Last year I bought a campervan to live in because I wanted to experience the good and the bad and the real of full time van life. Just because it had long been a dream, and I wanted to give it a go.
I found Sweetcorn, a gorgeous teal blue peugeot, and aranged to pick her up and finalise the purchase on arrival in England. On the day I arrived to drive her away, my heart was in my stomach and my stomach was in my throat and I didn’t know if I was coming or going and what I wanted to do. It felt like such a huge and scary step in my life, and even though I knew that I was a full bodied yes to the experience, the reality was shaking me to my foundations.
Jeni, a beautiful, calm, 60 something year old woman pulled up outside my BnB in the van, and after I had taken her for my first drive and tried out all her special features, we headed inside to complete the purchase.
The bank was causing some delays, and after I had apologised to Jeni for the fourth time, she gently suggested that I calm down, because ‘everything takes the time that it needs to take’.
While waiting on hold for my funds to clear, I asked her why she was so calm? It was really noticeable because this was the middle of 2021, when the rest of the world felt anything but calm.
‘I had a brain aneurysm last year, and when I recovered I had learned that there is nothing else but this moment. We could all be dead in 10 minutes, we just don’t know. So now I move slowly.’
I eventually drove off in Sweetcorn, and found a grocery store to load up on supplies. And then when I came back to the van, she wouldn’t start.
The engine turned but it didn’t catch, and I tried a couple of times but nothing happened.
So, I called Jeni.
‘ Use the key to lock the door and unlock it again, and then try to start her.’
I did and it worked. Sweetcorn started with her diesel roar and I blurted out apologies and thanks.
Then she gave me the first of many gifts of Sweetcorn. ‘This van is going to teach you how to slow down. You have to slow down to her speed or it isn’t going to work for you. You are choosing this life, but that means that you need to find the speed and rythmns of this life as well. Stop pushing, slow down, and notice.’
Our world moves so fast. And we are encouraged and coerced to move at prevailing speed.
Everytime we log on, or turn on the TV, we are told what to think about, what to worry about, and what to care about, and how fast to think, care and worry.
And because we want to be good members of our communities and countries, we are good at fast.
We push ourselves all the time.
We do for the sake of doing, without even being aware that that is what is happening. We care so much and so deeply about the world and our people and the injustices that are being perpetrated that doing seems to be the only solution.
We are trained to be doers, and to simply be (as a human BEing) is foreign to most of us.
I came across a poem by Iain Thomas years ago, and it stuck with me. I’ve come back to it over and over again, because obviously some part of me has been wanting or trying to stop pushing, slow down, and notice for a very long time.
“And every day, the world will drag you by the hand, yelling, “This is important! And this is important! And this is important! You need to worry about this! And this! And this!” And each day, it’s up to you to yank your hand back, put it on your heart and say, “No. This is what’s important.”
It takes vulnerability to admit how slow we really want to be moving, and then even more vulnerability to actually slow down to that speed that we ache for.
And a frequent truth is we don’t really know just how slow we really ache to be moving, because the pushing overrides our natural speed anyway.
Sweetcorn taught me to slow down. Just as Jeni had prophesied, she taught me to stop pushing, to slow down and to notice.
I simply had to. I had no other choice. Living in a small space on wheels is an utterly unique experience and if I hadn’t slown down, I wouldn’t have managed. Or coped. Or thrived.
When I slowed down I noticed just how anxious I was, and how much I push to not feel that anxiety. I noticed that it was so much easier to be a DOing, not a BEing, but when I stopped with the pushing, that was where the magic was.
My time in Sweetcorn is now coming to an end, and to honor her and all that she taught me, I’ve started writing a list of gratitudes and lessons that I have received from a full time life on the road.
Item number 1: I am learning to slow down, not always be in such a massive hurry to get to a destination, and to be more present in very moment. Actually, she has forced me to slow down. To notice the world and not just as it passes me by.
And learning that lesson, I felt so vulnerable, and it pressed up against so many of my responses to life. All of my habitual pushing. My anxiety and my need to push through it so that I don’t have to feel it. My need to feel like I am achieving something, all.the.time.
Which brings me to item number 15 on my list.
15: I have learned that no matter what my next steps are going to be I need them to be fully part of life. I need to be interacting, smelling, hearing, touching, tasting, feeling, orgasming all of life. Without the separation of hurry and rush and doing.
Because that was the gift of my vulnerability in slowing down.
I have become more connected to my body, life, the world around me and how there is actually no separation between myself and life.
I open my van door and the world is there. It rains and everything gets damp and wet and then the roof leaks and I have to deal with it, but then I also get to step outside and feel the rain on my skin and see the way that the little sparrows huddle, and the drops of water glisten on leaves. I wake up and there is no separation between me and the sunrise, and every morning I get to notice that the time that the geese fly overhead gets just a minute or two later every day.
Because slowing down has connected me to life. Which means that every day I get to notice what is important to my heart, and then choose that.
Imperfectly. Because I still push and still try to snowball my anxiety. But underneath it all, I have the gifts of Sweetcorn. And I am deeply grateful for her and them.
So talk to me!? Does slowing down to your true speed feel vulnerable to you as well? And, can you even feel what your true speed is?