Slowing down (Book Review)
Updated: Nov 9, 2021
The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down is a book like no other
If I were to choose a category for «The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down», I would put it somewhere between the genres of self-help, education and autobiography. One thing is guaranteed: this book will take you on a trip within You, on an unprecedented journey of self-discovery.
In a nutshell, Haemin Sunim, “one of the most influential Zen Buddhist teachers and writers in the world” who hails from Korea, explains how to be calm in a busy world. He does it not by telling a story, not by sharing the teachings he received during his years of formal monastic training at the Haein monastery in South Korea, not even by narrating his own experiences in life or by asking the reader questions that prove he’s already experienced what we may now be experiencing in the present moment. Instead, he does all of the above and more.
Chapter Eight: Spirituality, page 248, Haemin suggests that “Faith is overvalued while practice is undervalued. If we emphasize faith over practice, spirituality remains ideology, creating theological conflicts. But if we focus in carrying out the teachings in our actual lives, we realize that the love taught by Jesus is no different from the compassion taught by Buddha. If you wish for peace among different spiritual paths, then practice what you preach”.
Turn the page backwards, and you’ll find one of the lines of wisdom that captivated me the most: “We must cultivate all three intelligences for our overall health: critical intelligence, emotional intelligence, and spiritual intelligence. If one falls to the wayside, it slows the growth of the other two”. He goes on to explain that “If you have developed critical intelligence but neglected emotional intelligence, then you may not be sensitive to the suffering of others. If you have developed emotional intelligence but neglected spiritual intelligence, then you may lose hope after seeing the world’s suffering. If you have developed spiritual intelligence but neglected critical intelligence, then you may fall victim to the abuse of a cult”.
On a literary note, the book is an easy (and quick) read, despite being seemingly lengthy. The style is light, elegant, and deep. The author seems to follow the golden rule of Few Words, Extraordinary Wisdom. Yet, you will feel, as you read, that most of it is already known to you. The book, in this regard, serves as a reminder of what is essential in life. Tranquility, peace of mind, softness… The fundamental basics of well-being that you might want to revive in yourself while navigating a busy world.
The book has eight chapters. Starting from Rest, ending with Spirituality, going through Mindfulness, Passion, Love, … When I first started reading, I decided that the book would remain by my bedside for nighttime reading, before sleep. The title and the author made me expect a book that would help me feel calm and relaxed. I looked for the right state of mind that would make it easier for me to fall asleep, maybe even help me sleep better. In this regard, Haemin Sunim did a great job in writing a book that truly speaks to people who have a busy life, live in stressful environments, or need to manage many things at once. All these things make one’s mind crave for rest, whether it’s time to go to bed, or during the weekends and holidays.
« How to rest? » might then be a real challenge. The solution, according to Haemin Sunim, lies in a good management of emotions, coupled with a savoir-faire when it comes to relationships (or how to deal with others) and knowledge of the true inner self.
This is what the book is all about.
Throughout the early chapters, there is a clear invitation from the author to be mindful about the ‘observer’ that lies within each of us. There is a warm invitation to retreat from the ocean of negative emotions surrounding us, and to “observe the changing energy both attentively and lovingly as it unfolds in the space of your mind”. I smiled widely when I later read: “Do not fight your negative emotions. Observe and befriend them”. As easy as it may sound, putting these wise words into practice is ultimately what the monks in Haein monastery and other places around the world are being trained to master. It is also one of the main calls of monotheist beliefs.
By now, you might be telling yourself that this book is too theoretical, that the teachings you will find are perhaps too perfect to be effective in the real world. Well, try this “Do memories cause you pain? Practice being in the present moment. Turn your attention to the here and now. Notice that your thoughts subside when you focus on the present. As your thoughts quiet, so, too, the memories. Because memories are, in essence, thoughts”, and this, “If you would like to sleep more peacefully, as you lay your head on your pillow, think of the people whom you are grateful to, or the times you helped others and felt good about yourself. It will warm your heart, gifting you with more peaceful sleep”, or even this, “Do you feel unsettled or depressed? Then look at a child’s sleeping face for one minute. You will soon feel ripples of peace”.
To conclude, I would also like to point out that this book, in its most popular Penguin Books Edition, has been made colorful and pleasant to read thanks to the paintings of Young-Cheol Lee, a Korean artist with an admirable simple style that you can peacefully discover here.