I went to a yoga class with a friend the other day. Most yoga classes are yoga for fitness where one holds warrior pose, which is code for a deep lunge, and stays there until their leg muscles are shaking but no one notices because we are all so distracted by our mind numbing boredom. This class was not that. I don’t think I flexed the whole time I was in this dark room that smelled of the essential oils we had rubbed on our chests and necks before the class began. We probably stretched our wrists for the first 20 minutes of class and at first it felt like death to be doing so little, but sometime between the wrist and the foot stretch I found myself really into it.
In her sing-song voice she kept telling us to bring our minds back to the peace of the room and the sensations in our muscles as they stretched. I found myself thinking about what it is to truly relax which was technically breaking the relaxing rules, but I kept wondering about the commitment it takes to find peace in the noise that is our society. We all know we live in a fast paced culture and we have to stop glorifying busyness, but I actually think that's true. I’m always worried about fending off any trace of apathy, there is a lot to do, so many people to see, and a sense of urgency that I feel about life, highlighted by phrases like, “you’ll sleep when you’re dead.” There is a common and well-marketed notion that we only live once, so never stop, live big and take advantage of every little thing you can and only then can you add something to the canvas of history. Part of that is true, but it's also unrealistic.
Last year I spent a week in Paso Robles volunteering at an organic farm. I spent my days picking and bundling thyme and my evenings reading, writing and watching the sunset. It was difficult, particularly in the evenings because I felt the absence of my husband and the clamor of friends to see every night, but mostly I think I felt devoid of the haste. The places to go and things to do that give me a sense of importance, and the satisfaction of doing and living life.
A couple of months later the farmer Barbara was explaining to some of my friends how I came up all tense and productive and accelerated. She said, “you just needed to…” then she took a deep breath out and dropped her arms to her side, and that gesture said it. Apparently she and her husband Bill had some coo going on and never told me, they were purposefully forcing me to slow down, they would tell me there was nothing to do so I would do nothing and once I got used to it, it felt like all the things.
I think our obsession with abundance is actually indicative of most elements in our culture. We’re doing our best to keep up with all of the high volume low depth relationships, items to purchase, uninterrupted entertainment, self marketing, experience collecting race to the good life, when the guy on the farm probably beat us there a long time ago.
I’m in a season of life where I’m feeling some anxiety, which is not a normal characteristic for me. It has to do with more than just my pace of life, but I think what I really need is a breath. I want to run away to some unsustainable reality and gulp for air, wheezing to let my heart catch up to my racing mind, when what I need is to figure out how to slow the whole thing down. I want to release the anxiety of watching runners pass me, to accept being less rapid and less productive, to pursue the real meaning of life, that takes longer but lasts longer and at least it’s real, and it matters.