In this week's post Gretchen shares her ongoing challenges, opportunities, and insights about practicing slowing down.
Many of us begin this path with a sense that some of Easwaran's eight points are more challenging for us than others. For me, "slowing down" was more than challenging: it was just about impossible. While I did manage to meditate each morning, I was often distracted, and would routinely jump up from the chair and begin a very intense workday of visiting hospice patients in their homes, tending to my elderly mother, helping with my children and grandchildren, volunteering at church, and caring for two frisky, gigantic Great Danes – at breakneck speed.
Life was too full, and far too fast. The cell phone, which required about fifty work-related messages per day, was always on and always within reach. Stimulation was constant. I remember someone suggesting, at my first Tomales retreat, that I repeat the mantram three times between each patient visit. It was a wonderful idea, simple and sensible, an excellent way to slow down. Problem was, I got home, gave it a try, and just kept forgetting to do it...
Because the eight points are interconnected, this problem with slowing down impacted all the others. It is hard to be one pointed, for example, when you are in such a rush that you routinely pick up work messages on your cell while driving between visits. Spiritual fellowship is hard to develop if you come home so exhausted that you collapse before making it to satsang, and find yourself numbly diddling around on the computer instead.
I look back on those days and see a path strewn with jewels. The first jewel was an unexpected, blind trust in Gandhi's insight that "full effort is full victory." I had – for reasons beyond my own understanding – engaged in a deep inner battle, one that seemed impossible to win. Simply put, I was not powerful enough to slow down of my own accord. All I could do was put in my best effort, and hope for help.
That was the second jewel: a distant sense that I was being helped.
Life had somehow taught me that there was no real help; that all of us had to figure things out for ourselves, prove ourselves – in a world that in general demanded much and judged harshly. This was surely the force behind my own unmanageable impulse to go faster, do better, and accomplish more. I was trying to prove something – to the world, to the people around me, but most of all, to myself.
A sense of help – from Easwaran, from the mystics, from the Blue Mountain Center of Meditation and other aspirants – was almost frightening at first, so strong was my compulsion to prove myself. But in spite of that, I could feel the help coming in. It was flowing towards me whether I deserved and understood it or not. I could feel it in the beautiful memorized words, the gentle retreats, the mantram walks, the kindness and wisdom of others, the deepening sense of peace and well-being that caught me off guard, and invited me to trust the path I was walking – or more often, running.
At last, at last, that impulse to rush was beginning to diminish.
A third jewel, rough-cut to be sure, was a diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis (RA), which made slowing down an imperative, not just an intention. RA is chronic and can be debilitating, but far less so if stress and daily life are well managed. It was this diagnosis that allowed for much greater mastery of all the points, but especially slowing down.
Gradually, the jewels began to tumble in then, year upon year, bright and beautiful. Now, a few more years along the path, I can identify several life changes that would have been impossible for me to make earlier on, each a great gift unto itself:
Switching to a less stressful job. Attending satsang regularly. Writing a page of mantrams daily. Moving more slowly - and therefore more deeply - through passages during meditation Sleeping, exercising and eating well Returning to Tomales annually for retreat and re-centering Balancing life in a spirit of gentleness, rather than dashing through it
It all sounds so simple!
Gretchen's mantram notebooks
Simple but not easy, for some of us. I look back and smile with great tenderness at that former self who spent several years learning the simple gesture of putting down a cell phone while driving...
Time continues to bring change. My mother died, not so long ago. The wild, unruly Danes have died as well. Grandchildren keep arriving, each one bright eyed and full of life. My new puppy Beatrice loves the mantram walks we take each day, and never hesitates to slow down and rest along the path if she needs to.
Time and change have only brought me to believe this more deeply than ever before: full effort is full victory.
And also this: help surrounds each one of us.
Wishing you the blessing of jewels on your journey, too – especially the parts that seem impossible.