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Mr. Rogers + Marina Abramovic: the radical act of slowing down

What drew people to Mr. Rogers even though he always seemed ridiculously slow to me?

Why were people transformed and moved to tears when they sat in front of performance artist, Marina Abramovic, and simply met her eyes?

These two people are from radically different worlds and yet, watching documentaries on both of them in the past week, I am struck by a similarity.

They both seemed to ‘get’ people and give people a space to be ‘gotten.’

First I watched a documentary on a phenomenal performance artist Marina Abramovic and her show, “The Artist is Present.” The documentary focuses on this piece in MOMA where she sat for 3 months and met the eyes of the people that came to sit across from her – all day long, every day.

I then watched a documentary called “Mr. Rogers & Me,” about the effect that Mr. Rogers had on both the children and the adults in his life. It seems it was profound. (That’s right, the Mr. Rogers of “I like you just the way you are” fame.)

Marina, in “The Artist is Present” and Mr. Rogers in his t.v. show both “got” people.

My thoughts on how they did this:

  • They allowed themselves to be seen while seeing at the same time. They softened, removed certain filters, and allowed themselves to be in that vulnerable space of “just being” with another person. (They probably didn’t clench their jaws.)

  • They didn’t need anything from the other person. They didn’t make faces at them hoping for a reaction. They didn’t impress them with witty banter.

  • They slowed down. They didn’t just slow down their external body and hold themselves still and rigid, they slowed down their internal bodymind as well.

I know from my work as a facilitator and a somatic therapist that this “slowing down” is significant.

Our cognitive brain is working quickly and that is where we operate from most of the time; thinking, talking, planning. When we slow down we move into the part of our brain that deals with sensory processing; the reptilian brain. It is connected to the lightness, tightness, nausea, warmth and whatever else we may experience sensationally in our body.

The reptilian brain is the part of our brain that is patterned before we are verbal and holds some of our oldest and deepest beliefs about ourselves and relationships. Consequently, it is where we need to go if we want to shift these beliefs or conceive of the possibility of new beliefs.

Think about how many times our cognitive mind has balked at a compliment or had a hard time believing that someone loved us. These messages are impossible to believe or understand with our cognitive mind if our reptilian brain, and the sensations in our body, are holding a different story.

Moving into the reptilian brain requires that we go 7 times slower than we normally go.

We might get glimpses of it in scenarios like these:

  • the speed you move into lying beside a loved one in bed and looking into each others eyes.

  • the time conversation stopped and you sat present and in silence with a friend and realized they still wanted to be with you.

  • that moment during holidays when your body slowed down and your beliefs about yourself and the world shifted.

This slower pace is significant because when we move into this realm of the senses, away from the verbal and cognitive, we can receive new information and transform and shift various beliefs about ourselves and the world.

In this realm, when Mr. Rogers says “I like you just the way you are” we can really believe him. He’s not just talking to our cognitive brain, but has slowed down enough to engage with the fundamental beliefs about who we are.

In this realm, when Marina sits across from us, without doing anything, we may get a sense of what it is like to soften, slow down, and be with someone. Our reptilian brain may understand something like “I don’t have to do, be or say anything special to be here. I’m ok like this, with whatever emotions I happen to be experiencing.”

This may sound ‘cheesy’ to the cognitive mind that says “no big deal, whatever, it’s cool,” however, to the reptilian brain these can be huge messages. When we really “get” these messages on a sensational level these messages can transform how we see ourselves and the world.

This act of slowing down enough to see and be seen is radical, terrifying, tender, horrifying, beautiful

...revolutionary really. This act of slowing down changes the world.

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