Seriously, what’s the rush?

I’m typing this with a cast on my arm. I fell on the stairs a few weeks ago and broke a finger. I was carrying bags in both hands, and hurrying. Don’t hurry on the stairs!

On the injury spectrum, this one is trivial, and I appreciate the cast that’s helping those tiny bones knit back together. But the adjustment to temporary one-handedness is causing me to examine my propensity to lurch headfirst through life, often discontented with the pace of things.

The cast reminds me to be more careful on staircases and sidewalks. Yet I still have the urge—to name just one example—to speedwalk down the hallway in my home. What do I imagine I’ll gain by saving a few seconds in transit?

In bed, I can’t grab the covers when I turn over, the way I like to; grabbing doesn’t work with a cast on. I have to be much more deliberate and slow. This frustrates me—the covers should be where I want them, now!—and my frustration seems a bit misplaced. Isn’t bedtime a time for slowing down? Couldn’t adjusting the covers, calmly and gently, be a transition into sleep?

As I anticipate having the cast removed this week, I’m asking the revolutionary (for me) question: Is rushing ever a good idea? Despite my ingrained hurrying habit, I’m hard-pressed to think of a time when it would be.

How to be satisfied with a lot less chocolate

Break off a very small piece of chocolate.*

Wait… don’t eat it yet!… hold it at a distance and admire its looks. (Especially fun with an engraved bar, like the ones from Dick Taylor.)

Bring it to your nose and inhale.

Now you can put it in your mouth—and let it slowly melt on your tongue. Don’t chew. Ever.

What do you taste? Fruit? What kind—cherries…raisins…citrus?  Floral? Coffee? Smoke? Acidity, bitterness, sweetness? How does the taste change as the chocolate melts—does it get sweeter, more fruity? What’s the texture—buttery, chalky, crumbly?

Enjoy it as it melts away. (No chewing!) The pleasurable sensation will linger. You may not need to chase it with another piece.

You can get a chocolate bar to last for days this way.

Note: Thanks to Jasdeep and the SF Chocolate Meetup for walking 40 of us through the slow chocolate experience at tonight’s tasting.

*This works best with small-batch, artisanal-type chocolate—beans+sugar, no additives. (Mass-produced chocolate is designed for a quick hit, according to Jasdeep.)

Watching The Clock

Yesterday I joined the long line of museumgoers eager to see The Clock before it leaves San Francisco’s Museum of Modern Art (and to enjoy the museum before it closes for expansion). The Clock is a 24-hour video—you stay as long or as briefly as you like—consisting of thousands of film clips, each clip indicating a time of day (2:20, 5:15) that corresponds to the actual time you happen to be watching. So it functions as a clock itself as well as a film.

Sometimes the time is shown on a character’s watch or on a clock face; sometimes it’s mentioned in the dialogue. It’s a marvel of editing by artist Christian Marclay; the clips span movie history, familiar and obscure, and the result is witty and mesmerizing. A character looks up in shock, and the person looking back is from another film. The soundtrack from one clip overlaps into the next, creating unsettling relationships between scenes. You keep watching to see how things will resolve, even though by its nature and structure the “narrative” can’t resolve; it just keeps unfolding. The anxiety of waiting, and of being kept waiting, was one prominent theme during the afternoon chunk that I viewed.

Reflecting about the experience afterward, I thought, yes, we know that clock time dominates our lives. Yet how arbitrary and melodramatic that dominance is!

Worth standing in line for if it comes to an art space near you.

Losing, finding, and mastery

In search of being more grounded while I work, I’ve been trying out a mind-body approach called Somatic Learning. During a daylong workshop on the process, I felt as though years of habitual tension had melted away and areas of chronic pain were finally starting to ease. How long would that newfound ease last, I wondered, back at the keyboard or at the wheel of the car—back in everyday life?

The instructor and developer of the method, Risa Kaparo, addressed this concern toward the end of the workshop. The goal was not, she said, to “get it” the first time and hang on to the experience forever. “You’ll lose it. That’s OK. You know how to find it,” she reassured us. “Losing, and finding, and losing and finding again—that’s how mastery happens.”

As the glow of New Year’s resolutions begins to fade, this seems like a helpful thing to keep in mind.


Ninety minutes of WHAT?

I assisted at a weekend workshop recently. I’m a learning junkie, and part of the fun of assisting is the opportunity to jump into class activities when someone needs a partner for peer coaching.

When there’s more than one assistant, you can’t jump in every time. So the assistants agree ahead of time who will participate during which exercise.

Somehow I didn’t realize that the afternoon activity I’d opted out of would last an hour and a half. Gah! You can’t pass the time by reading a book or a blog or by checking email—it’s important for assistants to be mentally as well as physically present, aware of the mood in the room, and available in case the workshop leaders need anything.

An hour and a half! Of not getting to coach while others are having all the fun. Of not having anything to do, really, except be present (sigh) and wait for the time to pass.

Sounds like some mindfulness might be in order. C’mon, I’ve been on retreats where I spent whole days without reading or talking. I got through that OK.

So I tuned in to what I was experiencing, inside and out. Not to fix it, just to observe. Turmoil! Crushing disappointment! Fear of unending boredom! Envy at the people getting to play!

I rode the waves of emotion. I heard the rumble of the air conditioner and felt the cold air on my skin. I became aware of the pleasant buzz of people interacting. I felt a rush of delight at the intensity of their focus. Disappointment burst back, co-mingling with appreciation for the spirit of the students in the room.

It took a lot of energy to be mindful for 90 minutes! Afterward, I felt encouraged and open and grounded. I keep hearing about the value of bringing attention to my moment-to-moment experience, and I keep not quite knowing how I’m “supposed” to practice it in daily life. I guess that’s how.

It’s interesting to note how hard I work to avoid being bored…or disappointed. It’s useful to know that those feelings don’t have to demolish me.