My mind had started to be plagued with the idea of slow living right after I read the first couple of pages of Thich Nhat Hanh’s book, The Miracle of Mindfulness. I was introduced to the idea of living in the moment by that book which is really ironic due to the fact that I have practically been brought up in Buddhism (Cambodia is a Buddhist country), yet I have never really known that mindfulness was one of the core teachings of Buddha. Even as a (closeted) atheist, I do appreciate a lot of Buddha’s teachings on the way of life.
That first introduction to the idea of slow living happened about a year ago, and throughout that time, the same subject darted in and out of my mind, but I never really knew what to do about it. Being immersed in the richness of everyday moments seems like an appealing way to live life for sure, but I didn’t know where to begin. I just couldn’t stop the breakneck speed of my thoughts. This matter was made even worse by the influx of an endless stream distractions in this modern world, and of course, on the Internet.
Now, everybody has to have somebody to talk to when they are intrigued with a new idea, and I am no exception. I have this friend, and I think she wouldn’t wish to be written about openly about her private thoughts, so I would have to call her S. Right. So S. and I are very close friends, and our talks change from very awesome puns to extremely deep existential ponderings in mere seconds. Conversations just flow naturally between us. I love to talk about my thoughts with her, and I think she returns the sentiment, too. We have a lot in common ranging from favorite music taste to fashion sense, but one thing stands out as a stark contrast between us is the fact that I am a fast thinker while she is the complete opposite. I confessed to her that I loved how slow her brain worked (in a complimentary way, I hope), how analytical it was in every matter. And because of that I tried. I really tried to slow down my speed of thinking because I also want to achieve those high-quality thoughts after a long hard session of meditation, but to no avail. Recently, though, she confessed that sometimes, she hated how slow her thought process was. She wanted to experience the rush of fast thinking, too. It seemed like we had the case of green grass on the other side. We didn’t know which speed we should take to optimize our experience until…
I was recommended to read Flow: the Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi by Ted.com, and boy oh boy, that was a read! Everything was explained so clearly that I wondered why I hadn’t arrived at the same conclusion on my own earlier. Basically, Flow tells us that to become happier, we need to challenge ourselves; we need to make life interesting. Not only that, we need to pay attention! ATTENTION! In a world that is so full of distraction, attention is the most precious resource we have.
I took a step back and looked at my life. If you are anything like me, you are always romanticizing about the simple moments in your childhood. Everything was so plain and simple, slow even. We were not overwhelmed by anything, and it seemed as though there was a magical touch of glow in everything around us. To quote Richard Carlson & Joseph Bailey, “I felt like I did in the happiest days of my childhood. I felt relaxed, at peace, fulfilled, satisfied.” (Slowing Down to the Speed of Life, 1997) The authors also lamented about their lost childhood innocence and underwhelming moments. (The book also talks a lot of slowing down, but I didn’t really find the techniques effective to me at all.)
That was the days of our childhood that seemed like such a long time ago. As we grew up, we started to be bombarded with information, noises, sights and ideas. We became so immersed in bits of information that we failed most of the time to entertain a thought long enough for us to become reflective of it. That was what happened to me, at least. It was as though my mind has become this wreckless demonic monkey, always demanding for more and more stimulation. To quote Nicholas Carr, author of The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains,
“Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski.”
In the book, Nicholas Carr was just reflecting upon his habit of reading before and after the introduction of computer and internet. To me, though, this quote resonates with practically everything else in my life. Before, I was a scuba diver of every activity in the world around me, drinking in the rich observations and even made reflections on them. Now I just zip along the moment, hurrying from one to the next. My mind constantly thinks about anything but my surroundings. At the end of the day, I couldn’t even recall what I had for dinner.
My all-time favorite poet, Erin Hanson puts my struggle so eloquently together:
When I became so distracted that I didn’t even know what I did today at the end of the day, I said to myself enough was enough– I have to get my shining armors and rusting swords, and charge into this problem head-on. Passive actions wouldn’t yield anything anymore because I sense this might have a tremendous impact upon my way and quality of life. And with anything that is worthwhile, passive actions won’t do. I started out like how anyone of you would have started, Googling. There was this playlist on slowness on Ted.com and I couldn’t have asked for a better result, to be honest.
I started by watching this talk of Carl Honoré about his book, In Praise of Slowness, Challenging the Cult of Speed. To tell you the truth, I didn’t take much in because of the hurried nature in my actions. I just wanted results right there right then! Even though I took in only some portion of his talk, the ending strikes me as very beautiful. That guy sure knows how to sell himself, I tell you that.
Right. So, I wasted no time in finding a copy of his book. In Praise of Slowness, Challenging the Cult of Speed was actually published in 2004, so some of the content was pretty outdated, I guess. Despite that, I got to know about a lot of practical ways to slow my life down, and after reading it, I realized I was not the only one who was aware of the harm of their own speed of life and wished to slow down. I felt like slowing down was a great new cliff into which I must fall, but I now know I didn’t have to do it alone. There were literally millions of people all around the world who took, and were taking the same plunge. That thought alone was comforting enough.
Well, that’s the long history of my acquaintance with the idea of living life slowly. The answer to the question I and S. have been puzzling over is balance. You can’t go slow all the time just as you can’t go fast all the time. What you need to do is to find a balance and be able to go slow when you need to, and go fast when the situation calls. All you need is to find the right speed for everything.
As a chronic speedoholic, I reckoned I would have to learn how to slow down first, so I have started the “Going Slow Campaign” for myself early this month. Although it’s only 10 days in, I already feel the difference. Boy, I am so excited with these new changes that I HAVE to share this with the world (thus, this article).
Well, now, here are the changes.
I usually get up at 6:15 a.m., and instead of rushing to do this and that, I just rolled on my back and meditate for about 15 minutes. The lying down position is recommended for beginners by both Thich Nhat Hanh and the Dalai Lama, so I put my best bet on that. I am doing the “Inner Child Healing” meditation from Thich Nhat Hanh’s book, Reconciliation: Healing the Inner Child because boy, I do have a lot of emotional baggage from my childhood. The training is so simple in its nature that I was so completely taken by surprise of how effective it turned out to be. Basically, you just take deep breathes and repeat to yourself:
To begin the meditation, you chain, “Breathing in, I am aware of my body. Breathing out, I smile to my body.”
Starting from your toes, you repeat to yourself:
“Breathing in, I am aware of my toes. Breathing out, I smile to my toes.”
You just keep repeating that to each and every part of your body.
That’s it. That’s my whole meditation process. It had seemed so childish to me until I started to notice changes in my inner thoughts….
I no longer hate myself anymore.
I am no longer at war with my own thoughts anymore.
For a chronic self-critic like me, this was miracle in itself. I managed to turn my mind from a burning hell to a peaceful playground. Not a heaven, not yet, anyway, but I am on my way!
I have actually been exercising for about 2 years now, but mostly it was just aerobic (on the air walker thing on the right), some abs training and squads here and there for about 45 minutes every day. It showed result, yes, it did. I managed to build some muscles and lost some weight but every training was hell. Nope, I didn’t enjoy any part of it. At. All. When I was on the machine, I always looked at the counter, wishing I had hit the desired target. I endured through those boring trainings just for the sole aim of getting fit.
I also cycle from time to time, but because of the traffic and the thought of meeting people on the street everyday overwhelms me, I don’t count on it as a prime way to burn fat. Then, after resolving to take everything slow, I turned to yoga. It was cited again and again (and again) by practically every slow movement preacher as a way to slow down, so I went for it.
If you had met me these past 10 days, you would have noticed how crazy I am now for yoga by having to endure through my endless ramblings about how good it is because it really is so good!
It enhances my muscles. It connects me to my body. Additionally, it even changes my posture. If you had seen me outside at all, you would have known how bad my posture was at times. The biggest difference between yoga and my other routines, though, is the fact that I actually look forward to my yoga session even though I know there are so many crazy poses in store for me.
My exercise routine now consists of 15 minutes on aerobic (using the walker thing in the picture. It’s a plus because it’s doesn’t need powering at all) and 20-30 minutes of Yoga. For those who are starting out on yoga, I recommend Adriene on Youtube because she sure knows how to spice things up every day!
The time for school is near. Having been prepared, I take my umbrella and set out to walk to the campus which is conveniently placed at a 10 minute walking distance from my house. In an attempt to become greener, I have tried to cycle to school, but I still found that I missed a lot of my environment as I peddled through the crowded streets. Therefore, I opted for walking instead, and it is great! I felt slower in my life when I started walking earlier this month. Boy, I did get a lot of questions from people asking me why the hell did I walk when I could just get here in 2 minutes in a motorbike? I usually just shrug and tell them because I like it.
So, schoolmates, if you are reading this, now you know.
- Last but not least, journaling!
Before the Going Slow Campaign, I only had one journal (the little blue one), which was a mix between a bullet journal (inspired by Tumblr, yo) and a notebook. Basically, I wrote in it what I had to achieve for today and my thoughts or notions as the day progressed.
However, I thought I would try to have another journal for daily reflection, a diary so to speak. Writing down reflections will undoubtedly force me to slow down and think about my days. In an attempt to motivate myself to keep the habit, I bought myself an expensive and beautifully crafted journal yesterday (the grey one). Last night journaling was a bless. I reflected upon my actions, commitments and motivations, on what I did well (like patting a dog on the way the school) and what I wish I hadn’t done (ignoring my students just to finish a book review).
Reflection is to information as digestion is to food. No matter how much stuff you take in, if you don’t make the time to reflect upon it, it doesn’t get into your deep system at all.
Well, those are all the changes and results I have for now. The journey has just begun, and I am certainly taking my time!