The Slow Healing Movement

There comes . . . a longing never to travel again except on foot.
— Wendell Berry, Remembering

There is a Slow Food Movement. Why isn’t there a Slow Healing Movement? The Slow Food Movement is an international movement, started in Italy, that seeks not only to preserve a life affirming tradition of long, satisfying meals, but also to strengthen the entire ecosystem that supports it:  food, eating, farming, family and a healthy way of life.

Have you noticed that everything is now about speed? We don’t have time to do anything anymore. Apparently, according to a recent NYT article, we don’t even have enough time to be nice—we are so overloaded with stress and work—that we feel that we don’t have time to be civil or nice. No time to even smile.

It’s true that I am so speedy that I can get from Boston to Anchorage or Azerbaijan in a single day. I can get a pile of books delivered to me overnight. I can find articles or recipes with one question typed into Google. We are all faster than a speeding bullet now. We all have super powers. It’s not surprising that we all hold ourselves to superhero standards.

But healing, mending, repair, and really, any real growth—are not a speed events. There should be a Slow Healing Movement. There should be a Slow Growth Movement. There should be a Slow Parenting Movement.

I have a friend who is in the midst of some big home repairs and it is such an instructive sight. She has a contractor who is working his way around the entire house removing and replacing rotten sills and soffits; finding boards that need replacing-putting in new window framing. When you look at the house you can see new wood and places where the house has been patched. This is slow and careful work because the old wood needs to be removed, the area prepped and the new wood needs to be fitted. The work is still a long way from the final priming and painting.

Any real repair takes time, and yet the whole world is oriented to fast healing. Part of the problem is that we have come to believe in the speed of the cure—thanks to antibiotics. One pill, a few days, and we can feel entirely better. I am grateful to modern medicine for this capacity, but this time frame does not work on most of our struggles, or really, any of our development. I am not anti-medication, but I am pro-healing.

Repair takes time. Mending takes time. Growth takes time. And, like the Slow Food Movement, it is as much about the ecosystem we create to heal or repair in.

I have found that during times of repair or growth that I crave slowness like a nutrient. And I have found that when I can be brave enough, in a culture of speed, to give in to this craving, the mending really does happen. The emotional bones knit back together, grief recedes, my capacity expands. I get more sturdy, I grow into new places in myself.

Slowness becomes the wonderful and supportive cast that wraps itself around my broken places and allows some things inside of me to knit back together. And most of the time the shifts that I need to make are not massive. I am not talking about taking whole days off (although I have done that when needed), I am just making some different choices about time and pace.

I have found that during times of repair, I crave walking, rather than running. I want to feel my feet on the earth, I want to see the trees, I want to hear the birds. I crave reading, rather than watching TV or movies. I want to take in the world one sentence at a time. During times of repair, I need to go to bed earlier and do fewer activities. I don’t always have choice about what needs to get done for work, as my work is project based and it happens when it happens. But when I do have choice, and am able to slow the work down, I do.

As a therapist, one of the most constant refrains I heard from people was that they didn’t have enough time to take care of themselves. And often we both felt stuck in a bind: they needed to take time, or shift time to heal, and yet they felt trapped by their responsibilities and obligations. Healing felt like yet another burden.

This is why we need a Slow Healing Movement. Because it is really, really hard to fight the culture of speed. It is hard to bravely say, “I need to slow down to heal,” especially when you feel at your most vulnerable. It’s hard to feel like only one who needs to move slowly in a world full of fast people. But the truth is we all need it. We need it, our family and friends need it, our kids need it. We all need times of slowness so we can mend, repair, grow. And if we had a movement behind us, we wouldn’t feel so alone. We could have cool t-shirts or bumper stickers. We could have slogans or shorthand where we could proudly state, “Having a Slow Day! How about you?”

There is no ‘right’ way to slow down. The Slow Food Movement has really good food and good wine, which wouldn’t be a bad start. But beyond that—everyone needs to shift their pace, their speed, their space in really different ways. Some people will go running to slow down, and others will nap. Some people will take a break for lunch and others will work through lunch so they can leave early. Some people will want music and others will want silence. You just need to listen to that inner voice. What will help you mend? What feels so supportive that you feel like things can knit back together, that you can imagine growth again? What will allow you to take the time you need? How can we support each other to do the same?

Needing slowness isn’t an aberration or a pathology—it’s a normal part of any healing or growth cycle. It’s just as a culture we have gotten away from natural cycles. And like the Slow Food Movement did with trying to bring back the basic human need for community, conversation and food—The Slow Healing Movement can do this for our ability to bring time, relationship and care to the things that need mending. So, let's support each other, and let's support ourselves. For all the mending and growing you need to do—go ahead, Have a Slow Day!

© 2015 Gretchen L Schmelzer, PhD