Have you ever found yourself standing in the shower of a morning or getting dressed while mentally processing the day ahead. You make lists in your head about all the things you have to do and realise there are more things on the list than there is day. You add, subtract and prioritise, ignoring the sensuous pleasure of the warm water, the perfume from the shower gel and generally how nice it feels. Once dressed and ready to go you decide to skip breakfast to beat the traffic. As you drive to work you are already ruminating on what to get for the dinner that evening; is there something in the fridge or will a trip to the supermarket have to be slotted in somewhere. At work you open emails and post at the same time while also making a phone call. On and on the multi tasking goes, believing that we are quite efficient little worker bees and that it’s a good thing. Unfortunately in our industriousness we have missed out on many free pleasures that would have enhanced and enriched our day. Being able to shower in the first place is a luxury unavailable to millions in the world. Taking ten minutes for breakfast is something that many of us neglect to do and those that do often rush it, failing to appreciate flavours, textures or even the fact that you have food to eat. The general mood of today’s world is one of speed, achievement and getting things done fast. We use impatient phrases like ‘hurry up’, ‘slow coach’, or ‘how long is this going to take’. There is a growing movement, a cultural revolution almost, that is realising that fast doesn’t always equate to better and, indeed, slow can actually be a positive thing.
I stumbled across this philosophy in a clumsy way and thought I was the only one in the world who knew about it. (Typical of the human ego!) It started with small realisations. For example no matter how much I huffed and puffed in the traffic jam it wasn’t moving any faster. By constantly looking for gaps in the line or ways to circumvent the queue, my impatience was probably just endangering myself and others. The little metal box that is a car is a great place for some peace and quiet or to listen to the radio or some music; more pleasures.
Then recently I came across a book called In Praise of Slow, by Carl Honore about the Slow Movement. I got really excited when I found out it was a Movement! It’s about how the world has become stuck in fast-forward and how more people everywhere are slowing down. The Slow philosophy is not about doing everything at a snail’s pace. It’s about seeking to do everything at the right speed. Enjoying the hours and minutes in a day, rather than just counting them. It’s about doing everything as well as possible rather than as fast as possible. Essentially it is about quality over quantity in everything from work to food to parenting. Even sex gets a look in. Although the surveys tell us that more people are having sex these days the quality is, apparently, poorer than before. How they have analysed this is beyond me, but they have!
Of course not being perfect I still battle with this sometimes but now I have learned that a quick change of mind to enjoying the slowness is quite easy. I was in the bank the other day and a similar long queue scenario. There were several people in front of me and only one teller position open. To be honest it was pretty shoddy customer service from the bank’s point of view but it was what it was. The man behind me started to ‘tut’ to himself. He then sighed loudly a few times. As the seconds ticked by his huffing was punctuated with articulations along the lines of ‘this is ridiculous’ and ‘one person on!’. I found myself silently agreeing with him and nodding and I was just about to jump on board his little wagon of woe with a puff of my own, when I caught myself. This was test of my new found calm. Meanwhile this customer worked himself into such a tizzy that he eventually left the queue and the bank, red faced and in a strop. As an observation the one teller that was on didn’t even notice, much less, cared. His protest was wasted. Also, he would have had to either drive to another bank or come back to that one at a later time; a further interruption to his day. I, meanwhile, remained in the queue thinking nice thoughts and eventually got to the window. Yes it took about ten minutes more than I expected, but it would have taken even longer to leave and return and I was still smiling when I left the bank with my business done. (Be careful this calm and slow thing can lead to smugness.)
Carl Honore says that his own epiphany to Slow happened when he found himself contemplating buying a book called ‘One Minute Bedtime Stories’. If you have to schedule time with your children or put a time limit on bedtime stories, it’s time to take stock. Again the word ‘balance’ is very important in the Slow movement. There will always be times when things crop up unexpectedly, times when fast is the only answer and I personally get a buzz from deadlines, but just like fast food, in moderation it won’t do you any harm. When ‘Fast’ becomes a way of life, however, you have a problem.
Subconsciously the world loves fast. Many things are marketed and sold to us on that basis. Often we aren’t buying a product, we are buying time. Cleaning products that ‘cut through grease in an instant’, Quick Oats, Quick Soup, microwaves, books about ’10 Minute Meals’, ’10 Minute Yoga’, speed dating events, speed reading courses, speed language courses; the list is endless and we often buy into it because it’s quick.
Embracing the ‘Slow’ movement is not about shaking a fist at progress or technology. Indeed without technology the Slow movement couldn’t function, it is about using the technology correctly. We want hot water when we turn on the tap, we want a fast internet connection, hurling is a source of pleasure for many and is as high speed, high energy as it gets. However, if you feel your days are about getting through a ‘to do list’ and you are rushing life rather than really living it, maybe ‘Slow’ could be something to investigate. As Carl Honore says, “If everything is instant we miss out on the joy of anticipation, of looking forward to things. We are obsessed with the destination and have lost the art of enjoying the journey”. Slow down, life is a lot more fun that way.