Monday, May 5, 2008

What if we could slow time?

While in Taos, New Mexico, I took part in a two-day workshop put on by Natalie Goldberg, an author whose writing I admire. Natalie has written a number of highly recommended writing books – the most well known being Writing Down the Bones. Her philosophy is simple. Slow down. Anchor yourself in the moment. Then just write. She teaches a regimen of daily timed writing practices. Start with just 10 minutes. Write without stopping. It's like learning to run. Start with something achievable. Discipline.

She also teaches slow walking as a prelude to the writing practice: a method of anchoring the mind in the moment, paying attention to every nuance of walking movement, the shift of balance, roll of the foot, swivel of the hip. Detail.

It reminded me of a book written by Canadian author, Sharon Butala, called Perfection of the Morning, a beautiful memoir about the loneliness of prairie life. Sharon writes that during her regular walks on the prairie, her active mind travelled further than she. She would return home not remembering a single detail of her walk. But once she slowed her mind and kept it clear...once she concentrated on keeping it devoid of thought, then she experienced an increased awareness and perception of her surroundings. Almost a spiritual connection. Delight.

Both women have discovered something important. In our busy lives, our minds are always in motion. Indeed, don't we consider multi-tasking an accomplished art? But resting our mind is as crucial as resting our body. What might we gain by slowing down time instead of living in a hurry?

During our hikes in the desert and through slot canyons, it was easier to keep my mind quiet. The heat and altitude forced me to slow my pace. The sand and rubble underfoot required careful attention. And it was a new landscape, intensely intriguing.

I became conscious of my surroundings; every pebble and every plant, the whorls and swirls on canyon walls, dried elk dung and strange animal tracks. The intensity of colour, stunning geologic formations and variety of birdsong kept my visual and auditory senses heightened. The heat released surprising scents. I became more observant. I noticed detail. I felt truly alive and energized.

What would life be like if I could slow down like this every day? What might I see and discover? How might my writing improve?


Diane said...

Deborah, how extremely fortunate you are to have met Natalie Goldberg. I still use and recommend her Writing Down the Bones. I too was totally smitten and could relate entirely with Sharon Butala's first book as well. My son had bought it for me when it first came out and I couldn't believe someone else felt and behaved in the same way I do/did. I met Sharon twice after that in writing workshops. The other book that I could so openly relate to was Coyote's Morning Cry (by Sharon).

I'm so pleased you've been slowing down to notice the details. I find it allows me to taste, chew and swallow the sweetness of Mother Earth.

Alberta Postcards

Victoria Cummings said...

Deborah - What a great post! You are very lucky to have spent time with Natalie Goldberg. I've always wanted to meet her. I will read Sharon Butala's book. Isn't New Mexico an amazing place? The desert and the colors really touch my heart. I've been slowing down with my horses too recently - I call it Slow Training. There's a "Slow" movement afoot - Slow Food, Slow Medicine. It's the key to enjoying life, I think.

Deborah Carr said...

How interesting Victoria...maybe we are getting fed up. It's so easy to get sucked into the vortex of everyone else's busy, that we need to physically step back and hold up our hands in our own defense. Stop. Slow. Space. Silence.

Another good book is Soul Space: Where God Breaks in, by Jerome Daley.