Thursday, 4 August 2016


For a while we lived in Aylesbury.

There we had a mosque and a significant presence of people in the local citizenry from the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

So I saw lots of women out and about dressed in salwar kameez, going about their daily business. Walking along the same street, I noticed that they walked slowly; an unhurried rhythmic grace.

Our house in Aylesbury had a prison at one end of the street and a leafy public garden at the other end. In that garden, I often saw an elderly couple in Muslim dress taking their constitutional afternoon walk. No rush, no power-walking. Just slowly and peacefully.

Once I went to London on the train to hear Thich Nhat Hanh speak. I travelled in to the capital on the regular overground system, then took the tube to the conference hall. As usual, the underground station platforms, stairs, escalators and walkways were crammed with people in a hurry, dodging round each other, edging passed each other, marching along. But I was lucky. I got off the tube train onto a platform where two Buddhist monks in their robes were walking along to the same destination. I fell in behind them. They walked slowly and peacefully, no rush, completely relaxed, no strain or tension in their bodies. And I noticed that where the bulk of the people were constantly stopping and starting, surging ahead then frustrated by the obstacles they presented to each other, these monks kept the same pace – slow enough to give time for others to make way for them without creating turmoil. I think they may even have got there quicker in the end – they certainly got there with less stress.

Reminds me of the gait of Catholic nuns I lived and worked with – neither rush nor delay; a steady, deliberate, mindful pace. Walking with inner calm intact past a vainly ringing telephone on many an occasion. Made me smile.

A slow, low-energy person raised by a high-voltage mother, much of my life has been spent trying to get up to speed. I messed up my adrenals depending on sugar to achieve the necessary pace.

Often, I notice myself trying to do things fast. Shoulders hunched tense, quick as I can, trying to chop the veggies to get them into the pan before the oil overheats, trying to get the washing on the line without keeping people waiting when I’ve promised to drive the car to the store, trying to get done, get ready . . .  I stop breathing. Dizzy and faint at the top of three flights of stairs taking the phone up to my husband, I lean against the wall – and remember to start breathing.

I don’t actually need to do things this fast. My children are grown, I have detached from my mother’s unreachable standards, I have dispensed with almost all possessions, I need little and can work with patience and focus on occupational tasks and duties.

I’m thinking of walking behind a woman in salwar kameez and sandals swaying gently on her way to Aylesbury market. I’m thinking of two Buddhist monks threading peacefully through the rush-hour crowds in the London underground.

Speak softly, People will listen. Take your time, The world will wait.”

I didn’t ever know I did things all of a rush, how anxious and guilty I felt. I didn’t ever know I stopped breathing, hunched my shoulders, created my own emergencies to rescue and deadlines fulfill.

I’m learning to go slowly. I like it better.

*        *        *

Picture – detail from a painting by Hebe Wilcock


Jen KnowingTheLight said...

Yes, I wish I could learn this. I have been forced to live slower and do less, but I have found myself trying to cram more in to the less available time. Which of course leaves me more exhausted.

I have taken to resting during the day, half an hour lying on the bed, no phone, I do allow myself to read a daily devotional, but that's it. Then I spend the rest of the half hour pondering it, or looking out the window, or trying to be here NOW. As it were.

I've just upped it to two of those sessions a day. I hope that in time I will learn to live slower and move slower. I am a lot better now that I am not doing my running. I've taken up tai chi too and that has made a massive difference to the strength of my legs and I am learning to do it s-l-o-w-l-y. A challenge for me, who was always told I do things to fast.

I am trying to slow down and to do things with a focus, rather than multitasking. This too creates an unhurried sense.

also, focusing on my photography, slowly looking around for a good image. Or something to write a small poem about. Both of them are a kind of art practice of mindfulness and gratitude. Sometimes I even give something back> - I rescued a bumblebee off of the path this morning and got him back on a flower. It made me so happy. In the past I would have just trodden on him in my rush to do as many walking laps around the park as possible.

L said...

I feel that way too. I just can't rush. But, oh, do I like to keep on moving. I think so many people despair when they can't keep up with the power walking, when their tight figures give way to the natural contours of aging. But, one has to adapt. The thing that never adapts are the images all around us, ever young & beautiful (but constantly refreshed by fresh crops of humans.) We are just one model and must accept. I have taken to strolling, ambling, trundling. So many nice words for it. I like how you remember the examples of dignity and grace that have appealed to you.

Julie B. said...

What an exquisite painting.

I do the same as you've written, as I think I innately equate quickness with efficiency. And it's not so at all.

My age and body have dictated that I slow down more than ever, though, so being literally unable to hurry at times "helps"...hahaha.

Hugs and prayers winging, dear Ember...

Pen Wilcock said...

Jen ~ Such an interesting comment, and what you say about the bumble bee stands out to me as key - really exciting. That you are engaging with life-force in taking things more slowly. x

L ~ "strolling, ambling, trundling" ~ I love it! x

Julie ~ equating quickness with efficiency ~ yes ~ that's exactly what I fall for! x

Sian said...

A beautiful post, Pen - thank you!

Ros said...

One of the fascinating things about living with the ME/CFS is that my 'fast' is now slower than most people's 'slow'. Going on a Quiet Day, for example, often counts as busyness for me. By the time I've got there, walked to the loo a couple of times and eaten lunch with all those people, I'm about done!

I suspect this gives me a rather odd perspective on life. At the moment, for example, my husband is in Romania, so I am having to fend for myself for two weeks. We got everything ready before he went. He shopped. He put meals for me in the fridge and freezer, so I'd only have to cook a couple of times for myself. But still, there came a point earlier this week when I felt totally frazzled; like I'd lost the plot or something. Everything seemed to be taking forever. Meals had become delayed to the point where I was too hungry to prepare them, making me slower still. And 'all that time on my own when I can do stuff' was turning out to be nothing but an illusion. Rather, in order to cope with the things that matter most, I've had to take even more time for just being. Not writing. Not reading. Just being.

Slowly. Yes. It's important even when we are already slow. Perhaps especially when we are already slow? We delude ourselves otherwise, but the world will wait, I think.

gretchen said...

Just like everyone else, i have spent far too much time rushing about, working hard with shoulders hunched, body tight and tensed. some years ago, though, fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue intervened. for awhile i tried to keep up my former pace, determined not to let physical disability limit me. one day i had a realisation. my chronic conditions were my best teachers. i've been learning from them ever since. it's lovely to go slow, to relax, to take my time and to let go of expectations about how much i 'should' be doing or accomplishing. now in my late 60's, i'm so grateful to fritter, saunter and ramble, spend time reading or praying or simply being silent. a life of reclusion is a great gift, one that i appreciate more with each passing day. may we all give thanks for the example of those who live slowly - the buddhist monks, the cloistered nuns, the friends from other cultures who manage to express ease and serenity in their lives. may we learn from them.

Pen Wilcock said...

Huge internet conections here - talking of going slowly . . . and . . . stopping . . .

But waving to you!


Ganeida said...

Here we speak of *island time* ~ a pace slower than mainlanders are used to & now I do not have to travel so much the mainland exhausts me. Too big, too noisy, too many people, too much rush; too little quiet, too little of green growing things, too little of the time it takes to make real connections. We are going on Saturday for Cait's concert & that will probably do me for a very, very long time.

Pen Wilcock said...

"Island time"; what a telling and beautiful expression. I love it! x

Jenna Caruthers said...

Your description of frenzy reminds me of traffic here in the Metro Washington, D.C., area. :( When I lived 300 miles away, but had to return periodically--it would always get awful about 50 miles out and I wished for a way around it. Folks just seem to mirror out their inner turmoil, don't they?

As to the walking part, it's called poise. As Queen Clarisse says in one of the Princess Diaries movies (2nd one, I think), "Queens don't hurry. We hasten." :) I'm still working to develop that particular inner gyroscope.

Pen Wilcock said...

:0) xx

Lynne Probert said...

Why is it we struggle so much with slowing down? I yearn for the slower pace, but yet when I have those moments I feel like I should be doing more with my time. It's such a war within. Confusing and frustrating for sure. I'm out of practice, I've forgotten how to just be still. I've forgotten how to take my time with things and to enjoy the process. I feel outside pressure to "do something", although I know the pressure is actually coming from within. No one is telling me to hurry. No one is forcing me to do "one more thing". It's all self perpetuated. Sad, that.
It's time for a blessed change. :-)

Pen Wilcock said...

Ha! I know *exactly* what you mean! x