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  • Ann Yeong

Re-learning How to Slow Down

Updated: Nov 18, 2020




I must have been rather slow when I was a young child because many of my early memories were of being told, "Hurry up!" I was a dreamy child for whom imagination rather than time was of the essence.


My poor mother had her work cut out for her when I started going to school. It was a herculean task to get me to eat my breakfast and get out of the house on time to catch the early morning school bus. I could take so long to eat my meals at times that I would be the last person left at the dining table picking at my food. Mum was strict about not leaving the table until I was finished, so I spent a lot of time at the dining table.


...at some point in my schooling years, a switch flipped and I became all about hurry and lost my ability to be slow.

As a child I took a long time to shower too. The real reason was because I was busy playing in the shower, using the water to "colour" the square wall tiles in the shower and watching them turn a shade darker. I loved to take my time. I didn't understand what all the hurry was! But at some point in my schooling years, a switch flipped and I became all about hurry and lost my ability to be slow.


If you doubt that our culture has a bias against being slow, check out the Merriam-Webster Dictionary's online definition for 'slow': Moving or proceeding at less than the normal, desirable, or required speed. Synonyms for slow included "dallying, dawdling, dillydallying, lagging, sluggish, tardy.." a list of words most of which had negative connotations. (The three words that had a neutral or positive meaning were leisurely, unhurried and languid.)


Speed became a source of pride and accomplishment for me. I took pride in finishing work quicker than others, learning new things at a pace that earned me praise, and getting somewhere before others did.

I imbibed the notion that speed was good and being slow was something to be overcome. By the time I was a teenager in school, I had learned to wolf down my food to maximise recess and lunch time because I often had meetings to run to. I had so many different responsibilities that my mind was constantly thinking about the next thing I had to do. There was no longer any time to daydream. And I realised that I could also be fast - very fast in fact. Faster than many people in getting some things done. Speed became a source of pride and accomplishment for me. I took pride in finishing work quicker than others, learning new things at a pace that earned me praise, and getting somewhere before others did.


I was told to get ahead of my peers, that it would put me at a strategic advantage when I enter the marketplace. But something deep inside me always played the devil's advocate to that way of thinking. I would think to myself, "Is it really that important to get ahead? Why?"

When I entered university, I was told stories of other young people who finished an undergrad and a masters degree in 4 years, or who even got a doctorate as well in little more than that. I was told to get ahead of my peers, that it would put me at a strategic advantage when I enter the marketplace. But something deep inside me always played the devil's advocate to that way of thinking. I would think to myself, "Is it really that important to get ahead? Why?" I was not convinced.


...my problem was that I was driven to this behaviour by anxiety and insecurity. I was not free interiorly to go slower when I needed to or to choose at times to accept work of a less than near-perfect standard from myself or others.

I dropped out of the external rat race when I took leave of my PhD studies and became a full-time volunteer in Church. But I carried within me the anxiety and need for speed to get things done quickly and at a high standard. I do not say this as if it is a bad thing in itself - my problem was that I was driven to this behaviour by anxiety and insecurity. I was not free interiorly to go slower when I needed to or to choose at times to accept work of a less than near-perfect standard from myself or others.


Even in my spiritual life, I found myself often apologising to God and asking forgiveness for not being able to be a better disciple than I was. I measured myself against the saints and saw how far I failed in charity and sanctity. But God's response was always simply, "Ann, I am with you here and now in your present self. I am not present to a future more ideal version of you - I am with you NOW."


I had realised in prayer that much of my spiritual progress up to that point had been the result of my drivenness to succeed and turn in an "all A report card" rather than love.

A major turning point came for me during a week-long individual retreat I had in Chiang Mai in February 2016. I had once again become despondent about my seeming lack of progress in the spiritual life. To add to that, I had realised in prayer that much of my spiritual progress up to that point had been the result of my drivenness to succeed and turn in an "all A report card" rather than love. In fact there were many different motivations apart from love that drove me to grow in holiness, and it was only at this retreat that I recognised it.


..would you promise me something? Don't hurry your inner-child any longer. She has tried so hard for so long and she's exhausted. Won't you slow down to her pace and enjoy the journey with her?

The Lord invited me to give up the race to become holy and productive; to give up my notion of what holiness and productivity was. All He was asking of me was to learn to notice where He was, and how my inner self was doing, and to learn to be present to both of them in everything I do.

"Ann, I know every grace you need to complete your journey, and I know exactly when I want to give you each grace. So please - don't run ahead of my grace. If I haven't offered the grace, then I am not asking it of you. And would you promise me something? Don't hurry your inner-child any longer. She has tried so hard for so long and she's exhausted. Won't you slow down to her pace and enjoy the journey with her?"


I am learning to take my own sweet time and to be compassionate with my inner child who loves to dream and play. I am learning to hurry less, and to honour the sacred rhythms God has put into all of Creation and into me.

It is so hard to recover from my addiction to speed and productivity. So difficult not to believe that I do not have to earn God's love or that my worth and dignity do not rest on the sum of my successes and failures.


But with God's grace, I am learning. I am learning to take my own sweet time and to be compassionate with my inner child who loves to dream and play. I am learning to hurry less, and to honour the sacred rhythms God has put into all of Creation and into me.


I am learning to move and breathe to God's breath in me. And that is enough.

This blog entry is the counterpart to the Podcast Episode "The Wisdom in Slowing Down" dated Wednesday 18 November 2020. Listen to it here.

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