Friday, January 2, 2015

Slow Living Versus the Rush and Roar of Fast Track Life

"There's something about the pace of life that makes it difficult to really slow down and assess where we're going and how we're doing on this journey called life." ~ Ed Young

Modern people feel hurried and harried
Swamped, buried, crushed by demands on their time
Overwhelmed, adrift on the high seas
Lives thrown out of balance….

Everything takes time. Work fills the days a large portion of our waking hours five days a week or more if you have two jobs to make ends meet. Then there's time involved in making meals and eating them…. Shopping, fueling, running errands, driving kids to friends’ houses...

Dishes, cleaning, laundry, …. Coaching sports, church and community commitments, …
Often there are the needs of ailing parents … family responsibilities…. Don't forget your exercise regimen…

Everything conspires to eat our time. As John Lennon aptly satated, “Sometimes life gets in the way of living.”

This harried existence isn't entirely new. In one of my files I have a quote from an 1880's issue of The Atlantic complaining about the pace of life. Earlier in the last century Franz Kafka likewise expressed dismay at the rapid pace of modern life.

The result is people feel stressed and fatigued. They are not looking for more ways to fill their time; they are searching for ways to free up time.

It's against this backdrop that the Slow Living movement has begun to find legs. Walking and biking aren't just suggested as ways to leave a smaller carbon footprint. They're encouraged as a way to get us to slow down. Speed kills. It winds us up and stresses us out.

Fast Living is something akin to eating without chewing, swallowing life experiences whole rather than taking time to savor them.

When in junior high school I took a speed reading class and learned that the eye only sees when it stops. If you ever read about the study of eye movements while reading, you discover we can grab little batches of words and bounce to the next cluster, rather than going one at a time. We can speed up our reading by increasing the batch of text we process, but even here there are limits to what we can read and retain. When reading for information fast reading can serve a purpose, but when devouring a poem it's a whole other matter.

So it is that in recent years we've seen increasing numbers of articles on the topic of slow living, and books like Carl Honore's In Praise of Slowness.

I first became aware of the concept of Slow Living through a friend from Italy who said the slow movement was slowly getting big in Europe. Here's an excerpt from a website devoted to this trend.

Living a mindful life seems more difficult now than it was in the past. The fast life is all around us – fast food, fast cars, fast conversations, fast families, fast holidays. We may be living great lives but we aren’t ‘there’ for them. We don’t take the time to linger over food, over friends, over our family etc. We are not savouring our life and are starving of the real connection to our life.

The solution is self-explanatory. We slow down and connect with our life. But often it is easier said than done. Each fast aspect of our life is necessary for other fast aspects to happen, and we have been fooled into thinking we need, or even must, be fast and have what the ‘fast life’ gives us.

So why are we averse to slowing down? Have we simply forgotten how? I don't think that's the whole of it. I was reading a Facebook post by my son who was a chef at a Savannah restaurant at the time. He talked about the adrenaline rush of getting everything assembled behind the scenes in a tinely manner each night. Timing is everything, and the rush bumps up the thrill.

The same adrenaline rush occurs in newsrooms around the country. The six o'clock news goes live at six, and everything has to be ready for that moment. You can see this portrayed in George Clooney's Good Night and Good Luck, as well as in the older Broadcast News. I myself can experience a little rush of adrenaline as I try to finish my blog post in the hour before dressing and commuting to the office each morning. (Goal is to post each morning by seven.)

In short, fast living has a payoff for many people. The Slow Movement reminds us that there is a price to pay for getting so tightly wound by trying to seize every day by the throat to get the most out of it.

Arianna Huffington begins her bestselling Thrive by describing her breakdown as a result of a mad pace that included reduced hours for sleeping in order to manage more. One day she just fell over. She appeared tremendously successful at the helm of the influential Huffington Post, but her life was out of control.

In an interview on the Thrive page, she states, "I had my personal wake-up call on April 6, 2007, when I found myself on the floor in a pool of blood. I had collapsed from exhaustion, breaking my cheekbone and cutting my eye. I was working eighteen-hour days to build The Huffington Post, while being a mom to my two teenage daughters. What this wake-up call taught me was that even though I was considered successful by our society's conventional measures of success, I was not living a successful life by any sane definition of success. Something had to radically change in my life."

Aristotle's advice on this matter, were he to speak today, might be to look for the Golden Mean. That is, find the balance between these seemingly opposing ways of life. Do we live more effectively by maxing out our days? Huffington says no. It nearly killed her.

Meantime... life goes on all around you. Live mindfully.

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