Fast-Slow-Stop-Look-Listen

My nickname growing up was Rapid Rick. I always got things done quickly. Not always accurately or perfectly, but fast. After 70 years of taking pride in this reputation, I finally realized that slower is better. Ouch!

Credit: Nauris Pilgrim
Credit: Nauris Pilgrim

Yes, there were some advantages to my “now is good” approach to life. I did accomplish a lot and helped many people ease their load, but now I wonder at what price.

Daniel Kahneman, tbe author of Thinking, Fast and Slow, makes the point that we are more likely to look for stories to support our beliefs (thinking fast) than we are to look deeply for evidence that leads us to truth (thinking slow). Beliefs are easy. Truth is more elusive. Skimming quickly doesn’t always translate into understanding deeply, particularly if you are skimming fake news.

I zoom through books in record numbers. I read them quickly and extract what I see as the salient points. I wonder how much more would have sunk in if I had slowly digested them like a fine meal instead of rushing through them as if I were stuffing down a take-out at McDonald’s.

As a track and cross country athlete in high school, the chant “faster! faster” pushed me to the finish line in the shortest time. Unfortunately, that chant is still echoing in my head.

I’ve been known to play 18 holes of golf in an hour and a half. My friends ask, “Why?”

I was usually the first one to finish tests in school, but I often made careless mistakes. I’m usually the first to finish my meal. Then I watch like a vulture waiting to swoop in for anyone’s leftovers. What makes that really crazy is that I’ve never gone hungry and I’ve never gained weight.

In my rush to get thing done, my “good enough” threshold is sometimes not good enough.

I could have been the poster child for Nike’s ad — “Don’t think about it, just do it.” I am still way too quick to judge, too quick to react, too quick to close down, and too quick to “finish.”

Over the past few years, however, I have been working on slowing down. My Vietnam Vet buddy, Artie Egendorf, introduced me to the moves of Energy’s Way. I have found that the slower I do each of the moves, the more deeply I experience each step. I’ve been trying to do everything a little more slowly, mindfully, and consciously these days. I’m walking more mindfully. I’m eating more consciously. I am lingering longer with my thoughts before sending them off in a new post. I highly recommend checking out the EnergysWay website to learn more about all THIS and more.

"Basalt Columns of Giant's Causeway" Credit: pictruer / 一元 马 (License: CC BY 2.0)
“These massive hexagonal black basalt columns rise like steps and interlock neatly. There are over 40,000. They probably formed after volcanic activity 50-60 million years ago. The sizes of the columns were most likely determined by the speed at which the erupted lava cooled.” – BBC Earth | “Basalt Columns of Giant’s Causeway” Credit: pictruer / 一元 马 | Source: Flickr | License: CC BY 2.0

After practicing QiGong for 20 years, I not only learned that slower is better, but also that stopping between “release” and “absorb” produces the most profound moments of peace. As I breathe in, I absorb healing chi from the universe. As I breathe out, I release negative energy. In QiGong, the four key principles are to focus, center, turn, and stop. In those brief moments between release and absorb, I stop to smile on stillness and silence.

Those steps seem so simple, but when we are rushing through life we often find ourselves un-focused, un-centered, stiff, and constantly on the move. When taking deep breaths, even a pause after breathing in and breathing out creates a space for stillness that gives us a chance to experience our state of being. In that moment of stillness, we are more likely to look and listen to the messages we are receiving internally and externally.

My 5-year-old grandson often loses control of his body and his feelings. He gets caught in the whirl of his emotions and has a hard time returning to a quiet place. When he remembers (or is reminded) to stop and take a deep breath, he is better able to regain control. And when he has found a still and silent space, he is full of love and joy. I think there is a piece of Ezra in all of us. At least I hope so.

I know when I am still, I notice more precisely the thoughts and feelings in my heart and mind. For me, what’s most important is to attend, observe, listen, and respond to myself and to my loved ones. If I’m not conscious or still, I miss what’s really going on right in front of me. And, in a distracted state, I can’t be as present or loving as I would like to be. When we stop, we can look and listen.

Looking means not only to notice the feelings, energy level, and actions of yourself and others, it also means taking note of the judgments you are making based on the behavior and appearance you are observing. If we are honest with ourselves, we often make judgments on racial, gender or other appearance variables, and we often miss the pain behind whatever mask is presented.

Listening means to not only hear the content of what is presented, but also to focus on key words, feelings, and values that we often miss in the story line.

Good listeners are able to zero in on what’s most important and pick up on pace, volume, and tone.

If we are honest with ourselves, we often are so caught up in our own story that we don’t truly hear or respond to the people with whom we are talking. We wait for others to finish talking, so that we can grab the “microphone” and give our point of view.

"basalt with water" Credit: Ethan Khan on Flickr
Svartifoss (“black waterfall”) in Skaftafell National Park | “basalt, with water,” by Ethan Khan. Source: Flickr | License: CC BY-SA 2.0

When I look at my own behavior and listen to the knee jerk reactions I have made, for example, to Trump’s first political appointments, I am reminded how easy it is to get sucked into the hateful and negative noise with which we are constantly bombarded. When I am able to slow down and think things through, I’m able to get to a more comprehending and compassionate place.

Slowing down does not mean bending over and accepting every assault on our senses and sensibilities. It means staying calm, building energy, and making wise decisions about how and where to fight back.

In this current political crisis, it has never been more important to slow down, stop, look, and listen.

If I can stop and create a calm place, then I am better able to turn toward whatever is troubling me and to tune into my thoughts, feelings, and sensations. More importantly, I am more able to get a better read on what’s really going on and why. So when I am ready to act, my actions are more focused and impactful.

In the months ahead, let’s not rush to judgment. Let’s continue to rally and resist with calm, caring comprehension. I think we do that by increasing our personal power and presence and improving our capacity and capability to love. I know I can’t do that if I am constantly racing to one finish line or another. We need to take a deep breath, be still and silent, remain unfinished and open, and tap into universal energy. Let’s see this travesty and tragedy as an invitation to create something new, lasting, and more just. And to resist injustice.

In the end, I believe being is more important than doing. Who I am is more important than what I do. That’s certainly true of our country as well.

It’s not so much what we have done, but what we have exposed about who we are. We can’t elevate our being, individually or collectively, unless we slow down, stop, look, and listen. And then respond.

THIS is simply a new set of conditions out of which something new will emerge. The only question is how we will shape or be shaped by what emerges. As individuals and as a country we are essentially an unfolding narrative.

For me, I’m hoping to let Energy have it’s way with me so that when I die, I will be remembered as Relaxed and Ready Rick instead of Rapid Rick. Wish me luck. I wish us all luck.

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Also published on Medium.

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RonnyDonny
Guest
RonnyDonny

Relaxed & Ready Ricky! Love it !!! I know that you are aware that this last post reads like the story of my life, and I so appreciate your advice to slow down and smell the proverbial roses. Our country will be ok, so let’s enjoy the ride, ok? I love you buddy. RonnyDonny

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