I'm frequently asked, What exactly is slow love?
And I'm frequently stumped for a fast reply.
Today was my first day of interviews for the paperback release of the memoir that kick-started this blog, Slow Love: How I Lost My Job, Put on My Pajamas, and Found Happiness. What a strange feeling, to revisit those dark days of the magazine folding, and my life caving in. My journey of recovery has led me to unexpected places.
How to explain something that is not a thing? Slow Love is, rather, a feeling; perhaps even a state of being--if you really practice it; it is more of a process, or an approach to life. In honor of taking the measure of how I've been thinking about this for the last year and a half--wow, that's how long I've been blogging here!--I thought I'd make a series of deliberate attempts over the next few weeks to answer the question, So just what is slow love?
Here's what it isn't: It has nothing to do with living a "slow" life. In fact, I was first going to call my book Slow Life, but I realized, by the time I finished writing, that my life wasn't at all slow--and I didn't want it to be. I had come out of sad, even depressed days, busier, more productive, than I had ever been. But still, I had found something valuable in slowness, something useful that I wanted to hang on to. But it meant altering the rhythm of my newly busy days. Something in me had changed--and I liked the change. I wanted to nurture it.
Slow Love has nothing to do with retiring from the world, or being lazy, unproductive, unengaged, unconnected. Being undone. All those Uns. Undone is how I began this adventure. Undone, unhinged, from a way of life of many, many years.
I caught glimmers of profound peace, in my garden, or with my son, or watching an osprey, toward the end of writing my book. That's how I knew my journey was leading me to a new place.
And the end became a beginning.
Those glimmers gave me a feeling of such profound well-being, such deep connectedness to something that no one had the power to take away from me, that I had to give it a rather sweeping name: Slow Love. Because the feeling crept over me, gently, without my knowing it, or controlling it--and only because I let it. Because I was too weary and exhausted to fight it. Or because it was a gift.
I didn't travel far--much as I would like to be a person who hightails it to the Himalayas, in truth, I'm a homebody. I didn't go to an ashram. Much as I would like to be a person who retreats into a monastery, in truth, I like the challenges of the world.
I like knowing that there is a way to be in a place that feels good without having to go anywhere, or spend anything to get there. That makes it possible for anyone to practice slow love in everyday life.
But here's the thing: we usually stumble on happiness, peace, well-being. We think it is a stroke of luck, an accident, to find ourselves in that state. We don't think about how we got ourselves there. We take a passive stance.
And when that feeling of well-being--that slow love--vanishes, we flail about.
This feeling of losing the love has been on my mind lately. I've been in an odd, vulnerable, jangled, somewhat confused place--at the core of daily joy, gratitude, fun, happiness, productivity. I've been feeling, deep inside, somewhat adrift, oversensitive, hurt by the slightest digs or rebuffs, nervous about being alone. Perhaps this was triggered by both sons moving out west. Perhaps I'm entering another molting season--as I think of it. A time of growth, change.
The thing is, I want to feel vulnerable. I want to be open. I don't mind feeling a bit lost, adrift, I tell myself. I just don't want to be buffeted around. I want grounding. So what's bothering me?
That's when it hit me: I've slowly, insidiously, carelessly, lost my regular practice of Slow Love.
Why is it that we do things that make us feel great--and then we stop doing those things? We eat good, whole, clean foods. We move (exercise, we call it) through the world, stretching and strengthening our muscles, feeling that we are part of the flow of life, in the river of humanity. We sleep for the many hours we need to recharge. We meditate, or pray, or sit quietly to think things over, or just gaze at the miracle of life around us.
And then, we let those practices lapse. I should say: I do these things, sometimes for months on end. I feel great. And then, slowly, I stop doing them. Because I feel great, right? So I don't need to work so hard at it. (I'll come back to the idea that these things are "work".) I stop meditating. I eat sugar for days on end. I find excuses not to exercise. I get lost in the Internet. I work my mind hard, writing, but I let that activity take over all others.
For a while, I can drift along nicely, buoyed by a current that I've caught. But before too long, I lose momentum. And then I come unravelled. My heart slumps. My soul feels weary. I stop slowing down to notice The Beauty of the Osprey. (My catchall phrase for the moment a few years ago, when I realized, Love is all around us. We have to open ourselves to it. That's the key.) I might glance out the window and see there's a gorgeous sunset--but I don't sit still long enough to take it in, literally into myself--or perhaps, to let myself go into it.
My friends who are doctors say that one of the hardest things about treating people who need medication for depression or anxiety is getting them to keep taking it. Their patients feel better, then they stop taking the pills that help; they don't need them any longer. And of course they get worse, again.
My friends who are athletes talk about how quickly their muscles deteriorate when they revert to sloth-like behavior--and how easy it is to do that.
I started thinking, isn't it the same thing with habits of training the soul? For I do see, now, and believe that for most of us, that grounded sense of well-being (underpinning all changeable emotions) comes of training. I feel better, I stop the training, I slip into a condition in which I am sloshed around in the rich, delicious stew of everyday emotion. But I don't feel nourished. I feel dizzy.
Why is Slow Love work? For one thing, we live in a culture in which multi-tasking is required. We have forgotten how to mono-task. For another, we're highly distractible. And resistant to changing even the ways that cause us suffering, because we're used to that discomfort. And finally, we always trust complicated things more than simple things; I'm not sure why. One interviewer today asked me to describe some Slow Love moments. When I did, he said, That's it? it sounds too simple.
I told him that sometimes the simplest things are the most profound. Song, for instance. What's simpler than opening your mouth and belting out a tune? Laughter, for instance. What's simpler than losing yourself in mirth? Prayer, for instance. What's simpler than closing your eyes and losing yourself in a transcendent conversation? All these things are so simple. And all of them can be ways into what I think of as Slow Love.
So. What is Slow Love? I'm not going to describe it--because there isn't a formula. I'm going to approach it, because there are ways to be open to it.
At the risk of sounding impossibly sentimental and squishy, I'm going to try, in the upcoming days, to capture some of the ways I've found--and you, my readers, have taught me, for which I am so grateful--of opening to slow love.
Slow Love training.
To the jaded, it will all seem too simple.
To the whole-hearted, it will all seem so simple.
We have a choice.