Slowly Is the Way

Slowly Is the Way


Don’t rush to cultivate your gifts in an effort to accomplish or secure what you want or dream of. Slow down to meet the world through what you’re given and your beauty will be released.

The Artist is no other than he who unlearns what he has learned, in order to know himself.


When a dear friend was hiking up Mount Kilimanjaro, the temptation was to walk at a brisk pace to make headway on the day’s climb. But her native guide nudged her and the others out of their pace, saying in Swahili, “Pole, pole n’d’muendo,” which means, “Slowly, slowly is the way.”

We often rush to cultivate our gifts in an effort to accomplish or secure what we want or dream of, but our beauty is released when we slow down to meet the world through what we’re given. Life will unwind us until we accept that the journey of a soul on Earth is to discover what matters by making good use of our heart.

There are many ways to slow down, knowing that life will speed us up, many ways to quiet the race within us and around us, knowing that we will join the race again. Some of the ways we can slow down include: letting what we keep in out, facing what we avoid, putting things down, not going back to sleep once awake, and practicing the art of acceptance and deep listening.

Holding things tightly inevitably speeds us up. We can’t see the beauty or power of our feelings as long we hold them inside. This is why a fear or sadness can pound excessively in our chest the longer we hide it. But once we admit that we’re afraid or confess to being deeply sad, we’re somewhat lightened of the burden, and somehow stronger for letting the truth of where we are express itself. No matter how we resist, we’re meant to let what is in out. By this vow of expression, our heaviness can start to have spaces in it. When releasing the things that build up, difficulties begin to unfold. This movement from keeping things in to letting things out is at the heart of all transformation.

We’re constantly drawn into the world and yet we fear the world. In spite of our fear, what matters waits under all the ways we run and avoid. I know this because of the many times I’ve run from truth and the many ways I’ve tried to avoid what life has given me. All of which only exhausted me into landing where I am. For whenever I can face what I avoid, life reveals itself. Facing what I avoid always stills me enough to feel the very pulse of life lining every path and tree and leaf.

Another way to slow our journey is by putting down things we cling to. For the strains of attachment pull us away from the pace of what is real. By putting down our certainty, we begin to learn from others. By putting down our desperate want for fame and greatness, we begin to experience our common journey and this lessens our loneliness. By putting down our want to be unique, we often discover our true inheritance, which is our felt kinship with all life.

In essence, great love and great suffering force us to be awake.

Yet even when putting things down, it is impossible to prevent heartache. No one likes heartache or loss, but they are great inevitable teachers we meet when we dare to care and love. From my own heartache, I’ve discovered that loss opens us to the logic of Spirit. For grief forces me look for those I’ve lost everywhere, and this, in turn, forces me to fall in love with the world again. There’s no replacing who or what has been lost. But somehow, our tears water the break in our heart so we can grow. None of this happens until we slow down, until we put down what we cling to, until we’re ready to receive, unsure of what.

So no matter who I might be with, I try not to insist on my own language, but to slow my mind until I can hear what is common in all language. It’s there I find resilience. And the feel
of resilience brings me back to the crucible of my cancer journey years ago. We were all strangers, each on our own trajectory of dream, each in our own vocation, each in or out of relationship, each understanding the world in a different way. Then cancer threw us together with such speed and force, stripping us violently of all the external descriptors that we carried. Once stunned and naked, all that mattered was making it through the pain and fear together. All that mattered was helping each other make it to tomorrow.

In essence, great love and great suffering force us to be awake. Then, we’re asked to sustain our effort in not going back to sleep, in not going numb, in not drifting from the precious, fragile fact of our existence. This is why we need each other, to help us not go back to sleep. But how? By stopping the race, by entering the truth of any moment, by listening to the greater wisdom of life as it moves through us the way a cloud moves through the sky.

Questions to Walk With

  • In your journal, describe one way that you speed up your life and how this affects you. Then describe one way you can practice slowing down and how this affects you.

  • In conversation with a friend or loved one, choose one of these ways of slowing down—letting what we keep in out, facing what we avoid, putting things down, not going back to sleep once awake, or practicing the art of acceptance and deep listening—and tell the story of someone you admire and how they practice this way of slowing down.

Climbing mount kilimanjaro

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