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Beating the drum slowly slowly

Everyone has a drum or two that they like to beat.  Some idea that they come back to regularly in their thoughts and conversation.  Something that that colors their world in a certain way.  I think one of my drums began to be constructed sometime in high school.  I was on the cross-country team.  It was a race and my friend Dave and I were somewhere in the back forty, maybe half way through the race.   At that point the runners were pretty spread out and we were running together.  I suggested that we slow down a bit, take it easy.  It wasn’t like we were going to win or even come in near the first half of the runners.  He agreed.  And I slowed down.  Or at least I thought I did.  After a bit, Dave said, “I thought we were going to slow down?”  “We did”, I said, feeling substantially less winded than I did 30 seconds before that.  “No, we didn’t,” came his winded reply.  I don’t know if I made this leap at that moment or simply on looking back at it, but what I realized was that when I decided to slow down, what I did was relax.  I let go of a bunch of that tension in my body and instantaneously I felt like I was floating.  That moment was certainly one of the “a-ha” moments that let me to the path I am now on.

Temple outside the northern Thai city of Chiang Dao

When I was in Thailand a few weeks ago, I was talking to Paul W. on the phone about the stress and tension he was feeling on his return to the west.   I said, let’s start a “Relaxation Revolution”!   Let’s make it “OK” for us to take off and rest when we are sick or tired.  Let’s feel ok about not getting everything on our list done today.  And yes, let’s block out time for “ourselves”.  But let’s not be fooled by blocking out time for ourselves.  Because it’s not enough to kill ourselves working for a week and then take half a day at the Korean spa.  It’s more about how we approach our life every moment, every day.

When I was in Thailand this time, as usual, I quickly sunk into their way of walking; slow, leisurely and in no hurry.   After a short time, I didn’t have to think about it too much, it’s just the way I walked.  Sometimes, when I would walk with Thai people, I would be walking really slowly, and to my surprise, I would realize that they were walking even slower!  I mean, they were barely moving forward.  I intend to keep walking this way.  And I can do it.  The only thing I need to do as a compromise to this culture which values promptness, is that I need to leave earlier.

The other day I was walking to the train and I had plenty of time.  But after a block or two I realized my pace had moved back to Evanston speed.  I caught myself, just like I catch my mind when it is wondering in meditation.  It’s like, “oh yeah, that’s my intention!” Then I bring my mind back and slow down.  And as soon as I do so, just like in seated meditation, just like in that race in high school, it’s like this wave of tension instantly exits my body.  And suddenly I am alert to the moment, I notice the trees, the smells, the birds, the sidewalk, the feel of my feet touching the ground, my breath, and when my mind drifts, I notice that too.  What I realize is that the fast walk happened when I was thinking about what I “needed” to do that day, who I “needed” to see, and all the things I “needed” to do.   When I slowed down, all that disappeared like a ghost when the light gets switched on.

I am appealing to you all right now.  Remind me.  Next week, next month, three months from now, will I still remember?  Will I be able to protect myself from the strong energies of this fast paced, materialistic society we have created?  I can with your help.  We all need each other.  We need each other’s help and support.   After all, the third jewel in the Buddhist doctrine is the Sangha.  (Buddha and Dhamma, being the first two).  We bow to the sangha because it is bigger than us.  It is the collective practice of all those looking to develop their minds in beneficial ways.  The sangha can guide us, support us, and help us.  We are the sangha.  And we must not forget our responsibility to hold space for each other and remind each other what’s possible, even in the “modern world”.

So the drum that I am beating beats out a reminder to slow down.  It’s a slow beat.  It’s the beat of the breath over the beat of the heart.    And when I follow the beat of the breath instead of the heart, I find that my heart has space to grow stronger.  And when my heart grows stronger, there is more space for compassionate understanding.  Perhaps you feel that too.

“Cha cha” they say in Thailand.  “Slowly, slowly”.   The future will arrive soon enough.

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