Tag Archives: slow lane

Druidic Arts: Slowing and stopping

I’ll start by confessing that, of all the things I’ve flagged up as Druidic Arts, this is the one I struggle most with. I’ve blogged about it before too, but it stands a revisit.

There is so much pressure in modern life to be busy, good little producers and consumers, working very hard to hold up the flagging economies and so forth. In practice this serves the already wealthy, and has the ‘bonus’ effect of keeping most of us running round chasing our tails rather than having the time or energy to really look at what’s going on, where the good stuff is, and what would serve us, the planet and our fellows as opposed to the powerful, affluent few.

The beginnings of the art of slowing down call for stepping away from the things that keep telling us to run harder and faster. Television, and the subtext in advertising are a huge source of this. It means questioning why we feel moved to run so hard, and whether there’s an alternative. Often, there is, but it may take some getting to.

Slowing down and stopping enable us to form deeper relationships with all that we encounter. Rushing through makes deep engagement difficult with any topic, or entity, or place. This bit I do ok with when I make the time for it. What I find harder is resisting the idea that I should be running, all the time. There’s a lot to do, I need to earn a living, there are wrongs to right, battles to fight, miracles needed. I know from experience that running flat out for as long as I can results in burnout, not magical transformation. I also know that resting and thinking gets more done in the longer term – working smarter, and more efficiently pays off, and forward planning enables that.

I lived for a lot of years in a situation where I was under a lot of pressure to perform, deprived of sleep, overloaded with work, and not offered much scope for downtime. I know how it works. The list of things to do is so long, that you don’t dare stop. And the more tired, run down and demoralised you get the harder it is to achieve anything. Our whole culture encourages us to demand more and faster of each other, and not to think about what that really costs.

In the last couple of years I’ve started to study the art of slowness, but I’m very much a novice here. I try to do things the slow way as much as I can – walking and cycling are my main modes of transport. I cook from scratch, wash clothes by hand. This brings a sense of realness to my life. The faster we go, the more unreal it all becomes, our minds and bodies did not evolve to cope with the speed favoured by 21st century living. Our souls do not thrive at high speeds. I’m working on learning to slow and pause, to stop and gaze, and not to feel the need to push onwards when mind and body are worn out already. I’m also working to support those around me in slowing and taking time off.

I’m less confident about what the more advanced stages of the art of slowness would look like. I assume that a calm, unhurried approach to life would take a person deeper into appreciating and seeking the good stuff, the quality in all things. I think an artist of slowness would have more defence against bullshit and media manipulation, and would better see the big picture and the long view rather than being frantic about the short term. Slowing down and thinking long term would enable enlightened self interest, and be better environmentally. Doing less definitely consumes less, so I think slowness as an art will involve recognition of what is needful, and rejection of what is not. It’s a de-cluttering of life and mind.

In my slowing down, I have learned that it is possible to be happy with very little. Rushing about forever busy makes it harder to appreciate the little things. In the slow lane are all the beauties of nature, all the simplest, most innocent pleasures of the body. There is also the pleasure inherent in calmness. Finding joy in the small and the slow takes me away from the desire to run after the big and shiny, so there’s a process here which, once commenced, should reinforce itself.

From a druid perspective, frenetic human speed takes us away from the rhythms of nature. Trees are slow. Mountains are even slower. We miss the slow voices if we rush, and I do not think the voice of spirit is generally hasty, or able to respond to that five minute gap in the schedule. Slowing down is an art that enables all other Druidic practice, and enhances life.  I shall keep working at it. Slowly.

Life in the slow lane

I have recently read Carl Honore’s ‘In Praise of Slow’ (I recommend it) which agrees with so many things I’ve been thinking for a few years now about how we spend our time, the pace we live at and the things we could do without.

Not so many years ago I was routinely working twelve and fourteen hour days, and usually working six day weeks, often seven day weeks. I was writing, editing, marketing, busking, sometimes gigging (all the paid stuff) and then working as a volunteer for several organisations, and for my child’s school – which only had a few volunteer parents fundraising and helping out. I was running a folk club, a moot, and a singing group, and involved in organising rituals (all voluntary again) Before that, there were meditation groups. Then add in a young child to care for, and pretty much all of the domestic work for a three person household, including heavy jobs like cutting firewood, and lugging coal. There was always far more to do than there was time.

A number of things kept me working. The volunteering I did because there were things that needed doing, and I did not feel comfortable about saying no. At that time, my social life depended entirely on the musical and pagan things I was running, and had I not put in the work, life would probably have been very thin. I also felt under a lot of pressure to contribute financially, so I worked when I was ill, and when I was tired, and I very seldom took whole days off. I got into a cycle of intensive work, which would last about 6 weeks, followed by total burnout, which would usually involve my digestive system collapsing under the pressure and making me very ill for a few days. Repeat. Repeat. It was not a happy way to live. It’s one thing working all the hours you can to get something good done, it’s quite another when you’re effectively the servant of a person who spends most of their leisure time playing computer games.

I have slowed down. My doctor was very clear that if I didn’t make time both for gentle exercise and rest, that I was going to aggravate my illness, which I could not afford to do. And to be honest, I would not ask anyone else to do twelve hour days, seven days a week. I do not believe that life should consist entirely of work. It helped that I was supported in making changes.

Tom and I made a pact that we would have some time off every day, and that we would not work a full seven day week. We aim for a day off each week, but that sometimes turns up as two afternoons, if it makes more sense. We rarely take a whole day off, but sometimes we do, which is a joy. Having some down time before bed has improved my sleeping, and having enough time to sleep, and not waking still tired, to an alarm, makes a word of difference. When Tom is working on pages I tend to pick up more of the domestic stuff, but I haven’t cut wood since he’s been here, and anything else heavy, he undertakes. Faced with the example of a step father who regularly cooks, cleans and otherwise takes responsibility, my child has also started to sort out his own things, and take more responsibility. I used to have to fight him over that, but now it comes a lot more easily. So the pressure is off me. I find I do not have to run hard all the time just to keep up.

So we go for strolls in the evening. We read books, we take time for Radio 4 comedy and the radio 2 folk program, and sometimes also the radio 1 chart show. We hang out with people, go to galleries and museums. We go to local events. Life is richer, more interesting, and not so hectically paced. My health has improved dramatically, I am no longer living perpetually on the edge of burnout. My mental health is much improved. I am a lot happier.

But here’s the curious thing. Overall, productivity has gone up, not down. Tom can average at something like a page a day. That’s more than twice his speed before moving here. I get far more done in my time than I used to. This is partly because I am sharper from being rested, and partly because there is more inspiration in my life. The consequence of slowing down, has been to speed up, whilst feeling better about things. Win all round.