“When you stopped me, you took me forward” was a phrase used by one of my coaching clients a few years ago. I had the privilege to work with a wonderfully wise woman who concluded that her incessant stream of words was really an attempt to avoid what was actually going on underneath.
As coaches and counsellors, we want to get under the skin of an issue (which we call THE PRESENTING ISSUE) so that we can tackle THE REAL ISSUE. The real issue here was about ignoring needs. Sounds familiar? How often do we run around like headless chickens and believe that the quicker we sort everything out, the sooner we will be able to rest? Never-mind that rather than being mindful, we are mindless. We let life go by and do not see any moral costs of speed, some of which are limited reflection, insensitivity and a constant need for more.
Speed denotes importance and creates a pecking order: remember the moment your boss or an important client wanted something and they wanted it NOW. Some people are more privileged than others and the speed at which they are attended to will give them rank. In other words, if you want to corrupt the souls of an organisation or a society, make sure that everyone is busy and engaged in trivial activity so that they cannot think. Couple that with anxiety that makes us believe that the busier we become, the better we are at problem-solving and you have a recipe for a stagnant and innovation-aversive environment. Sad but true. Hence, slow down to be reflective and to make use of your full thinking capacities.
Awareness is a guest that has its likes and dislikes. Awareness likes your slow movements, your intention to listen and the attention of your senses. Simple, yet hard, but this helps you to get deeper into the matters that preoccupy you. It’s only in the idealised world of cartoons where the Road Runner outsmarts the poor Coyote every single time. In reality, we don’t live in a binary world, we live in a world where we can share the fate of the Road Runner or the Coyote at the same time.
We need awareness so that we are not cornered into any extremes of behaviour, thought or feeling. However cultivating awareness can be boring and demanding at times… so when you are sitting down to your mindful moment of meditation, be patient and gentle with yourself, accept that it’s difficult to slow down because in the Western society we were trained to be efficient units of productivity.
It is an act of courage to slow down, to listen and to allow silence to become your teacher. However, the benefits are huge such as personal effectiveness, lower blood pressure or relationship satisfaction to name a few. It’s been also reported that when interview panels are given more time, they are less likely to resort to unconscious implicit bias! In other words – stop and take your time to think and you will make better decisions. Hannah Arendt, a very fine philosopher of the XX century, was quite interested in the conditions necessary for thinking to occur. She pointed out that thinking institutions require time as otherwise, they sink into the depths of mindless habit. You can imagine this is not only counterproductive but in extreme cases can also create totalitarian systems. Therefore, slow down and you’ll whip out all your written documents, reports and contracts with greater wisdom and a sense of social responsibility that promotes democracy.
I have been bed-bound for a couple of days now and this state of being is rather conducive for reflection. I’m sure you can identify with this sense of restlessness that haunts us when we are trapped in a situation, either physically or psychologically. We feel stuck, we want to get out and start some uncoordinated efforts to problem solve. Sometimes it is actually helpful to settle and wait until something emerges. This does not mean acting helpless… It means waiting for a moment of clarity. It’s like when you are drinking Turkish coffee, you stir the liquid and wait until the coffee grounds settle at the bottom, so that you can enjoy your drink without spitting out the little bits like fierce men and woman in communist Poland of the eighties.
I am an advocate of awareness as a source of wise actions. We need to slow down in order to cultivate awareness. Why am I banging on about it? Well, if we don’t take time to cultivate awareness, we are reducing our friends, our loved ones, our clients and our employees to huge cinema screens that display the narcissistic show entitled ME-ME-ME with no regard for the other. You know this moment when you are listening to someone and you want to finish their sentence or say in your mind what they’re going to say next. That’s what I mean. However, when we slow down, we can experience the other in their FULL SUBJECTIVITY. That’s what coaches and counsellors do!