Picture driving along at 60mph on the highway. Cruise control is on, your senses and reflexes have adjusted to the speed at which you’re traveling. The music is on and you’re in the groove. Now imagine slamming on the brakes and decreasing your speed from 60 to 0mph. Not that pleasant, right? Sometimes life can reflect this jarring motion and going from hyper busy to crawling slow can feel just as uncomfortable. It doesn’t matter in the moment if we have longed for that stillness for days/weeks/months, it still feels disconcerting because it’s change. In this piece we cover the art of slowing down.
We have personally been in serious “to-do” mode since June, 2013. Between buying and homesteading our land, designing and building hOMe, launching the plans for our tiny house, and most recently the instructional DVD series, it’s been a whirlwind. Now that we have accomplished each of our goals, I am beginning to feel the change in tempo. My to do list is becoming noticeably shorter each week. Though I know intellectually that I should be ecstatically happy (the last year has literally moved at break neck speed), I can feel the familiar resistance that comes with change. A dear friend of mine gives the analogy of the mind in full activity being like a race horse: fast, blinded by the finish line, and sometimes a bit crazed. My “to-do” mind is like that and slowing down is not something it easily (or willingly!) does. During these times, it helps to have effective techniques which allow for things to slow down in a graceful and enjoyable manner.
Listen to quiet, soft music. Music is a powerful mood enhancer. As sound is transmitted into the brain, our brain function changes. Soft, uplifting music creates a state of inner calm and peace. Particularly helpful are songs with beautiful lyrics. Singing occupies the mind and rather than the music just playing in the background, singing brings it to the foreground and has a chance to work its magic on even the most stressed out moments.
Do inquiry on your stressful thoughts. I figure if I’m going to be busy thinking, I may as well use that mental energy into looking at the beliefs that shape me and to ask if they bring me stress or peace. If they bring me stress, I know of no better technique for understanding my thought process than a process called “The Work” of Byron Katie. It is an extremely simple mode of inquiry that anyone can do on their own or with a partner. It involves writing down a stress causing belief and answering 4 questions about it (Is it true? Can I absolutely be sure that it’s true? What happens when I believe this thought? Who would I be if I never could have this thought again?) and then turn the thought around and find 3 examples of how that turnaround is just as true, if not truer than the original statement.
Meditate. There are countless modes of mediation out there and there is something for any taste. My personal favorite is Transcendental Meditation (TM) but truly, all modes serve a similar function: to slow down the mind. Meditation has been scientifically proven to significantly reduce stress, to bring greater joy and perspective to one’s life, to increase creativity and productivity, to improve health, and various other benefits. Sometimes just the simple act of closing one’s eyes in a hectic moment while bringing mindfulness to the inner self can create a dramatic inner shift. Whether you are a sit-down-and-meditate kind of person or a grab-it-while-I-can person, the effects of meditation can turn one’s mind set completely around and very quickly.
Take walks in nature at least once per day. There is something about stepping outside of the day to day work life and routine and immersing into nature that brings incredible peace. Hearing the birds singing, absorbing the various shades of color that one sees, noticing the texture of the ground beneath the feet, smelling whatever scents the breeze is carrying. When one turns their attention from to do lists and mental clutter to nature, another world is there waiting.
Read a wonderful uplifting book. I notice that when I am in serious to do mode that I only want to do productive things and to scratch more things off my list. Sometimes the perfect remedy for this is to lose myself in someone else’s story. Gaining a different perspective by seeing the world through someone else’s vision is blissful.
Cook an exquisite feast. Exercising mindfulness in the kitchen is a pleasant way to slow down. Good cooks will tell you that the difference between a good meal and a great meal is the state of mind that one cooked in. One can taste the love and attention that go into a fantastic meal, bringing joy and connection for oneself as well as a group of close friends/family.
Write a personal letter to a dear childhood friend. Reminiscing is a relaxing way to slow down and gain perspective on life. It’s also a wonderful opportunity to reflect upon the life you have lived, the events that have ultimately mattered and the people that you are grateful for. The bonus of writing a letter is that you will most likely bring joy to someone else’s day.
Go to an art gallery. Enjoying art, especially abstract art, is a meditation. Even if you don’t consider yourself to be an art person, you will likely have an enriching experience by spending time in a gallery. My passion is photography, especially street photography from all around the world. I can lose myself in images by looking at every detail and gain a new understanding and perspective on the human experience.
Spend less time on electronics. Resist the temptation to reach for an electronic when you begin to feel restless. Nothing amps up the to do mind quite like electronics. It’s easy to go down the rabbit hole and get lost for hours in that realm. Use any of the suggestions above instead when you begin to feel that pull towards a screen.
What is your favorite way to ease your way into a slower period? How do you support yourself when your to do mind is taking over?