slow is good

Slowing down is the fastest way to get where I want to go

Entering the second full week of the Quarter Gap Year, I’m learning an important lesson: slowing down.

Last week was a heady mix of novels, sleep and sunshine on the one hand, and on the other, bursts of feel-good productivity: a Johns Hopkins online epidemiology course, dozens of articles on managing pandemics, a couple of blog posts written, and a book on the impact of childhood trauma. I can think of worse ways to spend my days; in fact, it’s really wonderful to feel my brain stimulated, pinging off in different directions.

Shakira may have warned us that the hips don’t lie, but for me it’s all about the shoulders. Thursday it was a slight twinge. Friday needed a husband rub. Saturday extra pillows for my neck. By Sunday the battle was lost and I spent all day yesterday (Monday) with my left arm supported, sitting upright on the sofa doing nothing more taxing than TV.

Neck and shoulder issues have plagued me all my adult life. The time I almost had to cancel a holiday (and then spent the first 3 days of it in bed immobile); when I spent a couple of months having to ice my neck pretty much constantly; the frozen shoulder that necessitated opioids and steroids; the countless other times I’ve had to carefully choose my sleeping position to minimize the stress on my neck.

Acupuncture, physical therapy, massage, sports massage, deep tissue massage, osteopathy, pilates, yoga. You name it, I’ve tried it. I even had calcium deposits removed from my shoulders with a very large needle a couple of years ago. I’ll spare you the visuals. Some have helped – deep tissue massage and pilates are stand out stars – others didn’t do a thing – acupuncture and physical therapy were a waste of money (for me).

As good as any of these things are, they treat the symptoms not the cause: Stress. Stress impacts my posture, which strains my muscles, which are then vulnerable to the slightest tweak, leading to a disproportionate strain, which impacts my posture as I try to compensate, and so the cycle continues until I’m in agony.

Meditation isn’t something you do to take you out of your daily life – it’s something you bring into your daily life to cultivate perspective

I’ve found meditation to be the only effective way to treat the cause. In 2017/18 when I was going through undoubtedly the most stressful period of my career, I discovered meditation. Take Five Meditation studio had opened near my office and I’d passed it for a year or more thinking I should drop in. I thought it would offer a bit of peace and quiet – an escape from my daily stress. It did that. But what I came to understand (after a couple of years practice working my way up to 90 minute meditations) is that meditation isn’t something you do to take you out of your daily life – it’s something you bring into your daily life to modulate, help you cope, lower the temperature, and cultivate perspective. Of all the things I’ve tried, it’s had the biggest impact on my wellbeing.

So, for the second week of my Quarter Gap Year, I will be spending more time cross-legged meditating on the floor, less time hunched over a computer at my desk. After five stressful years, the very point of this QGY is to reset, recharge, reinvigorate. Slowing down is the fastest way to get where I want to go.