What is the slow living movement?
We are all so socialised to be busy or risk being called lazy that many of us struggle with the idea that it’s OK to take a moment to enjoy being alive, appreciate the wonderful things we have achieved and dream of the things we still want to do. While we know we should learn to relax for the sake of our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health, very few of us actually manage to do it. The pressure to be somewhere or be doing something is constant and seems to be embedded in our psyche. So much so that if we can’t account for our time, or if we aren’t doing something productive, we can often feel guilty.
What’s more, if we don’t fill each and every moment of the day with activity, friends and commitments, there’s the fear that we’re not living a full life. We can feel that we’re not doing enough with our life and that we may not measure up.
Rushing around has a negative impact on emotional, physical and spiritual life. It dampens moments of joy and pleasure and can create feelings of guilt and anxiety during those precious times when you may actually have a few hours without the pressure of a deadline or appointment. Relationships can and do suffer, and for those who are single, it can seem like there are no opportunities to meet someone to share your life with. Being too busy also dulls creativity and productivity, leaving you burnt out and unenthusiastic.
Coming out of Slow Food, a movement born in Italy in the late ’80s, Slow Living is a response to all those things; a resistance to the pressure that you must do everything in a hurry and fill your days with activities that serve little purpose. It’s about taking the time to enjoy life and the people you share it with. It’s about spending time with family and friends and pursuing hobbies that both stimulate and relax, such as yoga, gardening or reading. It’s about rediscovering the rhythms of life and experiencing the people, places and events that are usually a blur as you rush from one must-do task to another.
Less a formal movement and more a philosophy of life, Slow Living is manifesting in lots of ways across the globe, from Slow Food, Slow Cities and Slow Sex in Italy to Slow Life in Japan. "Despite the name, it is not about slowing the whole world down to a crawl," says Carl Honore, author of the book In Praise of Slow. "The aim is to do everything at the right speed. Sometimes fast. Sometimes slow. Sometimes in between. Being slow means taking the time to get the most out of life. It means never hurrying for the sake of it."
Slow Living, then, according to Honore, is all about "living deliberately" rather than "sailing through life on automatic pilot". By applying the appropriate time frame to the appropriate activities, you can slow down for the important moments and still get the "business" of life tasks done.
For 33-year-old teacher, Ashley, illness was the catalyst for her to seriously address the issue of how she lived her life. "I was constantly in motion," she says of the busy life she led only a few short months ago. "If I wasn’t working, I was out with friends. If I wasn’t out with friends, I was doing family stuff. I didn’t have a moment to myself, but I also didn’t realise how much I needed to find that time."
While Ashley was forced to make changes to repair the damage fatigue and stress had wrought on her immune system, she believes the impact of slowing down has also benefited her emotional and spiritual life. She has better relationships and has taken control of her life and career. "I know a bit more about myself now," she says. "I know what I need and what I don’t need in my life. I have different priorities and I’m happier than I was." She also realises just how much she missed by being too busy.
When you simply exist, you do not have a fully sensory experience of life. How often have you eaten and not taken the time to bend towards your plate and smell the meal you’ve prepared? How often have you been in conversation, only to have your thoughts drift to your next appointment or the next day’s plans? How often have you spent time "relaxing" in a hot scented bath worrying about the things you’ve yet to do in your day instead of enjoying the sensation of the water against your body, the smell of the oils perfuming the heated air or the feel of the loofah against your skin?
Taking time to experience life, to find pleasure, solitude or stimulation, are all things Slow Living embraces. While there will be times when the pressure is on and there are deadlines to meet, there must also be time for living. In his book, Honore recounts the moment when he realised he was taking things too far: "My wake-up call came when I found myself toying with the idea of buying a collection of ‘One-Minute Bedtime Stories’." Our obsession with speed, says Honore, means we are giving away precious times with family and friends in order to cut corners and get more things done. "Living fast," he explains, "is not really living at all."
There are always things that need to be done: the grocery shopping, household chores, bill paying, day-to-day housekeeping and employment by which to provide yourself and your family with shelter, food and clothing. All these things are necessary in Western society, and in some countries we are fortunate enough to be able to have them provided via welfare if we fall on hard times. To begin to slow down, though, you must learn to prioritise those things that are necessary against those things that are not.
You need to learn to be able to say no and to recognise what is important to you and what is extraneous. Slow Living isn’t about doing everything at snail’s pace; it’s about giving weight, time and urgency to those things that require it and relinquishing those things that just cause you anxiety. There are many things in life you imagine you must do, you feel you ought to do and you think you should want to do. All these activities leave you with less time to do what you want to do and they cloud your living with negative emotions. There is no point joining a gym if you’d much rather take a walk to your local park; nor is there any point attending every work function in the year if it means missing out on time with loved ones. There can be a balance; it’s just a matter of discovering how to achieve it.
Few of us have the ability to say no, whether to colleagues, friends or family. You can end up burdening yourself with promises and activities you’d rather not be involved with and that take up not only time but also physical and emotional energy. Doing things you don’t want to do can make you feel resentful and cranky while you think about what you’d rather be doing instead. Of course, there are times when you want to help out, take up the slack or fill in for someone else, but when you really don’t want to, you need to learn to say no – and not feel bad about it.
There are numerous reasons why many of us can’t say no. Guilt is common, as is the fear of retribution or being disliked. Yet no doesn’t have to mean never; nor does it have to be a slap in the face for the person doing the asking. Saying no politely is the first step to assuaging your guilt and not burning your bridges – but don’t be tempted to offer a reason. An excuse is an invitation for the person doing the asking to argue with you or try to persuade you to change your mind. If, however, you know the person asking won’t let you off easily, be prepared. If you don’t want to swap shifts but are happy to do it another time, say it’s not convenient this time but to ask again. If you don’t want to go somewhere because it isn’t your scene, you’re tired or you’d like a night in, it’s all right to say so.
Breathing is one of the easiest and most immediate ways of slowing down. Breathing deeply and slowly will have an instant effect on your heart rate and your physical movement. Sit down on the floor or on a cushion with your legs loosely crossed and your hands resting in your lap or on your knees. Keep your back straight but not rigid and your shoulders down. Inhale slowly, allowing your lungs to fully inflate. Exhale and let them deflate. Concentrate on each inhalation and exhalation and you’ll be amazed at how your body and emotions respond. Any time you’re feeling overwhelmed, anxious or hurried, simply slow your breathing and deepen each breath.
Have free days
Don’t be tempted to fill every hour of every day with activity. Learn to enjoy time alone and use it to think about what it is you really want from life. Think about the things that make you happy, the people who make you feel good about yourself, and the way you want to live. Begin to take steps to change the things you don’t like and can control. Have days or hours off to do what you’d like to do, whether it be going to a movie, weeding the garden or playing with the kids.
Turn it off
Try to turn off the television for a few hours a night. Only have it on if there is really something you want to watch and then sit down and enjoy it. Spend other time reading or talking to your family or simply pottering around. Play some of your favourite music or take a chair outside so you can enjoy the evening air and night sky. Enjoy the moment and let your mind drift.
Take up a hobby
Begin a hobby that slows you down. If you’ve always wanted to turn your hand to something creative, or you have a talent you haven’t used in a while, artistic endeavours are an ideal way to slow down. Painting, pottery, knitting, sewing, drawing and writing are all activities that require time and concentration. Yoga, gardening, walking and cooking are also ways to slow down. Take a class in something you’ve always wanted to learn. Join a club or group. These are ways to spend your time doing something you love or have always wanted to try that is also soothing and fulfilling.
Make a date
Make a regular date with family or friends to have a leisurely meal or do something together that you all enjoy. If you can’t or don’t want to cook a meal yourself, make a booking at a local restaurant. Regular arrangements for social activities with friends and family mean you won’t get too busy to organise something. A standing arrangement means just having to turn up and enjoy yourself.
A meditation technique from the Buddhist tradition, mindfulness is about living life rather than simply existing, which is a trap many of us fall into when we’re busy. It’s about being present in the moment and experiencing the things – both good and painful – that happen to you and around you. To practise mindfulness, simply take a moment to experience all the things going on around you and to you without judging them. Use your senses to get in touch with the things you may often miss in the hustle and bustle; for instance, the smells, sounds and sights of your neighbourhood. Of course, life isn’t always going to smell sweet, but even bad smells are an experience to be had.
One thing at a time
Don’t try to do more than one thing at a time. When you try to juggle a multitude of activities, you can often end up doing none of them very well and simply becoming anxious and stressed. One activity at a time reduces stress and allows you to actually appreciate what it is you are doing and be fully involved in the process.
Value leisure time
Feeling guilty about relaxing is not uncommon, but leisure time is just as valuable as "productive" work time. Research shows that people who make time for recreational activities are more creative and productive than those who do not. Enjoying leisure time also puts you in a happier frame of mind, improving your intimate, social and professional relationships. The work/life balance is a tough one when we live in a consumer culture where there is always something new to buy or some new experience to have, but often the simplest and most enjoyable pleasures are those that cost little. Whatever you like to do to relax, make sure you leave work worries behind while you do it.
Reconsider waiting time
Consider waiting time (for example, the time you spend in the queue at the supermarket) as time to think rather than time wasted. Using this time to think about the things going on in your life or the things you are looking forward to makes waiting less frustrating and more productive. Keep a book in your bag and pull it out when you’re in a queue, or if you’re the sociable type, strike up a conversation. Waiting can be frustrating, but it needn’t ruin your mood.
Prioritise activities and do only those you have to. If there are activities that can be rescheduled or delegated to others to lessen your load, do it. You might often feel harried because you seem to have an endless list of things to do, which, once analysed, might not be that important or urgent at all. At the same time, though, it’s important not to procrastinate. Putting things off because you don’t want to do them doesn’t make them go away; instead they come back to haunt you until they are finally resolved. Boring or difficult tasks are best dealt with immediately.
While slowing down may initially leave some people feeling fidgety, the impact it will have on your life once you’ve established this new habit will be worth it. Not only will your physical health improve, but you’ll probably also find you have more energy and a greater interest in life. Your relationships will become more intimate and pleasurable and you’ll find you have a heightened awareness of the things around you. There is something to be said for the old cliche, "stop and smell the roses".
©Universal WellBeing, May 2005 www.wellbeing.com.au
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