BREATHING SPACE

Living life in the slow lane

Sometimes it’s good to be last

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By Marisa Bate on

As I was swimming very slowly last Saturday afternoon behind a nice old lady in my local pool, I suddenly realised that this was possibly the only time all week I hadn’t been hurtling along like an antelope chased by a cheetah. 

Allowing this sweet woman to be my unknowing pacer, I happily spent half an hour in the slow lane, drifting up and down via a steady breast stroke which could be described as somewhere between leisurely and lazy. As we reached each end of the pool, we’d pause, smile and push off. A work out this certainly was not. 

And on we plodded. In the lanes to my right, others lapped us with seamless front crawls and effortless backstroke. They whizzed past us; a sports car to us tractors – sure and steady but oh so slow. 

I was unwinding, my thoughts were unravelling, I was in a rhythm that wasn’t a frenzied by-product of being late or panicked or stressed. I was calm and collected and not being dragged by the incessant tick-tock of the city, but by a friendly old lady who was clearly in no rush

Is this a problem, I momentarily wondered. My pacer/new pal was, I’d guess, a good fifty years my senior. Should I really even be in the slow lane?  Why was I not whizzing past, a watery Chris Froome, in the fast lane, or at least a faster lane than the octogenarian in front of me?

But just before the dread set in entirely, I had another thought. Maybe I was OK in the slow lane, because maybe this was actually a really pleasant pace to breeze along at, and maybe the novelty of not doing something as fast as I humanly could suddenly felt quite revolutionary. 

I was unwinding, my thoughts were unravelling, I was in a rhythm that wasn’t a frenzied by-product of being late or panicked or stressed. I was calm and collected and not being dragged by the incessant tick-tock of the city, but by a friendly old lady who was clearly in no rush. And I realised the joy of not being in a rush. I wasn’t chasing anything, just trundling along, allowing my mind the time to consider things that had been lost to late trains or hanging out washing or making a doctor’s appointment or finishing two books by the end of the week. As we floated up and down, my thoughts floated with us, easily, without panic or dread. 

And I was content; content to be at the back; content to be in the slow lane. Life is so often framed as about being ahead; ahead of the news, ahead of your peers, ahead of your boss, ahead of what you should or shouldn’t be wearing, or what you should or shouldn’t be reading or where you should or shouldn’t be holidaying. Embracing being slow, being at the back, being behind, was completely liberating. 

Who would have guessed that hiding behind a little old lady in my local gym proved to be the most exhilarating experience? I’d stepped off the treadmill and I was going so slowly I barely even noticed. Instead I just was there, stretching limbs, drifting a long, being. 

So if you’re feeling overwrought and out of control and on the edge of being swallowed by that cheetah racing behind you, throw away those mindfulness books and find yourself an old lady and a swimming pool on a Saturday afternoon. 

Switch things up and try life in the slow lane.

@marisajbate

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