This summer, I’ve learned the importance of slowness.
The more I’ve slowed down, the more I’ve realized how fast the world around us is asking us to move. I’ve begun to witness how much the fast pace of life is an energetic signature of adrenaline on a cultural level. I’ve seen that the immediacy that is demanded of us is a tactic of control that keeps us from being able to act in our integrity in the world.
This summer, I got to assess what crisis truly is and is not. I got to learn that just because another is in crisis does not mean that I need to be in crisis, codependent tendencies to save others be damned. In fact, the more I am able to stay in my body the better I can show up for someone who is in crisis. I got to practice digesting information before making life-altering decisions, before making decisions that might bring hurt to another, before making decisions about responsibilities I will take on.
While there certainly are important things that call for speedy action, my observation has been that we greatly overestimate the number of things in our lives that truly require our immediate attention. What’s worse is that when we respond with immediacy to things inappropriately, we lose out on chances to craft a life that is intentional, harmonious, and integrous.
I’ve found that taking my time has helped me to unfold hidden parts of myself and embody my most important values. I’ve begun to realize that exercising my right to go at my own pace is the key to undoing the effects of trauma on my nervous system. This includes allowing myself time to observe my body in a state of high activation and allowing the space to feel it. Observing my thoughts as time passes, I remember that there is a point at which stress hormones start to cool off, and when that happens the body can relax a little more. I ride the waves of discomfort as my body wants to spring into action, and I gently remind it that the intensity will pass.
Insisting upon immediate response can be the mark of someone who is looking to engage your emotions. While in some cases this might be a more intentional manipulation tactic, it can also be the mark of a person who is in a trauma state who feels as if their very survival is at stake.
While that distinction might not matter to some, it feels important for me to mention because bringing complexity to my understandings of social dynamics helps me to know how to be, how to respond. It also serves as a check to the paranoia that can result from trauma: the belief that people are out to get me. Rather, they are complicated human beings with histories, stories, and journeys of their own. Sometimes we need to show up for our rights assertively and remind someone that they cannot control others. Other times, a gentle reminder that the world isn’t crashing down will suffice, and an affirmation that no matter what we’re willing or not willing to do we are there for them in their moments of trouble and are willing to show up in other ways.
When handling callouts and exposures, the chaos that ensues has sometimes landed me in situations where I am making judgements and decisions that don’t align with my instincts or with my values.
Sometimes, that looks like feeling pressured to make a decision about someone when I am wary of the consequences and not certain of the intricacies of a situations. For instance, abusers often cast their victims as the “real abusers” as a means of alienating and demonizing them. While this is a topic for another post, wrestling with that fact has been a recurring source of unease and uncertainty for me. I have also been involved in situations where I’ve felt pressured to accept the actions that a serial abuser has taken towards accountability that felt incomplete and inauthentic to me.
While none of us are neither the judge or jury of truth, we do have a responsibility to take in information to try to understand a situation more deeply (with the consent and willingness of the people involved) for the purposes of informing our own actions. This is a right we have to not feel coerced into acting or making judgements before we feel truly ready to do so.
Here are some phrases for these times:
“I need to think about this. Can I get back to you in a few days? In a week?”
“Can we talk a little bit more about this?”
“I can do this, but it’s important for me to understand these other elements before I do. Are you willing to discuss those with me?”
“I can do this, but only under these conditions.”
“I cannot do this until these conditions are met.”
“I am not willing to do this at this time.”
“I am not willing to do this at all.”
As time passes by, watch the new knowings that can emerge: surfacing complexities or clarifications in troublesome situations, reflections and wrestlings of personal values, or (perhaps the most important knowing of all) the deep resonance that finding integrity brings.
This doesn’t mean we spend all of our time thinking about the event or the request, in fact it means we allow ourselves some time NOT thinking about it. Being slow and giving yourself space means you return when you are feeling grounded, calm, and prepared. Watch the way your body is responding to something. For instance, when I feel a constriction in my body as tension in my torso, shoulders, and hips, that indicates something is activating a trauma response in me. That doesn’t mean that something is actually wrong, it just means that there is more exploring that needs to be done when I am ready.
Alternatively, when I feel relaxed and calm there is a deep bright resonating hum in the core of my being. Whether that deep resonance is a big giant “NO” or a passionate “yes”, I feel that and know that something is deeply aligned and I am on the right path.
Still, there are times when certain things resonate as true and yet are mixed with tension and uncertainty. For example, when seeking to understand oppressions and experiences we have never and will never experience, such as someone who is white trying to understand racism. Those are the times that I need to connect to the spirit of complexity and wonder: even if I don’t understand, even if I’m scared, even if this is not something I have experienced first-hand does that make it untrue or bad?
Here there is power in saying “I may not understand it, but I believe you.”
When you take the time to respond from a place of groundedness, it ripples out and gives permission to others to do the same. While we can’t slow everything around us, we can model and cultivate slowness in our lives to the best of our abilities.
This summer, I could have lost a friend if I had acted on my first reactions to a situation. Instead, myself and my close friends decided to go against our instincts for immediacy and take our time to digest, ask for what we needed, and reflect on our values. What came out of that situation was an opportunity for greater depth than what we had before, and today I look back and think about how quickly that opportunity could have been lost. A situation that felt like a threat ended up being a gift of hope and healing.
Next time you notice yourself feeling forced to act before thinking it through, give yourself twenty minutes to decide if you really need to act right now. Then ask yourself what a day, two days, or even two weeks might offer you.
If you decide to give yourself the gift of slowness, ask that others honor this gift as a courtesy and understanding that we each have this right and this power to set the pace for ourselves. Witness how this can change the energetics of the situation and bask in your newfound ability to honor yourself, while honoring your community in the process.