Guest Post by wordssetmefreee
Do you feel you are “always on the go”? As soon as you finish one list, another one appears? I feel like I’m running all the time these days and I need to stop. It’s not that I don’t prioritize. I do the most important things on any list and let many things go. The problem is that there are too many lists. I don’t know which one to let go. There’s lists of things to do for work, home, kids – all the necessities to make a living and run a home and get basic meals on the table. The dishes keep coming and coming – they seem to take a life of their own when you have 2 teenage boys with voracious appetites. There’s all the fun lists – books I want to read, hills I want to hike up, pictures I want to paint. There are kids’ lists that are partly fun (cheering them from the sidelines) and partly work (the endless driving, the immature phases).
There are good friends. Not giving time to friendship makes it wither away. Since the people I can genuinely connect with are fewer, I feel like I must treasure those relationships, give them time and interest. There is writing – which sometimes feels like a fundamental need – it’s this need to express myself and explore my feelings until I come face to face with who I really am or who I’m becoming. And yet, I’ve been neglecting it lately. There is the support group. I want to help, I really do, I find it immensely rewarding to help someone get over a hump or watch them take control. But I must also learn to draw the line and say, look I need my space and time, I can only give so much, I can’t get drained. There is Ryan’s autism. A journey that is both challenging and rewarding, frustrating and exhilarating. And then there is marriage – with all it’s complications and nuances. Even when both people are decent human beings, they must work at their relationship, because they are evolving/growing and must either grow together or grow apart.
And so, I’ve been thinking about slowing down lately. I’ve been thinking about it a lot. I was not sure how to. I love all my activities. I’m wired to be active. I take on a lot willingly. Pretty soon, I end up biting off way more than I can chew. Lately, I’ve been longing for a break – empty space, if you will.
I started thinking about walking. I’m a runner and I thought – why not try to literally slow down. What is it like to just walk? With no destination in mind? Where I can pretend to be, if only for a few minutes, a child, free of responsibilities and ambitions, free of accomplishments and setbacks, free of history and introspection, full of lazy curiosity, aimlessly going whereever my legs take me?
Long before people consciously exercised, they walked. From one village to another to sell their produce. To the river to fetch water. To buy groceries at the corner store down the street. I wonder if these people ever enjoyed their walks in the way we do in modern times. Did they notice the blue sky above and take grateful breaths of the fresh air?
My father often told us many anecdotes from his childhood (he had a most interesting one) and one of them was about him and his brother once deciding to walk to the next town in search of a girl. She had come to their village for a festival and they were enamored of her. They decided to go to her house and say hello and pretend they were “just passing by”. They set out early one morning, when their mother was out of town, skipped school, and loaded their pockets with some rare coins to impress her.
I don’t quite remember how that story ended. Just imagine the freedom of simply dropping everything (school/job/kids) and deciding to go walking to the next town. They probably sweated in the sun and got dusty and tired. Maybe they did not realize that this simple freedom to follow a whim was a luxury in itself.
I tried to bring up the subject of walking with my hiking friends and they launched into a discussion of which app is the best for tracking miles and setting goals.
Most people I now know take their fitness seriously. I have friends who work long hours and still hit the gym at 9 pm. Perhaps we take fitness too seriously, in modern times? Or perhaps it is the physical part of fitness that draws most of our interest and energy. I wonder sometimes. In a recent conversation at my book club, one woman was talking about taking up mountain biking. Others joined in sharing their own “pushing yourself to the limit” adventures. The women in the group range from those in their 30s through their 50s.
I think it’s wonderful that older women are more into fitness and strength training now. Physical fitness does translate to more confidence and self-reliance. It is also a positive thing that many of us (women 30s and beyond who in the past dedicated themselves to the needs of others) now set aside time to focus on ourselves.
Although I agreed with most things that were being said, there was this nagging thought at the back of my head. What about the forgotten habit of walking – something people took for granted in the past, and something most people don’t seem to have the time for these days. Maybe I should call it strolling. It is not exercise. It has a gentle pace. It is simply going from one place to another using your legs.
Remember my thought about LITERALLY slowing down? So one day, in the evening, after all the work was done, (and especially the dishes done, so the kitchen’s clean and welcoming for making coffee the next morning!), my work email cleaned up, and the kids’ homework was done, I went for a walk at this small lake (a large pond really) in my neighborhood.
And all of summer, I’ve been going for this lovely aimless walk.
I don’t take my phone and have no way of telling the time. I do not count the miles or the rounds. I just …. walk.
There is something different about walking in the evening. I usually go running early in the morning when the weather is cooler and I can enjoy nature’s beauty and silence.
But in these summer turning to fall evenings, I notice the people more. I see people winding up their dinner, chatting with each other at kitchen windows, the smell of their cooking still in the air, even after they’d eaten it.
From a little corner house, there are always the sounds of piano at a certain time – beautiful notes floating out of the window and drifting away into the trees and beyond. I love passing by the piano house. After a few walks I realize who it is that’s playing so beautifully. It is Leanne, a girl in my older son’s class from kindergarten – she is gifted in music and has given many performances at school. I remember coming here and talking to her mom about some PTA meeting. Leanne also has a singing voice that would make your eyes moist with pure joy. Oh, she must be a teenager now, I think, passing her house.
There is an old Chinese man, probably in his 80s who walks determinedly everyday, his back slightly bent, but his chin up, looking straight ahead. He has a slight limp and uses a walking stick. The interesting thing about him is – he is both determined and relaxed, at once, both purposeful and calm. And somehow I can’t help feeling inspired when I see him. I too should toss aside all my aches and pains, my sciatica and my RLS, my troubles at work and home, push my chin up and just walk, I tell myself.
There is a teenage couple who usually stroll, completely absorbed in each other. One day, as they walk even more aimlessly than me, or rather glide, looking into each other’s eyes, they go straight into a hedge and fall rather awkwardly. I try to stop laughing but can’t. They sheepishly join in my laughter without getting up. I try to think what it is like to be 16 again and your whole life awaits you – an uneven bundle of hopes, promises, adventures, experiences, mistakes, learning, friendships, possibilities, all tied together clumsily with the impatient hands of youth ……. But wait, I tell myself, that is still possible. At any age. Even if my adventures are a little time bound, and they happen around ponds rather than lakes, I can still try new things, still enjoy the unexpected.
I run into my irritable, opinionated neighbor Patrick who somehow manages to have a hearty wave for me when we pass each other while walking. Patrick is so handy, he cleans his own roof, repairs the plumbing, fixes his car, and messes with his lawn mower – all this at age 75 or so. He often gives me advice – how I should’ve bought the other car, the one with the better gas mileage, or we should’ve opted for a different sprinkler system, or why our fence needs fixing before it comes crashing down on him. I would wonder if Patrick could ever talk to me without giving advice. But after living next to him for over a decade, I know that this is just how he talks. It is part of him. I nod and let it go. He’s been a helpful neighbor in many ways. Why is Patrick smiling on his walk, I wonder. He seems transformed. And I think of all his helpfulness over the years, as I wave back to him, saluting our up-and-down-but-overall-pleasant neighborly relationship.
I run into Indian parents visiting their children here and nod or smile to them. I run into people with dogs, especially the blonde lady with the golden retriever. Oh what fun it is to watch her toss a ball and see the dog leap into the air to catch it! They have a strange resemblance – the lady and the dog – longish, pleasant faces, golden wavy hair, warm energetic personalities. Another strangely similar human dog couple is a quiet bulldog and a short, squarish man who walks him with a tight expression.
And finally, as I round the corner leading back to my house, I hear the familiar thump. The thump of basketball from the lone player who comes after dark, after all the teenagers have left. She practices alone. I watch her wield the ball expertly and toss it in one smooth motion into the hoop – in that instant it feels as if the ball and her are indistinguishable, flowing as a single wave of energy.
I come home with a lightness. A subtle glow. I haven’t really talked to a single person on my walk but why do I feel so connected? I no longer have a clue what I need to be worried about for the next day, what problems need solving, which people are depending on me to deliver, and who needs which report ASAP. The entire walk feels like one long deep breath, a huge letting go of a lot of things building up, weighing me down, crowding my mind. It’s a wonderful feeling of just being. I know it’s temporary but it’s all I’ve got.
How about you? Have you tried to slow down? Have you gone for a stroll lately? What do you see? What do you hear? How does the walking make you feel? If not walking, what new slowing down experience(s) have you been up to lately? Please share how it’s going.
(P.S. This post was written about a month ago when we had the last of those long summer evenings with late sunsets. Now in October, it gets darker earlier and I don’t see as many neighbors any more. Soon, the wind will pick up, temperatures will drop, and most people will stay indoors at this time of the day. But I think I’ll continue walking. The stars will keep me company.)