The Path of Slowness

Slowness seems to become an ever more important part of my life. It is the opposite of rushing and busyness and activity for its own sake. It is a vital ingredient, in my case at least, in encouraging me along the path I wish to follow.

There is something about quiet deliberation which takes my mind and my body into the stream of life, into the flow. Not the life of acquisition, power or human ambition but by contrast a withdrawal therefrom and an immersion into silent contemplation. Which is where the true stream is to be found.

If you were to ask me “of what?” then I would be hard pressed to answer exactly what it is that I contemplate. Contemplation for me is more a case of simply being in a state of receptivity to come what may. It is not an active seeking, it is a listening. It is not thought, it is an absence of thought.

I am in the middle of some exercise; or rather, taking a tea break. Few would agree to calling my afternoon’s activity exercise. Perhaps it is the sort of activity confined to the sloth.

Our afternoon walk was rained off. We had bundled out only to be turned back by tumultuous rain and loud thunder. I wandered out instead to our crumbling summer house in the garden and set to for some serious Pilates. Joseph Hubert would doubtless disown me, but it became a sort of meditation. Holding the limbs, stretching, taking a long, long time about it. The result was both physical and mental. The physical effect was pleasing – a slow burning in the muscles, a satisfying glow. The mental effect was calming and boosted by the natural drugs which exercise brings with it.

Altogether a most satisfactory effort.

Some people, I am sure, zone out after or during their marathon or peddling at speed up and down the mountains along the Tour de France.

My form of exercise has become a slower and more deliberate one. More of a meditation in the way that Thich Nhat Hanh talks of walking.

After some thirty years of seeking, it seems I may at last have found. Something. I said only half jokingly to a friend that perhaps my moods have improved so dramatically because I have given up, given in. But maybe there is more truth to that than I realized.

If you are naturally of a contemplative turn of mind there can be little more damaging and destructive than living in the world we humans customarily inhabit. It is so often said that our desires can never be fulfilled but the truth of that statement is so little understood.

My own disappearance into slowness (or do I mean slothfulness?) has not involved donning a loincloth and sitting in the lotus position by the Ganges. I have undertaken no great works of piety. Nor has it included (nor will it) the wearing of brightly colored robes and the incantation of esoteric Eastern words. I have not undertaken works of great charity. My journey has not involved gathering a crowd around me to whom I can impart such profound thoughts as I have been able to collect. While raking in a fortune from my misguided disciples.

My journey has simply involved saying “enough”. And not feeling guilty about having “enough”. Enough at least to retreat, metaphorically, far from the beaten track. An off grid wilderness in the heart of the increasingly suburban South East coast.

The retreat and the slowness, the silence and the emptiness have taken all sorts of forms and become ever more important to me.

Once upon a time I sought wisdom in books or the words of others. Only this morning I was reading Plotinus and thinking about Jung. But only casually; long gone are the days when I would comb such authors for answers, the truth or the way.

I have determined that the way is only inward and that by travelling within one discovers the universe to be a sort of giant Russian Doll. Or, in more modern terms, a Tardis.

I am no longer given to great philosophical or mystical expositions. I am pleased that Plotinus seems to have discovered the Plot, and I glad he discovered the Way. But I do not wish to read 1,000 pages of his thoughts or anyone else’s. I do not wish to make up my own great treatise. I have no desire to discover how many angels can dance on a pinhead or to give the answer to those breathlessly waiting.

In days gone by I may have taken the time of day from Thomas Aquinas. I sat upon the Cloud of Unknowing and nodded in the direction of St John of the Cross and his miserable Dark Night.

Somehow, these days that seems counter productive. And unnecessary.

No one can inform you better than yourself. You are unlikely to come across any wisdom greater than that which comes to you as you withdraw from the nonsense and sit quietly to listen.

If any of this sounds arrogant, that is not my intention at all. I have spent some two years writing this blog for myself and slowly a light has dimly penetrated the gloom. It has been a helpful process.

Largely it has involved a casting off, a throwing out. If I look back at what I have written over the last two years I can see a notable and important decrease in anger and frustration as the months passed by. And I can see that my scope has narrowed down to what I am seeking.

I no longer feel moved to write about injustice, corruption, politics or the human condition. It all sucks and I’m sorry for that.

Do I sense that there is another world? An ultimate “reality”? Have I had glimpses of it? Perhaps so or perhaps my increasingly optimistic outlook is merely a matter of my withdrawal from so many aspects of life which I find distasteful, vulgar, damaging and unpleasant.

Have I found real and lasting peace or do I sit at the top of a roller coaster waiting for a terrifying descent into Stygian gloom? I hope the former but if the latter I suspect I would, if not welcome it as an old friend, then at least laugh at its ephemeral nature and look forward to its passing.

11 Comments

    1. I wonder whether everyone can find slowness and silence if they want it? It must be difficult if you are doing a job, especially in a factory or some horrible office. Or perhaps people find a way. By dropping out to Goa for instance? A rather attractive idea I always thought. My wife wasn’t keen (being a suburban creature).

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    1. You are right. But personally I could not achieve that state as an investment banker or lawyer. Or rather I did not. As a postman in the Scottish islands I would probably have stood a better chance.

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