Visit my show at the PSCCU Credit Union, Vashon, Washington May, June 2024 

Changing at the Speed of Slow

Question to a rancher: What’s the fastest way to move cattle?

Rancher: Slowly

On Monday, Martin Luther King Day, I thought about a lesson I learned from my friend John when he toured my garden. “You white people think change has to happen fast.” (He was being nice about it.) “But that’s a sign of your entitlement. My people [he is African-American] know that change takes time. We’ve been at it for generations. And we’re not stopping.”

He was so right.

Thinking that change should happen according to our amped-up timetables and expectations is a sign of privilege—and delusion.

The universe, however, does not operate according to our plans. 

I heard a similar theme in a different context in an essay by the brilliant observer of modern life, Rebecca Solnit.

“Describing the slowness of change is often confused with acceptance of the status quo. It’s really the opposite.

“The expectation that change will be swift—and the failure to perceive it when it’s not—impacts politics for the worse.

” To be able to see change is to be able to make change. I’m an advocate for slowness, not in the sense of dragging your feet or delaying your reaction but in the sense of scaling your perception to perceive the events unfolding.”

Rebecca Solnit in her essay “Slow Change Can Be Radical Change.” for Lit Hub.

Truly seeing requires slowing down

Solnit was referring to politics and the environment. In a very different context, I’m also looking for ways to meaningfully slow—so that I can move ahead. I launched a group on “Morning Rituals/Morning Altars” and we’re exploring how to start our days in ways that are more mindful, attentive, and satisfying. And usually slower.

On my part, I’m going to see where I can slow and add attentiveness and gratitude into the midst of the mundane.

I’ve been inspired by the book Morning Altars by Day Schildkret. He’s extraordinarily gifted—both as an artist and as a ritualist. Building morning altars pits me against the norms of our fast-paced world with its penchant for productivity. The process asks us to slow:

  • First, set aside a chunk of time for building an altar. (He suggests 60 minutes. I’m starting with 30, twice a week—a lot of time.)
  • Then, start wandering without a plan.
  • Stop to notice things, like fallen leaves, acorns, fiddleheads, flowers, and interesting bits of nature. (If inside, wander the space in new ways, seeing ordinary objects with fresh wonder.)
  • Refrain from gathering until taking time with each item, and then choose judiciously—not taking too much.
  • Clear a space for an altar and bless it before putting anything down. (No fair rushing ahead.)
  • Practice gratitude thanking everything before placing it on the altar.
  • Arrange the collected pieces in a pleasing design, feeling each item, and sensing where it should go. (No hurrying!)
  • When done, again give thanks. Take a photo to share, or just scatter the pieces — and let nature do its part.

At the end of the process, you won’t have “achieved” anything, yet you will have slowed and awakened to see the world with new eyes. You will have surrendered to beauty and enjoyed the process of creating. You just won’t get to keep your “accomplishment.”

It’s so counter-cultural.

my humble attempt:

Cultivating the mindset

It’s a way to cultivate the mindset Rebecca Solnit describes above.

When we slow, we train our eyes to see more. We see the real change that is happening and not just the change we planned to see. We let the world speak to us and through us. We grow in appreciation.

I could go on, but I want to save time for doodling, another pointless, time-consuming activity that slows me down, delights, and steadies my mind.

In this tumultuous rock n’ roll of a year, let’s share ways to be steady, steadfast, attentive, and slow—and see beyond our existing expectations.

We need, as Solnit writes, to perceive the changes that are happening now. To see in our frozen gardens the tiny hellebore buds that might survive. To trust that we will someday see spring.

Happy attending and creating!

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