“What is this life if, full of care, We have no time to stop and stare”  William Henry Davis, 1911.

Why is it that while slow food, slow fashion and slow holidays are so IN; slow e-mail response, slow driving and slow thinking is  so OUT?  OK, enough already. I get that we don’t want to sit in suspended animation while someone contemplates their naval over our insurance claim or business proposal and I get that sitting at 60KM per hour in the middle lane of the highway is totally ‘not cool’ but what’s with the “Don’t give me problems give me solutions AND NOW” 24/7 thought process mentality?   We all know that the devil is in the detail but dam, you had better be all over that detail quick smart.

Before I go on, this isn’t a rant at a particularly difficult customer/boss/family member and nor is it a personal ‘please excuse me while I dribble on my pillow a little longer’ piece. This is a reflection on what I like to call our ‘speed addiction’. No pill’s required.

Speed Addiction in a non-pill form

I have loved that William Henry Davis poem since it was used on the UK’s Centre Parks TV adverts – I even went there…. Twice on the strength of it! 

What is this life if full of care? 

 It interests me how a question as simple as that can give birth to such a  virtual banquet of soul-food  as the poem progresses.  Isn’t it odd that even though 1911 would be classed as ‘slow’ by modern standards the world was still moving too quickly for some?  Poverty, sickness, long working hours and lack of education saw the happiness curtains drawn  tightly shut for many of the lower working classes while others only managed a peep  into the world that existed beyond the ‘rat race’ .  It would be wrong to believe that everyone was miserable all of the time of course but to think that everyone’s life was filled with boundless opportunity is just as likely to fall way short of the mark.  So why are we obsessed with speed?

Missing the point.

I don’t know but I’d hazard a guess that the those London dwellers who were upset about their lack of time to ‘smell the roses’ really were enslaved to their commitments.  With no social funds, pension schemes, workers compensation or employment law things were pretty much “take it or leave it” and who could afford to leave it?  Also life expectations were lower and social mobility almost unheard of so generally the wish to take things easy and have a day off every now and then were probably justified and reasonable on health grounds alone. The “what is the purpose of life” conversation could be quenched by a trip to the church on Sunday morning where along with divine intervention came a chance to sit down and catch up with friends.  But things aren’t that simple any more.

Fast forward to 2010 and we are running faster than ever, not daring to look back for fear of the stampede trampling us into the hard stone floor.  We are running scared and that scary thing isn’t the bogey man or the tax collector it is that big jug of stuff called meaning.

OK, at this point I understand that we are all individuals and we all have different levels of meaning to find, unwrap and cuddle up to but whatever shape you find yourself in I’d bet that like me it is meaning and purpose that you are chasing too and it’s mantras like these that keep us searching:

  • If we are not moving forward we are going backwards.
  • The human race is on and we’re in it.
  • You can do anything just so long as you get off your backside and work it baby.
  • There is no excuse for failure.
  • The only constant is change.
  • If you’re not with me your against me.

Sound like you just rocked up at an end of year board review meeting?  That’s life baby.

We seem to be running warp speed and blinkered into some undefined future place where we will find a bottle full of meaning waiting for us. This meaning will spray out like a shower of light over our tired (but never wrinkled) bodies as a radioactive perfume. We will glow in its light for a while until we realise that it’s toxic and we are cold.

So the point is……..

Life is the prize and a life ran quickly by someone who just sucks it up and is always available may be good for everyone else but it isn’t good for them.

Slow doesn’t mean stop.

How many of you have checked e-mails while on holiday?  Took work home to mull over after dinner?  Worked more than 2 hours over your clock-off time just to keep up?  I have and I still do. I justify it by saying that I love my work, I love my customers and I love the idea that at some point in the near future everyone will pat me on the back with one hand while handing over a fat cheque in the other. Dream on….

Researching and thinking takes time

I am not advocating that this behaviour  stops right now  but as time goes on, the beauty of the slow camp becomes ever more alluring.  Some thoughts:

  • Have you ever tried to take a picture out of the window of a moving car?
  • How many gourmet meals have you eaten and enjoyed while racing between business meetings?
  • How refreshing is a 10 minute power nap?
  • Would you feel OK about taking part in a vote after receiving the argument only minutes before?
  • Can you really know a country after a one week package tour?

I am convinced that slowing down just a teeny bit can bring more meaning into life as it allows us to really experience our actions rather than just race through them.   The world that I know has opened up to such a degree that the average person could theoretically do almost anything if they try hard enough but therein lies the problem.

We keep going at full throttle because that is the ONLY way to succeed. We must work harder, longer and smarter than anyone else and that means doing everything quickly and immediately.  However, the upshot of this life long drag-race is speed wobble and blur. We crash harder and more spectacularly when we fall and we see white space instead of rainbows wherever we look.  The more we do the less we feel.

So, try slowing down for a moment. Stop between tasks and look outside, leave the mobile at home when you walk the dog and spend an extra few moments chopping up the carrots as you try to get them all the same size.  I haven’t got it yet but I am trying and I would like it very much if you would try too.

Life is beautiful when it’s lived slowly. Breathe in deeply, stand tall and smell the roses.