We all live it or live with it to some extent – our society’s obsession with speed. Whether it’s with omnipresent traffic, constant deadlines, or crammed schedules, too many of us spend too much time running or overrun. The pace itself can over time become a lens for life, our focus in constant erratic motion. In the cursory sweeps of our day, we miss out on the nuanced textures of life—the sensory pleasures of a good meal, the subtle changes in our growing child’s face, the quiet beauty of a weekend morning, the warm connection with a partner or friend. What do we do when we find ourselves caught in an unsustainable momentum? The answer for some is an internationally growing – and diversely focused – movement known as slow living.
Today experts tell us that runaway stress has us teetering on the verge of a public health crisis with three-quarters of Americans reporting they “experience stress at levels that exceed what they define as healthy.” Undoubtedly, our obsession with speed contributes to this trend. We’re taking on more than we can reasonably process. We’re doing more and experiencing less.
One of the central voices of the slow living movement, Carl Honoré, argues our society is caught in an ever escalating “arms race” of speed, and we’re all paying the consequences. In one of the movement’s seminal books, In Praise of Slowness, Honoré illuminates a sad reality shaped by everything from fast food to “one-minute bedtime stories” as well as research on parents who spend twice as much time on email as they do on playtime with their children, workers who face burnout in their twenties and thirties, and doctors whose minimal time with patients causes them to miss pertinent if not critical information. Our addiction to speed, Honoré warns, is undermining our personal relationships, our societal civility, our individual fulfillment, and physical health.
Speed in this sense is more than a velocity, as slow living proponents explain. It morphs sooner or later into a personal and collective mindset. It becomes the rationalization behind all manner of deleterious choices. From a society standpoint, for example, it can be relying on “fast” farming methods (e.g. CAFOs, GMOs) that produce short term profits with long term consequences. On a personal level, it can encompass all of the games we play with ourselves to stay above water like eating quick instead of nourishing food, neglecting fitness and play, using stimulants to get through another afternoon, giving up sleep, and multitasking our way through each day. In our attempts to meet the most immediate obligations, we miss filling our most essential needs.
Beyond the logistical strategies and short-term fixes, there’s a better way, say slow living advocates. Slow living, according to its proponents, is predominantly about the attention and intentionality we bring to the spheres of life. It’s about living one’s values and giving out time and attention accordingly. Slow living as it exists today grew out of the slow food movement, which began in Italy during the 1980s with a call to focus on the sources and experience of food. The broader scope of the movement today reflects the getting back to basics ideal behind slow food. Then it was about supporting regional food, traditional cooking, and and the personal and social pleasures of eating. Today in the various and sundry offshoots of slow living (e.g. slow parenting, slow design, slow travel, slow money, slow education, and slow health), it can mean everything from seeking out complementary and alternative therapies to working (and living on) less, from observing “secular sabbaths” from technology to savoring the pleasures of slow sex.
Experience tells us that slow activities and a slower pace make for a more relaxing experience. People everywhere take up “slow hobbies” like knitting or wood carving (even if they never thought of them in this light). We enjoy the quieting influence of an ambling stroll at night. We relish the slow and sensory feast of a big holiday dinner.
Yet, there’s science to support the call to decelerate. Long, slow low-level aerobic workouts, for example, are correlated with everything from improved memory and increase longevity to reduced risk of metabolic syndrome, breast cancer and cardiovascular disease. The Body by Science strength training protocol, in which loads are lifted at an extremely slow rate, can result in greater muscle gain for some people and can help diversify a strength training regimen. “Slow agriculture” that raises livestock with biologically appropriate feeds (e.g. grass grazing) and grows crops without the use of the synthetic pesticides make for a more nourishing (and less toxic) food supply. Activities that induce the quiet state of mental flow can ease symptoms of anxiety and challenge us in positive, healthy ways.
To advocates, the crux of slow living refuses quantification. Living slowly ultimately means living deeply. Slow travel, for example, is both a lesson in its own right and a metaphor for the movement. There’s something missed in hitting the postcard sites of a city we travel to and then moving on to the next destination. We have the photo memento for our collection, but we leave relatively unchanged. Committing to a single destination for as much time as our vacation allows gives us the chance to delve into the culture of a place – to experience the subtler but more telling characteristics of a locale. We meet the people, hear the stories, feel the communal rhythm. With time and attention, we encounter a place and let its influence permeate us. We return home different, richer for the journey. Slow movement advocates talk about the importance of incubation, that rich period in which the influence of an experience synthesizes with self. Time and mental space is critical for this absorption. Slow living – in all its spheres – seeks above all to cultivates a reflection and nurturance our immediate gratification culture often eschews. Proponents say it calls us to commit our time and passion to what feels most natural and life-giving.
How do I see the connection between slow living and Primal living? I think slow living on some level reclaims what is natural in human relations, basic sustenance, and life balance. Though I might suggest a more worthy slow food ritual than bread baking, I’m won over to the overall concept. Contrary as I am, I appreciate an effort to challenge conventional thinking.
More than that, however, I like how slow living in many respects brings us closer to some of our evolutionary patterns. Sure, Grok wasn’t pondering the virtues of a “slow” stock portfolio or holding workshops on tantric sex (although who knows). Nonetheless, the core of the movement rings true – and timeless. There’s a reason we miss quiet weekends untethered to technology. There’s a reason a city with ample park space and a vibrant pedestrian zone feels more inviting than a congested sea of skyscrapers and cars. There’s a reason we feel uniquely fulfilled cooking and sharing a homemade meal with others. These were the basic experiences of our ancestors. Humanity evolved with rhythms and rituals modern acceleration has left in the dust. Our psyches haven’t caught up with the change of pace. Life makes more sense the slow way.
As slow living advocates explain, it’s not about moving through life at a snail’s pace. Slow living calls us to bring intention to our mental tempo. We exert the energy and speed we want to conjure for a particular task, but we don’t get caught up in an addiction to pace. It’s about deciphering a “sweet spot” for living, a personally optimal rhythm for life that serves us best. We can be challenged without being overwhelmed. We can feel recharged without being stagnant. A good Primal life seeks that same sweet spot – an individually determined set point for thriving. Slow living can be one more framework to help you cultivate that goal.
Thanks for reading today. Let me know your thoughts on slow living. Have a great end to the week, everyone!