More friends than I can count on eight fingers and two thumbs have asked me recently for advice on how to slow down. As somewhat of an expert in the life of slow-living, I raise my eyebrows and say bro if you know, you know.
This is unhelpful.
But like Columbo nearing the end of a tricky episode, I do have some leads. This is in reference to the type of practices that involve that icky word, the one ending with -ritual, that starts with the old…
GIMME AN S
GIMME A P
GIMME AN I
The monk on the mountaintop, vibing out.
An evolutionary explanation for depression is that we haven’t caught up with the demands of the 21st century, the demands this endless stream of connectivity places on us. That we have no ability to switch off. And to switch off, we look at newsfeeds, scroll TikTok, relax into box-sets, still unrealisingly at the behest of a pixelated screen.
The pale blue light.
I have a spiritual practice of sorts. Me and silence fist-bump most days. I’m not levitating at the top of some hill in the Xi’an mountains, but it’s something I’ve been doing for three years, that is some sort of peace outside the maelstrom. A moment you take back just for you.
I told a mate I was writing this, and he was like bruh hit me. Maybe I can fit it into the 13 seconds I have between 08:09:00 and 08:09:13 when I’m not drowning in a morass of Weetabix, two year old’s logic, odd socks and unanswered emails.
This is it, we have no time anymore.
The Victorians had no time, but at least they lived in the present, in the world in front of their eyes, rather than the one the wrong side of a hundred notifications on some high-tech piece of plastic.
The only way out, is in.
I’d say this.
The less time we have, the more spiritual practice we need. It is the only real antidote to a brain that has no time to breathe. The spiritual part is the recharge. The 20-40 minutes out of your day that make the rest of it manageable. This would probably sound more convincing coming from Elon Musk than someone who takes navel-gazing to a fine art. But lessons along the way I have learnt. And I have no doubt the things I can recount have made me fundamentally happier, more at peace.
If you want the skinny. Click HERE.
I outline my method.
If you want the meandering story of my path to Zen, with the same information but some deft wordplay thrown in, keep reading.
It begins three years ago with a cold shower.
Much like Mr Shining above, I wasn’t cold showers’ number one fanboy, but I was curious as to why and how incredible it made me feel, how it instantly reduced my need for blow-your-head off ristrettos by 80%. You know when Earth Fire Water Wind and Heart come together to make Captain Planet.
That’s how I felt.
I don’t think I’ve had more than three hot showers in the last three years. No lie. On the phone to my couz one day, he suggested I take these cold shower sacrifices one step further, and try out Wim Hof. Enter the world of breathwork.
He sent a vid through.
The rest is oxygenated history.
Most days, this is what I get up to. I wake up, sit on the sofa in my dressing gown, hyperventilate for about 17 minutes and then watch my scrotum shrink to prepubescent levels for two minutes. I’ve never felt better.
My fine-looking friend of the billowy linen shirts Raymond aka El Blanco came to stay for a few weeks last year, and got so into my routine we used to sit opposite each other every morning in some E8 ashram, jus vibing out. We’d put this amazing album on in which the spiritual teacher Ram Dass would remind us to get out of our thinking minds, over the top of some lovely melodic eastern music, and go in.
After that much oxygen depravation, even the lilies in my flat would take on an otherworldly nature, I couldn’t stop staring at them. It makes sense. After a large mushroom trip, the trip-sitters often give the subjects a flower to look at, they take it in their hands and stare at it, for up to an hour, enraptured.
The Swiss Chemist Albert Hoffman who discovered LSD and lived til the age of 102, would take tiny quantities of acid and go wandering around his garden in the early morning. In conversations with his friend Stanislav Grof, he said:
I see the hand of God there. If they think this is just the work of atoms, they don’t know what they are talking about.
Around the summer of ’19, my then girlfriend and I, after assessing our options, went and spent a week in a conference centre on Upper St with a slightly creepy guy called Neil. Projected onto a white board the size of a small microwave, he showed us the ropes of Transcendental Meditation. It wasn’t cheap.
Worth every penny.
But the real eye-opener, of sitting there in silence with your thoughts, and a mantra that you keep repeating in your mind’s ear, is that at some point it becomes a complete departure from thought itself. This is the real story. For the first time in my life, I was able to inhabit an unthinking mind. A mind silent and floaty, like a tumbleweed rolling down the middle of a road in the Midwest. Nothing there. And the peace that brought was hard to put in words.
Take my parents, I’m not sure they would have any idea that such a brain-state existed. A state of mind that was totally separate from thought. That just was. Speaking to a friend of mine last month, describing it to her, I could feel her mouth wide-open down the phone. The concept of unthinking flipped her lid.
I think it might be the most relaxing thing I’ve ever experienced, perhaps ever. I still can’t get over it.
If you ask us what is silence? We will answer it is the Great Mystery. The holy silence is God’s voice. If you ask us what are the fruits of silence. We will answer they are self-control, true courage, endurance, patience, dignity, and reverence. Silence is the cornerstone of character.
Native American Wisdom
Is there no way out of the mind, asked Plath. This, is the answer it strikes me. Quieten the mind, open the heart. The spiritual teaching is this. One of the most beautiful half hour documentaries about it all, is below, this is Ram Dass, his story and him approaching the end of life.
I remember one day a few months back, a twelve hour stint of shit-showery that was just savage. My brain was all over the shop. Endless anxiety, an aggressive spin-cycle, what next, what next, one of those days you start last and keep falling behind. I kept thinking I should meditate. But in my state of rush and worry and problem-solving, I told myself the last thing I have time for today is that.
I forced myself. Took myself up to my chair, the weight of ten trucks, sat myself down.
Within 20 seconds, I’d breathed the largest sigh of relief in living memory, felt a calm wash over me.
This, all day, was the only thing I’d needed. And in my busy brain-addled state I’d just ignored it. Relegated it to something superfluous.
Simple as a buddhist monk
In a temple practicing stillness
Real still til you realise its realness
Meditative practice, spiritual practice, be it arctic showers, breathing deeply, sitting in a chair and thinking about something or other before going back to the mantra, be it a walk in the woods, a two-day fast, a bath staring up at the ceiling, staring into the eyes of a stranger cracking a smile, staring into a child’s eyes and watching the whole Universe stare back at you, I think we could do with being reminded by our older wiser selves, how to be in the world.
To take time out, away from the maelstrom. To reclaim a little tiny piece, even just ten minutes of calm, to sit in it, pat yourself down, say yes, here I am, this is me. I’m alive. Everything is kind of okay. Onward.
I don’t think we realise how much we need this stuff.
There is much more to say.