Of course it doesn’t look slow from the outside. I am doing this, doing that. Go, go, go. C. told me last night that he actually gets angry at how much I do, at how – he insinuated – I can’t slow down. Partly, I hope, he’s indicating some protection for me, some desire to care for me. But his anger registers something else, too. Disgruntlement? Fatigue? It’s scary to me in part because he does not use words lightly, so “angry” means quite a lot. But also because it means that he cannot see what is going on inside of me.
He can’t see the ways that Life keeps shooting off a pinball that gets stuck in one chute and meanders down another, missing this button and rolling around that 500-point pad … slllowwllly. That’s how it feels inside of me.
Sometimes the System-wide slow down is the choice at hand. It hasn’t crashed, but it’s forewarned you that it could and – listen carefully! – you’d best back it all up!
Right now, I’d say that at least 50% of the slowing down that I asked for and aimed myself toward this year is coming from System Overload. Just like my laptop, which has been acting as oddly as my 90-year old grandmother. She recently had a series of small heart attacks and has been making missteps – nothing overly alarming, just little indications that, “Sorry, The System can’t do any more.” I know that this is not the ideal way in which one would like to create her slow down. One imagines islands and gazing at the horizon line. One imagines daily 5:30 am meditation. One imagines birdsong and the time to hear it. But sometimes the System-wide slow down is the choice at hand. It hasn’t crashed, but it’s forewarned you that it could and – listen carefully! – you’d best back it all up!
I’ve done System Overload before and, relatively speaking, this is a mild case. There has been a tic in my eyebrow that stayed for weeks. Or the time I was driving home from the store – a store I’d been to thousands of times in the town where I grew up – and couldn’t remember where I was. There was the time in NYC when I couldn’t breathe and had my friend google “losing your mind.” It took her about 4 minutes of search time to turn to me with a worried expression and a diagnosis: Panic attack.
And I know what to do to ease the system. This week it’s been daily yoga. And I am still reading Pico Iyer’s book about the Dalai Lama, which is a great opportunity to see example after example of what living a life of daily practice can do for a person. Amazing intellectual focus, humility and grace under pressure, the ability to literally slow one’s heart — all the bounty of ongoing meditation practice. And yet, instead, we do our crazy dance of kids and work, of texting and Facebooking, of sorting laundry and turning our pockets inside out to buy the cat a bag of food. Then all of a sudden we realize we’re not breathing: Holy shit. I’m not breathing!
Bryan Kest has a take on this that always makes me smile. In the midst of an intense one-armed plank when half the class is shaking and he’s challenging folks to let their egos go and put a leg down, he chastises, “What? You think by staying up you’re progress?” (He practically spits the word in disgust.) “Progressing toward what? Have you ever seen someone’s eyesight get better as they get older? Do they have more muscle at 60? Smoother skin? Is their memory better?” Ok, you might be able to scrape up a few Jack Lalanne counter arguments, but mainly as you’re balancing on your right arm and stretching with your left, you think, “The guy’s got a point.” Progress is, in some ways, accepting the breaking of the seams, the loosening of the threads, the inevitable falling apart. When you have acceptance of that, you’ve progressed.
I’m sitting in the library, listening to two men in threadbare coats, a swarm of plastic bags at their feet, talk about a friend who fell off his bicycle while driving drunk. Another guy is reading a gardening magazine and stopping every every few minutes to take a photo with his phone out of the darkened window; I imagine a series of dark teal rectangles. There’s a slowness here in the library reading area that is fortifying. Its people are in no hurry. From this vantage point, the families who come traipsing-trotting-falling from the Children’s Room are comical, their harried air a direct contradiction to the mood in the reading area. From my red faux leather chair, I can smell the clove cigarettes and whiff of liquor from the conversing men. Someone snores from the corner. The camera clicks into the night. No one is rushing. Sitting here, I can feel the pinball inside of me not just miss its chute and stumble, but come to an actual resting place – a little nook of stillness. I should come here more often.