“Is that an X-wing fighter tattooed on your leg?” enquired the neurologist. “It is!” I exclaimed from my hospital bed. He then confessed to having a Jedi tattoo on his back and described how a Star Wars droid was the ring bearer at his recent wedding. Not to be outdone, I proclaimed my love of all galactic creatures, whether furry or android.
These formalities complete, he asked why I was in the ER. “Well, on Tuesday, I tested COVID-positive, then negative the next day. I had heart palpitations by Friday, and then my left arm went numb.” His eyes widened, “Yup, it’s a good thing you came in.”
Next, the hospital staff tossed around scary words like heart-related COVID complication, atrial fibrillation, and transient ischemic attack. They inserted me into noisy, whirling machines. And at night, I felt like vampires were sneaking in hourly for blood. Apparently, we had a lot to figure out.
Worried, I tried to imagine the time as a much-needed spa stay. Scrambled tofu and fresh fruit arrived for breakfast, in stark contrast to my morning habit of snarfing down a protein bar. I devoured speculative fiction, leaving my devices turned off. After dinner, I mindfully tuned in to the sunset rising across the roofline—no remote was required. By nine o’clock, I was asleep.
In the end, I was sent home without a diagnosis, yet with a wake-up call from the galaxy. I had glimpsed how slyly pandemic life has affected me. Somehow, I had slipped into too much doing and not enough being. It was time to slow down.
Slow Down. Be Snail.
A snail’s speed tops out at about three feet per hour. Their pace is curious, purposeful, and free from frenzy. When possible, they will slip into the trail of another in order to slipstream and conserve energy.
Slow movement is good for humans, too. It reduces joint stress, especially on knees. And going slowly can keep us from twisting ankles or other hazards of moving without focus. Using our body’s energy wisely—rather than adrenalizing for fuel—can also help prevent burnout.
Reflection: Am I engaging in activities merely to feel the energy of doingness? What might I gain by slowing down my footfalls and moving more methodically?
Into practice: Step up mindful walking, yoga nidra, tai chi, or qi gong.
Flow and Float. Be Manatee.
Manatees prefer to float rather than propel themselves. Although they can manage up to 20 miles per hour, they reserve speed for when it is truly needed.
Floating can be a helpful metaphor for managing daily activities, providing us with gentle transitions between rest and activity. We can look for flow states rather than forcing ourselves rigidly into schedules.
Actual floating is excellent for our bodies as well, reducing the adrenaline and cortisol coursing through our bodies and lowering blood pressure. Float therapy combined with sensory deprivation can help cultivate theta states, leading to restorative rest and better sleeping overall.
Reflection: How often do I create unrealistic ideas of what I can accomplish in a day? Where can I find opportunities for flowing and floating?
Into practice: Take long salt baths. Try float tank therapy. Drift in a pool supported by a flotation belt. Or gently hover among the waves of the ocean.
Eat Slowly. Be Sloth.
It’s common to assume to be sloth is to be checked out or disengaged. Yet, these adorable furry ones are conservation experts, needing to munch just a few twigs, leaves, or buds for fuel since they rarely travel over a hundred feet in any day. Sloths also clear away leaves, allowing light to reach lower branches. Plus, their excrement helps fertilize trees, giving back to that which feeds them.
In contrast, many humans tend to eat more than we need, more quickly than is good for us, rarely replenishing the sources that feed us. First, we supersized our diets and industrialized our food systems.
Now, we chew over our laptops, snack while driving, and dine while walking.
As a result, our planet abounds with diet-related health problems, worker exploitation, animal cruelty, food apartheid, and lack of access to nutritious foods. According to the World Health Organization, more than 820 million people globally are hungry.
Reflection: Can I use eating as a way to connect to the earth, unite with others, unplug from my devices, and share with generosity?
Into practice: Adopt mindful eating practices and before- or after-meal prayers. Try intermittent fasting and gardening. Ask your spiritual community to go DefaultVeg. Learn what you can do to bring about food justice.
Stay on Track. Seek the Help of Droids.
Amusingly, I was sent home from the hospital with a lot of technology, including a heart monitor to wear for a full month and a device to administer a home sleep test. In honor of my Jedi neurologist, I cheekily named these devices HRT2D2 and SLP-3-PO.
Then, I considered how I might use technology to avoid slipping back into old habits. I got my step counter back out and bought a smart water bottle that reminds me to hydrate. Next, I set email filters to alert me to important emails and then stopped checking my phone so often. We even procured a handy automatic feeder for our feline roommates so they would stop waking us at 3 a.m. in hopes of food and we could finally sleep through the night.
It turns out while animals are good inspiration for self-care ideas, droids are excellent for helping maintain motivation. And in that insight was a final lesson: Nature and technology need not be diametrically opposed. Each can have a role in helping Earthlings maintain their optimal speed.