An unexpected thing happened today. I did a headstand during my yoga practice. This might not sound unusual for someone who does a reasonable amount of yoga, however I haven’t tried headstands for years. The last time I did one was probably about 4 years ago and it triggered the injury in my neck from being hit by a truck so I stopped attempting it. I think I had probably done about one before that without assistance.

Today however, I felt the urge to do some headstand preparation exercises and much to my surprise I realised that it actually felt pretty easy to lift my feet off the ground. After a few tentative explorations, I went up there safely and with control. This was also curious because I haven’t been doing as much yoga or other exercise as normal because I have been travelling.

The headstand got me musing on how things happen when you stop trying. This is quite a big part of my Slow journey, being someone with a strong sense of purpose combined with the internalisation of the dominant story that says in order to make something happen you have to apply some kind of force. This is a big difference between the mindset of Slow and the mindset of Fast[1]. I see Slow as correlating with an appreciation of interconnectedness and Fast with a worldview based in separation. There is a contrast between the theory of change offered by these two worldviews[2]. One dictates the belief that you need to force things to change, which is necessary if everything is separate. If you believe that there is an intelligence behind things and that everything is connected you can trust that you do not need to force things. You can trust that the flow is not just random, that there is an order.

Many times in the past I’ve got the message that I shouldn’t try so hard. This is the source of some conflict for me in that I also feel that I have a responsibility in this lifetime. So I have a little conversation with life saying, ‘Life, you want me to do things that are important, yet you also do not want me to try so hard? How do I find the balance between these two things?’ It is an interesting dance.

Sometimes change happens when you set an intent then release it into the field. There is an initiation of action from you. Then once released you wait for something to come back to you in response, you do not need to take action at that point. I think this was the case for me with the headstand. I hadn’t really been trying to make that happen right now in particular. However in the past I had thought that a headstand would be something that I’d like to include in my practice, something new for my body to learn and would indicate some level of getting past the injury.

Other times, things happen when you have not tried to set an intent, rather you have got a message or a feeling that this is something that is right for you to do. And then you do have to put in effort. It’s not like everything that is worthwhile doing is necessarily always easy, but there is a sense of ease within the understanding that this is something that would be good for you to do. There is the dance.

There is a balance between being in the flow and allowing things to come to you and choosing when do you initiate an action or initiate a flow, but there is always a sense of reciprocity and teamwork between you and the universe when things are right. Sometimes I am a little hesitant to try to ‘make something happen’ because if it is all you trying then perhaps that is a sign it may not be completely in alignment.

Contemplating this topic has lead to a question about the difference between trying and intent. It feels to me that working with intent requires meta-awareness, continual reflection on what is happening. There is a sense of an inner rudder. I know sometimes I start something with a very good reason but perhaps because of external or internal distractions I end up in a grind of trying, having lost a sense of the original intent.

I wonder also how this translates into the sphere of work. Some of the ‘hard structures’ we have to operate within (that arise from the mindset of Fast) such as the economic and employment systems do not leave much of a playground for this dance between trying and allowing. However, at least there is often capacity for allowing and use of intent in the realm of creativity, i.e. when new ideas are initiated. All of us are creative each and every day at least in small ways.

That all these reflections would come from one single posture is something that I like a about yoga. It can give you an embodied understanding of patterns of life and enables seeing what happens through the body and its relationship with the mind. It relates to one reason why I count undertaking yoga teacher training as part of my Slow journey, because Slow calls for us to move out of our minds and into our bodies.

Of course this was not the blog post that I meant to write, but hey, why try so hard?

[1] I use the terms ‘Slow’ and ‘Fast’ to denote two opposing dynamics of culture. ‘Slow’ as in the Slow movement and ‘Fast’ is the aspect of dominant culture of which Slow is a response to.

[2] Thanks to Charles Eisenstein for illuminating this point

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So far I have experimented with daily meditation and abstaining from coffee. Interestingly the best learnings have not been from the direct results of doing these things, rather simply from the process of experimenting.

Daily meditation

The meditation experiment very quickly highlighted that schedules do not magically re-arrange themselves nor do tasks magically disappear, just because there is something important you’ve decided to do. Of course this was not a surprise, but optimism and enthusiasm sometimes get in the way of realism. It was a quick reality check in just how busy I am. The fact was that on most days I was ‘doing’ from the time I got up until the time I went to bed. So I soon compromised and decided that doing any form of meditation for whatever length each day would suffice. It definitely is important to make new habits achievable.

The other logistical challenge was noise. I do not particularly like meditating to music or guided meditation tracks. However often if I was home during the day there was construction noise and at night the drone of a reverse cycle heater both of which just drive me crazy if I’m trying to meditate. So there were limited slices of time where meditation could be more than the practice of not becoming overly frustrated. These two barriers – time poverty and noise – are symptomatic of modern life and were really quite substantial barriers.

To avoid the barriers, meditating at the beach was great and, probably not as ideally, meditating right before sleep was the other option. Often I do a gratitude practice where I remember three things I am grateful for that happened in the day, so I combined it with a heart-centred awareness, sustained long enough to feel like I’d dropped into a meditative state. It actually was a lovely way to end a day.

Of course old habits did get in the way as well and the days I did not go to work in the office I often still didn’t meditate until the evening even though I could have done it earlier with a bit more of a focussed brain. Changing the priority on the task list is something for me to work on.

No coffee (but more relaxation)

I was feeling pretty unenthusiastic about this one, but I knew I’d have to tackle it at some stage. With my typically fiery constitution, coffee is a common contributor to imbalance. It is habit that I normally run on a daily basis (in the form of a big plunger and/or double or triple shot espressos) and would benefit from being a bit more discerning about. But it is a habit I enjoy!
Then I reflected on the stress I have been feeling lately and realised that giving up coffee would be supportive of a higher goal – to reduce the tension in my system. So I took the opportunity to at once give myself the challenge of forgoing coffee, but also the ‘unchallenge’ of considering how I could benefit from bringing more relaxation into daily life.

I went the first week with no coffee at all and felt pretty smug about it. Then I had the horrible realisation that I had three weeks to go and all of a sudden giving up coffee completely just seemed cruel. I began adding coffee back in but only when I was going to really be able to enjoy it (which I believe counters some of the negative effects) or on Mondays, when I just need some caffeine to get through the day.

The result in the last 3 weeks was that in the I drunk probably half as much coffee as I normally would, I still managed a couple of days each week without any coffee, the coffee I did drink I appreciated and enjoyed a whole lot more and I felt like the coffee I did drink was not to my detriment.

Meta learning (learning about the process)

I quickly became aware of the paradox of forcing myself to do Slow things. The design of the experiments in terms of ‘everyday you must…’ or ‘everyday you must not…’ makes it easier to examine the behaviour in question but is not particularly aligned with Slow. I’m not entirely sure what I am going to do about that going forward with the experiments. Parts of the process that do seem valuable are reflecting and inquiring within myself ‘what is it that my being needs most this month to be Slow?’ There is definitely a role for placing your attention on those parts of the self that need a shift. Especially with the coffee experiment it wasn’t the adherence to the habit change that seemed to matter the most, it was the fact that I had listened to my self and brought a habit into awareness and let it shift where it seemed to want to go. This felt quite different to forcing.

I also began to wonder if I was calling in lessons unexpectedly. May and June had thrown me a lot of curve balls. It was unexpectedly challenging and not in nice ways. I got robbed, a friend passed away, university bureaucratic processes caused a delay with the phd, there were relationship challenges that brought me pain, I needed to find new tenants, there were chicken health problems etc etc. Everything felt too hard and I decided that I needed to embrace non-doing and just not try to achieve anything. It took a while! I definitely became aware of how results-driven I was, totally frustrated by feeling like I was not getting anywhere.

Environmentalists should embrace materialism. Bet you didn’t expect me to make that claim, but I mean it. Materialism needs to be appreciated, just in a radically different way.

Materialism in the sense of the desire to accumulative material goods, leading to overconsumption, is seen as one of the evils of capitalism, with spirituality sometimes presented as the antidote. There is much wisdom in teachings on non-attachment and the like, however there is a thread to both religious and new age spirituality which is easy to confuse. In the rejection of the pursuit of ‘material wealth’ we can come to associate the material, matter, with the mundane, or more harshly, the profane.

I cringe when I hear the ‘up and away’ type language that can be associated with spirituality. Think of discussion about ‘transcending’ or ‘raising our vibration’ or the spirit realm (as if spirit were something separate to the realm of matter) or ‘higher’ states of consciousness or emphasising parts of the self that are perceived as not the body (mind, spirit, consciousness)… What are we trying to escape from here? Is high better than low? Is earth somehow less sacred than heaven?

The desacralising of the natural world is one driver behind our environmental destruction. If nature is filled with non-sentient, non-sacred creatures and substances, then why should we care to respect and protect it?

When I talk about these nature retreats that I do, it is not about transcending at all, it is about going deeper and deeper into the here and now, discovering capacities our culture has forgotten about and communing with the nature right in front of us as access to the unifying field underlying all things, not a god far away up in heaven.

The Slow Movement has faced criticism as a being a luxury for the rich. Which I guess when Slow Food gets construed as being just about gourmet food I can see the point, but quite often I think that critical sentiment is coming from the belief in the need to be productive as possible. And if you are not, then you are lazy and indulgent. I think Slow’s appreciation of quality, sensory pleasures is actually quite beautiful. It makes gratitude for the gifts of nature all the more possible.

One of the insights I had during my 28 day solo retreat was that things become sacred when you treat them as such. The sense was very similar to taking a conscious choice to change the tone of a relationship. I think one of the ways that nature can be such an incredible teacher is because nature makes it easy to see the sacred in the here. I wonder what would happen if we chose to see the sacred in the substance of everyday life.

Self-awareness is one of those fundamental capabilities that helps you achieve whatever it is that you are striving for. Self-awareness has been on my radar a lot recently. It has been a topic of recent workshops and I feel like it is the right time for me to bring more subtlety to my own self-awareness. Through doing my own retreats and semi-regular daily practice I have developed more self-awareness but without much thought as to exactly how I wish to be using it (the realisation of which is an achievement of self-awareness in itself!). What I have noticed in this current time of high pressure and responsibilities, is that self-awareness has been kicking in instinctively to help me look after myself – knowing when I need to not have that third coffee, when I need to cancel that plan and go to bed early or when I need to take a moment to observe my own thought patterns and check if stress is negatively influencing how I am perceiving situations.

As humans, we always have some level of self-awareness (and some other animals such as elephants, dolphins, chimpanzees, apes and magpies!). Self-awareness is about learning to better understand what you feel, why you feel it and why you behave the way you do. It is not a uni-dimensional concept; you are not either self-aware or not, there are levels of increasing depth and subtlety. Self-awareness becomes a defining capability when you develop it to enough of an extent that you can use it intentionally.

It is impossible to change in a purposeful way if you are unclear on who you are presently. Read More

I am deliberately transitioning into living more ‘Slowly.’ One of the aims of the Slow Project is to share what some practical strategies I’ve explored to enable others to do the same, allowing others to learn from my successes, ongoing challenges and insights.

It is now 2 years since I began the Slow Project so I figured now would be a good time for a check in. There has been a lot of change in that time. I started by quitting my job, initial explorations into Slow and how to approach the project, early on with the view to cycle around Australia, but then changing approach and furthering my training with the Way of Nature and doing a 28-day wilderness solo retreat. I started a PhD, then didn’t have funding for it so went back to paid employment this year. This year also saw an eventful trip to Nepal; I was there during the earthquake and received some incredibly powerful lessons about my work in this lifetime. Then I went back to the US for further guide training with John P Milton, founder of the Way of Nature, which further cemented my commitment to purpose. 

This leaves in a position now where I am working 4 days a week and trying to progress a PhD and my goals with The Slow Project and the Way of Nature… and trying to work on myself to live Slow at the same time!! Yes the irony is loud and clear and I feel the friction of the contradiction acutely at times. BUT this makes sense. Trying to live Slow in a Fast world is bound to throw up some tensions and challenges. Downshifting and living off grid may be possible and suitable for some but I think we all have to find our own definition of what living Slow means for ourselves. In some way that is connected to our reason for being and living true to that. For some, like me, that means maintaining a foot in the Fast world.

My Slow Scorecard

Slow Principle 1: Be Present

Successes

  • I am meditating more regularly
  • The witness aspect of myself seems much stronger so I am more able to stay with what I am attending to and not get swept up by judgements and associated emotional reactions
  • Likewise I am feeling more centred and stable than ever which assists in not getting pulled into distractions
  • If I need extra concentration while working I turn off notifications, internet connection where possible and set a limit to social media time

Challenges

  • Improving my ability to attend for longer remains a key area to continue working on. It is a foundational skill
  • I still find it hard to maintain the single-tasking habit. If I don’t keep checking in on this one I find myself trying to work with music on, checking Facebook every 5 minutes and multiple screens open
  • I’d still like to remove more mindless eating

Observations

  • I don’t have a routine yet for this new phase which makes me more prone to distractions and multitasking
  • The dopamine reward for being distracted can really fire up those old habit pathways pretty quickly!
  • Deep experience has been such an anchor for bringing me back to presence – the feeling of refined presence is now familiar and I won’t forget it

Slow Principle 2: Be Receptive

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