We live in a fast-paced world. We get caught up in the frantic rush of everyday life. We are more focused on ‘doing’ than we are on ‘being.’ We fall victim to our busy schedules. We think our self-worth depends on the length of our to-do list.
Living fast is like being on a treadmill. It is taxing and repetitive. There is little time for reflection. It feels like we have surrendered control. Everything is programmed. Everything is seemingly indispensable. Everything is important.
Living life too fast has its consequences. They include frequent headaches, anxiety and illness.
Canadian Journalist Carl Honorè, author of the book In Praise of Slowness says,
“We’re so marinated in the culture of speed that we almost fail to notice the toll it takes on every aspect of our lives – on our health, our diet, our work, our relationships, the environment and our community.”
Living slow is about taking time to enjoy the journey; it’s about making a connection with the things you do; it’s about controlling the rhythms of your life.
Living slow doesn’t mean being lazy, or overly relaxed, it just means trying to live your life at the right speed.
We can find inspiration for ‘living slow’ in trees. Wendell Berry captures this idea in his poem A Vision. Here is an excerpt:
If we will have the wisdom to survive,
to stand like slow-growing trees
on a ruined place, renewing, enriching it,
the abundance of this place,
the songs of its people and its birds,
will be health and wisdom and indwelling
light. This is no paradisal dream.
Its hardship is its possibility.
Trees know the value of growing slow. Growing slow prepares them for the harsh extremities of life. It helps them to grow strong.
Henry David Thoreau, in his journal entry for November 5, 1860, writes,
“I am struck by the fact that the more slowly trees grow at first, the sounder they are at the core, and I think that the same is true of human beings. We do not wish to see children precocious, making great strides in their early years like sprouts, producing a soft and perishable timber, but better if they expand slowly at first, as if contending with difficulties, and so are solidified and perfected.”
Erasmus was born in the 15th century. He writes,
“Things that ripen prematurely are wont suddenly to go limp. What grows slowly and steadily can endure.”
If we are to grow strong we need deeper roots to support us. If we are to endure we need the right structures in place. We can’t grow up until we grow down.
What are the benefits of living slow?
1. Living slow allows us to create moments of awareness.
Florence Williams, author of the book The Nature Fix, has studied the benefits of immersing ourselves in nature. She says,
“A quiet stroll through a public park can sharpen your memory, increase your creativity, lower your stress levels, and even counteract negative thought loops.”
Studies have found that if you walk for 90 minutes you can deactivate the part of your brain that’s associated with negative thinking.
I try to walk regularly. I have noticed that when I begin my walk I am often bombarded with an array of thoughts vying for my attention. Each thought seems to think it has a right to be heard regardless of its worth. Some thoughts are intrusive. Some thoughts weigh you down. Some thoughts leave you feeling compromised.
At some point in the walk, peace descends. It is as though the rhythm of walking creates its own calm. There is no longer any urgency to think about anything. It is an open space, an empty room, a vista, free of clutter.
When our mind is still we have a heightened awareness of our environment. Recently, while walking along the O’Keefe Trail I saw a small grey bird perched on a branch of a dead tree. The bird was singing. It was an intricate melody, a delightful trill. I recalled something Maya Angelou wrote,
“A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.”
The little bird didn’t need an audience. He was content to celebrate the grace he had been given. I was simply present.
Annie Dillard gains inspiration for her writing from nature. She understands the importantance of bearing witness. She says,
“Beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will or sense them. The least we can do is try to be there.”
2. Living slow encourages attentiveness and promotes understanding.
The phrase ‘slow reading’ is attributed to the German philosopher Friederich Nietzsche.
Slow reading demands time and practice. It is a discipline that promises much. It assumes we have a love and appreciation of ‘good’ books.
Cornelia Funk knows the value of books. She says,
“Books make time and space meaningless; they give us witty and wise companions; they teach us that our worries and fears are shared by other – and they give us words for what we cannot express.”
A commitment to slow reading requires a belief in its efficacy. We need an acceptance and appreciation of what it offers.
David Mikics is the author of Slow Reading in a Hurried Age. He says,
“Slow reading is an older kind of reading, one that offers real pleasure and understanding: settling down with a book and getting to know it as well as you can.”
Slow reading encourages a sense of wonder, permits exploration of the prominent themes in the book, and makes time for the words to grip and mold the soul.
Slow reading is looking out for what’s small and significant in a book: the details.
In his book The Shallows Nicholas Carr writes,
“In the quiet spaces opened up by the prolonged, undistracted reading of a book, people made their own associations, drew their own inferences and analogies, and fostered their own ideas. They thought deeply as they read deeply.”
Recent work in sociology and psychology has found that there is a link between selfhood and reading slowly. Their research suggests that reading books, a private experience, is an important aspect of coming to know who we are.
Having more self-knowledge not only helps us make better choices, but also helps us understand our reactions to others.
Go Slow, Grow Strong