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beating the great anxiety of haste

Hummingbird, Truful Truful, Araucanía, March 2023

I have achieved slow.

Which is not to say I manage to keep every day to a slow rhythm, or that I would want to, but I look at the week, the diary as it is laid out in front of me, and I see wide open spaces, moments where I may read, write or bake a cake.

Rushing has always been one of my greatest anxieties. I find great solace in calm thinking: in the slow turning over of thoughts in my subconscious while I stare through the window. After dinner, when I was a child, I used to sit on my bedroom windowsill and hide behind the curtain, a space that was both at once small, closed, and wide open to the stars in the night sky. A secret peace.

It’s partly about a sense of well-being, but when I’m running fast, going from one thing to another, I don’t tend to be very productive. I lack focus. There’s a self-trust that somewhere dissipates. It occurs me that I’m supposed to be reading, writing, planning classes, managing my accounts, that I should have washed the clothes, cleaned the fridge out and learnt the Spanish subjunctive. I begin to wonder when it was that I last painted, sang, danced, went out for a coffee or rubbed lavender between the tips of my fingers. Simultaneously, I want to do all and none of the above.

But the mother pokes her head around the door, asks if I want a cup of tea. Shall we drink it outside? The summer sun is shining. Yes. I stop what I’m doing and the cluster of disparate thoughts that have gathered like cobwebs are cleared away. The mother talks and her questions circle the big priorities of life. We don’t speak over one another. There’s no fear of not being listened to. The conversation is spacious. What matters is that it is the two of us being together, sat on a log by our river where the trout swim and the kingfisher dives.

Of course, I’m juggling an intercontinental existence. I read far too much documentation about visas and spend an absurd proportion of my income on flights. I drive both sides of the road, up and down the motorway, house to house, desk to desk and occasionally, when I wake up, it takes me a few moments to work out where I am, which country, which season. Sometimes my weeks are a row of dominoes. To find the space, I have to accept that I might not read or write, that I might not learn a single foreign word, that the washing will have to be done later and that for me to be present I’m going to have to stop the flow of new information.

I don’t like to think what would happen if I hadn’t learnt to carve space into my rhythm for just being. Knowing I must calm my brain, I drive three hours in silence. A song can’t just be all high notes. Fast tempo gives way to the slow. Shall we go out for a coffee, sit and stare out at the lake that has risen so high in my absence? The stove is lit, flames flicker, let’s stay a little longer.

And here I am writing again. Create space and the writing always comes. My desk in Chile looks out towards the cathedral, but only now, with the tree branches bare, can I see the white tower. There’s a winter hummingbird in the blossom of the cherry tree. This is not to say that the tree is yet blossoming, only that a few clusters of flowers seem to have opened early. When I see a hummingbird, I stop.

It’s a choice.