Have you tried walking slowly?

And then slow down.

An aspect of being a Systems Changer, is about self awareness and recognising that being human affects those around you. Your energy and body language plus all other non-verbal aspects of you, speaks volumes before you open your mouth.

An exercise I recently took part in was ‘Slow Walking’. Easy you may think but to me this felt like torture. I am a thinker, a doer and all that I do is at great speed. I simply don't have time to stop; too much to do. Walk fast and answer a call, walk fast and check emails, walk fast and look at Google maps to check that I am going in the right direction to my next meeting. Walk fast and multi-task is my motto and NEVER walk slow — EVER.

Then I met Hannah and she stopped me in my tracks. Hannah is a coach (amongst many other inexplicable things) and is an integral part of the Systems Changers Programme. I don’t really know what a coach does apart from my preconceived ideas about ‘fluffy’ meditation stuff. I may need to update my knowledge.

One of the first things Hannah ever asked me to do was to walk slowly through the woods. And then, when I felt I was mimicking a tortoise, she asked me to slow down. I felt so stupid and my hackles stood up straight. I felt naked, vulnerable and totally out of control. Why was she asking me to do this, what on earth could the benefits be? The slower I walked, the faster I wanted to run. What a waste of my time.

Several months later, Hannah was back and although I thought she was a nice person, I still wasn’t sure what her purpose was. I just want to ‘do’ stuff like make practical changes, improve my organisation and most importantly, support my clients in the best possible way — I certainly don’t need to learn how to walk.

This time, there were ‘missions’ with a time frame. I felt reassured; missions have an aim, a purpose and the time limit would be good for focusing my attention. This would be easy, something I would achieve.

But I was wrong and the prickles re-appear and I feel deceived. The final punishment? Phones were not permitted — my safety blanket stolen in one foul swoop.

Mission 1:

Time limit = 8 minutes. Instructions: ‘Go to whatever draws your attention’.

What the hell does that sentence even mean? Here I am, an intelligent forty something woman in the middle of rush hour in central London ‘looking at something’ for 8 whole minutes.

Mission 2

Time limit = 8 minutes. Instructions: ‘Walk slowly and when you are walking slowly, slow down’. I want to swear like a small child. I am convinced that the circling security guard is ready to pounce, I look so dodgy. This isn’t helped by an unexpected talent of being in the way of commuters who just want to get home and see their loved ones.

Mission 3

Time limit = 8 minutes. Instruction: I honestly can’t remember what the instructions were. I was so concerned with not looking odd in a public place and as I had no purpose and no phone, I think I shut down.

Mission 4

Time limit = 8 minutes. Instructions: ‘Look at the patterns’. By this time I am starting to reconsider my approach. What is the point of fighting? I signed up for this, no one has a gun to my head and in reality, I can leave at any point. I wander off and actually start to observe my environment. Did you know there are patterns in everything around you? I see patterns in the paving slabs, in the sky, in the frighteningly bright skirt that lady is wearing, in the bushes, in the bin, in the architecture around me. Everywhere.

I am slightly amazed at how this is making me feel. I forget the people rushing past me. I forget the noise of the traffic. I forget that I probably look like a total idiot.

Instead, I remember how to breathe. Long, satisfying, life-giving breaths that feed and sustain me. I see the beauty and fragility of life and I breathe.

I still feel insecure, vulnerable, exposed and incredibly small. But I feel alive. I have a clarity that I imagine comes after spending months at some slightly weird retreat. In 32 short minutes, I can think clearly and most importantly, after years of perpetual speed, I had slowed down and the world didn’t end.

I am not saying that this is the cure for all ailments and certainly it won’t suit everyone, but for me at that time it was as powerful as opening a new service, successfully housing a ‘difficult’ client or collecting an award recognising the work I do.

I may not ever be a tortoise in public but I am sure I can find a window in each day to look at the patterns around me and breathe, secure in the knowledge that the mission was successful.