Blog, Simplicity

How to slow down: Lessons from an afternoon peeling apples

It only takes some fruit to remember how to slow down

how to slow down apples

I sighed and picked up the 11th apple in a row. Shaking the water off its green, shiny skin, I cursed the unevenness and small size of the fruit. Theatrically, I picked up the peeler and groaned inwardly. This is going to take forever.
I peeled the fresh, crisp skin away from the flesh, bit by bit, adding every piece to the growing pile in front of me. I’d been there 30 minutes already and was only a third of the way through the heavy bag of apples I’d collected, now bobbing away in the sink. I was bored, I was frustrated. I finished peeling and started to chop, slicing away the core. I flung the pieces into the bubbling pan and lethargically turned to grab yet another apple from the washing up bowl.
It hit me. I stopped.

The mindfulness of peeling apples

I felt terrible. In a flash, a sudden realisation descended on me. How dare I be so pig-headed, so ungrateful, peeling a whole bag of free, luscious fruit I’d collected not an hour previously?
Why was I so impatient? Did I have a whole afternoon of important deadlines? Was I supposed to be somewhere else? The answer, of course, was no. I’d dedicated the whole afternoon to foraging and preserving. Of course I had.
I was angry with myself for letting my frustration get the better of me. Inside, truthfully, I entirely appreciated every single apple I’d collected, leaving a lot of fruit on the growing tree to feed birds, insects and other foragers. I think the odd shapes, the knobbles and marks and holes, all add to the beauty of foraged food. True to nature and to itself. Not answering to any shiny, suited, nonsensical EU regulations.
So what had come over me? Why was I trying to rush this task? Where had the impatience risen up from, and what could I do to counter it?

 A meditation on fruit-how to slow down and appreciate the small stuff

We’re used to being told to be impatient. We tut and sigh and roll our eyes in queues. We smack the steering wheel in frustration in a motorway traffic jam and feel our blood pressure rise. We shout at station staff when our train is delayed. We invent technology so that we can watch our favourite TV shows immediately, whenever we want. We send our kids to preschool, to ballet, to football, to art, to elocution, to tennis, to music lessons. We work to deadlines, we work to work, we work to rush around in our spare time. We are told we must expect immediacy. Cars are faster, broadband is fibre-optic, buses run every 3 minutes. Meals are pre-packaged, pre-cooked. Alarms drag us from our slumber to another productivity-filled day. A day where we do everything but feel nothing. A day where we tick off our to-do list but ignore the world in front of our eyes. We want it all now but in our haste, we gather emptiness. We are distracted. We are rushed.
In a society focused on achievement-what do we really achieve?

I closed my eyes. I drew a picture in my mind of the smells, sights and feelings of searching for the apple tree. The texture of the bark when I ran my hand slowly over the gnarled trunk. The cobwebs sticking to the back of my hand. The branches, spreading out a canopy, leaves spread wide to the sky, tendrils of life absorbing the sun’s light, a magical process. The long grass surrounding the roots, bending and rippling across the field in waves as the warm breeze snaked its infinite journey down the valley.

I slowly opened my eyes and smiled. Once again I immersed my hand in the sink of cold water and grabbed a firm, round apple. I let the droplets run, down my arm, cool on my skin. I raised the fruit to eye level and watched the sunlight glint through the window and reflect on the green skin.
I noticed the changing colour of the skin and the weight of the fruit in my hand. A fragile firmness, full of life-giving water, full of sweet reward. I breathed deep, the smell of outdoors, of wisdom. I was grateful. I traced my fingertip over dark brown pockmarks, rough, near the stalk.

I set the apple down and trailed my fingers through the remaining apples in the water, moving them around, feeling them bob against each other, a funny noise as they bounced softly off the sides of the bowl, slight splashes and clear droplets.

I relaxed. I felt joy. I thought about everything that had led to this moment. The life journey of the fruit. The biology, the chemical reactions, the immensity of sun and light and heat and wonder. The sound of leaves rustling.
I found a calm, right there in my kitchen, with my vat of apple sauce bubbling away alongside me. We miss it. It’s so easy to pass glazed eyes over what’s really there. To forget to wonder.

Let yourself be amazed

For some it’s religion. The wonder of creation, the symmetry of the universe, of the world. Love, purpose, direction. For me it’s a more scientific approach but no less wondrous. I lie outdoors and watch and feel very small in our infinite surroundings. But feeling small is no bad thing. I am part of everything and everything is a part of me. It carries on and has carried on for ever. My mind cannot quite comprehend this and yet I feel a deep comfort, a belonging. Call it what you will.

To bring this feeling into everyday life can feel a daunting task. Don’t we need to meditate? To go into a trance? What is mindfulness anyway?
To me, mindfulness is an appreciation of the small stuff. It’s taking the time to think and be in the moment. To practice becoming aware of a deeper level of detail than our busy lives usually allows. To take that little bit of time to use our senses and our minds. To engage in an enthusiastic, childlike sense of wonder.

You can climb a mountain and relax your vision and drink in the sights, touch the rock, millions of years of history beneath your feet. You can sit in a bus stop, feeling the coldness of the metal seats, breathing in smells and hearing the sounds of the road in front of you, watching people travel to here and there. You can listen to a new music album, lying on the floor, with no other distractions, noticing the melodies weaving around each other. You can run in the torrential rain and screaming gales, feeling alive and knowing you are part of a bigger story.

Or, like me, you can begin by peeling an apple.

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