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  • Writer's pictureHannah Marsh

Slowing Down

There is a story in Zen circles about a man and a horse. The horse is galloping quickly, and it appears that the man on the horse is going somewhere important. Another man, standing alongside the road, shouts, "Where are you going?" and the first man replies, "I don't know! Ask the horse!" This is also our story. We are riding a horse, we don't know where we are going, and we can't stop. The horse is our habit energy pulling us along...

- Thich Nhat Hahn

What's valuable about mindfulness practice? One answer I often hear is: "It helps me slow down."

"Great!" I respond. "And what does slowing down do for us?"

This can be trickier to answer. In our busy lives, slowing down can certainly feel like a welcome break. We can catch our breath. But what else is happening when we slow down?

This morning, I was reading Thich Nhat Hahn's The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching, and the above passage struck me as a wonderful way to answer this question. Much of the time, the power of habit pulls us forward - brushing teeth, getting dressed, driving to work, checking emails...While running on autopilot can be quick and efficient, we've all experienced its drawbacks. I can't count the number of times I've been hurrying in the kitchen and accidentally cut myself. Or the times I've spaced out of a conversation, caught up in my usual thoughts. Habit is a powerful horse - it can carry us away from our best intentions.

But when we slow down, we can recognize what's going on - oh, here's the horse of habit! Then we can kindly choose to dismount and explore another way. Slowing down, we open up the possibility to take a new direction, to approach things differently than we normally would. In other words, we open the door to creativity.

George Saunders recently wrote about the role of habit in the creative process of writing. He suggests that when we find ourselves hitting a wall, it may be that there's a habit of mind leading us there. What happens when we recognize that habit? When we experiment with another approach?

In our next Mindfulness & Creativity session, we'll practice slowing down through our mindfulness practices. We'll pay attention to what our mind does at that slower pace. We might notice how quickly it can jump back on that horse! Or how, a breath later, it can settle and open, once more.

I look forward to seeing you on Sunday!



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