I spent a month alone in a cottage on Lake Erie last autumn. It was perched atop these cliffs that hung over the water, next to a stream where big, dark trout spent their lives facing the flow. They were like sluggish phantoms at night, their backs glistening from the floodlight by the bridge. Some nights, I’d stand in the middle of that bridge, above the trout, and I’d watch: their slow and subtle adjustments to the flow, to each other. Their silence. Sometimes, if one of them drifted awry, it would heave itself into a more suitable position with a splash, but such wild movements were rare. They swam slowly, the trout, slower than anything Time could catch. Time seemed to miss them somehow, rush over their backs like the water, and so they just hung there, almost motionless, floating in eternity. I wondered what it would be like to float that way, subtle and slow, eternal. I wondered if maybe I already was, and I just couldn’t see it, like the trout couldn’t see themselves.
I’d leave the bridge under a kind of hypnotic spell, and start walking back up the trail through the woods to the cottage. I’d turn off the floodlight for these walks, forcing myself to encounter the dark, and my fear of being alone in it. I’d move slowly, like the trout; the dark wasn’t so scary this way.
But it wasn’t the dark that was scary at all, in fact. The fear came from the inside – the way my mind related to the dark – and my mind was vulnerable to the effects of my body’s velocity. After a few of these walks, I realized that the faster I went, the more terrifying everything seemed. There was a direct correlation. When I rushed, I’d stumble on loose rocks and trip over branches, and the whole world took on the color of malevolence, something out to get me, eat me, end me. But this perception actually had nothing to do with the night. The night was not intrinsically terrifying. It could just as easily be experienced as delightful, seen through a different lens. It was my own speed that was spawning the dis-ease. My body’s burning velocity created an inner environment of agitation perfectly suited for fear, and so it was only natural that fear would blossom there.
Realizing this, I’d slow down. My feet inching along. My arms waving like ribbons in a slow-motion wind. There’d be a little more space within me. Space to just float there, free of my own rapid-fire nightmares. Space for the questions: What am I afraid of, anyway? And who is it that’s afraid? And where is there to hide, if this fear is coming from the inside out? Space to be here. Space to breathe and keep watching.
Then I’d be back in the kitchen, lights on, the darkness forgotten again, bustling about at higher speeds. But the trout. They were still out there, slow and floating. I bet they still are, each one a living lesson in the serenity of slowness.