Another year has whooshed by. I feel like I stepped out for intermission, and when I came back the show was over. As this new year begins, I’m contemplating how I can stretch the time out, engage fully and be present through the passage of days. I’ve been thinking about this idea of slow living a lot. We have slow food, slow stitching, even slow travel. I want to live slow. I wondered if like the other slow movements slow living was also a thing.
Lo and behold! It’s a hashtag, and apparently has been for quite some time. Since moving to Australia four years ago, I’ve seriously unplugged from the internet, as is evidenced by my infrequent blog posts. I do a quick morning scroll through Facebook to see what my US or traveling friends are up to, then a glance at Instagram for a dose of pretty pictures, and that’s pretty much it. Rarely, I will get sucked into Pinterest, and I almost never read blogs anymore, unless there is some particular subject I’m wanting to know more about, such as slow living.
I started poking around to see what others were saying about the subject. According to Wikipedia, “Slow living is a lifestyle emphasizing slower approaches to aspects of everyday life.” That sounds good. Then I started looking for those hashtags that I usually ignore. That’s where I found the insta-version of slow living. This version seems to be about arranging your life just so, in order to be instagramable and beautiful, having the hip products and accessories to place in those photos. It’s more consumerism. One more ideal to live up to. Another good impression to be made for a faceless internet world. Something else to stress over.
Although it’s become a fad, I do believe that on some level it is based on a longing for a simpler, quieter way of being. People just got waylaid again by that need for outside approval.
My own idea of slow living is about ridding my life of the distracting clutter, not just the physical clutter that the blog posts tell us to tackle, although that is definitely a part of it, but the mental noise. It’s about defining my priorities and values, focusing on them, and letting go of the pointless activities that don’t support my goals. It’s losing the “shoulds” nagging me in my brain to live up to the perceived expectations of others.
It’s about being still.
My lesson in stillness began last May, while I wiled away the quiet hours inhaling the scent of my newborn granddaughter.
And then I lost sight of it again.
Upon returning home from ten sedentary weeks in the US, I was over-eager to get back to my exercise routine. A lapse in judgement led me to think I should take up running as well. I was very aware that this choice to run was based on a desire to metaphorically run away. I didn’t really want to run away; I simply wanted that feeling of breaking free from whatever was holding me back in life.
But, no. There would be no running anywhere. The Universe, Fate, my arthritic hips – something – stepped in to say, “yeh neh, you’re not going anywhere, mate. Sit right down and have a think about life for the next few months.” (read this with an Aussie accent)
I found myself mostly housebound from late September through mid December. Unless my husband drove me somewhere, I was staying put. No more treks about town, no hopping on trains to go explore this suburb or that. I was angry and frustrated and scared. I had lots of FOMO. I was going stir crazy and had to make the most of this enforced stillness or else fall into a depression. I was quite surprised that didn’t happen.
My doting husband took exceptional care of me. It was a marvel to sit back and allow myself to be cared for, attended to. This unfortunate circumstance that hobbled me allowed him to fill the space that opened up when I sat quiet. Through these long months he has been there, patient, kind, loving. The stillness made room for a new intimacy to grow between us.
The quiet time has allowed me to see what is truly important to me. I have had to learn that it’s ok to be idle and do nothing. I tend to buy into the busyness and productivity model of what a successful life looks like. I feel lazy reading books, even though it’s an activity absolutely in alignment with my priorities. Through intensive reading I both expand my mind and I improve my writing skills. Spending time on the internet researching Slow Living induced feelings of guilt, of wasting time. Doing even less can make me nervous indeed. In his book The Importance of Living Lin Yutang tells us that great ideas are born from an idle state. He writes about the art of lying in bed doing nothing. He says to curl up with big soft pillows and to place your arms behind your head. “In this posture any poet can write immortal poetry, any philosopher can revolutionize human thought, and any scientist can make epoch-making discoveries.”
As the weeks pass, I am becoming aware that as well as being allowed to spend time doing nothing, I also don’t have to do everything. The world isn’t falling apart and I feel happy. My new goal for life has become to live it, to embrace joy and fully engage with life, not rush through it. As I regain my mobility, I want to be careful not to lose sight of this new goal. I have another tendency and that is to get all excited about an idea, and then forget to actualize it.
In the midst of slowing down, I still have goals I wish to achieve. I still have a house to clean, a novel to finish editing. My challenge is to accomplish these things without driving myself crazy again. I want to be flexibly organized. I want rhythm, not routine. In her A-Z List of Simple Living, Brooke McAlary of Slow Your Home says of being organized, “You need to leave space for life to happen.” She also talks about the concept of “tilting.” This was a major takeaway for me. I’m always trying to achieve balance in my life, my days. “I’ll devote an hour to this and an hour to that and an hour to…” but there were never enough hours in a day or a week to do everything I thought I should be doing. McAlary says balance is a myth, that instead it’s ok to tilt toward one priority or another as the circumstances call for. Tilt the other way another day.
Right before my hips went out, I had jumped on the Bullet Journal bandwagon. I did see enough of the internet to hear of that particular thing. Mostly my entries in the journal have been about healing and pain levels. I’m ready now to delve a bit deeper into the process and use the method to stay on task and attain my goals. Sometimes I believe that the tools that are supposed to help us focus can become a distraction in themselves. Another bit of pop culture that has sifted through to my consciousness is the extreme decorating of Bullet Journal pages that people do. It seems like another time sink. Although, I can see how for some this could be a meditative practice and if that aligns with their values, then good for them. For me, there is the danger of it becoming another stress inducer as I buy into the belief that my BuJo needs to be pretty.
If I can follow the basic principles of the Bullet Journal method, I suspect it will be a great help. In his book The Bullet Journal Method Ryder Carroll says it is in the intersection of productivity and mindfulness where you find intentionality. Living with intention is what I believe slow living is about. Ryder says that “mindfulness is the process of waking up to see what’s right in front of us. It helps you become more aware of where you are, who you are and what you want.” The Bullet Journal is meant to be a method of bringing your actions into alignment with your values and priorities.
Both McAlary and Carroll talk about “knowing your why”. Why do I want to slow down and simplify my life? Because I want to be here now. I want to embrace life and live abundantly. I want to witness the small wonders, like watching videos over and over of my granddaughter laughing, or seeing the morning sun drifting through the kitchen window. I want to focus on my priorities of health, marriage, writing, family and friend relationships, and exploring this beautiful world.
As I move forward into this new year, I aim to take with me the lessons in stillness that I’ve been learning over the last few months. I’m going to make a card to hang where I see it often. It will list my values and priorities, and I will make a habit of reading it often and asking myself, “are my actions right now in alignment with these values and priorities?” I’m going to sit here at my desk, stare out the window at the swaying eucalypts, watching the antics of the butcher birds and magpies, and just be.