Back in high school, I was on the cross country team. We would run ‘interval’ trainings, doing a specified pace over a short course and (after a rest) repeating it, to exhaustion. The goal was to hit the exact same time – to the second – each round. At first, it was easy to hit the mark. The challenge was slowing down to get the timing right. In the middle, it became a game hitting the second on the nose. By the end, it was about pushing tired legs and burning lungs hard to get there without going over. We would run in groups with other runners bunched by speed. In my group, I was always the pacer. I had an innate sense of how fast we were going, and always had us in within a second or so of our goal. I took quite a bit of pride in my ability to hit these arbitrary marks, set by coaches with championship dreams dancing across their vision. In a way, I had to take pride in my good timing. I made last place in every single race I ran the first two years.
I only wish I ran, anymore. I make plans to start again, and my shoes sit perpetually by the front door. It is cold here, and starting a running program from scratch when my eyelashes freeze together if I am outside for more than five minutes is a little more than I am willing to deal with at this point. I think my sense of pacing has gone too.
I am not proud of this, and not just because my generation’s demand for instant gratification is grounds for much scorn from our elders. We want what we want now, and fast, and damned if that means there won’t be any for later. I try to pretend I am above all this, but I have been bitten by the gratification bug and at this point the wound is rather infected.
Two things I’ve done recently clued me into how far I have strayed into this way of thinking.
The first is my new exploration of Yoga. I’m taking a class in the Iyengar method, which for the (as I) uninitiated, involves slow movements, a focus on balance and form and posture and breath. It is not, in the traditional American sense of the word, a workout. I do not leave the studio limp and depleted, clutching a Gatorade for dear life. I usually leave feeling limber and peaceful and don’t need to hit the showers before going out in public. After my second class, I mentioned to Peter that I finally understood why I had never been able to ‘do’ Yoga from books. I was always in too much of a hurry:
I examine the instructions and picture for Mountain Pose.
I think, “Ok. You stand up straight with your feet a little apart.”
I stand up straight with my feet in the appropriate position.
I walk back to the book for the next pose.
I don't get much out of it.
I wonder why?
In class, we spend five minutes getting into “Mountain Pose” (which involves a lot more than standing up with your feet apart, I have learned) and return to it several times over the course of evening. We spend lots of time adjusting hands and spines and chins. When I bring these things home I find I am still rushing. It is hard for me, straddling the kitchen rug, to hold a pose for five breaths, much harder to move between poses with the slow deliberation forced on me by the careful pacing of the class. I want to do the thing, have it done and move one. The thing is, I enjoy and get more out of the yoga class than I have yet to manage in the cabin.
The second practicum in pacing has been through pottery class I am taking at a studio in North Pole. I quickly learned that rushing through my hand building projects left me with uneven walls and cracked rims, and more pointedly that not sitting down to think through a multi-stage build would invariably end with a botched creation. Thankfully, glazes are forgiving, but those early lessons were driven home further with my first (comical) attempts to throw. Working with a wheel, I found that speed is the enemy. I discovered through several rapid-fire disasters that trying to shape a bowl too quickly leads to structural weakness and botched form. Even if one slows down enough to start a good form, spinning the wheel too fast, especially once the bowl begins to take shape, flings the walls out with centrifugal force, thinning and weakening them beyond saving. I went through several pounds clay before I had anything resembling a vessel to show for it.
From yoga and clay I am taking very tangible lessons on process. Yoga is a lifelong discipline, with even its most dedicated and renown practitioners constantly honing their own skills. Pottery, being of the arts, is a skill that begins with a fist-sized pinch pot and can build through a lifetime of practice, experimentation and literally hundreds of tons of clay. And clay is a most forgiving medium.
Practices from one part of life bleed into others. I hope that fostering these things that require slowness and patience might help me where I rush and fret and demand. I need to start to walk again, before I try to run. But for now, I’ll be on the kitchen rug, learning to stand with my feet apart, and breathe.