I sat down last Saturday to engage in some self-care by reading a poem from my favorite poet, Mary Oliver. In her poem, “The poet Dreams of the Mountain,” she writes:
“Sometimes I grow weary of the days, with all
their fits and starts.
I want to climb some old gray mountain, slowly,
the rest of my lifetime to do it….
I want to look back at everything, forgiving it,
and peaceful, knowing the last thing there is to
All that urgency! Not what the earth is about!…
In ten thousand years, maybe, a piece of the
mountain will fall.”
This poem ignited some personal inquiry. I thought to myself, “have I been caught in a frenzy of urgency?” Prior to sitting down to read, I had spent time making to-do list, running errands, calling family members, and checking my schedule for the week ahead. Was I functioning in hurriedness? Have you noticed yourself behaving the same? Oliver’s poem motivated me to look into the pace of my life and to incorporate more intentional moments of slowing-down.
What does slowing-down look like?
When I think about slowing down, the image that emerges in my thoughts is in direct contrast to the peaceful and slow mountain journey Oliver explains. Initially, I had this image of a freight train pulling the breaks and watching the rest of the train cars respond in a screeching and sparks-inducing manner. You, too? Okay so this is called an emergency stop and is not what we are looking for. Slowing down can be subtle, somewhat invisible to the outside eye. Slowing down can be captured in a single moment, where an intentional pause occurs, perhaps in the middle of a conversation, while stopped at a red light in traffic, or while stepping into the shower.
In reaction to this idea of slowing down, I challenged myself to notice moments where slowing down would benefit me over the next few days. My normal Sunday routine consists of a sleepy wake-up, followed by coffee drinking and a surge of to-do lists. This past Sunday, post-coffee, I instructed myself to complete house-cleaning, dog-walking, a work out, and a devoted two hours to worrying about the week ahead and all of the tasks I would need to complete. Mid-cleaning I realized I was a fast moving freight-train, so I took a few moments to slow down what I was doing by taking three deep breaths and noticed the tension I was holding in my body. To the outside eye, this looked like a few inhalations and my shoulders moving from a clenched to relaxed state. Internally, my experience of stress shifted into a grounded state of awareness and intentional thought. Did I continue on with my cleaning? Of course, however, the moment of grounding allowed me to disengage from the the frenzy of my action and return in a more connected and mindful state.
Benefits of slowing down?
Neurologically, there is a shift that occurs when we intentionally slow-down. To signal our brains into a state of calm, we need to invite our bodies to engage with the parasympathetic nervous system. Sometimes, the parasympathetic nervous system needs to be “tricked” into feeling calm. In our busy culture of tasks, expectations and relationships, instructing our mind to slow down requires some action. This shift can be achieved by intentionally engaging in deep belly breaths or moving into a relaxed state in our bodies, such as a sitting position or laying position. Slowing down can do more than provide space and awareness to the pace of life, it can invite a stronger connection with your self and to others, as well as function as a vehicle of self-care.
Ahh, connection. The forever end-goal of human existence. Taking moments to be still, slow-down, or pause invites the opportunity to connect with yourself and your emotional experience. Have you ever noticed while watching an intense scene in a movie, that there is usually a moment of pause right before an emotional release? Without that pause, would we as viewers feel as connected to what just happened? The same pattern applies to music. Often times there is a building in the chorus, or instrumentals right before a brief moment of pause, silence, or stillness. It hooks us! It asked us to evaluate how we are feeling in that very moment. This same process can be applied to everyday life. Throughout your day, invite moments that slow-down the pace you are moving at and connect with yourself.
Where to start: Take a few deep breaths between tasks, before meeting someone, or prior to a work meeting. In those breaths, notice the sensation of inhale and exhale and acknowledge what it feels like to engage with yourself.
Slowing down can also benefit your connection with others. In most relationships, the moments that we need to slow down in the most, are often the hardest to accomplish. For instance, when involved in a relational conflict, our first reaction (okay, most of us) is to fight, flee, or freeze. This is an automatic reaction to feeling threatened. In moments of conflict, taking a moment to slow down and connect with our emotional experience may provide enough space to react in a more mindful, connected, and vulnerable manner. Learning to integrate slow-down moments with yourself and in relationships can be difficult, and may require some practice. Be kind to yourself in this process!
Where to start: Take two deep breaths before responding to a partner, loved one, or friend in conversation. Perhaps move into a seated position, uncross your arms, or close your eyes as you take a breath in and release a breath out. A moment of pause or slow-down may invite a more grounded reaction that honors and invites connection.
While integrating slow-down moment into your life, you will also be offering yourself moments of self-care. In the next blog, keep an eye out for ways in which self-care can be accessed in day-to-day life! If you feel connected to the message of this blog or are interested in pursuing counseling I can be reached at (406) 624-9651.
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