Wednesday, June 16, 2010

S-l-o-w-i-n-g Down...

There is a secret bond between slowness and memory,
between speed and forgetting.

Milan Kundera

Yesterday was a busy day and I was rushed. Many phone calls and emails to return. Writing deadlines. Planning for fall workshops. And all the usual minutia of life. During the afternoon I had a great chat with a Vancouver social worker requesting a workshop and, in following up, I sent her a Speaker's Kit by email. Only I forgot to attach the Kit to the email.

It wasn't a big deal. I recognized that I'd forgotten the attachment the second after I hit the Send button - but it reminded me of Milan Kundera's statement about the relationship between speed and forgetting. Why was I in such a hurry? Where was the emergency? If I had approached the task more slowly, I would have taken half the time in the long run. And I would have saved the social worker the time she spent emailing me back to say that the Kit wasn't there.

David Kuntz reflects on the notion of slowing down in one of my favourite books, Quiet Mind: One-Minute Retreats from a Busy World:

As recently as a generation ago, ...
people lived their lives with a conscious realization of the balance
between slowness and remembering, between speed and forgetting.
They knew that leisure was a necessary part of a balanced life.
They knew that if you moved too fast you were bound to forget something.

We know it too, but only if we stop to recollect it.
Contemporary life does not afford us the intuitive awareness of our forebears.
It is, in fact, counterintuitive to a life in balance.
Unthinking acceptance of our culture's rate of speed is a terrible, yet common error.
These ... bonds must now be noticed with full intention,
and more, shouted from the rooftops.

There are many individuals and organizations now focused on "shouting from the roof tops" about our need to slow down. There are internet sites for Slow Food, Slow Travel, Slow Schools, Slow Living, even Slow Money. In fact, there's a whole Slow Movement born of our very human desire to not only avoid forgetting, but to make a deeper connection with ourselves and our lives. We want time to live life. If we run around at warp speed all day long there is no time for the things that matter - our own mental, physical, and spiritual health; our cherished relationships; our neighbourhoods; our environment; the natural rhythms and seasons of our lives.

There is much to be gained by slowing down but how does one do it? First, I think we have to be willing to give up some of our busyness and to grieve the losses that come in consequence. (Do we really have to go out five nights a week? Do our kids really need to be involved in more than one or two activities? Must we work ten hours of overtime every pay cheque?).

Once we've freed up some time, we can make choices about ways in which to slow down or pause during the day:

1. Breathe. Whenever you notice that you're feeling stressed, pause and take three deep cleansing breaths. And, as a form of prevention, pick a trigger - the ringing of the phone, the opening of a door or cupboard, getting into your car - and use it as a cue to take three more breaths.

1. Make a conscious choice to do less. Cut down your "to do" list to what's really necessary and let go of the rest.

2. Add more space. Schedule more time between tasks and appointments and, if you have to travel, leave earlier to get there so you're not rushed.

3. Disconnect from the electronic world. Shut off your mobile devices for a while. Schedule time away from your computer. It is hard to slow down when you're constantly checking your emails or answering your cell phone.

4. Be present. Practice being mindfully present to what you are doing or whom you're with. If your attention wanders, gently return it to the task or the conversation until you are finished. Notice and appreciate the beauty, the humour, the support and the life around you, whatever you are doing.

5. Spend time in nature. Be mindful of the seasons and the rhythms of the natural world. More than anything, these will teach us a healthy pace of do-ing.

6. Eat more slowly. Take the time to grow some of your own food, if that is possible. Prepare fresh food rather than refined meals whenever you can. Share the preparation with loved ones. And when it comes to actually eating, eat mindfully. Turn off the TV. Set the table attractively. Share the meal with others. Chew each bite sufficiently to actually taste its flavour and appreciate its texture.

7. Move more slowly. Unless you are exercising, walk, cycle and drive more slowly. Notice your surroundings. Your field of attention narrows as your speed increases, and widens as you slow down and that is safer for everyone. Try some walking meditation.

8. Consider slow travel. Engage more fully with the communities you visit. Make a "home base" when on vacation and travel by public transportation or other low-impact modes within a defined area. Visit spots enjoyed by local residents rather than following the guidebooks.

9. Explore slow parenting. Plan less for your children. Allow them to enjoy their childhood and explore the world at their own pace. Read books like Elkind's, The Hurried Child, and Carl Honore's, Under Pressure: Rescuing Our Children From the Culture of Hyper-Parenting.

10. For family caregivers. If you are doing long term, 24/7 caregiving and all this seems totally ridiculous, consider asking everyone you know to sign up on a rota to spend time with your care recipient, or to be available in the house, so that you can at least take a nap or read a book - slowly - undisturbed.

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