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I am no longer the fast walker in our family and it is OK
We were walking as a family and, yet again, I had lagged behind. My son circled back to walk with me, and, rolling his eyes, said, “Come on, Madre! You’re the one who taught us to walk fast!” My response was surprisingly heaped with truth and meaning:
“Bud, I raced through life for the first 50 years. Now I choose to take my time; to look around; to enjoy where I am as I get to where I’m going.”
He rolled his eyes again, but this time with a smile, and zipped ahead to catch up with his sisters, leaving me to process just how much I’ve changed – and not just the speed at which I can cover a city block.
Slowing down has brought spaciousness I didn’t know I needed or wanted
It’s hard to say when these changes started. Perhaps it was during those early, slow days of the pandemic. Perhaps it was when I was in the depths of grief for the loss of my brother. Perhaps it was when the world swung back into action post-pandemic and I felt like I was sprinting to keep up.
Today, I would say that I crave and seek a sense of spaciousness. My lifelong auto-speed, dashing hither and yon, now feels cramped and rushed and confining. I go to great lengths not to feel hurried or rushed. I regularly choose to take the scenic back roads; to leave a little earlier than I must so I can look around – while I’m on my way and when I get there. Slowing down on the way to wherever I am going feels spacious.
Scheduled pauses make any day feel spacious
I also add spaciousness to my days by being more mindful (or trying to be!) of my calendar. I try to cluster bursts of activity – work appointments, classes, meetings, and the like – and to schedule “pauses” between these. It takes more discipline than I would expect to preserve these pauses, but when I do, even my most productive days feel spacious.
These daily pauses are windows of time where I give myself freedom and flexibility. I could sit in a sunbeam. I could read. I could pull weeds. I could talk on the phone. I could catch up on grading. I could write a letter to my mom. I could go for a walk or run an errand. The whole point is that I can do what I want to do. There are no “shoulds” in these pauses. Even when I choose to do something I should get done, the fact that I am choosing to do it makes it feel spacious.
Listening and learning feel spacious
A less logistical way that I add spaciousness to my days is by trying to listen more than I talk. Whether I’m in front of a classroom, or in a spiritual direction session, or in a conversation, listening leads me away from knowing to learning. It’s not that I don’t know anything. It’s that I am more aware of how much I don’t know; of how much I still have to learn. And how much everyone around me can teach me if I slow down and listen. Not knowing feels spacious.
Awareness that change takes time feels spacious
As spaciousness has expanded in my daily life, it feels almost ironic that I often feel most cramped and confined when I am sitting in meditation. Daily I seem to be becoming more aware of the lack of spaciousness that I feel when I am bombarding myself with thoughts and to-do lists and opinions and worries. At this current point in my practice, instead of creating a silent, still space to connect with my spirit and with God, I seem to be receiving the gift of awareness that I also crave spaciousness within.
Lucky for me, I know in the depths of my being that awareness is the first and often most powerful step toward change. The fact that it would have seemed impossible to my very speedy, very effective, very productive 20-something, 30-something, and even 40-something selves that I would one day choose to slow way, way down reassures me. Because when it feels similarly impossible that I will ever find a slower, more spacious internal pace, which recently has been nearly daily, I can trust the steadiness of change that I can neither see nor sense as it happens. This feels spacious.
In the meantime, I will be content as I focus on the beauty all around me as I meander (rather than dash) through my days.
Thank you for reading these weekly essays. I hope they fill a pause in your day with a sense of spaciousness.