What Exactly Is Slow Love?

6 years ago

I'm frequently asked, What exactly is slow love?

And I'm frequently stumped for a quick reply.

How to explain something that is not a thing? It is, rather, a feeling; perhaps, even, a state of being, more a process, or an approach to life. But with the publication of my memoir, Slow Love: How I Lost My Job, Put on My Pajamas, and Found Happiness, in paperback -- yippee! -- and with the sudden realization that I've been tending the Slow Love Life blog for more than a year -- wow! -- I thought I'd make a series of deliberate attempts 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. I had come out of sad, even depressed days, busier, more productive, than I had ever been. But still, I had learned something valuable about how I needed to change the rhythm of the day, with all its busyness. Something in me had changed -- and I liked the change.

Slow love has nothing to do with retiring, being lazy, unproductive, unengaged, unconnected. Being undone. All those Uns. But being undone is where I began this adventure. Undone, unhinged, from a way of life that had been my way of life for many, many years.

I only caught a glimmer of slow love, watching an osprey, at the end of writing my book, Slow Love -- which itself was more of an observation of where I was along a path of being unhinged, trying to pull myself to a place where I did not feel so undone. That glimmer gave me a title, and then a prologue, to explain where I ended up going.

But really, the end was just a beginning.

That glimmer gave me a feeling of such profound well-being, such deep connectedness to something that no one could take away from me, that I had to give it a name that meant something to me, and so I did: 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 can hightail 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 for months, in truth, again, I like the comforts of home. And the challenges of the world.

Anyway, I like knowing that there is a way to be in a place that feels so good without having to go anywhere, or spend anything to get there. That makes it more possible to find slow love in my everyday life.

But here's the thing: we think we stumble on happiness, peace, well-being. We think it is a stroke of luck, to have arrived at 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 is what I have been thinking about lately. I've been in an odd, vulnerable, 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 -- triggered by both sons moving out west. I think this happens in the molting season, and I know I've entered one.

The thing is, I want to feel vulnerable. I want to be open. I don't mind feeling a bit lost, adrift. I just don't want to be buffeted around by nearly everything. I want grounding.

And then 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. We sleep for the many hours we need to recharge. We meditate, or pray, or sit quietly to think things over.

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 unraveled. My heart slumps. My soul feels weary. I stop slowing down to notice The Beauty of the Osprey. (My catch-all phrase for the moment a few years ago, when I realized, Love is all around us. We have to see it. That's the key.) I might see there's a gorgeous sunset -- but I don't sit still long enough to take it in, into myself.

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. And they get worse, again.

My friends who are athletes talk about how quickly their muscles deteriorate if they revert to sloth-like behavior.

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 (underpinning all changeable emotions) of well-being comes of training. We feel better, we stop the training, we slip into a condition in which we are sloshed around in the rich, delicious stew of everyday emotion. But we don't feel nourished.

Why is this work? Why do I tend towards a state of sloth when I let down my practice? Because the habits aren't ingrained deeply enough yet to be second nature?

So. What is slow love? I'm not going to try to describe it. I'm going to approach it. I am going to say that opening myself to it is necessary to my sense of well-being.

And, at the risk of sounding impossibly sentimental and squishy, I'm going to try, in the upcoming days, to capture some of those ways of opening to slow love. Slow Love training. It works for me. Maybe it will for you.

To the jaded, it will all seem too simple.

To the whole-hearted, it will all seem so simple.

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