Friends who know me may well be wondering why on earth Amanda Mouchet is writing about the art of slowing down. These are the same friends who remind me, every now and then, to slow down, take it easy and to erase at least 99 per cent of the contents of my to-do list. A strange concept for “dynamo” me to grasp, until I put my back out this week standing up. Yes, you read that correctly—all I did was stand up from kneeling beside my beehive. No heavy lifting, sporting accident or previous injury. I plain and simply stood up and my body told me that it had had enough … Slow down!
I managed to make it back into the house (dressed in my pink bee suit), bent in half, staring at the floor. I looked so ridiculous I couldn’t help laughing hysterically, and my family simply stared at me and wondered why I had just walked through the front door, walking on my hands and feet like a bear. I knew I had to stop and relax, but didn’t have the skill set to be motionless (there was a reason my mother was forever asking me to just sit still).
My son laid a yoga mat down for me on the living-room floor and I asked him to put a timer on for 30 minutes. Half an hour lying still on a Monday morning, wishing my back out of spasm, felt like an eternity. If I could have squirmed, I would have. I didn’t have time for this. My mind just kept going through the final autumn to-do list in the garden: get bees ready for winter, collect wood, move geraniums, clear out greenhouse, rake leaves, create spiral garden, move horse manure, mow wildflower garden, harvest remaining vegetables, put away garden hoses (all before lunch time). The timer went off. I stood up and hobbled back to the garden, in agonizing pain, to work on winterizing the beehive for the rest of the day. That was Monday and today is Friday. I haven’t moved much in-between. The week has been spent sloth-like in my bed, pondering the art of slowing down.
I googled “meditation for lower back pain,” hoping for a miracle cure. I had to be still (not difficult as I couldn’t move anyway), focus on my breathing and consciously scan my body and check in with every part of it. My body had plenty to tell me, not just my back. In fact, the whole right-hand side of my body was feeling pretty worn out now that I was taking the time to listen to it. Knee pain, shoulder tension, sore hip, swollen hand (bee sting), low blood pressure—you name it—my body had plenty to shout out about.
“Slow down,” my aching body cried, “and take time to check in on me more often. If you had listened to me earlier, you wouldn’t be in the state you are now.”
There are certain bodily functions that are not possible in bed unless you have the assistance of trained nursing staff and some functional bedpans. I had neither, so the next lesson in the art of slowing down was learning how to get from my bed to the bathroom (and back) with slow, conscious movements. Have you ever stopped to think about all the movements required to sit down on a toilet? I hadn’t until this week when every movement had to be thoughtfully executed to avoid sharp pangs of agonizing pain. With slow, gentle steps and the best posture I could muster, I would make my way to the bathroom. Arriving at the toilet, I would pray the seat was down and the lid was up (or I would have to mentally compute and then execute a way for my body to accomplish the simple task of preparing the toilet for use). Turn around (small steps, no twisting), back up to the toilet (small steps, no twisting), brace thighs, engage abdomen and bend knees (slowly, no twisting). With any luck I would find myself centered over the toilet seat and ready to do my business. Phew, what a relief. Wait … how was I meant to reach the toilet paper beautifully hanging by my right arm? It’s a move called the toilet paper twist—very, very, very slowly. Got it. Now to stand up again: brace thighs, engage abdomen and straighten knees.
I have never been so grateful to be standing again after going to the toilet. Forget flushing the toilet. That would mean turning around (very slowly), bending over (very slowly), reaching out to the handle (very slowly), pushing the handle down (very slowly) and then doing it all in reverse just to get back to standing. No, somebody else can flush the toilet this time; I am going over to the sink (very slowly) to wash my hands. Hang on a second … I need to lean over to reach the tap? OK, here goes, very slowly. Ouch, I only wanted a squirt of soap (I shouldn’t have twisted). Relax, it’s OK, your hands are clean now. Stand up straight again, turn towards the hand towel (slowly, no twisting) and dry your hands. I’m done, I’m done, I’m done; thank goodness I can go back to bed now—very, very, very slowly.
The simple day-to-day act of going to the bathroom turned out to be a very complex process when broken down into infinitely small, conscious movements to avoid pain. I had no idea, until I was forced to slow right down.
When I look back over the summer and think of all the hours of work I relentlessly asked my body to do in the garden, day after day, I realize that I have been taking my usually strong and healthy body for granted. Sure, I was able to grow lots of food, but at what price to my body? Imagine if I had taken the time to check in with my body every day this summer. I would have kept stretching every morning instead of rushing out into the garden to start work. Perhaps I wouldn’t have been nursing a back injury this week and pickling beets instead. I have no choice now but to slow down and gently stretch my body back into shape, with the total awareness it deserves. My lesson in the art of slowing down has been learnt. It now needs to be put into practice.
If I only put three things on my to-do list each morning, make time to stretch, and listen to my body, I should be able accomplish everything I set out to do in a day and take care of myself in the process. As for the bees, they have slowed right down for winter and are tucked away warm and cozy, deep inside the beehive until next summer!
Busy as a bee.