Message From Henry: Slow Down

Becoming a meditator, opening up to a life in Zen, could be viewed as slowing down the car, parking it, getting out of it, and walking. Going through life at a pace where we can actually experience the sensory detail of every step we take.

Imagine you’re walking down an old track up a long valley. There are tufts of grass at the roadside, and you notice them clearly. There are stones underfoot embedded in the dirt of the track. Here and there, there’s a puddle, a pothole. The soles of your feet, even through the leather of your shoes, feel these variations in the texture. 

Sometimes you’re in the shade of trees. Other times you move through sunshine. Clouds come over, and the surface you’re walking on becomes dull. Then the clouds part and the little rocks embedded in the track glint. 

You hear birdsong. You hear insect sounds. Little creatures whir by your face, and zing past on their way from hedge to hedge. It’s a rich sensory experience, full of detail. 

Now imagine you’re riding down the same track on a bicycle. First of all, the texture beneath you is now fairly muffled and uniform. You just feel the ongoing smoothness of the rubber tires absorbing the finer variations in the texture of the surface beneath you. Even potholes become nothing more than a uniform kind of bump. Likewise any rocks you ride over. They get converted into a uniform experience in your body, simply a jolt or bump that could be caused by any object of roughly the same dimensions.

You whiz in and out of shade. You don’t know the difference between different kinds of shade caused by different kinds of foliage. You probably notice insects less, unless one happens to land against your face. And birdsong becomes more of an indistinguishable general tapestry, rather than the notes of individual birds.

Now imagine that the track has been paved over, and become a road, and you’re traveling down it in your car. Even if you have the windows open you’ll hear very little, besides the sounds of the engine and the rush of the wheels over the asphalt. Trees become a green blur. And the sensory details of the experience of being in the valley become little more than a dim awareness of rising land to either side.

Perhaps there’s a vague impatience to get to the end of the valley and into the next area of topography, where you’ll know you’re that much closer to your destination.

Now imagine that the road has become a freeway, and we’re traveling at high speed. And the salient features in our experience is actually the mile markers, and the digital clock in the car. We simply want to get to the destination. To make the journey more interesting we’re listening to a podcast, or a book. As far as possible, we would actually rather not be present to where we are. Where we are is simply an inconvenient distance we have to cross, and spend time crossing, in order to get to where we want to be.

Becoming a meditator, opening up to a life in Zen, could be viewed as slowing down the car, parking it, getting out of it, and walking. Going through life at a pace where we can actually experience the sensory detail of every step we take.

We sit still every day in order to learn to come home to this very moment, here and now. A most ordinary moment can become a treasure composed of one beauty after another. To see the shadow of a plant on a wall, the beautiful soft shaded blur caused by a particular angle of sunlight or just daylight coming through a window; to hear the soft delicate notes in the soundscape of this very moment; to feel the components of body sensation as we sit still — all of these are very rich experiences, if we just slow down, settle down, and open ourselves up to them.

The problem is only that in our pursuit of goals, we tend to get distracted from the richness of our actual life here and now. It’s not wrong to have goals and aspirations. But what if we could let them be simply the valley that we’ve chosen to walk down? We’re going in a certain direction. Fine. But as we go, we’re going to concentrate on, and experience, each step of the journey, so that the goal is really only a chosen direction. It’s not something we’re consciously trying to reach as quickly as possible.

In this way, we can become broader. Our experience broadens. It’s not that life has no direction. It’s that, along the way, it’s broader, richer, and fuller – full to the point where, even though we’re moving in a chosen direction, it wouldn’t matter to us if we got no further.

This very moment right now, just as it is – somehow we start to recognize it as already complete, fulfilled. Already, the world is fulfilled. That’s not to say there aren’t problems, and immense challenges, and cruelties, suffering and injustices, and oppression of various kinds that we would like to work to reduce.

It’s just that we trust that our broader appreciation of the wealth given to us in any moment, by the moment itself, and the peace and positive orientation that awareness of this brings, are  going to be profoundly helpful in that very work of playing our part in reducing suffering and harm in this world.


Message from Henry, published in our August 3, 2020 newsletter.
Image: Country Walk by Pexels, Action by PublicDomainPictures, and Vintage Child by TheOtherKev from Pixabay.com
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