Once upon a time, in his search of the legendary martial arts master, a young man journeyed into the unknown and spent years wandering through valleys and traversing mountains. When he finally found the master, with tears streaming down his face, he knelt before the master and asked “Will you take me as your student? I promise to do everything you ask of me”. The master replied, “you will stay with me 10 years”. The young man responded “Master, I have spent many years searching for you. I want to go home soon. I will work very hard. I will practice everyday, ten or more hours a day if I have to. How long will it take then?” The teacher thought for a moment, “20 years.”
As a child, I came upon a comic strip of the story above, and while it seemed utter nonsense to my young mind, I found comfort in its seeming absurdity. Years later, the story and I crossed paths some, and though older in age, I was still young in spirit, and found the story amusing and well paired with wine to while away an evening of discussion that was not meant to produce anything serious.
A few months ago, the penny dropped.
Before sharing what happened, allow me to share the impact of that event. In the days following, I kept coming back to this question “how did we end-up becoming so addicted to speed, to busi-ness, to action?” The flipside of this question is “how did we end-up vilifying the slow, steady and simple?”
These addictions have severely compromised our ability to be tuned-in to reality. The faster we go, the more we need external frameworks and props and validations to manufacture a sense of equilibrium. And the more we allow ourselves to become reliant on external stabilising factors, the more we lose control of our own internal locus of centredness. And the more we lose control of the inner, the more outer stuff we create to keep ourselves propped up and moving.
A self-perpetuating vicious cycle in action!
I turned up at my regular yoga class to discover that I was the only student that day. Finally! Some one-on-one attention. And so I requested to be taught how “to do it right”, which meant I went slow … real slow.
Mind you, I am already the slowest in my class in part because of injury but also because I’m that friend for whom getting every “t” crossed is important. Which meant I went from slow to slo-mo, matrix style!
To say that it was a transformative experience would not be an exaggeration.
At the end of the session, not only had I sweated more than I thought possible, every single part of my body ached (we did only 7 poses), yet! I felt something I’ve never felt in life … I felt complete and grounded, as if I got plugged into some mysterious power source.
So that’s yoga!
In slo-mo, here’s what I discovered.
When I “sped” through yoga poses to keep up with the rest of the class, momentum carried me from one pose to the next. Meaning I missed / ignored pain signals my body was sending me. But in slo-mo, it’s almost impossible to ignore these signals!
Which means I need to decide how to respond to the signals. And the more of these signals I respond to, meaningfully, the stronger I become, the faster I can go, the higher I can reach. In other words, this is foundation building in its essence!
And I wondered about what I’ve been missing / ignoring when I sped through tasks in both my personal and professional life in the sometimes comatose pursuit of productivity?
In slo-mo, I discovered my body actually relaxed deeper into each pose and the need to “hold” the poses melted away. Instead, I felt I was being held. In other words, the passage of time allowed my body’s initial resistance to melt into rest.
This completely changed the way I relate to resistance! Instead of resisting resistance, I now understand how to be in relationship with it, and no longer ask “when is this going to end?” because I know that it is merely a path towards a new state.
And I wondered what else in my life had I too hastily moved on from, and had not given enough time to move beyond the initial resistance / dislike into the state of rest?
Here’s what I mean. When I was in college, I hung out alot with a girl whose father is a surgeon, and one day, she recounted an incident her father shared with her about a particular surgery of an obese individual. What was supposed to be a routine procedure became complicated because the patient’s fat was hampering the team’s ability to access the necessary organs. In other words, there was alot of slow rummaging because the team had to be careful about accidentally cutting things they weren’t supposed to be cutting!
For me, that seems a fitting analogy of fast in that just as the fat was getting in the way of their “seeing”, going fast actually blurs our vision. In slo-mo, details surface with much greater intensity and clarity. And at that level, you suddenly realise that all you needed to do all along was to re-arrange the composite atoms differently, and that alone determines whether the result is graphite (the material that pencils are made of) or diamond (the hardest known naturally occurring metal in the world).
And I wondered when in the past, had I slowed down, I would have seen that this “little” act was all that was needed to achieve far greater impact?
The slower I went in yoga, the more present and complete I felt. In slo-mo, it was no longer about how many poses I could do. Instead, it was about creating the space for the needs of my body to emerge, and responding in the moment to those needs. It was a way of be-ing that felt more true, with each action generating deeper impact.
Wouldn’t that be a nice way to live?