After a good night’s sleep (or a lousy one for that matter), the first thing I do in the morning is plant two feet on the floor and stand up.
When I take a moment to stand there before moving, breathe easy and feel how gravity connects me to the floor, then that feels like the start of a good day.
When instead I just plough forward in a headlong rush across the room, maybe it’s going to be another kind of day. I remember when sports car advertisements bragged about how the latest models, like the Chevrolet Corvette Stingray, could go from zero to sixty miles per hour in less than seven seconds.
In the slow lane
Now they’ve got it down to half that time, which they show in automobile ads that glorify speed and equate power with acceleration. Back then we were racing to the moon, and life in developed countries seemed like a straight shot forward. That was the way to go.
I’m not sure if living like that served me well at the time, and I am quite certain it doesn’t serve me now. When my MS diagnosis stopped me in my tracks and sidelined me for the first time in my life into a slower lane, I suddenly no longer identified so closely with speed as an admirable quality, to the exclusion of virtues I had thought little about, like patience, or equanimity.
In fact, once I got myself into a stress reduction course, and took up its invitation to explore an inner landscape, I turned that zero-to-sixty claim on its head.
A hot rod doesn’t have anything on me. Heck, my nervous system – the engine of my energy – can go zero to sixty in a split second. All you have to do is drop a book behind me in the library, or sneak into my field of vision, and you trigger in me an embarrassingly out-sized startle reflex.
The body as an engine
And as we know, the trouble with the human nervous system is that once it is aroused like that into a full-blown fight-or-flight stress response, it can get caught in the emergency 'On' position.
Even a car shouldn’t be revved up all the time; it would wear out. As I began to practice mindfulness, the question now became: how quickly could I go 'sixty to zero'?
How fast could I reverse the internal processes that revved me up, and bring my system down to a gentle, purring hum? That’s still the question I ask, and the way I think about it, whenever I want to calm down. Slowing down is a practice, in meditation and walking around in daily life.
Which brings us to that moment of getting going in the morning. Woe to me if I do not allow myself that brief interval of a standing meditation.
Fresh in the morning, before thoughts and plans crowd the mind, I sink my full attention down to those feet I rely on to move me forward.
A magnificent machine
I go over the parts like a meticulous auto mechanic, oil can in hand: the hard heel on the floor, the soft ball of the foot designed to roll smoothly forward, ten toes that can clutch the earth, and finally, the whole outline of the magnificent integrated system called the foot.
On mornings when there is no hurry, I allow my first steps to be a walking meditation, and I feel how one side can take up the weight of my whole body before I even lift a foot.
Shifting weight from left to right, I gauge which side feels stronger. How high can I lift a foot today to take a step? Well, that depends.
Servicing my engine
The practice of standing and walking meditation keeps me from getting ahead of myself, and protects me from lurching, stumbling, and falling.
Slowing down does not have to be something that happens to you, that you are stricken with. It can be something you do, with curiosity, and kindness towards yourself.
When I think of time in the slow lane as taking care of myself, whether for a few moments of warm-up in the morning, or during longer periods of fatigue, then I am less likely to heap judgement all over myself and my situation.
Over and over I discover that the way forward is to apply care, like the most devoted pit stop mechanic. It is as if I am the vehicle and the mechanic both, my own little deuce coupe. Like the song says, you don’t know what I got. But I sure do.