I love the feeling of January. There is a settling that happens, a calm, quiet stillness that replaces the over-activity of the previous months. Some cultures consider January a time of the void, a period between the old and the new. Every year I use this time to set intentions, making them before January 31, and allowing those intentions to set the tone for the year ahead.
This year I set an intention to slow down. For me that means doing everything (walking, talking, eating) slower, more mindfully, and doing less. Because of my busy schedule and many years of practice moving at break neck speed, I knew that slowing down and doing less would be extremely difficult. I would sit in meditation and ask for help around this. And what is true is that the universe always grants me what I ask for.
Within a few days of asking for helping slowing down, I became very ill with the flu, which subsequently turned into a lung infection. What I realized about this illness was what author and healer Carolyn Myss describes as an answer to a prayer. I prayed for help around slowing down, and my prayer was answered in the form of illness. A week after I had recovered, excited for my renewed energy, I bounced out of bed and started playing catch up – seeing clients, cooking, and even exercising. No sooner, I caught a stomach bug that left me with abdominal cramping, nausea and insomnia for several days. The universe clearly saw that I had forgotten my intention to slow down and so I was quickly provided with an opportunity for a re-do.
The universe is kind and it is very patient. It doesn’t care how long it takes us to learn our lessons. It just cares that we learn, ultimately, and it will continue to give us opportunities to do so. Sometimes the teachings are subtle and sometimes not. Tired of being sick and unable to attend to my various obligations, I drove around town getting things done even as I was feeling nauseous and weary from lack of sleep. The unfortunate result was that I got into a car accident with a bicyclist on the street. I was in a hurry and made an incorrect judgment call that morning while driving and ended up with a cyclist hitting my car. I still recall the moment of impact, and the shock was intense. Fortunately, no one was badly injured. The cyclist suffered a bruise to his thigh and had to have his bicycle replaced. I have a dent on the side of my car that still remains and pleads loudly for me to wake up and to slow down. I can think of so many ways this episode could have turned out worse, but I was lucky. In the end, the universe was kind.
Like so many of us, I often find myself doing too much and moving too fast thinking I need to get it all done and move quickly so I can get to the next thing. My teacher Char says, “To be everywhere is to be nowhere.” I am practicing being slow to medium with my rhythms. Instead of getting impatient with the check out person at the grocery store who is slower than I would like, I let them know I am in no hurry and that they’re doing fine. The clerk is immediately put at ease and I can feel my heart opening instead of shutting down from frustration or anger at their being slow. If I allowed myself to feel rushed, it would be hard for me to feel compassion towards the clerk who I perceive is taking up my time. When I slow down, I give myself space and time; hence I am able to be more generous both with myself and with others. In return, I have received free grocery items, free pieces of chocolate, even a discount off my bill for being patient. In effect, I create a win-win.
I have learned that I feel better about myself when I have the space to slow down. I am calmer, lighter, less stressed, and more enjoyable to be around. I experience an easier time with things. I am more present with myself and with those around me.
When I feel an urgency to say or to do something, I wait. In the waiting I take a breath and notice the subtle pause that happens at the end of my exhale, before the inhale breath arises. Or I tune into my heart and notice the naturally occurring pause from one heart beat to the next. My teacher Judith who loves listening to Mozart likes to state, “Between each note lies the universe.”
I am writing this post while on retreat – a time of deep pause I intentionally take twice a year -- in the mountains of northern California. Every afternoon I spend hours resting in supported yoga postures that invite entry into deep silence and stillness. When I drop into this space, my brain descends inward and my body softens and expands outward. I have absolutely no ambition, no cares, no needs or wants. There is nowhere I have to be and nothing I have to do. In this state where all striving ceases, I am content, deeply satisfied in the moment, and I feel I am enough just as I am right now. May you find opportunities to pause in your own life to inhabit the still and silent in-between spaces where everything lies.