When we are accustomed to living overloaded bloated lives, when we are used to following the dictates of a fragile ego, slowing down is scary and stopping is downright terrifying. Our frantic busyness prevents us looking at the big questions. Many people find that, once they slow down or stop being overloaded, they have to reassess their relationships. I once watched a television programme in which two parents were racing around after their hyperactive, insomniac children. They complained that they never had time with one another. When the experts sorted out the children’s problem, it left the parents with plenty of time – but nothing to say to one another. Their busyness has masked the fact that they had grown apart. Within a year they had separated.
Just consider the possibility of slowing down. Check out In Praise of Slow, a great book by the journalist Carl Honore who went in search of the burgeoning ‘Slow movement’ that is insinuating its way through Europe.
Honore’s wake-up moment came when he saw a book called The One Minute Bedtime Story – classic fairy stories condensed into ‘sixty-second sound bites.’ He realised his whole life had become an ‘exercise in hurry’ so he went on an odyssey to discover the joys of slow and found it lead to better health, better work and business, better family life and relationships, better food and even better sex. ‘Slow’ is not about living at a snail’s pace, it’s not about turning Luddite or heading for the hills to live in log cabins; it’s about balance. It’s about spending enough time on the things that matter that you can actually experience and enjoy them. The Slow Movement begs you to control the rhythms of your own life, to determine your own tempo.
Going slow can cut down overload without a shadow of a doubt – the very concept is incompatible with overload. However, I would say that it’s usually tough to go slow in a major way until you have already downshifted or simplified your life. However you can adopt some of the strategies into an overloaded lifestyle and, in fact, slow can make you realise just how overloaded you are. For example, if you really don’t have time to sit down and eat a meal, your life urgently needs re-assessing!
How do you go slow? Start looking beneath our linear, arrow-straight watch-time for other rhythms. In the past we would have noticed and celebrated the passing of the seasons. We would have marked the natural progress of the day – daylight segueing into twilight and on into dark. We would have noticed the cycles of the moon and its effects on our bodies and the natural world around us. We would have had one day a week that was holy, set aside for soul work. Now we ride roughshod through such transitions. If that’s a bit esoteric, here are some down-to-earth practical suggestions.
• Cram less in. Make wise choices. Stop multi-tasking.
• Create margins around your life. An hour off here, a day off there.
• Keep one day a week as a Sabbath – clear from mundane tasks, shopping etc. Use it for soul work – meditation, prayer, contemplation – and for your family.
• Have a cut-off point. Working all round the clock is not time-efficient – it interferes with sleep, butchers creativity and decreases productivity.
• Refuse to be hurried and harried by people. Breathe, smile and take your time.
• Slow food is real food – healthy food. In the time it takes you to heat up a microwave ready-meal you could have made a great salad, some warming soup, an omelette or real pasta sauce. Buy organic from local producers or subscribe to a weekly organic box.
• Boycott fast food. It’s packed with potentially dangerous chemicals, makes you fat and encourages you to gorge your food, rather than savouring it.
• Eat at a table. Say some form of Grace. Concentrate on your food. Don’t distract yourself with books or TV. Chew thoroughly – it will improve your digestion and prevent you piling on pounds.
• Eat together as a family. Children from families that regularly share meals are more likely to do well at school, less likely to smoke and drink at an early age, and less prone to stress and overload.
• Allow holidays to be relaxing. Resist ‘doing’ holidays, stop notching up experiences. Think about how little you could do.
• Seek out things that are made with care and craftsmanship, rather than mass-produced synthetic trash.
• Garden –get your hands dirty. Or get out into nature on a regular basis. A tree wouldn’t dream of throwing out new leaves in winter. A bulb wouldn’t put off coming up in spring. It’s only us humans who have lost all sight of the wisdom of doing things at the right and natural time, in the right and natural way.
• Do your housework with care and mindfulness – make it a meditation. Choose natural products (salt, vinegar, baking powder, essential oils – not products that just put ‘Natural’ in their title but still contain chemicals).
• Relinquish the power of the clock. If you can, live part (or all) of your life without a watch. My husband never wears a watch and swears it makes him far less stressed (yet somehow he’s never late). I confess I can’t do this one.
• Drive within the speed limit. Driving too fast causes tension and strain. Bear in mind too, that speed limits have a purpose. Hit a child at 40mph and she or he will most likely die; hit a child at 30mph and she or he will most likely live. Think about that as you speed through built-up areas or whiz through small country villages.
• Consult an alternative practitioner. The average GP spends six minutes with each patient. The average natural health practitioner spends an hour. Natural health is about preventative medicine too – your practitioner will look at ways of dealing with stress, s/he will adjust your diet, suggest exercises, possibly teach you meditation or relaxation.
• When it comes to sex, slower is definitely better. Why settle for a quickie when you can enjoy a long, languorous hour or more of sheer pleasure? One of the best things I ever did was to study the Indian art of Tantra, sexual yoga. According to Kinsey, the famous American sex researcher, 75 per cent of men ejaculate within two minutes of penetration. A Tantric lover can keep it going for as long as he chooses – slow heaven.
• Take up art, or read poetry or read books – but slowly. Try reading slowly, consciously, taking in the sheer beauty of the prose. If you’re struggling with this, maybe you’re reading the wrong books. *smile*
This is an excerpt from my book The Overload Solution – How to Stop Juggling and Start Living (Piatkus)