Tag Archives: slowing down

SLOW DOWN and BREATHE


Each week a Write To Be You Reflective Writing Workshop has a different theme.

Yesterday’s group were reminded by a big sign taped to my front door to SLOW DOWN and BREATHE. Sounds easy enough, but can be hard to achieve when you are accustomed to speeding through life. Navigating traffic.  Rushing through ceaseless emails. Skating down supermarket aisles watching the clock. Ending a conversation because you have to move on… to another conversation.  Gulping down food. Forgetting to drink. Forgetting to pee. Skipping meals because time is of the essence. Rushing to work. Rushing to school. Rushing home from work.  Rushing home from school. Are you tired yet?! I am!

The irony is, we lose the essence of time by not savouring it.  All of this urgency to make it through yet another day steals from us the chance to loiter in our lives. To linger in a subtle moment and expand it with our undivided attention.

At the end of yesterday’s workshop, as the group were settling down for their guided mediation, I noticed the UPS driver walking towards my front door.  I could see him through the glass.  I’ve only ever exchanged a pleasant greeting with him and accepted packages. I know nothing of his life, but I don’t envy his schedule. An endless litany of deliveries.

He paused at the sign on the door and left the box at the threshold. In my fantasy, he ambled leisurely back to his truck, listening to the rustle of the wind in the bamboo leaves, becoming aware of the gradual rise and fall of his rib cage, as he too had been reminded to SLOW DOWN and BREATHE.

I encourage you to take a moment to linger. Examine an object you use or pass everyday with little to no thought. Direct your attention to that object and reflect on it and then write about it in detail. Ten minutes is all you need.  So many people can’t manage to slow down, even for ten minutes. Try it! And then try again tomorrow and the next day and the next day.

Breathe deeply as you write.

Who knows, even as I post this, the UPS driver might be signing up to a yoga class. Stretching his body into downward dog. Enjoying the citrusy sting of a lemon on his tongue.

We all need a reminder…

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Golden Goldberg

Natalie Goldberg, for those of you who are unfamiliar, is an extraordinary woman who paints, writes and guides others in their writing practice.  When I was twenty, I discovered her book “Writing Down the Bones” and devoured it.  The experience was delectable.  Her pages were full of wisdom, ideas and permission. While enticing me to write down the bones, she crawled under my skin.  Natalie has written many wonderful books since then, but it was that book that remained with me for years, until I was lucky enough to participate in one of her workshops in Taos, New Mexico in 2010.

The workshop consisted of yoga sessions, writing sessions and enforced silences.  I say ‘enforced’ because while I crave it often, silence does not always come easily to me.  I fill up my space with sound. I love my music. I talk to Lilly (my dog). I bore my husband with daily minutia. I like to chit chat on the phone. I ask my kids too many questions when I pick them up from school. I even talk to myself. All that commotion before anyone else has managed to join the bonanza.

We’ve all heard the saying ‘Silence is Golden’, meaning precious. Sought after. Seductive. Valuable. I’m not sure I fully understood quite how golden silence can be until Natalie Goldberg forced it upon me. Gently. With understanding. She encouraged us to ‘sit’ in silence for luxurious lengths of time.  She instructed us to eat in silence, even if we were feasting next to our best friend (which I was). Instead of filling up the air with words, my tastes buds had a conversation with my food. It was a delightful exchange. She suggested that we walk slowly around the world in silence, and pay close attention to  everything we encountered along the way. And I did.

But silence, like most things shiny, has a darker side. It can be lonely. Frightening. Silence can leave you feeling disconnected. Caught on a broken treadmill endlessly running over unproductive thoughts.  That sort of silence is ‘noisy’.  Tarnished.  The golden glow long since forgotten.

Our task, as writers, as human beings, as learners, is to pay attention to both states. Pay attention to when life gets too fast, too loud. Pay attention to the times we could benefit from pressing mute in order to listen to our breath and not our voices.  Equally, pay attention to when we become locked. Stifled. In need of our volume being turned up.  In need of being heard. Too many of us operate on extremes, missing opportunities to create a more harmonious balance.

I have plenty of lasting memories from that week in Taos, but there is one that stands out from the rest. I was walking back to my bedroom on the first deliciously dark night. Somewhere over Taos mountain there was an electrical storm.  The entire landscape was alive with light — frenetic, neon bolts cracking into the atmosphere, scratching silver zig zags through the blackness. Natalie was walking next to me. Silent. I assumed she would remain wrapped in the meditative moment.  It seemed possible to me that she was the kind of women who could slow walk calmly through Mardi Gras. But then she surprised me, like the best writers do.  She glanced up and caught sight of the spectacular sideshow, and in her broad New York accent, she sliced through the silence with a gloriously, life affirming query.

“What the FUCK is that?” 

I remember smiling. It was that line that leaps out at you from the page of a book when you’re quietly reading at midnight.  It catapults off the page and cartwheels around your brain, reminding you why you love to read. Reminding you why the author is so brilliant.

Golden Goldberg.

And now to you! What is your relationship to silence? Do you want more of it or less? Do you need silence to work or are you more productive with noise around you? Do you have ‘loud’ memories from your childhood or ‘quiet’ ones? Or both?
I won’t talk for a little while… I’ll sit and wait for your words to arrive. I’m ready to listen…

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