Slowness

In honor of the Turtle, the local deity of Truth or Consequences who rests atop Turtleback Mountain, I contemplate the virtues of going slowly.

A friend who came in next-to-last in a marathon told me with pride that it took a special kind of endurance to keep on going for such a long time at her slow pace, especially mental endurance. It was a good insight. After all, she had no illusion she could win. Her motivation was personal and internal. She wasn’t competing, just completing.

I’m a slow writer. I write daily and have no shortage of inspirations. What takes time is depth.  I have to know what every character is thinking and feeling, discover the subterranean aspects of my lead characters’ minds, the emotions they themselves might not be touch with, and become aware of potential interactions at that level as well as in the mystery plot.

The style of yoga I study and teach is slow, not flow. The psychological state of flow occurs, but the asanas are explored in depth rather than in a fast-flowing sequence. I’m taking a twelve-week workshop with the teacher who first trained me to teach. In each weekly session, we study two or three asanas that have similar patterns in the body, attending to the subtle organization, the inner details. Seventy-five minutes on just utkatasana, warrior one, and warrior three was fascinating.

It’s not that I don’t enjoy anything fast. I love dancing to fast-paced music and reading fast-paced novels. Sometimes, in my personal yoga practice, I do a vigorous vinyasa. Speed is energizing. To achieve it with skill, though, the writer, dancer, or yogi first has to master slowness.

I look at the mountain and realize there’s more. The Turtle has mastered stillness.

*****

Turtleback image by Donna Catterick, whose photography graces the covers of Death Omen and Small Awakenings.

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Reflection and Self-Study: Down Time Needed

On a recent trip that took me through three guest rooms in three nights, I forgot my evening meditation and journaling practice. I barely kept a journal, and what little I wrote in it was about other people. The interesting people I met at my reading and book signing. What great hosts and wonderful people I was with. Thoughts on how the friends I visited were doing. No inner work. I took time daily for asana practice in the morning and I also found time to write fiction, though only a paragraph or two, but I ended my day turned outward still. How strange. I made the commitment years ago for an evening practice and yet I simply forgot. By the time I was on my way home I realized how important that commitment was.

I stopped at a rest stop to eat a picnic supper. As I opened my car door, it lightly tapped the vehicle next to it. I saw that there was no scratch, not even a bit of paint left on the other vehicle, and proceeded to reach for my cooler. Then a male voice said, “Are you going try to pretend nothing happened?”

A young man of about nineteen stood between the two cars, blocking my exit and glaring at me. I said that nothing had happened, and showed him. My door had touched the hard plastic rim over the wheel well of his Jeep, a protective surface I suspect is there for off-road driving, though this Jeep looked new and shiny, as if it had never done what it was designed for. He demanded an apology. Something about a kid the age of my freshman students acting like an angry parent with a misbehaving child over a non-event rubbed me the wrong way and I got sarcastic with him. “Sir, I most humbly apologize that my door ever so lightly tapped your Jeep, doing no damage whatsoever.” He told me I didn’t have to be like that. I told him he hadn’t had to be a jerk. (The only common sense I had left kept me from calling him something more offensive than jerk. I noticed my inner editor canceling out the A-word.) He denied being a jerk and told me to be more careful in the future. I told him not to be so angry in the future and walked off to the picnic table. Thus the interaction ended with both people still wanting to be right. No communication.

As I set up my dinner, I could see him standing between our cars, studying mine intently. What was he looking for? Evidence of a chronic, habitual parking lot door-hitter? My car was a mess inside, full of the detritus of traveling, and I have a New Mexico habit of not wasting water washing it, so it’s got a nice coat of dirt, but it’s not full of dings or other people’s paint. Perhaps he was peering at the empty Perrier and iced tea bottles, hoping they would turn out to have contained something stronger. I didn’t ask, just watched him, and he finally drove off.

It’s possible he was driving his parents’ car and was paranoid about damaging it, and acted toward me the way they would act toward him if it got a tiny scratch. Or maybe he’d saved up for a fancy car and is anxious about it. I don’t know. What I do know is that my pause-to-check mechanism was rusty. My capacity to step back and reflect instantaneously, to recognize that his hostility was his and that I didn’t need to be reactive, was weakened by only a few days without real reflection. I could have simply acknowledged him. He seemed menacing at first, blocking my way and starting with an accusation, but that’s all the more reason I could have and should have handled the situation better. After all, he was a kid. It was my job to be the adult.

Before I drove on, I wrote a journal entry on some scratch paper, processing all my thoughts and feelings. When I got home, I appreciated the depth and value of my night’s meditation and journaling practice. I need to do all these things to keep myself on track. Yoga asanas, writing fiction, writing a journal, and meditation. I don’t function at my best without deep down time. Not distraction or entertainment time, but inner time. It doesn’t have to take long to go deep. I don’t think I’ll forget again.

Image credits: Occupy the Present, Bryan Helfrich; heart puzzle, Katarina Caspersen