Slow, subtle growth is the most unassuming process of life.
Often times, this type of “slow growth” is nearly invisible to us. Unlike the big, sweeping, dramatic parts of life’s journey (like The Courage Moment for instance), slow, personal growth is a very quiet and subdued process.
You see, the core elements of The Courage Moment have to be dramatic. Because life, in that moment, is trying to wake you up. You’ve been so asleep that you need that big, melodramatic slap in the face, like the one Cher gives Nicolas Cage in Moonstruck. The Courage Moment is life shouting at you: “Snap out of it!” Life gives you The Courage Moment so that you have no choice but to shake yourself off, and finally wake up.
In some ways, the high drama of The Courage Moment is easier to handle than the gradual unfolding of slow, subtle growth. When the situation calls for a dramatic wake-up call, life’s lessons can reveal themselves to you in the physical, in the material, in the external. Some “thing” (or many things) can literally be taken away from you.
But Slow Growth is different.
Slow Growth asks you to give up the dramatic flourishes that are characteristic of The Courage Moment. Slow Growth knows you’re ready to leave all that “high drama” because it knows that you have learned all the lessons of The Courage Moment–you’ve seen all the sights, you know all the nooks and crannies of that particular stage of life. You know your way around The Courage Moment like the back of your hand.
So, once you leave the high drama of The Courage Moment, you are asked to sit with the quiet, unassuming process of Slow Growth. But you soon find that Slow Growth can be more painful than the sudden shock of The Courage Moment. You see, The Courage Moment is like a band-aid being ripped off of the wound all at once. While Slow Growth, on the other hand, is like that same band-aid being stripped very, very slowly away.
Slow Growth is sometimes more burdensome, and exhausting, than the sudden shock of The Courage Moment. Because when the explosion of The Courage Moment goes off, the only thing anyone expects you to do is to run for cover. The only requirement of The Courage Moment is to survive it. The approach is simple and direct. But who can know, off the bat, what is required of you during a period of Slow Growth? The approach is far less simple and direct.
The Period of Slow Growth
The approach is far less simple and direct because Slow Growth is now asking you to wade through the debris of “the explosion.” The bomb of The Courage Moment went off. But now that the explosion is over, it’s the time for you to pick up the pieces, toss out what needs to be thrown away, fix what needs to be repaired, turn over what needs to be replaced, keep what needs to be preserved, and finally, search for what was lost that now needs to be found again.
This process is what I will call The Period of Slow Growth, and it is a very different stage from The Courage Moment. It is a stage that is made up of the paradoxical pairing of a type of mourning process, and a type of celebratory dance. It’s a more subtle emotional roller-coaster ride. (Think “the spinning tea cup ride at Disneyland” vs. “The Superman Ride at Six Flags.” The Courage Moment is Superman: super-intimidating, short ride time, but scary as heck. The Period of Slow Growth is the tea cups: small, unassuming, but because your nieces will want to go on it ten more times, it’ll make you throw up more than once.) Some hidden golden nuggets can be uncovered through the process of Slow Growth, but most of the time you’ll only come up with mud.
The Period of Slow Growth has highs and lows, but they are not as high, nor as low, as the ones you experienced during The Courage Moment. And that is part of the “mourning” process as well. Those in The Period of Slow Growth must start getting used to the more subtle, and less sudden, changes in their lives. We must leave behind, for the time being, all the dramatic flourishes of life, because we are beginning to realize that we do not need those dramatic flourishes anymore. In fact, we are growing out of them.
It’s not that nothing dramatic will ever happen to us again–it’s just that we no longer need to rely on those external, sudden, dramatic flourishes of life to prompt change in us.
During The Period of Slow Growth, the tectonic plates of your life only move a centimeter every month now, and they barely rock the ground beneath your feet–but that’s enough for you to respond. The roaring assault of the earthquake is no longer required for you to step into action. All you need now is something as light as the flick of a feather, and then you’re off.
Writing and Growth
A similar process can happen in regards to your writing. You may reach a point where there is nothing really “new” to learn about the writing process. You’re just floating around the pages, picking up the pieces, throwing away what doesn’t work, fixing what needs fixing, replacing what’s old, and looking for what you lost that needs to be found again. Here, writing is also a “slow growth” process.
But, at times, this slow growth process can be painful and more excruciating than the “dramatic flourishes” of the writing process. The dramatic flourishes like when you finally solved a major, cataclysmic plot point, or when you changed the entire point of view from third-person objective to first-person subjective. Those were huge, “earthquake” moments that rocked the very ground beneath your novel.
But now there is no such drama. You also no longer see the writing process as a race, or as a competition. There’s no more pressure to “beat the clock.”
In a sense, you have grown as a writer. You know that you don’t need adrenaline constantly pumping through your veins to get the work done. (You don’t even need caffeine.) You just need to listen to the slow tremble of your heart, and, like a weather stick, wait until it twists upwards to tell you which way the sky will break open next.
How To Endure
Not too long ago, I talked about fortitude, and how sometimes life is not a lesson in strength, skill, or wit, but sometimes it’s a lesson in endurance.
But I have yet to address the important follow-up question:
How does one endure exactly?
How does one endure sitting at a lakeside, and waiting all year until each water particle slowly freezes up, and turns into ice? How does one endure sitting at the edge of a forest that has been burned to the ground by a lighting strike, and wait until all the trees have grown back, and the forest breathes oxygen into life again? How does one endure writing a novel, knowing that there’s no more dramatic changes to be made but only thousands of infinitesimal tweaks as influential as an iceberg, but still as thin as a wasp’s wing?
How does one endure exactly?
Well, in my experience, it seems as if one needs to be as light as a small, torn leaf on water. When life becomes slow and subdued, you need to respond by being as slow and subdued as life itself. When you are in a period of slow growth that is very unassuming, you need to become just as unassuming yourself. As you sift through the ruins, and as you attempt to repair the broken pieces, be as quiet, and as still, as those broken pieces. Don’t ask for more out of the situation, and don’t be surprised when you receive less than you secretly want.
What I am trying to say is that if you’ve been in a crowded, noisy, high-speed railway station all day and then you are suddenly dropped into a desert–where the camels walk slower than then grains of sand– then the best thing to do is not to shout, flail your arms in the air, and run around to catch a train.
No. That isn’t the appropriate behavior. Because you are no longer at a noisy train station. You are in a desert. And the appropriate way to act in a desert is to walk as slowly as a camel, and crawl as quietly as a scorpion.
The Period of Slow Growth is the least “sexy” aspect of life. (Even the name doesn’t sound very cool, does it?) That’s why it makes complete sense that periods of slow growth get far less attention than periods of “sudden transformation.” But, still, The Period of Slow Growth is essential to–and is sometimes a precursor to–a “sudden transformation.”
If we are to use the appropriate psychological terminology, The Period of Slow Growth is really a period of mourning. You are mourning the past you once knew. All the illusions, the objects, the things, the people from your past that left you, or that you left behind, are now being mourned. Surviving their loss was the first chapter of your journey. Mourning their loss is the second chapter.
I do not think it’s an accident that the “u” in mourning is all that separates this word from becoming another word: morning. I think the “u” is there to reminded us that the mourning process is there to prepare you for the morning. A new day on the horizon.
A Year In Mourning
As this year of tumult, grief, and unrest ends, let us all mourn the things we have lost. Let us quietly sit with the blunt pain of slow growth, and let us rest, let us rest here. So that tomorrow we may be refreshed. So that tomorrow we may be ready to greet the golden sun of our next chapter.