The black, rubber platform glides under my feet. I jab the upward arrow on the control panel to speed the surface, forcing my stride to accelerate, my breaths to come more quickly, my heart to pump faster. The view out the window remains unchanged; I’m going nowhere.
There’s a new fitness center in town, and I’ve signed up for a monthly membership. I’d rather walk outside to exercise myself—and my dog—but my resolve dissolves in the gray and wet of winter around here. Even on the coldest, wettest days, I can work out at the gym in short sleeves, and I don’t have to peer through rain-spattered glasses. Plus, the walls of the center are lined with equipment that promises to strengthen my biceps, triceps, quads, and abs in ways that writing doesn’t.
The fitness center’s treadmill takes me back twenty years. Back to another time that I felt I was in a race that went nowhere. Then, I scrambled up a metaphorical treadmill, worried about the pregnant women and babies in my public health nursing caseload and questioning whether I was doing the work I was called to do. At the same time, the pace of life had me, my husband, and our twin son and daughter grasping for a handhold as we juggled jobs, school, soccer practice, the yard, the dog, the mortgage, and the grocery bills. Our response was to step off the speeding conveyor belt and take a family sabbatical in Stehekin, a remote village in Washington’s North Cascades. After two years there, I gained some clarity about achieving a balance between doing and being.
I’ve been writing about that time ever since—essays, blog posts, poems, and a memoir manuscript. Ironically, just as one essay, “Seeking Clearness with Work Transitions,” was published in Friends Journal, I’ve recognized that I’m again moving faster and faster to keep up with life’s demands spinning under my feet. Even though the kids are grown, I’ve retired from nursing, and my husband and I live in a rural, island community only slightly less remote than Stehekin, I again feel that I’m running at top speed, and it’s not the kind of strengthening activity I desire.
It’s no surprise that I’m not the only one scrambling. I’m not the only one who’s succumbed to checking e-mail and social media multiple times each day, seven days a week. I’m not alone in feeling that there’s no longer a time to be truly “off.” And I’m among many people who think that all of this activity will help us be more productive, will get us somewhere.
Writer Pico Iyer has spent much of his life on a quest to “take care of his loved ones, do his job, and hold on to some direction in a madly accelerating world.” In his latest book (at 74 pages, it’s more like a long essay),The Art of Stillness – Adventures in Going Nowhere, Iyer reflects on why so many of us feel desperate to unplug. He suggests that stillness—slowing down, taking stock—can promote creativity and counter the mad rush of modern life. He writes:
“…not many years ago, it was access to information and movement that seemed our greatest luxury; nowadays it’s often freedom from information, the chance to sit still, that feels like the ultimate prize.”
So. Before I check e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, or the news headlines, it’s back to the practices that lead me to stillness—journaling, yoga, meditation. And perhaps the fitness center treadmill will serve as a new metaphor for the pleasures of going nowhere.