Knowing How to Slow Down

HOW DID IT HAPPEN THAT WE NOW LIVE IN AN ERA SO MARKEDLY DEFINED BY SPEED? EVERYTHING SEEMS TO BE MOVING FASTER, FROM THE HANDS ON OUR EVER-PRESENT CLOCKS TO THE EARTH’S ROTATION AROUND THE SUN. WE CAN LOOK FOR CAUSES EVERYWHERE, INCLUDING THE MACHINES THAT MOVE US FROM PLACE TO PLACE. EVEN MORE BEWILDERING, HOWEVER, IS THE SPEED WITH WHICH OUR OWN MIND IS MOVING. TODAY IT SEEMS THAT THE HISTORICAL RACE TO THE MOON HAS GIVEN WAY TO A RACE FOR EVERY BIT OF OUR ATTENTION. PARADOXICALLY, THE PRIZE AWAITS THOSE WHO KNOW HOW TO SLOW DOWN.

If factories and steam engines are the visual symbols of the industrial revolution, future generations will look back at our time through images of portable supercomputers in the form of smartphones and smartwatches – devices that constantly call for our attention with their incessant notifications. Technology can be a great helper, but it can also entrap and enslave. While no one would enter serfdom willingly, if it happens through gradual change then it is easy to miss just how much of your life has become entrapped. After all, how often did you check your email ten years ago, and how often do you do it now?

Illustration by Grace Russel for Soffa / gracerussell.co.uk

Illustration by Grace Russel for Soffa / gracerussell.co.uk

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The sociology of cities predicts that the larger the metropolis, the faster people move along its streets. Small towns are inevitably calmer, while giant conurbations are that much busier. As growing numbers of people have moved to large cities over the past few decades, it is not surprising that our speedy existence has led to the rise of a counter-philosophy.

The movement espousing slow living is not a product of the twenty-first century, but a modern-day version of earlier efforts to cleanse our lives from the detritus of ‘civilisation’. The roots of the slow living movement would surely include the widely popular New Age philosophy, born in the 1970s, which draws inspiration from traditional cultures, religions and mysticism. New Age aims for a closer connection with nature and with oneself, and is inspired by insights from Asian traditions, in particular Buddhism. Buddhism is also the foundation for mindfulness, a practice that is becoming increasingly popular in the West and draws on many Buddhist meditation techniques. Mindfulness is about turning to oneself and to the world with a view that is not about judging or valuing, but about simply perceiving the present moment.

The slow living movement is closely linked to the slow food initiative, which emerged in the middle of the 1980s as a reaction to industrial food production, in particular fast food, and promoted ‘slower’ food made from quality local ingredients based on regional recipes. Today’s popularity of farmers’ markets, the growing interest in the conditions of animals used to produce our meat, milk or eggs, and the renewed practice of craft brewing are all part of the development of the wholesome slow food tradition. Slow food also inspired the slow fashion movement, which places emphasis on conscious fashion defined by quality and longevity, and follows the motto ‘less is more’.

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Similar perspectives have given rise to slow cities, which are connected through the international Cittaslow network. Cittaslow works to improve the overall quality of city life by promoting the development of urban landscapes that encourage city dwellers to slow down, both physically and spiritually. The movement has influenced contemporary urban planners to consider the complex question of how to ensure a pleasant existence even in big cities. Some cities have begun to explore the concept of slower living from the ground up – through community gardens and neighbourhood celebrations. Slowing down must begin with the individual, however, on a very personal level and starting with the smallest of changes. Instead of rushing around in the constant worry that you will miss something, consider the ‘carpe diem’ motto to mean that you should truly experience every moment, social interaction, taste or smell. It is a simple and clear trade: countless incomplete and fleeting activities exchanged for few powerful and meaningful experiences.

You can begin quite simply. In the morning hold your tea or coffee cup in your hands. Take in the warm scent and imagine the tones that make up its complex harmony. Take a sip, let the liquid slowly roll around your tongue, think about the other tastes or images it evokes. Observe how your morning beverage changes as it gradually cools.

For some of us the mind is like a fist that is clenched too often. Only when you allow your mind to relax do you begin to sense with the whole of your body the finer features of the reality you are experiencing. This is true about focused reading, listening to music, physical activity, regardless of the kind, and contact with another person. The key advantage of slow living is that you need nothing special to achieve it. There are no set activities that you must first accomplish, or products or brands that you must first purchase. Only your conscious decision that during at least some of your daily existence you will slow down, take a look around, and with several deep breaths reaffirm that it doesn’t matter where you are heading, what matters is now.

To help you attune to mindful peace and harmony, we have prepared a small gift – our slow living guide. Download it, print it and use it any time you need:

Happy new year! May all your wishes come true… your Soffa team


article originally from the issue Soffa 21 dedicated to Time | text: Ondřej Lipár |
translation and proofreading: Ingrid Martonova & Peter Stannard