Practice Slowing Down
By Paul Chapman
Valencia College, Professor of Humanities and Peace and Justice Institute Campus Coordinator
Practice Slowing Down. Simply the speed of modern life can cause violent damage to the soul. By intentionally practicing slowing down, we strengthen our ability to extend nonviolence to others - and to ourselves. I use this principle every day, but with one small change in the wording. I prefer to use the term “peace”. By intentionally practicing slowing down, we strengthen our ability to extend peace to others - and to ourselves.
Slowing down can create spaces for change and reconciliation
I invite you to slow down and consider this question - Do you have a daily peace practice? Do you take time each day to pause and do something that nurtures the better parts of your humanity? It could be meditation, prayer, or simply pausing before you say something. When reading this principle, I often think of the Muslim peace practice of slowing down for prayer 5 times a day. One of my daily practices is to pause whenever I hear a siren. Such a moment reminds me to nurture my compassion for others who may be suffering. In that pause, I ask the people giving the help to be strong and extend the most peaceful and healing parts of themselves to those that are in crisis. I also have a daily meditation practice which gives me an opportunity to be aware of what is happening, right here, right now, without judgment. On a Sunday morning in September, 2018, I spent time visiting the places important to the story of Emmett Till who was murdered on August 28, 1955. I paused on the banks of the Tallahatchie river, where Till’s body was found, to pay my respects and reaffirm my commitment to continually learn and unlearn, to challenge and transform.
Later that afternoon, two other visitors and I met with Patrick Weems, from the Emmett Till Interpretive Center in Sumner, MS, to learn more about Emmett’s life, his mother’s grief and the impact of an unjust system still haunting this country. Patrick told me a story about a local man who one day showed up to the Sumner County courthouse, site of the trial against two men charged with Till’s murder. The man was shouting racial slurs, threatening violence, and complaining that he did not want to hear anything more about “this history”. His intentions to use his truck to tear out the newly installed historical marker in front of the courthouse were obvious.
The local sheriff called a member of the Center, Carolyn Webb, for help. She was able to get this man to slow down and think about Emmett by appealing to the fact that this man also has a 14-year-old son. He paused and drove away. A little while later, the man showed up to Carolyn’s house and said he and his wife wanted to donate the cloth for the unveiling of the historical marker planned for the next day. This man even said he would protect the marker from any harm from now on. He slowed down, made a connection between his son and the humanity of Emmett Till, and changed his actions. Did he have a daily peace practice before this incident? My gut tells me he did, but it needed to be more inclusive. Carolyn offered a pathway for changing that and he took it.
Slowing down can inspire positive action. It is important to consider this point - acting in anger and outrage is, in times like these, understandable and in the eyes of many, justified. It also has the potential to cause even more harm to an already broken situation. We all live in a system in need of change on many levels. We are also responsible for its repair. The precious life of George Floyd, taken so carelessly, is sickening to me and devastating for our black communities. Slowing down does not negate needed action. It can heal and then give rise to positive, more transformative action. Taking time every day to slow down and heal can give people the strength to do many things - to speak up, to vote, to share, to donate time and money, to organize and mobilize, to run for office, to change mindsets, behaviors or even a career path. Slowing down is not about doing nothing or dragging out change for years and years. It’s a call to a daily peace practice that mixes intentional reflection with bold action. To learn more about this idea, I recommend reading Martin Luther King’s 1963 book Why We Can’t Wait to better understand this concept.
Consider this as an example. On June 7, 1893, an official threw Gandhi off a train in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, because he had the audacity, as a “colored” man, to use his first class ticket to sit in the whites only cabin. Gandhi used the moment to slow down and truly see the consequences of his anger. He first thought about going back to India but concluded that would be a cowardly act. He could allow this anger to be repeatedly triggered by random events and explode, harming himself and others. He could suppress the anger for years, also harming himself and others. Finally, after a long, cold night at that station, he began forming and committing to a philosophy that sees ahimsa as the most fundamental nature of humanity (do no harm to yourself or anything else). He began focusing his energy into positive action based on ahimsa (no harm), satyagraha (loving action) and tapasya (willingness to suffer without retaliating). Gandhi chose an incredibly life affirming but difficult path. It demands courageous action that must be nurtured every day. In addition to Gandhi, if you are interested in being inspired by a life of reflection and action, I recommend Pauli Murray’s autobiography Song in a Weary Throat.
Now, slow down for a moment and consider this challenge to what you just read: The activist Stokely Carmichael, also known as Kwame Ture, criticized this nonviolent action approach inspired by Gandhi and used by Dr. King, pointing out that the philosophy of using your personal suffering to change the conscience of an enemy is good but added, “He (King) only made one fallacious assumption: In order for nonviolence to work, your opponent must have a conscience. The United States has none.” If you’re having a reaction to that quote, good. Slow down. Take a breath. Ask yourself: Why am I having this reaction? What might MLK’s response be? What’s your response? Does your response nurture the better parts of your humanity? What actions are you willing to take to change yourself and our society for the better?
This week we turn our focus to the 10th Principle, "slowing down". With heightened emotions and all that we are facing right now, slowing down to connect with our breaths, our bodies, and our emotions is important to our health.