We all experience moments where we wish we were a little wiser. Maybe we react impulsively and instantly want to take back what we just said. Or we run marathons around in our mind, endlessly worrying about something that later seems futile. Maybe we receive some challenging news and just don’t know what to do. I recently came across a catchy but useful concept called SLOW: Stop – Land – Observe - Wisdom.
So how does SLOW work?
Stop - Before we can even talk about stopping, we need to be aware that we need to stop. This is the preliminary step for SLOW to work. You need to know in the midst of the storm that it’s time to pause.
Here is one trick: we can ask ourselves “Do I feel contracted?” If yes, it’s time to pause. Our breath may be shallow and constricted. A part of our body may be tensing up. We may feel emotionally contracted - just yukky, angry, sad, fearful, etc. Maybe we entered a mental tunnel vision, where we feel stuck in a narrow view of reality that just doesn’t seem to have a way out.
To stop is like pressing the pause button on a time machine. We stop what we’re doing. It is a brave and powerful act of non-action. We interrupt the stream or flow of what is happening. It is the pause between the in-breath and out-breath. It is the restful quality of the night time in our daily life cycle.
Land – like a plane that would interrupt its flight itinerary, we land on the ground of the here and now. We can either use our breath or physical sensations to ground ourselves. As we breathe in, we feel the cool air enter our nostrils for instance. As we breathe out, we feel the warm air as it leaves our body. We feel the souls of our feet on the ground. The aliveness in our hands. Our belly rising and falling.
It is very hard to access any kind of wisdom when strong emotions are present. When I feel anxious for instance, I see danger everywhere. In Ayurveda, we call this “rajas”, the quality or guna that colors reality and distorts our view. When we land in the present, it helps us to ground ourselves and we don’t get swept away by waves of emotions or distorted views.
Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra 1.2 says “yogaś citta-vrtti-nirodhah”, which means “yoga is the stilling of the changing states of the mind”. This is exactly what we are doing when we stop and land. When we stop for a moment and concentrate our mind on our breath, the erratic activities of our mind will slow down. It may take a while but eventually it will slow down.
Observe – Once we establish a solid anchor in the present, we can start looking at reality as it is. What is alive in me right now? Which thoughts are arising? What am I feeling? What is actually happening around me? I can observe reality without adding a label of good or bad, just seeing what is right now.
Imagine for instance that we are at the cinema. We are sitting in our chair, eating pop-corn and watching a movie on the screen. We know that the movie is just a movie. If it is a really good movie, we may live in the illusion that the story is real and that we are in the movie. Sometimes we have such “good movies” in our life, dramas we drown in, that we forget that it is just a story. That the thoughts and emotions are not who we are. At our true essence, we are the conscious observer, the one watching the movie.
Once we can lean into life and watch our movie, we are able to create a little distance from the emotion or the thought. There is space. We ARE not the emotion; we just experience it for a moment. Our language is deceiving us as we often say “I AM sad, angry, fearful, etc.” You are so much more than this one emotion.
When we truly observe reality as it is, we often realize that there is actually no problem in the present moment. I love Eckhart Toll’s quote: “When you feel confused or burdened by problems focus on THIS INSTANT and ask yourself: WHAT PROBLEM DO I HAVE RIGHT NOW? You will find that there is no problem NOW. A challenge that requires action, possibly, but not a problem."
Wisdom – When we take the time to stop, land and observe, we are able to respond to a situation instead of react. Insights and intuition have a chance to arise from a deeper place. We can ask ourselves: What can I do in this situation? What can I do to take care of myself? The right action may be to not do anything.
This last step takes us out of the victim role, where we think that things are being done TO us. We step into our power again as we discover that we can do something. That there are options. This is the true meaning of “responsibility”, our ability to respond.
Try it out. Stop what you are doing. Land by taking 3 mindful breaths. Observe what is alive in you or around you. Ask yourself: what do I choose to do now?
I believe that the path to conscious living is not a drive-through. It is a slow process of small and doable steps that bring us closer and closer to our true Self. Every time I SLOW down, I have a chance to become a little wiser.
Written by Laurence Gilliot, founder of Pranaya Yoga.
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