Thoughts: Slow Learner

It is a slow kind of morning. I got up. I made the coffee. Let the cats out (and in and out and in). I washed last night’s dishes.

It is snowing. It was not supposed to, but this is Vermont. Meteorologists must hate Vermont, or at least my little corner of it. Forecasts mean nothing here. It’s not a bad snow, just enough to cover everything in a film of white while I washed dishes. My kitchen sink has a window, so I watched it fall as I scrubbed.

The woman I love and I talked a bit over coffee (her) and diet coke (me). We let the cats in and out a couple more times. Snow confuses them. Then it was time to start my day. I drove to my second chance diner (My favorite diner is closed until April.) and set down to read my scriptures, write in my journal, and then, write here. My morning routine.

It was slow going. Something was wonky with my computer this morning. It flicked from screen to screen. Windows disappeared. In the end I reset it, but even reset was wonky. It took a few resets to get to the place I could write and work.

I am a lot more patient with slow than I once was. I look back at my years before fifty or so and wonder at the Dervish that was Tom Atkins. I got so much done. I was always doing. Work work. Church work. Family work. Work on the big old farm house I lived in. I liked my life well enough, but looking back, I wonder at how much I must have missed as I ran full tilt towards….. Well, towards goals I expect. I had a plan, but the plan was always focused forward, not in the moment. On what was next. On what had to be done next. I was good at getting things done. Efficient.

Efficient. That’s what the woman I love still calls me. And when I settle down to to things, I suppose I am. The difference is that I no longer believe that I have to fill every moment with efficient activity. I have come to understand the power and joy or just being. It did not come easily. It did not come without a cost, that lesson, but I am in a new place. A place people who worked with me 20 years ago might not recognize.

In a way, I was forced into it. My coming undone fifteen years ago left me in a place I often talk about, unable to process feelings very well. Thoughts? Those I can process as fast as ever. Feelings? I think the shock of coming so undone in the blackest part of my life did something to me. It brought on the depression, and maybe something else. Who knows? Trauma always has effects. Some we can work past. Some stay with us. Fifteen years in, I am pretty sure this effect is with me to stay.

That’s more OK than you might think. It has forced me to slow down. It has forced me to think about my feelings more than I ever did. To respond to them instead of reacting to them. A kind of mindfulness before mindfulness became such a buzzword.

And I have discovered that it has some benefits.

First, I am far less likely to judge anything or anyone. That’s not to say I do not have opinions or morals. Far from it, I am as opinionated as ever. But I come to those opinions, and come to figuring out people slowly.

I once dated a woman who told me she could look across a restaurant at a couple and know everything she needed to know about their relationship. Maybe she could. But I can’t. I have come to know that people’s stories, back stories, trauma history, successes and failures are a rich stew, and most people give you an incredibly incomplete version of what and who they are. It takes time. Time listening. Time watching. Time learning to even get close to who and what people are.

It is, for me, more comfortable being less judgmental. There’s a burden to being judgmental. We are forced into a right or wrong place, and when we are public in our judgement, and we learn more about people and the situation, we are stuck being, gasp!, wrong. And having to dance around it, or hide our head in shame at being so wrong, or plowing through with the same old judgement when we know it is not true.

Better to just let people’s life unfold. Let the truth of who and what they are unfold. People are magical. We survive so much in a lifetime and are left this complex bouquet of experiences and reactions and triggers (not all triggers are bad, by the way, but that is another essay) and self protection. It’s a wonder we all do as well as we do. Watching a person unfold over time is such a pleasure. And not judging along the way opens people to us. Part of the magic.

Here’s another benefit. I no longer act as though every conversation has to lead to something. I can just have a conversation to have a conversation. Not having to use conversation as part of a toolset to move forward on this project or that goal, I can just listen. For as long as it takes. I schedule extra time between coaching or counseling appointments to just let them take their own path. When I talk to a friend, I try hard to not be on a schedule, but just let the conversation take its own path.

I have learned that most of us are starved for focused attention. Our lives are so busy. Or if not busy, cluttered with things like TV and social media. Life comes at us in sound bites and memes. Everyone wants the bottom line. Get to it quick. But that is not where we humans thrive. We thrive in a place where we have time to talk through our thoughts and situations in a place where it is safe to talk and think and let our true selves simply be. That kind of long wandering conversation comes easier to me now, now that I have to, even to myself, let feelings settle.

I have always been an introvert. But my go-go younger years were not the life of an introvert. I was too busy too often. And now I am not. It took a while. I was a slow learner, evidently. And like so many, it took a sledge hammer to make me stop and let myself become what I always was. And the wierd thing? I seem to be able to do as much as I did when I moved faster. Don’t ask me to explain THAT. I just know it’s true.

I am particularly blessed. I have people, the important people in my life, my wife, my children, a few close friends, who encourage that slow self and even love him. And the larger circle of friends, parishoners and clients tolerate me well enough. It’s good. A good time to be alive.

And if I am a slow learner, that’s OK. It has made the lessons that much more precious. And I am grateful.

Be well. Travel wisely,

Tom

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