A Journey Ordinary But Sincere

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“Trying to understand is like straining through muddy water. Have the patience to wait! Be still and allow the mud to settle.” Lao Tzu.

I live in two worlds. A fast world outside and a slow world inside and sometimes these worlds are not in alignment. Though I have felt this for a long time, I’m only very recently getting better at managing this and being able to operate from the slow space and the generative silence within me when I need to or when it is truly important. 

This was not always the case and even though human memory is flawed and we create a narrative to connect dots that are otherwise separate, for my own sake, I find it useful to put down a linear narrative of how the inner and outer worlds have evolved for me. 

I remember childhood as a very happy place without too much difference between the inner and the outer. I was living in the moment – playing sports, trying to be a guitarist – without any real focus on what lay ahead or being bothered by questions of success or what to do with my life. Changing cities and becoming friends with someone who is now my best friend and his professor parents, introduced me to a wide range of books, questions of amateur philosophy, science fiction fuelled an interest in the starts and questions of the universe that led to starry evenings full of very juvenile (now it seems) metaphysical chatter about the stars and where we come from. Conversations to keep one alive and real. 

At home, there was the presence of satsang and growing faith in some sort spirituality and an inward (and treasured) confirmation of something that transcends this life. These twin forces made the study of physics at college an easy choice though those years, too, were full of ipop-metaphysics, pursuit of the so-called truth, enjoying books such as The Tao Of Physics, The Dancing Wu-Li Masters and enjoying vague interactions with this mystery that I did not fully understand but wanted to believe in. I was still living in the moment and wasn’t worried so much about the job I would do or what would come next. 

I remember this one class where we were “brainstorming” and trying to invoke our creative side and somehow the exercise ended up involving thinking of different ways in which a toothpaste tube could be used. I remember it to be strangely liberating. I also remember lots of cycling in our 1,400 acre college campus at night thinking about stuff, looking at the stars, relishing these questions, thinking about love and girls I had a crush on. 

Looking back, this is what one form of slowness truly is. To be where you and be completely present in that without ambitions that rush you somewhere else in your mind. 

A personal tragedy led to the first real discontinuity in my life when I consciously started thinking of something I needed to do as opposed to being in the moment. And this was to get into business school as an alternative to keep “my options open” and “be successful in a shiny job”. Subconscious peer pressure. However, business school was fun as well and other than the non-academic pursuits, the one class I remember quite distinctly was called “Tracking Creative Boundaries” anchored by Professor Ramnath Narayanswamy. It was a collection of eclectic readings, guest lectures by a few people mostly in the creative arts, and then a capstone activity that involved creating a mini-theater production being part of a team. 

Though the production our team put together bombed completely – we were lazy and not very creative at that time – the course stood out for me and grew on me over the years. Mostly I remember it because it involved reading two books by Mihaly (Flow and Creativity) and I used those as stepping stones for further reflection and readings. And the ingestion of some of these ways of thinking at a fairly elemental level that escapes perfect recall. 

As time went by professional & personal successes and failures followed. Spiritual leanings waxed and then waned – I grew slightly more spiritual approaching it both from the perspetive of the Radhasoami faith but also through Taoist approaches or based on the readings of Meister Eckhart and Thomas Merton with their talk of contemplative prayer that takes the form of “let your will and not mine be done”. There was a period that was quite intense from a spiritual and metaphysical enquiry perspective and where I was constantly asking myself what I wanted to be doing with my life and what wanted to emerge through me. The spiritual morphed into slightly more secular “inner listening” and the philosophy of people such as Peter Senge & Otto Scharmer with their Presencing work had a profound influence. I hungrily lapped up interviews of a range of “wise people” that folks at the Dialog on Leadership project had put together. Thank you, Mckinsey for doing this one profound thing 🙂 

Gradually, I started appreciating the beauty of nature and let go of the need to find an answer or even the hope of an answer through human epistemological limitations and then finally the question. The last few years have been intensely focused on “social impact”, making change happen externally, and “making this world a better place”. At times this focus on the external feels a little exhausting and also limited in its power to cause true change. 

I’ve begun to appreciate the power and need for profound inner change significantly more and approaches such as Theory U / Hero’s Journey seem very real to me having navigated some of the darker phases and questions in my life. Have also come to be convinced that outer and inner change are the yin and yang of a meaningful existence for me and that we need to complement this intense focus on SDG-framed improvements with the rather invisible but profound shifts that happen within each of us individually. 

Slow School is a response to this need and through this we are seeking to create a community of people who believe in inner change and either can help others navigate this journey through “transformational learning experiences” or who want to be part of these learning experiences. As is often the case, we’ve been lucky to find really passionate and incredibly authentic and sincere supporters and co-conspirators and are embarking on our journey which promises to be interesting, rewarding, full of impact, and impact. 

Join us as we move forward with “slowness” in our heart-mind. 

– Nirat Bhatnagar 

Founder, Slow School