People talk about the challenge of "getting up to speed"—at its most general, where you try to accelerate and synchronize with things moving around your professional or personal life in order to be more productive, helpful, or aware. There's a positivity to the phrase, with its implications of engagement and action.
But do we have a phrase, equally positive, for the process of disengagement from what's moving around us?
As hard as it is to get up to speed on something, it may be harder sometimes to disengage, let fall the reins of control, and slow down. Yet the benefits may be similar, or at least parallel—and who can doubt that the inability to disengage and break from activity puts us at risk for all kinds of problems.
Just as we need mechanisms to help spur us to action when that's called for, we need mechanisms to break the patterns of activity that can bind us. It's impossible, and decidedly unhelpful, to try to generalize people in this regard since we are unique in our patterns of work and relaxation. Perhaps we can only go so far as to say we all need a pattern of alternation. We all need to know how to slow down.
For me, a fire does it.
It's that simple. Spaces develop when I've managed the situations in my life adequately and I have the opportunity to slow down. Noise—and I have plenty of noise in my life—grows muted, distant. I have wrestled my list of things to do and have it in a choke hold. My phone and internet connection are off, inactive. I have, one by one, closed off the conduits through with busyness reaches me. Nothing needs to be done.
You could say that building a fire as twilight settles on an autumn evening is a poor definition of doing nothing but for me, it's the mechanism that takes me to an open space. Once the fire is lit, in that moment when it catches fully, I am released. My breathing slows down, my mind quiets, and my hands are not compelled to busy themselves with any task, except for occasionally adding a log.
The fire dances and sings, fascinates the eye and the ear, warms the
body, transports the mind. A tumbler with a splash of Islay single malt
helps, overtones of peat smoke in the whisky a descant to the scent of
piñon pine crackling at my feet. I can concentrate on spinning on my
rock under a dome of blue overhead, pale at the horizon and indigo where
a waxing crescent moon is slung, tips tilted eastward. Here is the meditation that slows me down and locates me in the precise moment. Whatever is happening outside this spacetime, and to be sure there is plenty—none of it needs my attention. No distraction penetrates the peace.
Though I warned about generalizing, I figure this much won't hurt: everyone needs to slow down sometimes. This phrase is sufficiently vague and metaphoric that you can interpret it how you like. The key is to stop doing and just be. This implies a temporary emptying of the mental cache we keep—ambitions and responsibilities queued up so that the next one clicks into place as soon as the previous one is completed. It takes effort and intent to create space . in our daily lives, as well as a knowledge and acceptance of the fact that it is not always possible.
But when it is possible—when I see the opportunity to have a fire—I take it. I'm never sorry that I have done so. All my duties can wait, and I'll get up to speed on it all, as life requires me to do. But for now, I'm with the flames in a slow burn.