet. All of these words to me imply having a nice day, the best day. They also imply being unproductive. Which leads to being, if only temporarily nonconsumptive, and this is a crime in America. … Another synonym is taking one’s time, which alludes to the ownership of one’s time.”

It’s possible to deepen this capacity to linger with attention and receptivity but it’s not easy if you’re a hyperactive person. Think of it as allowing space for something new to emerge. It’s challenging, yes, but can also lead to surprising, joyful moments, and to delights otherwise missed. Also, it takes some of the responsibility off your shoulders to “make something happen.” It’s a way of trusting life. 

Be patient with yourself. Savour. Enjoy. What do you see?

Practice

Walk around your house or yard at a snail’s pace. 

Take a wander walk in your neighbourhood. This is a slow and purposeless walk, with no plan or destination in mind. Notice how this changes your experience. Look at everything without a need to judge (or even make a photograph).

Can you take time to loiter or linger awhile? Stand outside a coffee shop or sit on a bench. Slow down an activity, whether it’s washing the dishes, drinking tea, or having lunch with a friend. Notice the details around you. Let go of needing any particular outcome. 

Intentionally practice restraint. Be slow to speak or act. Holding back opens a space for something new to emerge.

In this unhurried and receptive state, what do you see?

Resources 

Leonard Cohen, Slow

Wanderlust with Rebecca Solnit via Brain Pickings

I Wonder as I Wander