The exquisite nature of slowness

Usha Mukunda

Stillness…. slowness…. these words seem to have become synonymous with aging and perhaps even dullness. Why, I wonder. If we look around at nature, there are clear instances of fruits, flowers, and trees reaching their maturity and fullness with a slow but sure growth. In children too while we long for quick signs of progress, it comes when it is time. Even the term, “slow learner” seems part of the conspiracy of speed. Is not slow a relative term? More than that, isn’t there actually a value in slowing down? According to studies, during meditation, the brain functions slow down and there is calm and quietness. But have these words also become old-fashioned and outdated?

sunset Recently, a colleague and I were in conversation with a group of 13 and 14 year olds. We were in an exercise to discuss the possible advantages and disadvantages of searching for information on the internet. One of the recurring arguments was, “It is fast. I can get what I want quickly. It saves time.” Whether we are adults or children, we seem to be in perpetual quest of ‘time’! What do we want to do with this time we are saving? More things, more quickly? However, there was one child who almost reluctantly admitted that she enjoys the leisure of searching through books, where other links and random ideas come into her head on their own, some of which she pursues with much joy. There were a few nods of assent to that. My colleague later shared with me that she wondered whether we, as educators, give a subliminal message to our students that the product must be excellent and perhaps omit to mention how insightful are the explorations and discoveries inherent in the process. She went on to give examples where the process is the product, so to speak! Cooking, gardening, knitting or sewing, building, painting… these are quite clear, but what about reading, writing, researching, working on mathematics? Can we discover an equal joy in the actual doing of these activities?

In the past, I have used the phrase, ‘late bloomer’ quite easily and thoughtlessly, but it was in connection with two cases that the truth of it hit me. One young girl had been dubbed a ‘dreamer’ and even ‘lazy’ by parents, teachers, and others, with affection but with a sense of finality. Years down the line, this young person is finding her feet, slowly but surely, and her whole personality seems to have changed. She smiles where she used to be sulky, is courteous and thoughtful where she used to be a bit selfish and uncaring. The point is that she did not acquire these qualities overnight. They were germinating inside her waiting for the right time. But that time had to be given and in this case it happened fortuitously. The other case is that of a young boy, where anxious parents tried to bring him in line with others of his age. Most of the time, he too appeared selfish and rude and resisted work with a fierce determination. Again, thanks to an understanding environment, the pressure was eased and slowly and at his own pace, he began to do the things his classmates had done some time ago and looked happier and more at ease with the world. These are not just feel-good stories. They are the unfortunate result of our need for haste.

“What is this life, if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare?”—
From the poem, “Leisure” by W.H. Davies

There are enough examples of extraordinary people who took a great deal of time in their early years to gather the basics of knowledge and then went on to encompass the whole of it! Einstein, Tagore, J. Krishnamurti, each one a superb ‘late bloomer’! However, I am not trying to create a counter-culture here by saying slowness is best. Rather that there is a readiness for each individual and that may come slowly or quickly.

The long-distance runner has as much skill as the sprinter. Both have passion and joy in what they do. The musician gives equal care to the slow exposition of a Raag as well as to the quicker tempo. Is it possible to not swing to either extreme? We can value quickness where it is appropriate and appreciate slowness where it blooms.

The author is a founder-member of Centre for Learning, Bangalore and feels that there is much to learn from interacting with children and young people.She can be reachd at

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