One thing at a time

In late spring, I spent several days visiting my dear friends in Charlottesville—they’ve just opened their own bookstore, Over the Moon Bookstore & Artisan Gallery (in Crozet, VA). When I visited, they were in the throes of pre-opening madness—looking over carpentry plans, painting the store, opening accounts with publishers, wondering if they were certifiably crazy. Spending that time with them gave me some invaluable insider tips to opening a bookstore, but some of the most important lessons I learned didn’t dawn on me until recently.

I’ve been neglecting yoga lately. Like, in a terrible way. In a haven’t-gone-for-nearly-two-months way. And I haven’t been listening to my mindful meditation tapes, and I haven’t been eating as well as I know to. Guess what? I’m stressed to the max and my body is achey and tired. I can’t be sure that having taken better care of myself in the last several weeks would’ve prevented this, but I am pretty confident that I’d be coping with my stress in a healthier way if I’d been keeping up with my health routine.

Which brings me to this: last night I was in a panic, staying up way too late to hurriedly fill out forms, to quickly email the bank loan officer, and to speedily brush my teeth so I could get back to the computer to check my messages yet again. I sent an SOS message via Twitter to Laura, one of the Virginia bookstore sisters, hoping to connect with her later in the week for a talk. Almost the second I clicked the “tweet” button, my phone rang. It was Laura, calling to make sure everything was okay. After ten minutes on the phone with her, I felt much calmer and perhaps even ready for bed.

Hearing Laura’s voice reminded me of spending time in her Charlottesville kitchen. The window over the sink looks out to her next door neighbor’s yard. The neighbor, a woman of somewhat indiscernible age, emerged from the house one afternoon while Laura was doing dishes. “Come here!” Laura half-whispered. “Come look at my neighbor.”

The woman moved slowly from her front door to the side of the house, where she carefully extracted some water from her rain barrel and began to water the lush gardens surrounding her home. She moved like a very old, fragile person in terms of her speed (or lack thereof), but she appeared able-bodied and healthy—she was moving this slowly on purpose, not due to aches and pains.

“She moves that slowly all the time,” Laura began to explain. Laura told me how the neighbor works out in the yard even on very hot days, moving deliberately from one task to the next, never rushing, never hurrying, never seeming to miss a step. “It seems like she’s taking forever to get things done,” said Laura, “but then I’ll look up hours later and she’s accomplished so much!” The garden will be fully weeded, the bird feeders will be filled, the house will be clean, etc. This woman is able to accomplish so much by moving slowly, living mindfully, and attempting just one task at a time.

Next time I’m trying to write email, answer the phone, send a text message, brush my teeth, talk to Jim, organize my schedule, and tie my shoes all at the same time, I need to remember that multitasking is not nearly as efficient as it is to take care of one item at a time. Days I remember Laura’s neighbor I remember to breathe.

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