Finding Recovery Brilliance Through Slow

By Ken Wells - 03/12/2021


Series Two: Blog Eleven

One of our fears of quiet is that if we stop and listen, we will hear emptiness. If we worry, we are not good or whole inside, we will be reluctant to stop and rest, afraid we will find a lurking emptiness, a terrible, aching void with nothing to fill it, as if it will corrode and destroy us like some horrible insatiable monster.” – Wayne Muller, Sabbath

Slowing down and sitting in solitude can be a scary idea for many. Most addicts I know live a pretty busy life—at least in their head, if not outwardly. Slowing the internal negative chatter demands that we sit still and lean into the itch of discomfort without scratching. Slowing down often requires embracing the reality of feeling thoughts that are uncomfortable, irritating, annoying, or even menacing. Why would anyone sign up to do that?

We have burgeoned into a culture obsessed with filling up time with endless busyness. Larry Dossey coined the term, “time sickness” to describe the obsessive belief that time is getting away, there is not enough of it, and you must pedal faster and faster in order to keep up with it. It has germinated the disease of “more” which rivets the mind with incessant thoughts that we have to do more to keep from being less. This  fits most addicts like a glove. This crazed thought becomes the necessary fuel to numb out with the various cocktail of addictions that our mind creates…and we create many!

Examples of tragic accidents like the space shuttle Challenger and the Chernobyl nuclear disaster demonstrate that driven rush and fatigue negatively affect quality control. Yet, there remains an obsession with doing more and more in less time. At some point, this frenzy demands a sedative for all. The human condition is not capable of living with a tightening scrutiny that squeezes more productivity from every waking moment. We now see an uptick in the stress-related diseases like insomnia, hypertension, asthma, and gastrointestinal diseases.

All of this pressure causes people to mistakenly believe that somehow doing more means being more. To survive this rush of activity, booster drugs become popular, even necessary for many. Uppers and downers are in wide use across our country. The opioid crisis in America is a direct result of this need to rush and to be more to keep from being less.

An obvious cost-saving intervention would be to promote slowing down and incorporating solitude into average everyday living. But we don’t because the fear of sitting in solitude with unmedicated anxiety is greater than the fear of a drug crisis sweeping our country in epidemic proportions.

So, we rush on. We skim the surface and fail to make real connections with ourselves or others. We lose touch with others in our frenzy, our fear of our own emotions, and our unwillingness to stop numbing it all out. 

The word slow has a negative connotation. Slow is a word that we like to fantasize about, but most try to avoid in the end. People fear things becoming too slow. According to, the word slow can be described as “dull, lacking speed about life, struggling to understand, not quick at putting things together.” Many people feel judged if described as slow and very uncomfortable about other people’s perceptions of them. Rather, they want to be thought of as a mover and a doer who gets things done. This seems true even if you fantasize about the desire to be or go slow. So, we tend to remain on the hamster wheel of doing, doing and more doing.

Many addicts race on with hectic schedules and overwhelm themselves with activity to avoid the feeling that might come up if they quieted their souls. This style of living fuels deprivation. Ultimately, deprivation fosters entitlement to act out in self-absorbed behavior.

Addicts will do everything possible to avoid uncomfortable and unwanted feelings. They will always be looking for the next fix.  When an addict cannot face or embrace how they feel, their capacity to experience intimacy is thwarted. This can be identified as an intimacy disability. Addicts become stuck with emptiness because they do not know how to embrace, nor want to embrace, who they are or what they feel. Consequently, they are unable to intimately connect with others. Once in recovery, they have withdrawal symptoms of boredom and anxiety because they now have feelings that were once numb. Stopping the rush and speed of busyness accelerates the experience of the unwanted emotions. Once an addict seeks recovery and stops acting out,  feelings that were once avoided or numbed  reappear. For an addict, slowing down is a threat. Stopping the rush and speed of busyness accelerates the experience of unwanted physical and emotional feelings. Emptiness becomes filled with cravings and the battle of withdrawal begins.

Here are key observations regarding the value of embracing the concept of slowing down in your recovery program:

Personal brilliance in spirit is spawned by an unquenchable resilience that unfolds in everyday life experience. You cultivate solitude by slowing down and embracing feelings that otherwise would have been skimmed or glossed over. Think of it like this: when you have an itch that you want to scratch, rather than relieve the itching sensation, choose to steady the course by not scratching. The challenge is to lean into the discomfort and learn that you can sit with the intensity of emotional dissatisfaction. Sitting with discomfort in a moment of solitude increases awareness and clarifies how best to meet your deepest need. Most of us want to do something — anything — to resolve uncertainty. Rather than wait with growing anxiety, we want to make a decision and act to get away from the displeasure. We want to disconnect from hurtful feelings that can promote misery. The Tao te Ching observes, “Do you have the patience to wait till your mud settles and the water is clear? Can you remain unmoving till the right action arises by itself?”

Slowing down uncovers the superficial.  When you slow down, you learn to quiet your spirit and face your true self. It takes a quiet space in my head to know my true self. Long extended times of quietness is the only way to unmask what is superficial in my life. The silence can pop the imaginary bubble we create that makes it seem we are on the outside looking into others who are happy, connected, and living meaningful lives. By doing so, it dispels the illusion that everyone is happier, experiencing more joy and peace than we are. For so many, this powerful illusion is what we live with our entire lives. It’s not real. By embracing solitude, it’s possible to recognize that the average uneventful experiences of our lives are the only environment that peace and happiness can be born.

Slowing down allows for your own personal brilliance to transform unwanted discomfort into a peaceful place.  Author Thomas Merton in Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander wrote, “There is a pervasive form of contemporary violence to which the idealist most easily succumbs: activism and overwork. The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything, is to succumb to violence. The frenzy of our activism neutralizes our work for peace. It destroys our own inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of our own work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.” 

Throughout the 25 years of my life as a pastor, there were times I clearly succumbed to the frenzy of activity which brought on overwhelm. As a therapist, there are many times I’ve exhausted myself by creating ways to be helpful to others or thinking about content from workshops I’ve attended. I confess that during those times it truly felt violent to my heart.

Many addicts take years to want to take the time to cultivate a place and a sense of solitude in their lives. There are times we think we need the busyness, the commotion of activity, and the interaction in order not to feel lonely or empty. Yet only when we turn inward to lonely and empty are, we able to transform them into peace, solitude and meaningfulness.

Slowing down allows you to recognize the circles, cycles, and seasons of life that bookend experience and contribute to meaningfulness.  The drive for excellent results pushes people out of their circles, cycles and seasons of life and causes them to melt into one pace of driven living. Driven living ignores the need for dormancy of mind and experience and puts the pedal to the metal 24/7-365.

Solitude restores life balance as we create a sense of poise and peace, perspective, and centered living. Solitude creates capacity for life to come to you rather than you pushing and prying energy to make things happen. Solitude slows your heart so the brilliance that exists within you meets the flow of life moving with you. That’s what people mean when they say, “go with the flow”.  Solitude encourages us to go with the flow. When this flow of life energy meets your inner brilliance, every day can feel like a miracle.

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