10/17/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

The Raisin Years: Slowing Down in the Fast Lane

OK, I have to admit. This title is somewhat misleading. As a self-proclaimed new citizen of The Raisin Years, I have not yet learned how to slow down, but considering the benefits, in principle, it seems like a good idea. But, I'm torn. Having spent my entire life as a kind of "Cheetah Girl" I'm afraid that if I start to stop, I'll become a sloth. Well, maybe not. Consider this:

On a slow/fast continuum from 1-10, with 1 being sloth-like and 10 being cheetah-ish, in truth, I probably fall somewhere closer to the wart hog category. To put this in perspective, the cheetah is known to clock in at 70 mph and the sloth only moves when absolutely necessary. By comparison, wart hogs check in at around 30 miles per hour, which, in human terms is pretty darned fast. Think of running a marathon plus 4 extra miles in one hour.

Come to think of it, I'm not quite up to the level of a wart hog, but for a Baby Elder (let's just say I welcomed the arrival of my Medicare card last year), I don't do too badly. I finished the Bolder Boulder 10K race last May in 1:41 minutes. Boulder, Colorado, over a mile high altitude. OK, not that fast, but I was happy just to finish. Next year, I plan to shave a full 10 minutes off that time, by skipping the porta-potty break I took in the middle of the race this year.

I walk fast, drive fast, eat fast, think fast, and read fast. I even sleep fast. I figure I can always sleep when I'm dead, right? It occurs to me however, I should start practicing slowing down, you know, pay some visits to the slow lane, so that I won't totally suck at it when I'm really old. What if I just flirted with slowing down? What harm could it be?

With this in mind, I gave myself a "slowing down" assignment last week. It was an especially beautiful, sunny day, so I decided to take an afternoon hike in a regional wilderness park just north of my home in the Bay Area. Tucked alongside the freeway and in the middle of dense housing, this area is one of my favorite places to escape the urban scene.

Reaching the park, I headed out my usual path, but chose to stay on the low trails instead of climbing the rolling hills. (Climbing would, of course, defeat my purpose, so I took the easier route). An hour later, reaching the turn around point of my hike, I veered off the main trail in order to find a discreet place to visit Mother Nature's porta-potty. Having taken care of business, instead of returning to the main road, I decided to continue down this new path to see what lay ahead. With my bladder now empty, I felt a call to sustain this adventure.

The path was lined with thick vegetation and tall trees. Looking through the trees, I could see a large clearing in the forest. Continuing down the path, I reached a small opening in the vegetation and stood at the edge of the clearing. Quite by accident, I had stumbled upon a wondrous, magical realm. There, in the middle of the urban wilderness, stood a majestic forest cathedral, bisected by a mostly dry creek bed, 20-30 ft. in width.

The beauty of this place and this moment caught my breath. It felt like I was in a sacred sanctuary. Standing still, I looked up to see the tall trees' lacy tops woven together to form a protective cover for the luscious ferns and other vegetation growing at ground level. The dappled sunlight lit up pieces of the earth here and there, but shade dominated this realm. Enormous ferns grew out of tree trunks where they met the earth and the trees stretched their roots above the ground to form a bridge across the creek.

Given last winter's drought, the creek bed was reduced to a mere trickle along its edges. An occasional bird's call and the sound of flapping wings pierced the silence, accompanied by the gentle sound of water slowly trickling over the rocks.

I stood still, paralyzed by the beauty and the magic of this moment. Everything stopped, even my breath. Like a sloth, I didn't want to move. There was nowhere else I needed or wanted to be. Standing there absorbing the beauty of this place, I stepped out of time. In this timeless moment, I saw and felt the unity of all things. There it was all around me: the chaos of the natural world, silently woven into a tapestry of exquisite, perfect order. I felt at one with the trees, rocks, plants, birds, insects, squirrels, leaves, and water. A witness to this sacred scene, I felt humbled and blessed to be given this moment.

So, this is what the slow lane is about, I realized. Sipping and savoring tiny moments, stopping the clock and slipping out of time, feeling my own heart begin to synchronize with the rhythms of nature and being in the presence of the sacred. Not bad learning for a single visit. I can see possibilities here.

And then, the moment ended and time began again. Reluctantly, I headed back to "civilization". I could hear the ever-present music of the freeway in the distance. Back to business as usual, the world full of cars, trucks and the people inside them; barreling towards their destinies at speeds too fast to notice life.

Remembering my assignment, I made a vow that in these Raisin Years, I will carry the memory and the spirit of this forest cathedral inside to remind me of my own true nature and of what really matters. And I will pay more visits to the slow lane. Maybe I'm not ready for permanent residency there yet, but I know there is much more to be learned from this place. Oh yes, did I mention that I'm also a fast learner?