Slowitude

Slow Philosophy

In Praise of Daydreaming

easy tide

‘She has a wandering mind. Tch Tch. It will bring trouble later.’

This was my school teacher’s report to my mother a long time ago. I was promptly taken to learn TM, the meditation fad of the late 60’s.  TM was great.  My day dreaming got better.  More technicolor.  Mom and I loved the Maharishi Joke book that came along with the TM classes.  From then on, no one could catch me.  One part of me was always alert and came to the rescue in case of a sudden questions from teachers.  Daydreaming kept me happy amidst the upheavals of changing 14 schools, mom’s mental health and constant home swapping.

DTC bus rides had little to engage me but there I was, up and away, climbing Kanchenjunga, directing films, singing in a rock band and having great adventures travelling.  One of my refuges was the British Council Library – a lot of fodder for the stories in my alternate mindscape came from the 4 books per week policy.  Then came years of trekking when walking and knitting dreams was the way to be.  I came across as a shy, quiet girl but there were storms brewing insides- plans to run away and travel the world with Reena, my classmate.  We spent many summer days writing to embassies and JS magazine – the fun was mostly in the dreaming- we gazed at maps and drawings and sighed at the imaginary journeys.

A recent article in Smithsonian  brought home the amazing benefits I have from my daydreaming life- a better equipped brain for one.  Another research points towards enhanced creativity as the imagination ‘muscle’ is really strong.  I think educationists and psychologists need to promote daydreaming.  I have far less scars of a traumatic childhood thanks to inhabiting the exciting worlds within.  My skills with creative solutions, communication and making connections have enriched my life.  Heartbreaks have not depressed me for long, I can bounce back from trials faster than most people I know.

Thank you, Planet Daydream.

Troubles never came, dear teacher.

Slow Philosophy

Get Rich Slow

priceless nature

Being rich enables us to afford the finest forms of leisure the world has to offer.

However there is also a form of leisure that enables us to be rich.

It is  l e i s u r e l y attention.

This means slowing down. Slowing to the speed of life, to the speed of connection. Slow down enough and there can be an accident. A collision into oneness. Always a surprise.

This reveals a different kind of affluence, a whole other abundance.

One that has nothing to do with finances or belongings. One that comes with a sense that everything has a fine-ness, and that everything is belonging.

Those who have tasted leisurely attention, those who are devoted to it and are its connoisseurs, they are the richest in the world. Rich in love, rich in time, rich in contentment, rich in understanding, rich in presence.

Now, how to practice this?

Here are six beautiful phrases that can support us in the art of leisurely attention…

  • I see you
  • I hear you
  • I feel you
  • I love you
  • I am you
  • Thank you

Together these phrases are an invitation to ever deeper connection, understanding and appreciation.

Set aside ten minutes or more and do a simple practice.
Sit or stand near any object in your home or outside. This could be a living or non-living thing, natural or man-made. Anything that catches your eye and attracts your attention is fine.
Now use these phrases, one at a time and really connect with this object. 
Really see it. Like you are seeing it for the very first time.
 Really hear it. Notice its silence or the way it speaks to you. 
Really feel it. What does it evoke in you, moment by moment.
 Really love it. Which means appreciate it just as it is.

See yourself in it. Inquire in what ways is it you, and you it? 
Offer gratitude. Thankfulness for this gift of connection.

Now ask, “What life lessons could this thing be teaching me? And wait for a clear answer to emerge, not by thinking about it, by being still and receptive.
 You have just experienced the power of leisurely attention! 
Next, inwardly use these phrases when listening to another. See how this affects the quality of your listening and understanding. 
In this way, slowly and naturally allow this way of being to fill and permeate your whole life.
This is the way to be rich and enrich everyone you meet.

Slow Philosophy

Slowitude

First things, first:

Slow is the effect. The cause is ticking with a great and precise indifference in almost every corner of this small planet.

Here is some context:

Take three modern institutions: the factory, the school and the prison. If you look closely at them, you will discover all three are run along similar lines: you have supervisors, you have bells going off, model prisoners and good students who make great class monitors; there are recess breaks; rewards and punishments; time out in the yard for outdoor exercise, and a time for everything even for going to the loo.

Today’s office is often just a barely disguised variation on the factory. Ruling over them all with its massive metronomic fist is a giant clock that keeps time. Everything, as most good managers will exhort, must run like clockwork.

The history of this goes back to two centuries. Back in the early industrial days, school prepped you for a factory and if you were a rule breaker, or were disobedient and couldn’t work in a factory, there was always the prison. As drunken Aussie cricket fans used to chant at the Melbourne Cricket ground in the seventies:

Ashes to ashes,

Dust to dust,

If Thomson don’t getcha,

Lillie must!

The clock, as a direct representative of the machine mind that rules everything in the world – from production to consumption today – rules our lives. How many time-telling devices do you think you have in your home?

Take a guess.

Anything up to and over a dozen – your computer/s, your mobile/s, the TV/s, the radio, the tablet, the DVD player, even your microwave will offer you the time. I am not even counting the traditional clock or wristwatch or even its 21st Century cousin, the Apple Watch.

No longer do we live by the natural rhythms of our bodies, by the annual cycles of season, the daily cycles of weather or even our menstrual cycles – each of those now needs to be managed by us individually through a variety of remedies supplied to us – no, now we live and die by the clock. Time is money, we are told repeatedly and consequently we live on an endless treadmill running forever to stay in the same place even as some unknown gym instructor keeps pushing up the speed of the treadmill so that we are often stumbling along breathlessly only to get to nowhere.

The clock does not care neither does the invisible gym instructor. If you should fall off the treadmill, there is another just like you to take your place. Just walk into the reception of any multinational bank or a large corporation and you will see scores of your replacements.

So how do you get off the treadmill? How do we opt out of this machine driven race?

You have to take back control of your time.

Today, either because you have to or because you have chosen to, you have sold your time on this planet in exchange for money – in the fond hope that when your ‘time’ comes you will have enough to either ‘re-tire’ or finally, do what you wanted to do all your life. Of course by then you will be at least fifty years old or more and your body will mostly just want to lie down.

So if you can, make a plan and quit your money making job and do what want to do on your own time right now.

There is no better time to do it.

But if for some reason you cannot quit right away; that you have to wait while you are making that master plan to get off this lunatic treadmill, here is a small and beautiful instruction:

Fake it till you make it: Act as though you are the master of your time on this beautiful blue planet.

Go slow inside:

taking it slow

                                    Flow with the water

Don’t buy the story of the clock whispers incessantly inside you. Watch your breath. Be mindful of the narrative that drives men and women everywhere to look a certain way and live a certain way. This is the voice of an insane world that has forgotten its source.

And you will find yourself going slow outside too:

You will chew that croissant a little longer; enjoy the crunch of an apple; linger over that steaming mug of sharp South Indian filter coffee; gaze at the sunset even as it disappears below the horizon in a smudge of orange and red and indigo.

You will catch longer glimpses of the essentially simple nature of this life you have been given.

Soon you will see things that are not run by time and so, with small acts of rebellion, with great cunning and subterfuge, you will prepare the ground for your personal revolution – freedom from that great tyrant of our lives: the clock.

And you will enjoy the timeless joys of clock-free ‘Slowitude’.

Slow Philosophy

Carl Honore: Unplugged

carl honore

Carl Honore, global Guru of the Slow movement and author of insightful books on where we are headed with in the Fast lane. Here he shares insights on the effects of the phone revolution and how smart phones are not always the smartest choice!

When Barack Obama became president of the United States in January, his first victory was not steering the stimulus package through Congress or closing the detention centre at Guantánamo Bay. It was persuading his security staff to let him keep his BlackBerry.

“I won the fight,” declared the new and very relieved leader of the free world.

Obama is not alone in refusing to part with his smartphone. Madonna sleeps with her BlackBerry under her pillow. Celebrities from Paris Hilton to David Beckham are seldom photographed without a mobile in hand. Millions of people are right now communicating on handheld devices in offices, beds, cars, trains, parks, restaurants, on the toilet, in the shower – anywhere they can get a signal.

No wonder the BlackBerry has been dubbed the CrackBerry. Or that hardcore fans of Apple’s rival handset talk of catching iPhoneitis.

But is it fair to liken a smartphone to a hard drug or a mental illness? To blame the new tools of communication for knocking our lives out of balance?

People often assume that as a proponent of the Slow movement I should be against new technology. They think that slowing down, putting your life in balance, means throwing away the gadgets. Yet nothing could be further from the truth.

I am no Luddite. I love technology and own all the latest high-tech goodies. To me, being able to tap the Web or speak and write to anyone anytime anywhere is exhilarating. By freeing us from the constraints of time and space, mobile communication can help us “seize the moment” and “make the most of now,” which is what the Slow movement is all about.

I live in London, and the other day I met with colleagues from Norway and the United States. A few years ago, we would have flown to a hub city, talked and then flown back again. It would have taken at least a day, probably longer. This being 2009, however, we held a Web conference and finished inside an hour. That same afternoon I was able to take my daughter rollerblading.

The new technology brings us together in ways that seemed like science fiction not long ago. On a recent trip to Canada, I spent a long session on the webcam with my son back in London. We chose the players for our Champions League Fantasy Football team and then watched part of the Chelsea-Juventus match together. Well, not “together” in the traditional sense of the word, but we were a lot closer than we would have been without that long-distance link.

Before mobile communication, time, distance and my very poor handwriting killed off most of my long-distance friendships. Today, thanks to email, Facebook and Twitter, I’m in touch with mates on every continent.

One friend recently spent three weeks in Brazil. In the past I would have felt lucky to receive a postcard. This time around I got daily online updates complete with photos and video clips. Halfway through his trip, I recommended a bar in Rio de Janeiro. He went along and ended up meeting the woman of his dreams. Here is the text he sent me from the taxi on the way home that night: “Think I just met my future wife. Owe you one.”

Thanks to the new technology, I felt like I was right there with him in the back of that Rio cab. My experience of his trip was enriched and our friendship strengthened.

Mobile communication can help us seize the moment in ways that go beyond relationships. Teamed with GPS technology, smartphones turn into wise and well-connected tour guides. As you wander round Florence, your iPhone pinpoints an exquisite medieval chapel hidden round the corner. Or a glorious trattoria two streets away. Without the phone, you would miss them both.

Communication on the go is also just plain fun. BlackBerrys and iPhones are like toys: they feel good in the hand; we play with them; they make us smile. It’s what we all dreamed about as children when we attached two empty cans to a string and tried to talk to a friend in the next room.

But there is another side to this story. Human beings are hardwired to be curious and to connect and communicate. The problem is that in a world of limitless information and constant access to other people, we often don’t know when to stop.

There is a parallel with the obesity epidemic. Designed for a hunter-gatherer existence, our bodies are very efficient at storing excess calories as fat. Today, when calories are permanently on tap and there is less chance of burning them off by hunting and gathering, our waistlines are ballooning.

The same thing is happening with mobile communication. Just as we keep on eating even after our bodies have had enough food, we keep on texting, surfing and tweeting long after our minds are overloaded with information and stimulation.

Let’s be honest: many of us are hooked on the adrenalin rush delivered by communication technology, the visceral thrill we get when an email pings into our inbox. Last year, an editorial in the American Journal of Psychiatry called for “internet addiction” to be officially recognized as a mental disorder.

That may be going too far, but mobile communication is clearly subject to the law of diminishing returns. When we stay electronically connected all the time, the deluge of messages and information takes a toll.

It can cause our IQ level to fall more than would smoking marijuana. It can also lock us into what a former Microsoft researcher called a state of “continuous partial attention” – constantly flitting from one conversation, one information stream, one stimulus to the next.  Sound familiar?

The bottom line is that you cannot be truly “in the moment” when you’re juggling several moments at once. You cannot make the most of now when you turn “now” into a frenzy of multitasking.

Being “always on” transforms communication technology into a weapon of mass distraction. An estimated one in ten Britons has been hurt walking into a lamppost, rubbish bin, post box and other pedestrians while using a phone. To reduce these “walk and text” injuries, Brick Lane last year became the first street in London to wrap its lampposts with the sort of white padded cushions usually found on rugby goalposts.

Constant connection makes us chronically impatient. We come to expect everything to happen at the touch of a button – and get angry when it doesn’t. As the actress Carrie Fisher once quipped, these days “even instant gratification takes too long.”

Being “always on” also makes it hard to stop and stare, to smell the proverbial roses. We miss the details, the fine grain of the world around us when our eyes are glued to a screen. We lose the joy of discovering things on our own, or by chance, when we stick to routes prescribed by a GPS download. When travel involves firing off a stream of texts, tweets and audio-video footage to friends and family back home, we never completely immerse ourselves in a new place. Even as I lapped up the electronic dispatches from my friend in Brazil, part of me was thinking: “Why are you sitting in an Internet café instead of wandering round a street market? Why are you chronicling every twist and turn of your journey instead of living it?”

The truth is that communicating more does not always mean communicating better. In playgrounds across the world, you see parents using phones while spending “quality time” with their children. Surveys suggest that a fifth of us now interrupt sex to read an email or answer a call. Is that seizing the moment, or wasting it?

One of the cardinal rules of dating etiquette is to turn your cellphone off. Why? Because the best way to bond with someone is to give them your full and undivided attention. Reaching out to touch someone else at the same time sends all the wrong signals.

The other day, my neighbour, a multitasking marketing executive, lost her BlackBerry. Or thought she did. It turned out that her five-year-old daughter had hidden it. “I thought it would get you to listen to me when I talk,” explained the little girl.

This is the irony: that in a thoroughly wired world many of us end up feeling lonely and disconnected. A major survey found that between 1986 and 2006 the number of British teenagers who say they have no best friend in whom to confide rose from under one in eight to nearly one in five – and that at a time when any self-respecting teen boasts dozens, or even hundreds, of “friends” on his Facebook page.

Overdosing on mobile communication can also mess up the relationship we have with ourselves. Human beings need moments of silence and solitude – to rest and recharge; to think deeply and creatively; to look inside and confront the big questions: Who am I? How do I fit into the world? What is the meaning of life?

That isn’t likely to happen when your mind is constantly wondering if you have new email or if it’s time for a fresh tweet.

So where do we go from here? Are we doomed to a future of falling IQ, superficial relationships and walking into lampposts? I hope not.

Whenever a new technology comes along, it takes time to work out the cultural rules and protocols to get the most from it. Mobile communication is no exception: it is neither good nor bad; what matters is how we use it.

The challenge now is to find the discipline to deploy communication technology more judiciously. To switch on when it can bring us together and enrich our lives. But to switch off when old-fashioned, face-to-face communication – or even just a little of silence – is called for.

Already change is in the air. Big companies like Intel and Deloitte & Touche are experimenting with email-free days and letting staff switch off their phones. Members of the digital generation are telling pollsters that rather than working alone at home they want shared workspaces that combine face-to-face contact with screen-based communication.

Pressure to unplug is building beyond the office, too. Restaurants, bars and travel groups are banning mobiles. Technology-free carriages have appeared on trains in many countries. Like a drug rehab clinic, the Sheraton hotel in Chicago offers to lock guests’ cellphones in a safe to help them conquer their email addiction.

What all of these moves have in common is a desire to build a more measured relationship with mobile communication. To seize the moment, to make the most of now, by choosing when to log on and when to log off.

Can we do it? Can we strike this balance?

In the words of President Obama himself: Yes, we can.