The Art of Slowing Down
Updated: Sep 5, 2019
Over the last few months and years we have been surrounded by buzzwords such as: mindful living, living in the moment, staying present etc. Mindfulness is for sure not a new word or concept it actually originates from the early teachings of the Buddha.
We live in an incredibly fast paced society. More than the human body can handle, as the body’s sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight response) is constantly activated. While actually the body’s normal way of functioning is in the parasympathetic (rest and digest) state. The aim of this text is not to dive into the origins of mindfulness and mindful living, nor to share the consequences of a fast paced way of living (such as stress, anxiety, burnout, depression, sleeping problems, etc.) My aim is rather to share some ideas and best practices of slowing down, and provide you with some useful tools and tips on this topic.
What does slowing down actually mean?
Through my teachings, encounters with friends and clients, I’m constantly being confronted with people’s wish to slow down. Moving from day to day without too much long term planning.
The most common complaints I hear are, “I have too much on my mind”, “my work is very demanding”, “I can’t slow down because people expect me to deliver”, “I don’t know how to relax”.
You may wonder what is the purpose of slowing down? A frequent argument I hear is, "if I’m not as active and available all the time, I will miss out on all the fun stuff". How about practicing being rather than doing? Absorbing, pausing, stopping vs. rushing. We have been taught that the more we do and achieve, the better. We will be appreciated more, and thus more successful. This need to constantly do, sounds more like, not being able to sit with what is, the need to run away from the discomfort of NOT knowing (and NOT planning).
In one of my favourite, guided meditations by David Gandelman, he says:
"the art of mediation is the art of not doing. It’s the opposite of everything else you do.”
What about reflection?
Reflection is an essential component of life. Both reflection and creativity stall while we keep ourselves busy. It has been proven that creativity and imagination cannot flourish when we are under stress and constant pressure.
I’m sure you have all heard the expression “just sleep on it” and you’ll see tomorrow. Try to see ‘reflection’ as a need/tool way to sleep on an idea, plan, project, and tackle it again the next day. Going through life without pausing to reflect is like running around in circles, like a headless chicken, trying to reach your next goal or destination. It doesn’t really work, does it?!
I guess you are starting to understand what I’m trying to get to. Slowing down is a personal choice, no one will tell you that you are too busy or you need more time for yourself, how could anyone know? Plus being busy these days is considered cool & hard working.
Take a moment to reflect, and look at your last few weeks, months, or even years. What have you been up to? Is there a fair balance between work and play? Are you spending your evenings in your most ideal way? What is your self-care routine like? When was the last time you had a free evening to yourself, or zero plans and you decided to take the weekend as it comes?
So how do we actually slow down?
Slowing down won’t happen from one moment to the next. Many people expect to be in full speed the entire week, and once Friday evening or Saturday morning come; they wonder why things are not calmer. This is basically like driving 200 km/h on the highway and then expecting the car to come to a complete stop all of a sudden. It doesn’t really work that way.
Remember I mentioned the notion of being rather than doing/achieving, try to observe your mind during the day, how many times do you catch yourself saying “I need to do this”, “I better finish washing the laundry”, “I must go to the gym otherwise”, “I really need to go to that party, event, networking evening, everyone will be there, I will miss out, and won’t catch Bob to ask him about that super important thing”…sounds familiar?
Being versus doing, are you still with me? Stop holding your breath, and breatheeee a little!
Observe, where your mind is taking you? What is it saying? Can you let it be, without attaching yourself to your thoughts, without judging yourself?
Next time you are walking outside (without your phone in your hands), look up, what do you see? What do you notice that you haven’t seen before? Make eye contact with a stranger or give them a soft smile.
How many times throughout the day do you find yourself on autopilot? What do I mean by that is, do you remember locking your front/car door today? Do you recall brushing your teeth, or is it just a long gone blur? Do you recall pouring yourself tea/coffee/water or were you thinking about your first meeting of the day?
Slowing down is not an easy job, but the sooner you catch yourself in the doing mode, in the autopilot mode or on “go, go, go”. Stop, pause, and take a few deep breaths. Observe and become aware of your senses: the smell, the sounds around you, the touch, what do you see, or taste.
Other tools which will help you slow down and can be used daily are for example meditation and yoga. Try to meditate in a group with a friend or with an app (Insight Timer).
As you might already know, yoga is an excellent way of slowing down, connecting with your breath, and most importantly activating the parasympathetic nervous system.
Do one thing per day that makes you happy and excited. Enjoy it from start to finish.
Indulge in a favourite activity, whether it’s sports, reading, yoga, or taking a bath. Who cares what time it is, set yourself, your mind and body completely free!