I once heard that humans are the only living creatures that speed up when we’re lost. All other animals in nature slow down.
Non-human animals instinctively stop and regain their bearings if they aren’t sure where they are or where they are going. They slow way down, letting their mind settle and allowing clarity—and perhaps a strong hunch about what’s next—to emerge.
Animals’ behavior is guided by their instincts, plus a bit of what they’ve learned from what has worked in the past.
Humans’ behavior is guided by instinct and learning too. But we humans also have an amazingly rich and complex inner world full of opinions, (biased) memories, expectations, and complex emotions like pride and worry that influence us.
We aren’t used to relying on instinct and common sense alone, the way less heady animals are. Our inner wisdom is accompanied by our more personal, thinking mind which is an asset in many ways but can muddy things for us at times too.
Instincts, clarity, and common sense are always there, always nudging us into action. They lie beneath our louder, more dramatic personal minds and emotions. They come before our conscious decisions to act. But we innocently forget that fact, especially when our minds are loud and busy.
Life shows us how to live it. We only have to slow down enough to listen.
If it’s that simple, why don’t we listen more?
We Weren’t Told
It’s tricky, because most of us weren’t exactly pointed toward the quiet certainty that lies within. We just weren’t taught to look there and if it’s not pointed out to you, how are you going to know?
Last time I took Willow and Miller to the movies, I pointed out the projector at the back of the theater, explaining that the movie comes from the film behind them, projected to the screen in front of them.
They never thought to look backwards—their focus is naturally drawn to the loud, lifelike, moving pictures in front. Our focus is often drawn to the loud, lifelike, pictures, thoughts, and feelings that come from our minds. Those noisy scenes drown out the calm, still clarity that lies just beyond.
Speeding Up Looks Safer
Not only were we not told that what we’re looking for is always present when our mind settles down, many of us were unintentionally taught to stay keyed up by working harder and going faster. There’s nothing wrong with hard work and productivity, but they aren’t the solution to confusion.
Going faster and doing more has a strange way of calming our anxiety…for a few minutes anyway, until it exhausts us and we see that we’re only running in circles.
If you don’t know that everything good is waiting for you on the other side of a busy mind and you’re actually taught the opposite—that doing and getting more is the way to a nicer life—you’re naturally going to try to out-run your bad feelings.
Under the guise of this misunderstanding, slowing down appears to create anxiety. Your thinking gets louder, saying “You’re not doing enough! Do more, and do it faster! You have to work for what you want—earn it!” We innocently obey and end up more lost.
Doing more doesn’t outsmart anxiety. Anxiety is created by the misunderstanding that we have to do more to begin with. Slowing down and coming back home within ourselves is how anxiety goes away.
Although we human animals forget this, wise ole’ nature always reminds us. We can’t run forever. We end up sick, alienated or depressed. We use substances and behavioral habits to numb the pain of our own thoughts, and the exhaustion of constantly running.
Life is always showing us how to live it.
We Don’t Know Who We Really Are
As a species, humans understandably confuse what we experience with what we are.
We experience that complex inner world coming to life within us, and it looks personal. It looks like our experience of judgment means we are judgmental; our experience of fear means we are weak and scared; our experience of jealousy means we are jealous.
None of that is so. We are no more our passing-by experiences than the sky is the passing clouds, or the ocean is the high tide.
When we’re taking our fleeting, superficial inner experiences that seriously, mistakenly viewing them as personal and “about” us, it only makes sense that we’d become caught up in them. And when we’re caught up in them, they are more likely to drown out the wisdom that’s already always there.
All we need to do is slow down and let something deeper arise within us. That deeper guidance does most of the work.
When we see, as John De Paola says, “Slow down and everything you are chasing will come around and catch you”, we stop trying to out-run our confusion. We can look inward rather than frantically scanning outward.
We begin to slow down when we’re lost rather than running faster and making things worse. When we internally slow down, we find a reserve of wisdom and resources right there waiting for us.