Notes on Pacing, Part 1: The Virtue of the Turtle

Said a Hare to a Tortoise, “Good Sir, what a while you have been only crossing the way; why, I really believe that to go half a mile, you must travel two nights and one day!”

-The Tortoise and The Hare, Aesop (JBR Collection)


They call it ‘box-breathing’: a series of hold-and-release breathing exercises employed by The United States combat troops in active battle zones. It is designed to slow the rate of one’s heartbeat to an acceptable level, allowing the soldier to retain focus, critical thinking skills, and to avoid hyperventilation as hot lead shreds the air around them, and munitions rain down hellfire from all sides. As the soldier’s heart rate slows, their breathing stabilises, their vision focuses, and their trigger finger doesn’t quiver quite so much. They have avoided panic, and now, they can address the problem at hand. This form of calculated articulation in breathing can be found in many combat and non-combat sports as well. In Brazilian Jiu-Jujitsu, which, to respectfully generalise, imitates the actions of a constrictor, focusing its core teachings on entrapment and suffocation techniques against another opponent, often from a prone position (many fights between individuals devolve into ground brawls). As a practitioner envelops his opponent, each consecutive breath out the opponent takes allows the Jiujiteiro to increase their leverage or to tighten their hold until the opponent is rendered completely immobile, or is neutralised through suffocation. There’s an old adage, “If you’re wrestling with someone, and that person begins to breathe very slowly and steadily instead of getting worked up, then you’re in trouble.” There are journey’s of a day, and journeys of a thousand miles. Each begins with a single step, but each demands different preparations. In our careers as Artists, it is often difficult to discern the forest for the trees. We are so very focused on the here and now, the task, or project, or hardship right in front of us, that it is very easy to forget to take a step back and to look at the larger shape of the work which we would like to do. Because there is a shape which begins to assert itself over time. It is a steady accretion of everything you have ever experienced, and have ever dreamed. It is the thankless hours of study, preparation, and diligence which you have dedicated to your craft, or even to a specific task, which ultimately determines the degree of skill and clarity with which you can approach your work. There’s a funny story about Picasso, which is likely apocryphal, but plenty of funny stories are; A Man at a bar recognises the barfly next to him as the great Picasso, a living legend at the height of his powers. Turning to the painter, the Man asks, with no small amount of approbation in his voice: “Excuse me, sir. But would you mind so terribly scribbling something on this napkin for my wife? Anything at all, she’s a huge fan.” The painter smiles and pulls a pencil from behind his ear, hurriedly tracing an outline of the Man on a cocktail napkin, before signing it with a magnificent, whirling gesture, and presenting it to the Man. “Five million dollars, please.” Picasso sips his Sazerac while the Man, stunned, catches his breath. “But it’s just a scribble on a

napkin!” The Man exclaims, flummoxed. Picasso lights a cigarette, drawing a long plume of smoke into his lungs before slowly releasing it in a billow of perfumed Turkish tobacco, the image of some Wiseman of Antiquity. “Yes,” smiles the Painter, “and it only took me fifty years to be able to do it.” There is nothing that cannot be benefited by sometimes taking the long view. Slow down. The journey is half the point. Once the destination is reached, everything else is anti-climax. In Art, as in life, we must at times proceed with clarity and alacrity, but let us never proceed in unconsidered haste.

“Thus plain plodding people, we often shall find, will leave hasty confident people behind.”