Suggestions for slowing down

I am a person in a hurry in a world in hurry. I can sing the praises of slowing down; doing it is another matter. Hurrying seems to be a fundamental part of my way of being in the world; even when I have no deadline and no one is waiting on me, I quickly get impatient with anything that keeps me from doing whatever I'm doing as quickly as possible.

I'm learning, though.

Here are some ideas for my fellow students of slowness.

To read slowly:

-- Read aloud.
It can be an entirely different experience than reading silently. It is even better to read aloud with/to other people, but don't neglect to read aloud just for a lack of partners. Seriously. Try it.

Some kinds of texts are particularly suited for reading aloud. Most of scripture, for most of the history of the church, was experienced by most Christians as something they heard read to them rather than something they read alone by themselves. My adopted godfather has found that hosting group readings of large sections of scripture can be a profound experience. (The entire New Testament can be completed in one grueling 19-hour day, if you're really ambitious.) It's the extreme sports version of Bible reading, and thus can have a special appeal to young people who like a challenge.

Shakespeare should never be read silently. It's actually a massive waste of time to even try to read Shakespeare silently, because your brain has to work much harder just to understand what's going on in the archaic language if you read it silently. The gist of what's going on in the play -- if not the exact meaning of every word -- is much more accessible, with less effort, simply by hearing it aloud. I can't say why, but it works.

Dr. Suess should also never be read silently.

-- Read poetry.
Speaking of scripture, Shakespeare, and Dr. Suess: a major part of the power of poetry is the way it forces the reader to slow down. If you're going to read poetry like you read prose, you might as well not read it at all. It's the one chance you have in your own language to dwell with the richness of the language itself.

--Read in a language other than your mother tongue.
Evidence that I am part of a peculiar tribe of geeky evangelicals: I've known plenty of people who have taken to showing up to church with a Bible in a language they're just starting to learn. It's a clever strategy for practicing your target language, but I now suspect that it can be just as useful for enhancing our understanding of the book we're reading. I also suspect that it doesn't much matter which language you use. If you've studied enough of any language in school that you can stumble along with it, that's the language to try reading.

-- Turn off the screen.
Our minds process words differently on screens than on paper. E-book readers may occupy a kind of middle ground, but this reading you're doing right now on the web? Not slow. Go pick up a real book. And when you find things online that are particularly worthy of deep reading -- say, an essay by Marilynne Robinson, do yourself a favor and print them out. You're not going to singlehandedly destroy the world by occassionally defying the paperless society.

To live slowly:

-- Spend time with the very young or the very old.
Leave your agenda behind. Give yourself permission to go at the pace of a dear one who is not yet or no longer captive to the pace of modern life, and see what you learn.

-- Take music lessons.
There are few better ways to combat the hurrying sickness, both in the long and short range. Long range: proficiency is the product of the discipline of daily practice over months and years. Short range: chronic hurriers have to fight the impulse to speed up the tempo and skip over the rests. Music helps train our ears and fingers to recognize that faster isn't always better.

-- Experiment with extravagant inefficiencies.
Our world is in such a hurry that one of the few areas of life where it is still generally considered okay to be slow is in the realm of hobbies. So make the most of it. Knit. Garden. Cook from scratch. Homebrew beer or wine. For heaven's sake don't become hostage to the notion that there's some great moral virtue in doing everything the hard way, but find one or more practice that you actually enjoy and work it into your life.

-- Run.
Ironically, the impulse to hurry can often be exaccerbated by the nervous energy that builds up when we live a sedentary lifestyle. So get some exercise and get the need to rush out of your system. If you don't run, that's okay; walking can work just as well.

-- Pray the Rosary.
Or the daily office. You don't have to be Catholic, and if you have a problem with Hail Marys, there are other prayers you can use. We can't help but let the busy-ness of daily life invade our prayer lives, but we can draw from long-established practices of the Church to quiet our racing minds and seek the Lord. If the idea is new to you, here are a couple of thoughtful sites to consider and a nice little book.

Do you have any suggestions to add? How do you fight the need for speed? How has slowness blessed your life?


The Muser (aka Beautiful Mama) said...

Love this! I'm trying to give up multi-tasking. If I'm driving, I try not to talk on the phone. I try to simply really tune in to the music I've got playing or to simply look at the scenary. If I'm watching a kid's show with my daughter, I'm trying to remember to put my laptop down, to put my arm around her, and tune in to the feel of her against me, even to the silly show. There are so many "empty" moments that I fill by trying to get as much done at once as I can, so that I find that I lose my ability to have any down time.

Gardening also helps. And walking places instead of driving. Now I'm going to be looking for even more ways, esp. now that my quarter's almost over.

Leslie said...

After living in Mexico, I realize how much having air conditioned houses (here in Texas, anyway) keeps us from ever slowing down. There is something so amazingly wonderful about sitting outside in the cool of the evening after the sun sets on a blistering hot day. Just sitting there, with a cold coke in your hand, enjoying the difference that ten degrees can make while visiting with neighbors and watching the clouds change colors. I miss it.

I love Marilynne Robinson too. Gilead is one of my all-time favorite books. Looking forward to reading this essay.

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