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.
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Picture – detail from a painting by Hebe Wilcock