Slowing Down

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.)

31 thoughts on “Slowing Down

  1. You reminded me of Macy Gray’s song, ‘Slowly’.
    “But it’s all hurry hurry run run
    there’s no time for this.
    We want more and more,
    got to win, got to score
    so afraid of what we’ll miss”

    To answer your question, I’ve mostly been the kind of person who’s always in a mad rush. But now, my pregnancy is forcing to slow down considerably, and I find that life has become so much simpler and so much more satisfying!

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  2. Your post hit it home for me, I have been thinking on the same lines, I am going through a stressful time at work, have been thinking seriously to quit and just take a break and slow down. I am like a robot, up at 6, pack food for kids by 7, drop them off at 7:30, shower and get dressed and reach work at 9, come back home at 6, take kids to classes, cook, clean and hit the bed by 11. I am starting to resent this off late. The husband has advised me to take it slow and take a break. I am planning a month long trip to India and just spend time with my parents, come back and take care of my health and then, when my mind is made up, look for a consulting opportunity.

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    • Deepa, I now do a job that allows me to work from home, set my own hours, and go in only for certain meetings. It has been such a blessing. Your month long trip to India sounds like just the thing you need to decompress and reassess everything.

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  3. My lunch hour is my alone time. I put on some music(I love walking to music) and walk away. No responding to texts, no taking phone calls. I bring my phone along out of a paranoid sense of “what if my nanny needs to reach me right now!” I just stare at everything, the sun, the trees, other walkers, the changing seasons. It gives me perspective on how inconsequential I am in the grander scheme of things.

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  4. My older neighbours tell me how when they grew up (in the U.S.), people hung out in the front of their homes – porches and frontyards a lot and waved at people, spoke to neighbours, etc.

    Now people hang out inside theirr homes or in their backyards and view connectedness as a liability. Trust suffers as a result. Just sitting in your front porch (most newer homes don’t even have a front porch, only a back patio) would make a difference.

    And yes, I prefer walking to running. It’s better for the knees and joints, it’s better for taking your surroundings in, and no I don’t listen to music or distract myself with electronics while walking.

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    • Yes my older neighbors say the same thing. Where I live used to be all farm land a few decades ago, now it is a bustling economy driven by technology and filled with restless entrepreneurs. I think there are still some parts where people hang out in their front yards. I recently visited Austin for a conference and instead of staying at the hotel with colleagues, rented a home in an old neighborhood with massive trees and wooded yards. Most people had large front porches and used them every evening, sitting in their rockers, talking, and waving to people passing by. I also found a lot more people biking to work. Found the same laid back mind set in some beach towns in Southern CA.

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  5. I feel being busiest is the current trend🙂. sometimes, I wonder where time fly’s by with all the routines that we have set for ourselves. The list of things to achieve, and once done, get onto next one.. that indeed seems endless. I recently met a lady who says, she likes to do personal projects one after the other, if that makes her happy, so be it. Everyone’s idea of taking this break to nurture soul is different. My goal is to be minimalist and I am constantly hunting for ideas in doing something or the other to become better at it. Sometimes, it gets on to me and I take a long break from it.

    This pattern of busyness is more found in my colleagues and friends with kids and people with long working hours including weekends feel like their life gets bit monotonous. It is a very nice thing you are doing for yourself. Walking aimlessly and paying attention to everything around is indeed missing in this current lifestyle for many. I rarely do pay attention, my aim is to catch that next bus or next train and yes, I end up walking for 3 miles everyday for work and sometimes more depending on my other activities.

    I recently received this forward and it shows what human interaction can do. Hope you enjoy reading it.

    **********************************************************************************************************************
    I had spent an hour in the bank with Uncle, as he had to transfer some money. In a small SBI branch in a sleepy area of a small town. I couldn’t resist the urge.

    ”Uncle, why don’t we activate your internet banking?”
    ”Why would I do that?” He asked
    ”Well, then you wont have to spend an hour here for things like transfer. You can even do your shopping online. Everything will be so easy!” I was so excited about initiating him into the world of Net banking.
    He asked ”If I do that, I wont have to step out of the house? I wont have to come to the bank?”
    ”Yes, yes”! I said. I told him how even grocery can be delivered at door now and how amazon delivers everything!

    His answer left me tongue-tied. Our parents, have somewhere found the perfect balance. They enjoy seeing the photos we send them on Whats App but they have not broken their human ties. They have adopted technology on our insistence but not forgotten where it all began.

    He said ”Since I entered this bank today, I have met four of my friends, I have chatted a while with the staff who know me very well by now. My kids are out of town and visit me now and then but this is the company that I need. I like to get ready and come to the bank. I have enough time, it is the physical touch that I crave. Two years back I got sick, very sick. The butcher from whom I buy meat, came to see me and sat by my bedside and cried. The man who comes every month to collect my bills and goes and physically pays them for a nominal charge from me, has only that mean of earning and the only thing that keeps him busy in his retired life. My wife fell down few days back while on her morning walk. My local grocer saw her and immediately got his car to rush her home as he knows where I live. Would I have that ‘human’ touch if everything became online?
    Why would I want everything delivered to me and force me to interact with just my computer?

    I like to know the person that I’m dealing with and not just the ‘seller’ . It creates bonds. Relationships. Does Amazon deliver all this as well?”’
    *************************************************************************************************************************

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      • Thanks Pallavi. It is a bit difficult path and requires one to make difficult decisions in the beginning and when that falls into place.. life becomes much simpler. I kind of implemented that with my clothes. I stopped being impulsive and have seasonal clothes available to pick from my closet, rest of them packed and kept out of sight. It saves my time.

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        • I’ve been doing that too. Packing away seasonal clothes until they are required. There are so many other areas to cover–the kitchen, living room, etc. So many places where we store hoarded items thinking we might need them one day. Initiation into minimalism itself requires some discipline–unless you make time for decluttering, you’ll never feel like you’re ready to go down that path–at least, that’s what my experience has been. I’m being very slow with it… painfully so, but I’m hoping the change will be lasting one.

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  6. Enjoyed reading this post and the vivid descriptions from your walks. You write so well! Don’t remember exactly where but I had gleaned from your previous writing that you live in the Bay Area, CA(?) I do too and I am thankful for the lovely weather that enables even lovelier walks🙂 Although there will be no complaints if there is some rain this year in winter in drought-wrought California (a strong El Nino is in the works, they say). But I digress…I sometimes can make time for short walks during break at work and I listen to the New Yorker fiction podcast on my phone at such times. They are an absolute delight for a person like me who loves literary fiction and who loves to write too. I think someday I might end up head down and feet up in a hedge like those teenage lovers you mentioned if I get too engrossed in listening to the New Yorker stories😛 Another experience I treasure is walking with my infant daughter with her in the stroller. While she takes in the world around her, it seems I discover it anew🙂

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    • I actually live in SFO – love the energy and vibrancy and the amazing variety of offerings in the art/literary/theater scene of the city – yet when I visit quieter towns, I enjoy the peace and quiet. Can’t decide what I want, I guess:)
      Going for a walk with your infant daughter sounds lovely:) Did so many of those nature walks when my kids were little and blogged on it too. Here’s one (although this is more about writing than walking) – https://wordssetmefreee.wordpress.com/2015/05/26/dandelions-then-and-now/
      My friend listens to those podcasts while commuting … maybe I will try them too.
      The drought – yes – I had a lush garden with lots of ferns, hostas, and perennials that love water, now it all looks dry and nearly dead. Sad to see all the colors gone, but gotta do whatever it takes to conserve water. I’m going to re-design the garden to make it drought resistant – add more rocks, shrubs, and ground covers, take away the dead lawn and the thirsty plants.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. This is beautiful Simply beautiful. I walked with you in your neighborhood. Thank you very much for the words!

    I haven’t done any slowing down lately; being a sedentary person, I actually need to move about more. However, am becoming more mindful of the things I do/don’t do, and that helps either way–when you want to be active or when you want to slow down. I’m becoming a better person each day–to myself. I no longer feel hopeless and lethargic all the time.

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  8. I think after reading this nowadays im the laziest person on the planet. I cook minimally and dont really worry about taste and choice if it’s healthy. worst case i feed my kids a smoothie. and toast with peanut butter. I don’t do classes and chauffeuring in the evenings. i try not to. They are both in 2 activities max and i try to get one of them to be music /arts over the internet or v close by. rest they do inschool after school if availabale and they have transport to get home.
    No rush int he morning either . we pack what we can and done. so in all i come home and relax, we dont stress on the extra education classes etc., either, regular academic school is good enough for us.
    till lately i had a babysitter to pick the kids and take them to class if reqd, now they are older and know to limit their activity. no pressure. i decided it’s worth it to spend money for a weekly maid service.
    after dinner, everyone cleans up, one does dishes, one cleans the counters and stove and one puts away stuff while i pack leftovers for lunch, trust me it all takes 15min tops thats it. again laundry is done by all. and takes 15 min. per week.
    so by far , summer is for long walks, alfresco dining, gardening etc., winter is for chai, books, movies and chats… weekly painting at the studio, yoga for my husband, relaxing or playing for kids…
    who knows maybe this life is denying my kids opportunities, when compared with others but then i dont care that much. it is what it is.

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    • Good for you that you are a relaxed person MR.
      My post is not about over-scheduling kids. They have a pretty relaxed schedule and only do activities they enjoy. I’m not one of those “I’m going to make you into a genius” type parent. It is totally up to them what interests they want to pursue.
      My husband does his fair share at home and so do the kids – we all have our respective “jobs” at home.
      My post is more about over-scheduling myself – I tend to take on many things, willingly, and enjoy being active, but must learn to draw the line before it all gets too much. I also tend to be a perfectionist – so my “jobs” can become pretty exacting, I have to learn to let go in more areas I think, be more forgiving.
      It is my own nature that I’m grappling with – the things I want/desire and how they conflict with each other.
      I think I bring a lot of intensity to everything I do, that’s who I am, I can’t become someone else, I can’t turn into Ms. Zen overnight, but I have to learn to set some limits and find some balance.

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  9. Loved this post…! I can so relate to you. I get my fix from doing a variety of things. In terms of what I have done to slow down – not sure if it can be called slowing down, but just over the past two days, I have resolved not to check social media during work time – whatsapp, FB etc. and I feel like my days have become less noisier (mentally and practically!).

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    • I did that last year. Deactivated FB for about 4 months. But then I got more addicted to reading blogs. Argh! It’s time to cut out social media again, as the year ends… I hope to do better this time.🙂

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      • I’ve removed FB from my phone. I don’t want to know who’s honeymooning in Italy or who’s having a baby or why daughters are God’s beautiful creation!:) No whatsapp either – all my relatives are on whatsapp – that’s what made me get out. I don’t check email on my phone anymore. My phone is mostly a phone. I still have to use texting to keep in touch with my son’s aide, teacher, etc. I started setting aside 2 times in the day to check work email (on my computer so I’m bound to a time and space) and once a day to check personal email, each time for a 1/2 hour. The email discipline has really uncluttered my mind somewhat. The blogs …. they’re still a temptation:)

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  10. Good post Priya. Shows how observant you are about the people who cross your path….beautifully captured walk. There is a song/lullaby sung to a baby girl in a old Tamil movie that goes like “sleep now daughter..if you miss this time..you may never get a chance to sleep”. I remember this song from childhood and never expected it to turn out to be true . https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4mKDOiLnD-k

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    • Thank you ansumani. You know my mom says even now … sleep as much as you can. When you get older, you can’t sleep long even if you want to:) She jokes that when we were younger all she wanted was a few extra hours of sleep. Now she says, “we’re retired, our whole day is relaxed, but my body wakes up at 4 am.”

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Hi Priya,

    I agree on the term ‘slowing down’, and when you get older, you feel you cannot slow down as you are busy and dealing with life’s dilemma. At only 26, I’m already seeing this.

    I’m living away from home to pursue my master’s and I do take daily walks which includes and going to class and returning to my townhouse that I live with. Whenever I walk, and at times when I encounter people, I always am surrounded by thoughts and am thinking about life events that had already happened, and things that may happen in the future.

    The area I live consists of things that remind me of certain life events, especially two tragedies that my family personally have faced in the past four weeks and whenever I walk by, I reflect and always get into deep thought. Whenever I walk through the cemetery on my way to class, I can only think of the loss of my cousin’s little boy (whom I call my nephew) after a freak accident. This happened a little over a month ago and I always reflect on that day we had to bury him. Now, along with my nephew, I am also thinking about my uncle, (who is my nephew’s grandfather) who have just passed away a week ago tomorrow. Now whenever I walk through the cemetery, I feel completely awful for my cousin who lost both her son and dad in a 4 week period and always am asking myself why did this happen to her and to my entire family? When I walk by the hospital whenever going to the library close by, I only think that that was the same hospital where my nephew spent the last two days of his life in the PICU. However since I’m a firm believer of angels, I do find comfort that both my uncle and nephew are in a better place where they no longer are suffering.

    Whenever strolling through downtown meeting random people and learning about them and sharing to them about me, I always think how it’s unique to meet and chat with people from different walks of life and your horizons always expand doing this. There’s a old lady I met recently. Whenever I visit the teahouse to do homework and enjoy a nice cup of tea, she is usually there reading the newspaper, and although she has trouble walking, it’s a joy to speak with her. I always feel honored to have bought her a cookie and tea that one time and help her get to where she needs to go, and I always reflect back on other times where I helped random people and had a joy doing it. Whenever I see little children running and laughing, having the most joyous time with their parents, I always think about any potential children I may have in the future and going through the same thing. Last week when I ran into a young Chinese guy and was hovering over his beautiful dog, a Samoyed, I always think about my future dog which I envision to be a Vizsla and a buddy for life. (I love dogs).

    So basically I find that whenever I take a walk, explore or just come into contact with people, I find myself reflecting or thinking of memories of certain things. The things I listed all just recently happened, but I have been doing this for a long time now. In a way, I find that it does take away some stress and pressure from the busy schedule we all have to endure.

    Thanks for posting this. Am glad to read it🙂

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    • J, it was nice reading about your walking experiences. Especially liked the tea house one. I wish I could meet this lady. You could have the most interesting encounters in tea and coffee houses ….
      There is an old coffee shop in my neighborhood that a few devoted people (including me) inhabit and don’t want it to be out run by another Starbucks. I love all old neighborhood stores/eating places run by the same people who’ve lived there forever, sometimes right above the store.
      Yes, it is always lovely to watch children playing. They are so un-self-conscious, so in the moment.

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  12. Good to read your post after long! By nature, I am a procrastinator and a super chilled out person. Never made many lists, I do not have specific goals apart from some basic ones in order to get by through the day. We recently moved back to India (last month!) from the bay area and that was the busiest I have been in a long time. But even then, somehow, mentally I was quite relaxed. And, I did take the time to soak up on my last few days in the country that has been home to me for a decade.
    I went on a stroll in the neighborhood day before yesterday in the new city, and quite aimlessly walked around the apartment complex. I think I have always been a very relaxed person and after being a mom, I have somehow managed to relax even more. As long as my son is in good health, and my parents and hubby and myself in good health, there are very few things that make me want to go fast.

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      • Yup! Been a decade🙂 Excited in parts, I would say. Definitely a plus being able to be close to my mom, and for my son to enjoy the company of his grandparents. But otherwise past 10 years in US were some of the best years of my life. So there is that. Its a mixed bag. Definitely blog material and something to get me out of the blogging break😉

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        • Life is always a mixed bag, when it comes to choices:) Look forward to reading about your experiences moving back. Another blogger (a rush of blood to the head? can’t recall the exact blog name) wrote some pretty interesting posts on the same topic.
          All the best!

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