At the Speed of Slow: Slowing Down to Go Faster
by Jennifer Paros
Fast, we can only do what we already know. . . . To overcome limitation the first thing is to slow way down. Slow gets us out of the automatic mode.
-- Anat Baniel
From the time they were small, both my sons ran around the backyard in deep self-conversation, exploring ideas, acting out scenes. If they had a thought that excited them, they could always be found outside, running back and forth, thinking. Eventually, their unconscious, repetitive thought movements wore a track in our lawn. Though my husband periodically encouraged them to vary their paths, the next new routes inevitably became habitual, soon forming other barren areas.
After more than a decade, and two years following my oldest son’s departure to college, my husband formally asked our youngest son (now sixteen) to be more conscious of where he was repeatedly treading. At first, he took offense at the implication he was doing something wrong and the attempt to control him. We were asking him to slow down and make a new choice. I suspect it felt like an indictment and an imposition and he may have even doubted his ability to change. He was just moving around while thinking; it had always been fast and unconscious. But as he assessed the situation – the sorrowful lawn and his own guilty role – he reluctantly agreed both to help replant those areas and to change his path.
The grass grew and the “track” and bald patches filled in. We all marveled at how simple it had been to end an entrenched pattern that had been part of his daily routine for most of his life. Through a shift in awareness and the smallest intention to alter his route, he allowed new things to grow – and quickly.
I have often felt as if I’m going too slowly – a reluctant adventurer at best, an unwilling participant at worst. When I show up to draw and write, I want to create; I want to step into the flow, not put on the brakes. But sometimes my fast thinking is resistant and repetitive and makes me feel busy, but actually slows my productivity. I’ve felt like an impediment to my own progress, as though I was sitting on the lid of an active impulse, ready to prolifically and joyfully create (if I’d just get out of the way).
So, I’m quite familiar with the kind of slow related to problematic thinking. But there’s another kind of slow that, instead of retarding progress, speeds it up. It is what my son did when he rerouted himself; he allowed his thinking to decelerate and in so doing, accelerated his awareness and ability to change.
Throughout the time in which I am working on a canvas I can feel how I am beginning to love it, with that love which is born of slow comprehension.
-- Joan Miro
Lucille Ball said, “Love yourself first and everything else falls into line.” Love is the compass and the destination. Allowing our thinking to slow provides the opportunity to feel the love that’s here for us, the love at the basis of every creative drive, whether a project or relationship. This kind of slow opens the space for greater comprehension, increased perception of all that’s already present and possible. Like the old Stop and smell the roses thing, one does have to, at the very least, decelerate to take in the sweetness. Savoring requires slowness; the benefit is that in savoring we perceive more – more to talk about, more to write, more to draw, more to share, more eloquence, more clarity, more humor, more beauty, more everything. And all of this more comes into our awareness fast; that’s when things seem to “fall into line”.
For a reluctant adventurer like me, speed can seem like the enemy. For a bold adventurer, slowness can seem like the threat. But the relationship between slow and fast goes beyond potential adversaries; in truth they’re collaborators. Natural momentum – fast that doesn’t feel out of control or futile – is the result of a mind whose repetitive thought patterns have slowed enough to receive new ideas. And when inspiration comes, we comprehend more, and inspired action quickly follows.
To allow the thought patterns of our minds to settle is to become privy to the content of our hearts, whose driver is always love, calling us forward to the next best path. When quickness is a byproduct of slow comprehension, fast becomes natural and the rerouting of old ways, easy. New things grow, new ideas come, and new works are born.
Jennifer Paros is a writer, illustrator, and author of Violet Bing and the Grand House (Viking, 2007). She lives in Seattle. Please visit her website at www.jenniferparos.com.