The gifts of slowness

These warm summer days are quickly passing by. I hope you are doing well and enjoying those long days! We’re already into August and in the evenings I noticed the sun is going down earlier than a month ago. It makes me feel a bit nostalgic as I want more of them, more of these golden days to learn to slow down. Yet I also notice this subtle voice inside that forces me to do more in a day, to hurry, to do the next thing, to not take a break, to go on and on, ….

Isn’t it for most of us a daily struggle to find the balance between moments of rest and the work that needs to be done? It’s such an extreme difficult balance we are trying to find between slowness and the hurry, the efficiency and the never ending work.

No other culture in history has ever been so fond of rapidity and speed than ours right now: we want faster cars, high speed trains, supersonic airplanes, we need mobile phones and e-mail which send messages in no time from Brussels to New York.

Even our food needs to be prepared and eaten quickly. Fastfood really embodies this crazy speed of life in the 21st century as it leaves little room for reflection, creativity and connection with nature where our food comes from. It also takes away the social pleasure of having a meal together and enjoying each others company.

We live in a world that’s obsessed by time and the need to shorten it or the will to have more of it. We barely can imagine there once has been a time where there was mostly silence and rest. And this was only 100 years ago! The great inheritance of this past is slowness, rest, human cadence, a steady pace and its undisturbed silence. Where can we find this these days?

“Nothing is more useful for men than the firm intention to not be in a hurry.”

Henry David Thoreau

So why should we try to live at a slower pace, to embrace slowness in our lives? How would we benefit from it? That’s what I would like to share with you in this blogpost.

It’s needless to say slowness won’t come naturally in our daily life. We must consciously choose for it, fight for it, go against the current, … But once we try, we will definitely discover these gifts of slowness…

One of the gifts of slowness is living in the present. Even though I’m having holiday now, it’s still so hard to be present, not allowing my mind being occupied by the next thing to do. Our mind and body are restless and always want to have something to do. Our days are filled with happiness, sorrow, regret, fear, expectations, obligations, memories, desires and thoughts about what we should do and be.

But just wait,

quietly wait,

listen to the silence,

look at the clouds passing by,

look at the swallows gathering in the sky at sunset,

feel the softness of a velvet leaf,

look in to the heart of a flower,

… these are moments of great joy. On these moments one isn’t longing to be somewhere else or thinking about the past or future. It’s living in the present!

Another gift one will experience is cherishing the ordinary. Simple and small things in life will become delightful is we look at them with attentiveness. Wonder, awe and beauty are everywhere around us if you take the time to really surrender yourself to it.

What if a daily routine like drinking tea (or coffee) becomes a resting point, the beautiful ordinary, in your day to look forward to instead of an automatic activity?

I was really touched by this quote of Thich Nhat Hanh as if it was especially written for me: “In the morning, make yourself a pot of tea, when you have tidied and cleaned your house, have worked in the garden, gazed at the clouds or picked flowers, and drink it slowly. Allow yourself a good length of time to do this. Don’t drink your tea as someone who hastily drinks his coffee during a lunch break. Drink your tea slowly and reverently as if it were the axis on which the earth revolves – slowly, evenly, without rushing towards the future. Live the actual moment. For only this actual moment is life.”

Well, I still have to learn this, as I’m always thinking about the moment ahead. I hope to drink my tea this way, some day…

The next gift is the comfort of a companion. Simply enjoying the company of others. This wonderful feeling of belonging together is now offered in favour of the quenchless individualism. Our unstoppable search for freedom has lead to fragmentation, isolation and loneliness. How many people still have a meal together, I’m wondering?

As a family we always try to eat together. On schooldays we can’t have lunch together but we start the day together with breakfast. These moments gives us all a moment of connection that will sustain us the rest of the day, until dinner when we share our lives again with each other.

I believe laughing together as a family and with friends is also essential and part of being in each other’s company. It’s something we can’t do on our own. We need each other. Laughing is such a wonderful feeling that will make us (and the other) less serious and make us (and the other) feel relaxed. If we live in a slower pace, there will be time for really being together and experiencing the pleasure of laughter… and feeling connected!

What to think about the gift of nature? I’m blessed to be surrounded by my garden and wild nature. On moments when I’m feeling lost and sad, I make a walk, look at flowers, do some gardening in the veggie garden and it comforts me. A walk in the woods or in natural scenery has a soothing and healing effect and is a way to experience nature. If we’re only surrounded by the empty abundance of technology and consumption it’s impossible to be aware of the beauty of nature. So please, let’s go outside and be comforted by nature!

The last gift I want to share is the one of play and creativity. We often think about creativity as if it’s only for artists but I believe that each of us can be creative. In all that we do, we can be creative. It can be in the way we care for our garden, the way we prepare a meal and make it attractive, the way we dress, the attention we give to decorate a room, the care we give to the most homely activities such as peeling an apple, making our bed, wrapping a gift, telling a story to our kids, writing a letter and so on.

This longing to be creative, to make things beautiful is how we are made. Our rushing world has convinced us that beauty is something extra, not the thing itself. Something we can buy. But we can’t. Everyone can add beauty in its own special way. How wonderful it is, when beauty surprises us into stillness and we pause to listen, even for a moment, to creation’s song.

I recently read this true quote by Diane Ackerman and she is quite clear about the gift of play, so I won’t add any more words to the subject!

In rare moments of deep play, we can lay aside our sense of self, shed time’s continuum, ignore pain, and sit quietly in the absolute present, watching the world’s ordinary miracles. No mind or heart hobbles. No analyzing or explaining. No questing for logic. No promises. No goals. No worry. With innocent surprise, one regards life’s spectacles and underpinnings. All one feels is affectionate curiosity for the whole bustling enterprise of creation. It doesn’t matter what prompts the feeling – watching the albatrosses fly (or the Scottish mountains!) or following the sky-blown oasis of a tumultuous sunset. When it happens we experience a sense of revelation and gratitude. Nothing need to be thought or said. There is a way of beholding in play that is a form of prayer.” 

By living at this rushing pace, we have lost so much. I really hope we can find a balance again. May we strive to limit our materialism and may we strengthen our strive for play, creativity, the care for each other and the world around us. May we strive for what is enough, to enjoy what we have; the small, the ordinary, the beautiful and the holy in the everyday. And most of all, may we encourage and support each other to live this way!

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