Remember the ad campaign, Speed Kills? I can’t remember if I first heard the term in an anti-drug campaign or an attempt to reduce speed limits. The phrase has been used for both. This week, I’m thinking of Speed Kills in totally different terms.
Last weekend I went to see Won’t You Be My Neighbor. This movie chronicles the career of Fred Rogers, the creator of MISTER ROGERS’ NEIGHBORHOOD. There was nothing speedy about Mister Rogers. His slow pace stands in stark contrast to other children’s entertainers. This was deliberate. It was also significant.
Mister Rogers understood that very important things happen when we’re still and quiet. He included long pauses and silence in his television program. This is considered a no-no in the TV world, but as someone observed in the movie, there were many times when nothing much was going on, but none of the time was wasted.
On some level, parents and children must have sensed the significance of this. They certainly responded. Mister Rogers became hugely successful in spite of doing everything “wrong” for a television audience.
In my home, I observed that when my boys watched MISTER ROGERS’ NEIGHBORHOOD their behavior was markedly different than when they watched He-Man. He-Man led to an afternoon of hitting each other, breaking toys, and generally violent behavior.
MISTER ROGERS’ NEIGHBORHOOD, on the other hand, had a calming effect. After watching, the boys were kinder, gentler, and quieter. They played together instead of fighting. My house was infinitely more peaceful.
At the time, I didn’t take time to analyze why this was true, I just did the practical thing and banned He-Man. If I needed the kids to have screen time so that I could clean up the kitchen or do the laundry, we opted for MISTER ROGERS’ NEIGHBORHOOD or the video disc Free to be You and Me.
Now, with much more experience under my belt including many years of working long hours, never missing an event, frequent travel, work-work-work-play-play-play and rarely saying no, I understand the importance of being still. Being present requires taking pauses to notice what has happened and how it makes us feel.
I know you may read that and say, “duh,” but look at how we live. We rarely pause between activities, much less during them. We fill our waking hours with movement, noise, and electronic distraction.
One of my grandchildren has 4 structured activity classes per week – he’s 9 months old! Will he be able to lie on his back, stare at the clouds smelling fresh-cut grass and feeling the solidness of the ground supporting him when he’s three or will he be lost without constant activity?
It seems we have some level of awareness that we need to increase our sense of well-being. Ways to increase wellness are often featured on morning TV. The number of people practicing yoga in the US has doubled since 2008. The mindfulness movement touts the health benefits of meditation.
In contrast, we see our friends, neighbors, and family members numb themselves with work, gaming, social media, TV, sex, food, alcohol, and drugs on a regular basis. Sometimes we see ourselves doing the same. If we know we need to feel better, and we know that slowing down to reflect and be present in the moment will help, why do we keep speeding forward?
What’s difficult to admit, much less discuss, is what lies underneath a need to speed through life at a level of maximum distraction. If you have lived in an environment of chaos and/or danger to your physical or emotional well-being that you could not escape, it is excruciatingly hard to sit still and be present. It is also necessary if you are to heal the wounds your spirit has suffered.
It is in this context that I now view the phrase – speed kills. Speed kills our connection to our spirit. This removes us from knowing, accepting, and loving ourselves. It removes us from the very best parts of ourselves. At its worst, this disconnect allows us to act out our anger, hurt, and frustration in vindictive, destructive ways.
In the face of a tragic, hostile act, we often wonder – what kind of person would do that? Often the answer is simple: someone who has suffered in ways you cannot see and may not be able to imagine.
Remaining present and emotionally open in the face of violence, humiliation, rejection, neglect, or shunning, is intolerable for most everyone. It is absolutely healthy in those situations to engage in fighting, fleeing, freezing or fawning in order to protect yourself.
The problem is many, not just some, MANY of us have lived in an environment in which violence, humiliation, rejection, neglect, or shunning were the norm. Living in persistent, unrelenting physical and/or emotional danger creates wounds that are both physical and emotional and result in disconnection from ourselves. Constantly being in a state of fighting, fleeing, freezing or fawning creates long-term barriers to calm, peace, connection and joy.
When we have the strength and courage to sit still and be present, it opens the door for all the emotions we have been avoiding to come rushing in. This is a great opportunity to release those emotions and the hold they have over us. That’s easy to say, but terrifying and hard for many of us to do even if it is worth it in the long run.
I’ve spent years unraveling the knots in my stomach and my spirit. I know that I did not choose the environment that created them. I was born into it. Accepting this hasn’t eliminated the seemingly bottomless well of sadness I feel in my solar plexus. It hasn’t removed every trigger that can send me into an emotional flashback that I simply can’t outthink. (I know this isn’t some particular defect in me. Signals from the amygdala can override executive function, but it still feels terrifying and out of control.)
Mindfulness has helped me rewire my brain away from anxiety toward noticing small ways in which I feel good. I feel less braced for the (as I learned to view the world) next inevitable attack. My new level of awareness lets me deliberately shift my focus in order to feel better in a given moment.
I am painfully aware how difficult it can be to find support for a healing path. Even places we expect to provide a cushion for processing trauma, grief, depression, anxiety, and somatic symptoms – the therapist’s office, doctor’s office, church, or support groups, may not provide the type of support we need. Feeling unseen, unheard, dismissed, targeted, or misunderstood can leave us feeling even more alone and, sometimes, revictimized.
Healing can bring immediate improvement, but I do not know of a straight or swift path to wholeness. That journey is a process unique to each of us. The best support along the way is to be seen and accepted just as we are at any given moment.
Perhaps this is why I so appreciate Mister Rogers simple affirmation that he likes us just as we are. But I cannot fully receive that message unless I am sitting still.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”