Live slow, die old. It doesn’t sound quite so Rock & Roll as “live fast, die young”, does it? But, don’t know about you, I want to stick around a while. Besides, my life is fast enough now thank you very much, without having to inject it with Turbo-charged activities. I did a lot of that when I was younger and my perspectives have shifted somewhat.
The teaching job I do is fantastic but it is fast-paced and can be as stressful as a pressure cooker if I let things build up. Sound familiar? I need to find ways of trying to keep a lid on it, find an inner pace, and not let my environment dictate.
One of the most influential books I’ve read on this is the fantastic, “In praise of SLOW” by Carl Honoré. I implore you to read it. He had the idea for the book when he woke up to the fact that the world had gone mad, on seeing an advert for “one-minute bedtime stories for children”.
What has the world come to?
Here are the top three things I try to remember to do that help me have a slow day and consequently, a stress-free and productive day. I wish I did them all the time as I do think they work. I’d love to hear how you benefit from slowness and how you go about it. It would be great to share ideas.
I don’t normally write this much, normally focusing on the drawings, but I’m pretty passionate about this one, so I’ve scribbled down more than usual…
Feel Good before breakfast
I try to start the day off doing some kind of exercise that gets me feeling good before breakfast and sets the tone for the day. Apart from optimising performance generally, it somehow calms me and helps set a slower pace.
It’s usually 20 minutes of yoga, 5 minutes of which is simple, slow breathing. Or running as fast as I can to get a sweat up for 20 minutes – which usually almost kills me, but then makes me feel good and helps me avoid stress later in the day.
The mantra or daily motto of “feeling good before breakfast” was inspired by Patricia Ryan Madson’s book, “Improv Wisdom” where she talks of rituals, in her brilliant chapter, entitled, “just show up.” Just by putting ourselves in a place where good things can happen, the rest will follow.
Walk slowly around at work
So many things can seem urgent at work and the “pressing engagement” mindset and expectation to do things straight away can be infectious. One way I try to combat this is by purposefully walking slower than all my colleagues. I don’t care what they might think of this, if they think I’m slow or laid back as I know the work I do when I get back to my desk or classroom is up to snuff.
Punctuate the day with micro-meditations
I find practising this really hard but I know it works. Trying to stay in the moment at key times in the day helps me try to focus on the now, avoid stress, appreciate nature and see the wonder of smallness.
One of the key times for this is drinking cups of tea throughout the day – I mean really drinking those cups of tea: consciously feeling the contours and texture of the bone-china cup between the fingers; noticing the playful shapes of the steam rising from a hot brew; carefully pouring then focusing on the taste and feeling of the swishing liquid in the mouth.
Another favourite of mine is when I get to school in the car, I do three long deep-breath sighs, then slowly focus on turning the ignition off, noticing the chugging of the engine dying down, then slowly open the door. I find I have put the day on pause for a moment. Days I don’t do this, I get out of the car quickly and onto the treadmill.
Other examples of times to do this are focusing on the tastes and smells at lunchtime, or letting the senses appreciate the details of flowers.
There are hundreds of opportunities throughout the day that can be seen as “hooks” on which to hang a simple 20 second or more micro-meditation. Fact is, we usually ain’t got time to look at candles and chill for 20 minutes during a working day, so the more times we punctuate the day with smaller, more manageable meditations, the richer, slower, and more meaningful our days get. I recommend “The 5 minute meditator”, by Eric Harrison as a simple and practical guide.