“These times are very urgent, so we must slow down”
These words come from Dale, my peace and justice studies advisor in college. “Make haste, slowly,” he would urge. Always encouraging myself and other students and activists to pause, reflect, journal, and slow down.
In the past, I didn’t take this wisdom to heart, and thought these words were out of touch and irrelevant. I felt the fire and urgency of the times and would react by speeding up, by saying yes to more and more. Looking back, I now deeply appreciate the wisdom he was sharing.
I like to call this the art of being. For so long in my life, I tried to get better and better at doing. Pushing myself to be more focused, more productive, to achieve more, to accomplish more. I now see this as a subtle form of violence, of running away from myself and creating from an unbalanced and radioactive place. And the world is radioactive enough already, without my adding more to it.
The art of being is something very different, and words can only hint at it. It is the times of stillness, of simply being, which can be artfully embodied whether I am in line at a store, in meditation in the forest, driving in my car, or even at a protest or heated meeting.
I want you, yes you reading this post, to slow down in this moment. And breathe. Feel your breath entering your body. Feel your lungs and belly expanding, and notice when the breath reaches its height and naturally flows out of your body. Feel your weight on the surface you are on, be it a chair, bed or the earth, and let yourself sink deeper, relaxing all muscles and body parts. Allow yourself to soften the edges of your awareness and let go of all opinions, ideas and thoughts in this moment. Just for now, give yourself the gift of simply being.
Can you get what a radical shift that is? How different this is from the pace of life so many of us are used to? This is the art of being. It is savoring the deliciousness, the pleasure, the peace which is available in every moment. Peace, pleasure and happiness are internal feelings, after all. They have nothing to do with external circumstances. And the successful work unfolding in prisons to bring meditation, yoga and non-violence training shows that even in the most de-humanized and uncomfortable places, the art of being can always be called upon for deeper levels of peace and pleasure in each moment.
The art of being is so important because it is a fundamental shift so deep that it has the power to make our society more just, equal, meaningful, beautiful and sustainable. This is not only a personal practice to help you feel better in the moment. Learning and practicing the art of being shifts your internal reality and our collective external reality as well. Presence and peacefulness are contagious. From a place of peacefullness, the actions you take will be more thoughtful, strategic, and ultimately will serve the whole in a way that can only come from slowing down and reflecting before action.
Consider these words from Bayo Akomolafe and Marta Benavides, in their piece “The Times are Urgent: Lets Slow Down”
“The mainstream approach of civic society is not contesting the deep layers of experience, or challenging the normative ways of experiencing the world. While our work as activists has surely made our voices heard, and amplified the need to rethink our systems, it is worrisome that not-for-profits, funding organizations, civic society organizations and NGOs have themselves become an industry of service-providers, PowerPoint presentations, proposals, prestige, slogans, and busy schedules. People very often take on the shape of that which they strenuously resist.
Though civic efforts have been worthwhile, they have done nothing to change our relationships with the planet, with people and with ourselves; we are still tethered to the deadening values of consumerism, and have not reclaimed our roles as living co-creators of a society we prefer to live in. Civic society has not provided irresistible alternatives for both the activist and the non-activist …We have become highly corporatized – only seeing the changes that could come from behind the lenses of our roles and bureaucratic processes.”
They said it better than I could have (hence me quoting them). It is time to not just challenge the ideas and structures of dominant society, but the deeper and more fundamental ways of being , of experiencing, in this society. That is where the deepest shifts can occur.
Deep time spent in nature, with no agenda and nowhere to get to, is one great way to practice the art of being. Last summer I spent 3 days of solo time in the mountains of Oregon, literally just sitting, and this helped attune me to organic pace of life in nature. There are a thousand and one doors into this, find whatever works for you. I observe that for many, dance, playing music, mindfully cooking a meal, writing, walks outside, and swimming create deep moments of simply being. I see that activities which involve a lot of talking and interacting with others in a social context seem to create more mental energy, more distraction, more distancing from your core and center. My suggestions are just from my observations, again, find what works for you.
For me, I am practicing the art of being right now by taking a breath and letting go of all thoughts at the end of each paragraph I write. Breathe.
The art of being has nothing to do with inaction or withdrawing from the world. It is about shifting your internal experience, no matter what actions you are taking, and learning to engage with the world in a powerful and ancient and new way. Because yes, a part of us all remembers and knows intuitively what pace and speed our bodies, minds and souls actually thrive at.
And as you practice slowing down and learning and remembering simply to be, know that you are taking a courageous step towards shifting our whole society to be in alignment with what so many deeply value. And, the art of being just feels very, very, very good!