“Smile, breathe, and go slowly.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh
As life speeds up, as we check our phones and Twitter feeds for instant gratification, as we seek out another spiritual practice in the promise of evolving even faster, we have lost sight of something quite fundamental.
Some things just take time. This can apply to relationships, business, and, in my experience, it especially applies to spiritual awakening.
Yes, our practices such as meditation, dance, service, and energy work can support us on our soul journey. But rushing our development can even result in us taking one step forward and two steps back.
And, most importantly, it will likely just happen anyway—if we get out of the way and allow it.
I know this firsthand.
When I felt the call to start developing my spiritual practice, the quirks of my overachieving personality took center stage. I quickly found out that there were sankharas to pluck out, energy centers to unblock, past life traumas to heal, and old soul contracts to wrap up.
And I wanted this all sorted out ASAP, thanks.
So I went from an occasional meditation practice to spending upward of two hours on the cushion every day, and chanted several times a week.
I spent every single spare moment practicing and developing my newfound energetic skills. I declined social invitations so that I could concentrate totally on the latest text that had fallen into my hands.
I don’t regret any of this. I learned a lot and it was my path.
But after a couple of years, I realized that my approach to my practice was perhaps a bit obsessive; that it could just be another manifestation of the way that I had been living before “waking up,” as I had termed it.
I thought that if I threw all my might at my spiritual evolution, then I might master this new way of being more quickly, and more effectively. Yet under the guise of spirituality, I was just playing out my old patterns.
The result? I was increasingly ungrounded. I spent days feeling totally knocked around by major energetic “clearings.”
I was slowing myself down, or at least not really assisting the flow of what wanted to move through me. And I was just as over-the-top about succeeding as ever, this time, at my practice rather than in my career.
I eventually realized that spiritual evolution is not like a report or book that you can write faster if you stay up late. You can’t force this type of evolution. It’s not the type of thing that you can control.
This type of evolution is perfect. It's like a delicate flower, which unfolds at its own pace, to the rhythm of its own internal clock.
I came to this gradual realization, surprisingly, while pursuing a doctorate in women’s well-being and justice after violence.
This involved deconstructing everything I knew—being prepared to ask the hard questions and receive the answers; asking some big questions of myself, too, and being prepared to hear the answers.
It really involved a deepening of my understanding of myself and my spiritual practice. I started to appreciate which of my old patterns I had been inadvertently repeating, and which of my tendencies were actually not serving me.
The doctoral process also taught me how to play the long game and how to let go—working alone every day and inching along with my ideas; waiting for months, sometimes, to receive any feedback from my supervisors; spending months and months writing thousands of beautifully edited, referenced words that never made it into the final product.
Now, there are much less resource-intensive ways to learn this than through pursuing an advanced degree. Just bringing your awareness and being honest about whether you are playing out your existing patterns is the first step.
And if you notice that you have a tendency to rush your process, make the decision to slow down. Once you realize that the timing of your expansion, or growth, or awareness is perfect, you will relax.
When you fully internalize that the journey is just as important as the destination, you’ll know that you’re on the right path.
In relaxing, and in getting out of my own way, I’m much more receptive. I don't worry about how long things will take. I trust that it will all happen perfectly.
I don’t push as hard now, and yet more opportunities seem to fall into my lap. My creativity flows. My life is much more fun. And my experiential understanding and my practices continue to deepen.
It's actually quite magical.
Life becomes easier and far more fulfilling when we slow down and let things happen instead of pushing ourselves to make things happen.
Photo by Lisa Omarali