This post is all about the value of making gaps – micro to macro – in our everyday lives for self-consent, for relating well with others, and for resisting wider non-consensual cultures.
Micro and macro gaps
You could see gaps on a spectrum between the micro and the macro. On the micro level it could be as small as taking a breath between sentences *breath*. For example, that might apply when writing or speaking. Next level there is the value of taking a gap between one daily activity and the next: to be in the present moment rather than racing on to the next thing. Then we might consider gaps in the week or month (like what we do with weekends or holidays or their equivalent). Finally, on the macro level, what about gaps following big life changes or upheavals?
I’ve noticed a tendency to overlap both big relationships and big projects – like books I’m writing. Just as it feels unfamiliar and edgy to allow gaps between daily activities, it can feel similarly difficult to allow gaps between people and projects, but so essential in order to mark endings, process big changes, and settle. With a big enough gap I can know that new relationships and projects are intentional and consensual, rather than an attempt to avoid difficult feelings or (re)create myself to avoid being with who and how I am. Perhaps as the level increases in size, the gap needs to be longer in order to slow down and process what’s just gone, and to tune into what to do next.
Consent and the gap
Slowness weaves together with consent because it’s a way of ensuring that our consent with ourselves – and others – is ongoing rather than a one-off. For example, if we start the day with a to-do list and only feel okay if we complete it, that is one-off consent (like starting sex with a script and only feeling okay if we manage to follow it). If we check in, ongoing, during the day, as with sex it is more likely to be consensual.
Why do we avoid the gap?
We avoid slowing down – or giving ourselves gaps – because they often confront us with the very feelings we were trying to avoid by going at such speed, particularly tough ones like fear, shame, and loneliness. Paradoxically the more we’re able to slow down and be in those moments, the less uncomfortable they are likely to be, because we become more used to being with ourselves whatever the feelings, and often the feelings don’t have to be so intense: shouting loudly to be heard over all the noise of busyness and distraction. Kindness is key. We need to cultivate enough kindness with ourselves to be able to stay with ourselves in those moments. Staying in those moments cultivates kindness, and cultivating kindness helps us to be able to stay.
How do we avoid the gap?
Many of us use combinations of the four F trauma strategies to avoid slowness and gaps. Fight is when our mind is constantly busy blaming others or ourselves for everything and trying to control our experience. Flight is when we throw ourselves into work and productivity. Freeze is when we constantly distract (e.g. with TV, social media, food, etc.) Fawn is when we rush to please others and respond to every bid for our attention. Some of these things can – on the surface – look slow (like when we’re obsessing mentally or crashing out in front of the TV), but if we’re checked out then we’re not really being present to ourselves or the moment. It’s not so much about what you do, but about how you engage with it.
The gap as prevention of – and response to – reactivity
When we make gaps regularly we’re more able to notice when we’ve become reactive: when our nervous system has shifted into that fight or flight mode, or dissociated. Regular check-in gaps during a day can enable us to notice such a shift when it is still just a flicker, and allow our nervous system to come back to neutral. We can also commit to pausing and looking after ourselves additionally whenever we notice that flicker come up during daily activities, and we’re more likely to notice that when we’re used to slowing down. Staying with the flicker can stop it becoming a flame or fire, and also help us to learn what to do when the reactivity is more accelerated.
The gap as a radical act
Some may critique such slowness and spaciousness as only possible with privilege, and this connection is worth being aware of. However, slowing down and creating gaps – as much as we can realistically manage – does also mean we’re far less likely to hurt others, and ourselves, and damage relationships. It’s when we’re sped up, over-stretched, distracted, or dissociated that we risk treating ourselves and others non-consensually, lashing out, offering too much and having to pull it away, and making mistakes.
The gap can also be seen as a radical act under neoliberal capitalism where we’re so often encouraged to produce more and more by going faster and faster. What would it mean to know that we’re enough in this moment and don’t need to be more? Could slowing down help us to be with the fear and shame we’re trained into feeling unless we’re happy, successful, and in a certain kind of love relationship? if we could be with those feelings kindly, might we be able to stop constantly striving for such impossible permanent goals.
Doing it your way
There is no one true way of slowness. In recent years it has become somewhat fetishised in the form of mindfulness and/or meditation. While such approaches can help us to learn ways of being slow and still with ourselves, they often just result in another thing we’re meant to do with our days, and another thing to feel bad about ourselves for not doing ‘properly’. There is no ‘properly’. It’s not about ‘not thinking’ or ‘feeling calm’ or anything like that. It’s just about pausing – briefly or for longer – and being aware of everything going on right now: sights, sounds, sensations, thoughts, feelings, whatever is there. We’re not emphasizing any of it, not trying to avoid any of it, just being with it.
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Plural tag: This post was written by Beastie and Ara.