Roller Skates and Slow Walking
Pulsing through childhood on the flat concrete sidewalks of New Orleans
metal skates clamped onto our shoes
skate keys slung over our backs on red ribbons
we hunched and pumped, swung our arms
pushing through the steamy air to fly along
rasping sound of metal wheels on cement.
We walked tall on stilts, broke bounce records on our squeaky pogo sticks,
Soon we would be as tall as our mothers, as fast as our big brothers
who rode their fat-tire bikes by us in lordly disdain
On our breaks we guzzled Cokes and Delaware Punch
shared bags of potato chips, licking the salt from our fingers
our small gang of hoppers, shrieking into the dusk, cicadas humming,
family dogs chasing us, until the final game of Hide-and-Seek was over.
The southern night fell fast and dark,
we picked up our skates and went home.
Years later when I was learning Vipassana meditation to gain the benefits of calmness and enjoy the present moment in a reflective way I was practicing slow walking. The retreat was a week long, day after day of 45 minutes of sitting meditation and then 45 minutes of walking meditation. I thought the walking would be easy after the sitting. But as soon as I lifted my foot infinitessimally slowly I wanted to bolt. My body buzzed with memories of the childhood games I had played. Skating and jumping and running seemed trapped in my blood. How I had loved that play. How could I possibly slow down this much? Where was the skate key to unwind the speed?
At that first retreat at Lama Foundation, near the old handbuilt hippie dome, under the watchful eyes of the turtle-like teachers I paced back and forth my heart racing and awaiting the moment of release back up to speed at the end of the 45 minute walking meditation. But gradually as I placed my foot and heard the crunch of the pine needles, and their acrid balsam scent filled my head, I felt I could take another step. My thoughts evaporated, I became the lifting, moving, placing. Reward enough in being in this exact moment. There was no other place or time. I was filled with only those sensations.
Still later I was practicing my slow walking in an arroyo near Mountain Cloud Zen Center in Santa Fe. My body no longer went into twitchy overdrive and I no longer felt like I was going to jump out of my skin. I bowed to the short path of familiar earth, chamisa, red sandstone rocks, the dappled sunlight through juniper and pinyon patterning my path. After a few steps I saw a fuzzy caterpillar beside me and watched it inch along to reach the end of the path before me. I had finally learned slow walking.
I called myself in: home free.