Jo commits to slow.
I have always wanted things done in a hurry. My mum was induced two weeks before my EDD (she’d just found out that my older sister couldn’t hear and was desperate to know if her second child was healthy). Out I was yanked, robbed of another fortnight of prenatal amniotic bliss. Goodness knows what havoc was wreaked with my planets.
Perhaps this accounts for my impatience for things to get done – preferably just a little earlier than ‘on time.’ All my life I have dashed around. Do not ask me to wait patiently in line for a coffee (Beat The Queue app was made for me). Or to lie serenely in a hospital bed awaiting surgery while more urgent cases get ushered in before me. Or to muster equanimity in traffic. Or to wait a week for a response to an urgent email (urgent on my side, mind you).
When my first book got signed up with a publisher, and I read the contract only to see that the publication date was two years away, I blanched. Two years?? I could be dead by then.
When I started dating the man who has now become my husband, I mentioned on our second date that I was planning on having a baby the following year. He paled visibly. ‘Just let me know if you’re in or out,’ I told him, ‘because I can’t wait around for years while you work out whether you want kids or not.’
In my youth I confused impatience with a certain ambitious take on the world. I believed I could manifest all things I desired spontaneously – and how easily I was tricked into believing in my own magic. The universe often quickened to my needs. Men fell in love with me urgently. I made friends on the first day. I picked ideas up instantly. I passed tests on the first go. I fell pregnant straight away – both times I tried.
But living my life on speed-dial has come with a cost, one which I’ve only recently started to feel press up against me in ways I cannot ignore. It has always felt as if I’m never getting to wherever I’m going quickly enough, whether it’s losing weight, writing books, career success, or spiritual enlightenment.
The poet Lao Tzu asks:
Do you have the patience to wait
Til your mud settles and the water is clear?
Can you remain unmoving
Til the right action arises by itself?
To which I would invariably quip, ‘Absolutely not. Isn’t there a drive thru option?
Thankfully we all get the teachers we need.
Mine have included an L5 S1 disc in my lower back that slipped to help slow me down. It puts me flat on my back on my bed for a full two weeks a few times a year. ‘Can’t you speed it up?’ I beg my osteopath. ‘I don’t have time to lie around for all that time.’
Then it was grief, a soggy weight in my bones that I couldn’t shake, no matter how much effort or will I garnered together to push up against it. ‘It just takes time,’ people would say. Time. Like I had any of that.
In my twenties I discovered Buddhist meditation, where I was introduced to the exciting prospect of ‘staying with the breath.’ I found the whole business annoying and irritating. I was used to ‘catching on’ fast, but meditation wouldn’t let me. You can’t speed your breathing up (not unless you want to hyperventilate), nor learn how to clear the mind quickly. I was stuck with that boring old breath. Twenty-five years later, I have come to a softer place and my breath still moves at the same pace.
My mad regime of intense fast bursts of exercise – which invariably left something injured or in pain, have in recent years been replaced with yoga. At first, I could never stay for Shivasana at the end of the practice. I’d get through all the poses and roll my yoga mat up so I could quickly get to my morning latte.
But last year, something shifted. I was booked to go to a meditation retreat for five days when a book deadline was brought forward by two months. So I emailed my meditation teacher and asked if I could come for a retreat quickie – just for the weekend, instead of for the full five days and this is what my wonderful teacher Joyce Kornblatt wrote:
I very much hope you can commit to the retreat–it would energize and centre you for all you have to manage once home again. Sitting with intolerable anxiety, and finding out it is actually tolerable, and learning more about it, can be a great gift. … do consider that maybe, maybe the very anxieties about coming and/or staying the full five days are waiting to be met and worked with and transformed during the retreat.
What could I say to that? I committed to the five days during which time I did everything, from walking, to eating, to brushing my teeth, really, really slowly. The slower I became, the clearer my thoughts became, the more creative I became, the less anxious I became. And I ‘got it,’ for the first time. That living slowly is the way we come to the things that matter – creativity, intimacy, resilience, and the glory of presence.
I think now of how I feel when people tell me that they have loved my books so much they have ‘read them in three hours,’ and wish I could show them that scene in the movie ‘Reuben Reuben’ where a man boasts at a table that he’s done a speed reading course and has read a tome in an hour. To which the poet replies, ‘I always wished I could read the books I love at a snail’s pace.’
Many years ago, I wanted to lose weight, and after failures with Weight Watchers and other lose-weight-quickly milkshakes and regimes, I undertook to lose the weight over a period of two years. Two years! I could be dead by then. But I did lose it. Bit by painstaking bit.
Recently I went to a naturopath to sort out a health issue. She gave me supplements and an eating plan, which over the slow accretion of months, have lifted my health to a new level. Changing the direction our bodies, our minds and our hearts have been travelling over many years, is like turning a ship around. It’s not a Mario Andretti three-point-turn. It’s more like a Tai-Chi move, only much slower.
In slowness I am finding a new gentle pulse to my life. These days, I don’t order my coffee takeaway. I have it in. I sit, I sip. I look around. I really taste that coffee. In yoga, I am the last to leave, generally when the teacher asks me to, so she can lock up.
Someone told me he’d written a novel in a month while on the treadmill at the gym – a worthy achievement, no doubt. However, I am no longer impressed by pace. I recently read an interview with Helen Garner, who said that she wanted to write ‘quiet, thoughtful books.’ Take me with you, Helen.
And of course the great love of my life, with my husband, has taken eighteen years to brew its particular depth of intimacy. With each round, with the passing of each year, each crisis, each joy, something slowly deepens that feels as solid as the earth’s centre.
So in 2014, my commitment is to do things SLOWLY, a word I once associated with geriatrics and people with problems. Now I see it for the gift of its ponderousness. I am learning the gentleness of a leisurely pace; the joy of taking the scenic route instead of the highway, of being slower to anger, anxiety, jealousy, and feeling overwhelmed.
Each day I recite this prayer by the cartoonist/poet Michael Leunig:
God help us to live slowly
To move simply
To look softly
To allow emptiness
To let the heart create for us
To which I say, Amen. But I say it slowly like this: AAAAAAAMMMMMEEEEEEENNNNNNN.
Joanne Fedler – Women’s Voices
Joanne is the author of six books including the international bestseller Secret Mothers’ Business. During her years as a women’s rights advocate, she was made Asshole of the Month by Hustler magazine (one of her proudest achievements). She is a motivational speaker, writing mentor and facilitator and takes women on writing adventures to Bali and Tuscany with Womens Own Adventures. Joanne can be contacted at: www.joannefedler.com
Life Balance = Exercise. Solitude. Cuddles.