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Center for Action and Contemplation

Slowing Down Is the Solution

Monday, June 26, 2023

It’s in the darkness, it’s in the moment of crisis when you have fallen through all of your own expectations that there is the opportunity for rebirthing. —Barbara A. Holmes, “Contemplation,” The Cosmic We  

CAC teacher Barbara A. Holmes calls contemplation “a soft word in a hard world.” In this episode of The Cosmic We, she differentiates between crisis contemplation and contemplation as it’s usually considered:  

Most of us think of contemplation as something we do voluntarily. It’s an entry into deep and sometimes sacred places. We’re usually safe and comfortable, and this type of contemplation is more personal. But when we’re talking about crisis contemplation that has communal impact, we’re talking about a completely different type of contemplation. For me, it’s a breaking and a shattering of expectations. It’s the experience of your worlds colliding. Everything is happening that shouldn’t be happening. So the question becomes, how do you contemplate when you’re devastated? When you’re under siege? When you’re beleaguered by ecological catastrophe, injustice, and oppression? How do you contemplate then? 

Crisis contemplation begins, Barbara Holmes shares, when we relinquish our usual approaches to problem solving:  

When we’re in a crisis situation, the question becomes, “What’s the answer?” and “How does contemplation help, if it can?” No one is going to like the response because there isn’t a response in the ordinary ways. Everyone is going to want a clear process to resolve something. What do we do? How do we do it? What’s going to make us all feel better? There aren’t any answers like that. When there is nothing to do, some of the things that can be done are things we don’t want to do. Philosopher Bayo Akomolafe says it most clearly. He says the first thing you do is slow down:  

To ‘slow down’ … seems like the wrong thing to do when there’s fire on the mountain. But here’s the point: in ‘hurrying up’ all the time, we often lose sight of the abundance of resources that might help us meet today’s most challenging crises. We rush through the same patterns we are used to. Of course, there isn’t a single way to respond to a crisis; there is no universally correct way. However the call to slow down works to bring us face to face with the invisible, the hidden, the unremarked, the yet-to-be-resolved…. It is about staying in the places that are haunted. [1]   

Holmes describes the challenge of “slowing down”:  

In order to love, you have to slow down. There’s no such thing as “drive-by loving.” You have to give attention to the object, to the person, of your love. There has to be reciprocity and mutuality. It is giving ourselves over, letting go so that something else can do the loving through us, and for us, because we’re not capable of it.  

References:  

[1] Bayo Akomolafe, “A Slower Urgency,” Báyò Akómoláfé (blog). Accessed May 12, 2023. 

Adapted from Barbara Holmes and Donny Bryant, “Contemplation,” The Cosmic We, season 4, episode 2 (Albuquerque, NM: Center for Action and Contemplation, forthcoming), podcast, MP3.  

Image credit: A path from one week to the next—Izzy Spitz, Untitled, watercolor. CAC Staff, Untitled, watercolor. Izzy Spitz, Field Study 2, oil pastel on canvas. Used with permission. Click here to enlarge image

When the world swirls around us we go to the sacred center. 

Story from Our Community:  

I’m a staff member for a faith-based organization dedicated to social and racial equity. I took great comfort in Richard Rohr’s meditation on how we cannot get through times of crisis without relying on each other. It reaffirmed my belief that we are all connected to each other through the connection of The Holy One. This insight gives me the strength to continue lifting up my brothers and sisters through the work I do. In the strains of upheaval and chaos of our times, I am grateful for the CAC, a place I can turn to for ancient wisdom and a sense of peace. —Linda G. 

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