Sometimes I get overcharged
That’s when you see sparks
They ask me where the hell I’m going?
At a thousand feet per second
Hey man, slow down-Radiohead, “The Tourist”
Sometimes as I’m working with clients, I start to notice that I’m saying a particular phrase a lot. Probably my most common phrases are still and always “What are you noticing?” and “What’s that like?” But especially since the COVID-19 pandemic changed all of our lives, the thing I find myself saying a lot is “slow down.”
In many ways, the pandemic has forced us to slow down. There are so many things we can’t do, places we can’t go, people we can’t risk being too near. There’s a lot of talk about social distance and isolation, which are concepts of space. But there isn’t that much talk about the speed of our lives—which is a concept of time.
For some people, the pandemic has brought their work lives into their home lives, their children into their space all the time, their spouses always in sight. Their spheres have narrowed, while at the same time, their sense of privacy and solitude has evaporated. The boundaries between work, home, love, and care have all blurred together.
For other people, living alone now means being alone most of the time. For still others, it means having to keep going out into the world and work, hoping that they can stay safe and keep their families safe while the virus rages.
For most people, the world has gotten a lot smaller—not in the sense of being more connected, but in the sense of the walls closing in. A friend recently told me that everything feels “abbreviated,” a word with both space and time connotations. And a common response to this seems to be an attempt to replicate the pre-pandemic speed of life: do a lot of Zoom calls, schedule lots of activities, try and be as “productive” as possible. The stresses of pandemic life also have a tendency to speed up the nervous system, ratcheting up anxiety and intrusive thoughts.
In the midst of all this, I’m finding that clients are falling into habit quite a lot, and having trouble being in choice. And in an attempt to manage their shrinking worlds, they defend their diminishing space by shutting down, sniping at loved ones, overcommitting to projects, or doomscrolling.
I’ve never found a more effective way to short-circuit these (incredibly natural!) responses than to help the person slow down. It turns out space and time are related, and when you can slow your roll, you may suddenly find you have way more space to work with. With space comes greater choice. With choice comes discernment, and the ability to respond rather than react.
Much of what I do with clients works this way, actually. Folks come in with their burdens and problems of the day, week, life. Maybe they talk about them for several minutes, if there’s a need for venting—a wonderful term that implies letting off pressure, the thing that’s reducing their sense of spaciousness and choice. At the end of a good vent, often there will be a huge sigh. And that’s where the slowing down can begin.
Slow down. Notice what you’re experiencing right now. How does this feel in your shoulders, your stomach, your jaw, your breathing? What happens as you take a moment to give attention to your emotions? To your tension? To your breathing?
What would happen if we allowed the slowness of this moment in time, this awful year, to be a guide rather than a goad? What could enter into the space that opens up when you start to slow down, to do one thing at a time, to bring awareness to the book, or child, or room, or dirty dish in front of you?
I don’t like to engage in toxic positivity, or suggest that something as devastating as this pandemic is nothing more than an opportunity for self-actualization. I’m also very aware that sometimes, slowing down and paying attention gives space for anxiety and pain to creep in, and the speed of life is sometimes an excellent coping mechanism, at least for a while.
At the same time, practicing slowing down can open possibilities: for your relationship with yourself and others, for your sense of agency, for your body’s ability to find rest, for your sense of spaciousness, visibility, existence.
It’s my profound hope, actually, then when the pandemic does abate, we don’t return to the speed, toxicity, wastefulness, cruelty, and fractured attention that characterizes 21st century life. It may be too much to hope for, but in the meantime, I can help people slow down, one at a time.