April 15 2017
Happiness/Health & Wellbeing/Living in Brooklyn/Sanity

In Search of Slow

I have spent the better part of the last two weeks trying to understand what it means to live slow.  The word definitely lights up a pleasure center in my brain. But it has always seemed abstract. Something that sounds great, but is not really relevant to me.

Most of my time is spent in a state of anything but slow.  Actually, I spend nearly all my time rushing.  Speed is ingrained into my muscle memory.  Partly I’m tapped into the energy of New York City.  But it’s mostly just math. I work and take care of my children and my home and find time for leisurely pursuits. When there is not enough time, it seems the only answer is increased efficiency.

Work faster. Accomplish more in less time.  Multi-task. Rush.

I know that this is an oppressive way to live.

I hear the word “slow” and it sounds beautiful, if elusive. Like a lovely dream you just barely remember.  But I think I’ve gotten a little closer to understanding how it could be a realistic goal in the context of my working, child-raising, need-to-pay-the-rent urban life.

It all began when I discovered Slow Nature Fast City.  I love Traci’s message of slowing down to notice the nature around us.  The idea that it is possible to be slow in New York City is compelling and comforting, even if I don’t always succeed in doing so.

Then I read Traci’s review of the book New Slow City by William Powers.  I bought a copy immediately and devoured it.

This book made a strong impression on me.

new slow cityThe premise of New Slow City is that author and his wife moved into in a teeny West Village apartment for a year and tried to live the slow life in the middle of one of the world’s densest, loudest, un-slowest of cities.  I was dazzled by the accounts of how the author passed his days.  I can’t have a two day work week like he did.  And I can’t (nor do I wish to) move my family into an apartment even smaller than the one we live in now.  But still, I found his approach to life in New York revelatory.

What does it mean to be slow?

My understanding of slow has always been limited to a vague sense of what slow was not.  Slow food is the… opposite of fast food.  Slow travel is… the opposite of seeing ten European capitals in a week.  I never quite nailed down the concept. So how could I make something tangible out of this philosophy and inject it into my regular person, not-supporting-my-family-with-a-flexible freelance-writing-career life?  I decided to start with something very simple.

I began to explore slow as a completely literal, physical notion.

I did my very best to literally slow my body down. This was no small feat. I’m a serial fast-walker. Rushing is programmed into my cells. Slow walking people who block my way have caused me many blood pressure-raising episodes.  But I know in my heart that, like so many things, rushing is a conscious decision. Why do I need to get everywhere so fast?

So I tinkered with this impulse.

Here’s where it gets interesting. I found that the mere act of walking slower has altered my outlook.  It is not a total shock.  In more extreme situations, I have freed myself from a toxic mental state by pulling back.  I recall an evening driving my kids to a Met’s game.  It was Little League night and the Little League-ers get to run around the bases before the game.  I left with time to spare but a wall of traffic had other plans for us.

I felt a panic attack rising through my throat, envisioning the disappointment that my son would feel.  But I avoid feeding into stress if I can, and, that night, I decided that I was going to just let it go. The situation was beyond my control.  There was no point trying to will the universe into setting things straight with a herculean display of grotesque anxiety. I breathed, I turned the music up, I chatted with the kids. We were too late to run the bases, and that sucked.  But to inject a wound-up awful energy into the mix would have made the whole thing worse.

So why not bring this good instinct to those smaller, ordinary moments?

It’s not just walking fast.  I’m constantly dropping things, bumping into furniture and spilling drinks as I rush to get everything done.  Slowing down makes almost every process smoother and less unpleasant. It doesn’t feel natural to me to reject these rhythms that I’ve lived with for so long, but I’m working on it.

The big irony: I did more in my slow-walking week than I ever do at “peak efficiency.”

The Morgan
So quiet, so beautiful…

This is the real revelation.  I think the mere act of rushing triggers an exhaustion response. A compromised state of mind that steals your energy and drive.  By the time you walk in the door you’re fried. But stroll in the door in a calm state and not only does cooking seem more bearable, but so does a quick game of catch at the park before dinner.

The spring-like weather helped, but I had a very unusual week. Instead of eating at my desk and reading the internet, I stole away to the Morgan Library during lunch, one of my favorite places in New York.

I took a two hour yoga class in the evening and went to the park every morning. We visited cousins in New Jersey, nourishing a beloved family bond. My husband, who is engrossed in his own book about turning time into quality time, suggested we go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art during breakfast. We were on the subway within half an hour.

I was nearly derailed once.

A peaceful sanctuary, in Staten Island of all places.

I planned to visit my parents, but I forgot that I had a conference call.  I was going to rush to get to their house so I could do my call there.  My typical inner dialogue: Gotta get there early so I can get home early!

Then I thought, why do I need to get there early?  I headed over later in the afternoon, my mind less scrambled because I conducted my call in front of my computer, as I needed to.

When I arrived, instead of just hanging around for a few hours like always, I felt inspired to drag everyone to Staten Island’s Tibetan Museum, a true urban sanctuary (a theme I loved in New Slow City).  We sat in the garden and watched the birds.

Reading this, I can’t believe how much I did in the last seven days.

Mostly unscheduled, I went with the flow.  I was surprised at how much I unintentionally ended up doing, without the constant rushing weighing me down. My little slow down led to all kinds of great moments. As we walked through the ancient armor room at the Met, I was just smiling because I’ve always loved that section so much. My husband looked at me and said “this is why we live here.”

This seeming contradiction was one of the things that really struck me in New Slow City.  The author and his wife managed to experience so many different things.  Slow didn’t mean sitting in the park all day, though they certainly did that, as well. They would hop on the subway, or hop on their bikes and head to every corner of the city.  It was no big deal.  I very much want to dive deeper into this elegant paradox.

Key learnings…

I intend to explore this topic more, but here are two important things I learned this week:

-The slower I go, the more mental and physical capacity I have to do more of the things that I truly value.

-Being on time is over-rated 90 percent of the time.

 

    • The thing is, in all seriousness, I am the kind of person who gives myself an ulcer if I am not always early. I am letting go of this, especially if I am just visiting family, or something like that. It really doesn’t matter, I realize.

  • I love this, Linda! I think it’s always tough for parents to slow down, and mom’s in particular, as there are so many people drawing on your time and energy. You make a very interesting connection, between how physically slowing down helped you adjust your pace for the remainder of the week.
    Question for you, and I’m making a generalization, but do you find any difference in the ability of men and women to embrace downtime? I’ve always felt as though guys (myself included) tend to have more hobbies than the women in their lives, which I think can make it easier to slow down the pace of life, but that may be a misperception I have.

    • Men and women are wired so differently when it comes to this. My husband and I both struggle with how we spend our time. But he does not run around like a lunatic the the way I do. As far as hobbies and interests, we are pretty equal, but I have always put such a premium on getting as many things done as quickly as possible, even when it includes leisure. He is not like that. He can relax better than me. He can prioritize things like working out better than I do. Five free minutes doesn’t scream “vacuum!” to him. Lol. I am trying to be more like him in this regard. I think your observation is not a misconception at all. Though I do think that women, especially women who work, legitimately have additional burdens. Men are generally not shopping for kids’ clothes at Old Navy and keeping track of who has outgrown all their pants. Men are not, as a rule, scheduling play dates. Those things take up a lot of mental space.

  • I love how you handled the traffic when you were running late, Linda. In situations like that, I try to remind myself where I have the control. I can’t control the traffic, but I can control my response (I’m far from perfect, but this helps). I also like to ask “what’s the worst that could happen if ____?” – this is helpful on so many levels. If I’m late, or don’t get something done, the worst isn’t all that bad.

    I’ve been trying to incorporate more slow into my days too and I’m really looking forward to future posts on the topic!

    • Thanks Amanda! I will say this – that day stuck in traffic, I was the only adult in the car. I am certain this affected the situation. There was no one else’s stress to feed off of. It’s a very interesting thing. I think if my husband were in the car with me, I might have been less serene because I would sense his stress, which would have made it harder to neutralize my own, which would then add to his, and so on until forever. Stress is infectious and cutting off the stress that is inflicted by other people is not as easy as getting control of your own head. Not sure I have a good answer for that one yet…

  • Yup, best to just chillax. Besides, at least I at work I am told, studies have shown that multi tasking doesn’t work and is less effective than single tasking. When interruptions occur, we don’t get much done, as opposed to staying focused on one task at a time.

  • I had to laugh about the five free minutes thing because for me, five free minutes DOES scream: VACUUM, PLAN AHEAD, DO PRODUCTIVE THINGS.

    The most relaxed, and the best, two days of the past few years were the two days I was getting sick when I actually forced myself not to work through the early stages of being sick, and made myself consciously do nothing but rest and watch tv at most. It was incredibly hard! But it was incredibly worth it. It was the least horrible cold I’ve had in 16 months.

    Thanks for this post, I’m going to have to remind myself of this a few times a week 🙂

    • I had a sick day this winter where I stayed in bed and it was amazing! I know exactly what you are saying. Things have just gotten out of hand with the way we seem to live life now.

  • I remember when I first moved to Charlotte and my co-workers would implore me to “slow down” as we walked to lunch. “You’re not in New York anymore,” they would laugh. So I know all about fast walking. And I walked at the Long Island pace, which is a notch or two below the New York City pace. I’m never disappointed when I come to this website, Linda. Thank you for another beautiful post.

    P.S. The Morgan Library looks divine. I’m so jealous.

    • Next time you and Mrs. G come to NY we can all sit in the Morgan silently and decompress for 5 minutes – ha! It’s so true, that NY pace is a curse. When I go on vacation and order food somewhere, I am nearly jumping out of my skin. Why?!! What is the rush?!

  • I was at the Morgan a few times. That’s in my old neighborhood! For some reason I seem to remember they have a cute little gift shop…I recall seeking out a few hidden gardens in NYC I learned about in a publication years ago. It’s fun to find an uncrowded, natural haven in the midst of the city.

    1. Mrs. Groovy 09:42pm 21 April - 2017 - Reply

      I was at the Morgan a few times. That’s in my old neighborhood! For some reason I seem to remember they have a cute little gift shop…I recall seeking out a few hidden gardens in NYC I learned about in a publication years ago. It’s fun to find an uncrowded, natural haven in the midst of the city.

    2. Mr. Groovy 09:25am 21 April - 2017 - Reply

      I remember when I first moved to Charlotte and my co-workers would implore me to “slow down” as we walked to lunch. “You’re not in New York anymore,” they would laugh. So I know all about fast walking. And I walked at the Long Island pace, which is a notch or two below the New York City pace. I’m never disappointed when I come to this website, Linda. Thank you for another beautiful post.

      P.S. The Morgan Library looks divine. I’m so jealous.

      • Brooklyn Bread 12:16pm 21 April - 2017 - Reply

        Next time you and Mrs. G come to NY we can all sit in the Morgan silently and decompress for 5 minutes – ha! It’s so true, that NY pace is a curse. When I go on vacation and order food somewhere, I am nearly jumping out of my skin. Why?!! What is the rush?!

    3. Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life 09:32pm 19 April - 2017 - Reply

      I had to laugh about the five free minutes thing because for me, five free minutes DOES scream: VACUUM, PLAN AHEAD, DO PRODUCTIVE THINGS.

      The most relaxed, and the best, two days of the past few years were the two days I was getting sick when I actually forced myself not to work through the early stages of being sick, and made myself consciously do nothing but rest and watch tv at most. It was incredibly hard! But it was incredibly worth it. It was the least horrible cold I’ve had in 16 months.

      Thanks for this post, I’m going to have to remind myself of this a few times a week 🙂

      • Brooklyn Bread 11:39am 20 April - 2017 - Reply

        I had a sick day this winter where I stayed in bed and it was amazing! I know exactly what you are saying. Things have just gotten out of hand with the way we seem to live life now.

    4. FinancePatriot 02:54pm 18 April - 2017 - Reply

      Yup, best to just chillax. Besides, at least I at work I am told, studies have shown that multi tasking doesn’t work and is less effective than single tasking. When interruptions occur, we don’t get much done, as opposed to staying focused on one task at a time.

      • Brooklyn Bread 03:28pm 18 April - 2017 - Reply

        Oh definitely, multi-tasking is a huge scam, one that women are particularly susceptible to!

    5. Amanda @ centsiblyrich 12:33pm 18 April - 2017 - Reply

      I love how you handled the traffic when you were running late, Linda. In situations like that, I try to remind myself where I have the control. I can’t control the traffic, but I can control my response (I’m far from perfect, but this helps). I also like to ask “what’s the worst that could happen if ____?” – this is helpful on so many levels. If I’m late, or don’t get something done, the worst isn’t all that bad.

      I’ve been trying to incorporate more slow into my days too and I’m really looking forward to future posts on the topic!

      • Brooklyn Bread 02:26pm 18 April - 2017 - Reply

        Thanks Amanda! I will say this – that day stuck in traffic, I was the only adult in the car. I am certain this affected the situation. There was no one else’s stress to feed off of. It’s a very interesting thing. I think if my husband were in the car with me, I might have been less serene because I would sense his stress, which would have made it harder to neutralize my own, which would then add to his, and so on until forever. Stress is infectious and cutting off the stress that is inflicted by other people is not as easy as getting control of your own head. Not sure I have a good answer for that one yet…

    6. Meryl 08:59pm 17 April - 2017 - Reply

      I practiced slowing down by reading your article slowly : )

    7. Mystery Money Man 12:42am 17 April - 2017 - Reply

      “Five free minutes doesn’t scream ‘vacuum’ to him.” Lol.
      That’s us, to a tee. : )

    8. Mystery Money Man 08:13pm 16 April - 2017 - Reply

      I love this, Linda! I think it’s always tough for parents to slow down, and mom’s in particular, as there are so many people drawing on your time and energy. You make a very interesting connection, between how physically slowing down helped you adjust your pace for the remainder of the week.
      Question for you, and I’m making a generalization, but do you find any difference in the ability of men and women to embrace downtime? I’ve always felt as though guys (myself included) tend to have more hobbies than the women in their lives, which I think can make it easier to slow down the pace of life, but that may be a misperception I have.

      • Brooklyn Bread 08:43pm 16 April - 2017 - Reply

        Men and women are wired so differently when it comes to this. My husband and I both struggle with how we spend our time. But he does not run around like a lunatic the the way I do. As far as hobbies and interests, we are pretty equal, but I have always put such a premium on getting as many things done as quickly as possible, even when it includes leisure. He is not like that. He can relax better than me. He can prioritize things like working out better than I do. Five free minutes doesn’t scream “vacuum!” to him. Lol. I am trying to be more like him in this regard. I think your observation is not a misconception at all. Though I do think that women, especially women who work, legitimately have additional burdens. Men are generally not shopping for kids’ clothes at Old Navy and keeping track of who has outgrown all their pants. Men are not, as a rule, scheduling play dates. Those things take up a lot of mental space.

    9. Troy @ Market History 01:47pm 15 April - 2017 - Reply

      Haha do you like being fashionably late?
      Recently I’ve gotten into taking long walks after dinner. It’s nice to slow down and enjoy the scenery.

      • Brooklyn Bread 07:54pm 16 April - 2017 - Reply

        The thing is, in all seriousness, I am the kind of person who gives myself an ulcer if I am not always early. I am letting go of this, especially if I am just visiting family, or something like that. It really doesn’t matter, I realize.

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