One of the things I like about sitting down to write is that it stops me in my tracks. I just sit here in front of my little computer and wait to see what wants to be written about.
Stopping is always good.
And if nothing comes, I just have to stay in not knowing what to say, without going anywhere. If I am moving too fast, nothing comes. The momentum of busyness (both in action and in my mind) has its hold.
Sometimes Colin has to say to me, SLOW DOWN.
That is when – as is my tendency – I am moving too fast to breathe in the world, let alone my own state.
When I was at university I had an anthropology tutor called David Pocock who wrote in my report, “Fanny’s in danger of becoming one of those ‘Sorry-darling-must-rush-life’s-too-hectic people’”. Although it stung, it was salutary as I I had no idea of how fast I was moving then, and even now I tend to not realize when I have speeded up.
Until I slow down, or, better still, just stop.
I cannot sing the praises of slowing down enough. Especially when in a hurry! Slowing down enough to feel the breath, to taste the food, to feel my feet on the ground, to receive myself and my experience in any moment.
Slowing down is good.
Our world seems to get faster and faster. It has become normal to rush.
When I was still in my twenties I spent a couple of weeks living on a compound in Gambia; I had been invited by my brother Algy who was in a band with some brilliant local musicians. Every day they would play exquisite music in one of the 12 or so concrete rooms – which were mostly living spaces for families – set in a square around the sandy courtyard. In the middle of the courtyard, which was just a large square area of sand in which a small tree grew, was the well we all used for water. There was a bucket on a long chain which people would lower into the well. I thought – barely consciously – ‘quicker to just chuck it in’. So the bucket crashed and tumbled down and I pulled it up full of precious water to wash with. I then watched one of the women who lived on the compound slowly walk to the well, and inch by inch, gently, respectfully, lower the bucket down to the water level. It probably took her two minutes. There was a dignity and a slowness to all her movements which meant she was actually engaged in what she was doing, which struck me profoundly. And I remembered a question one of the men had asked me the day before “why are you white people always in such a rush?”. I felt ashamed. A healthy, appropriate sense of shame in seeing myself in these reflections, and recognizing that I needed to slow down and bring a deeper presence to everything I did.
It is not easy in a society where the whole momentum is about speed and a “time=money” mentality, and where time must not be wasted at any cost. Where rest, digestion, and time out are not valued. Where silence and doing nothing seem out of the question. Where we are drawn out by a thousand pulls on our attention. And where to simply survive financially (and bureaucratically) – for most people – requires ridiculous work hours.
It is not easy to go against that current and just stop.
But that does not mean it is not possible, or indeed absolutely necessary, for us to retain any kind of sanity in this fast moving world; to know the wood for the trees and get any kind of perspective, to begin to sense of our part in the unfolding of history, and to be here for the revelation of each precious moment.
Retreats from the speed of daily living are wonderful and transformative. But it is also true that even short moments of slowing down and stopping in our tracks can change everything. Like now. To just pause, take a breath, not fill the space with anything at all. To feel this. And for once, not do a single thing.