When I lived in Michigan, each Christmas, a local church just down the road from me put on a drive-by nativity scene. Cars full of people would line up for over half a mile and drive around this circular loop surrounding the church, where church members dressed up and enacted various kinds of nativity scenes. I’m sure from the perspective of the church (who, clearly, invested a lot of time and resources, taking weeks to build the sets in the bitter cold in the time leading up to the event), it was a way to reach people who might otherwise not come through the church doors. This same church also offered “speedy sermons” and other “quick” ways of getting busy people in the door. The idea behind these different initiatives was reaching out to people who were otherwise too busy to come to church–a reasonable and rather creative thing to do, given the time crunch everyone seems to be in these days. But for all that was gained (new members, new donations, etc) what was lost in the process of converting religion into a drive-through experience? Of course, just like the burger at McDonald’s vs. the burger you grill at home with time and care, there are likely some big differences not only in taste but also in presentation, nutrition, and energy.
In my last three posts in “Slowing Down the Druid Way”, we explored the history of time and our relationship to our working hours, and how we might begin to honor our time more fully. This directly leads me to the topic of my final post on time and work: looking at the slow movements as a way of slowing down, making slowing down a conscious choice, and embracing leisure time.
The “Slow” Movements
The term “slow” has been increasingly used to describe many of the movements connected to sustainable living: you might have heard of slow food (as opposed to fast food or industrialized food) or slow money (in terms of investing, saving, and spending and in opposition to current derivatives/investment market). We now also have slow schools, slow books, and even (in my own field) discussion of slow writing! The slow movement has, in fact, been around since the 1980’s; it was started by Carlo Petrini, who protested the opening of the “fast” food joint, McDonalds, in Rome, Italy. Since then, the movement has spread and deepened, connecting now to all aspects of life: travel, food, parenting, education, working, gardening, and more. Of course, you won’t see any discussion of this movement in mainstream culture–mainstream culture, here in the US, is focused on the idea that more and faster is better, and that kind of thinking takes some time to overcome.
The slow movements suggest that we are all the victims of “time poverty” and the slow movements are deliberate attempts by people to live at a reasonable pace (rather than a frantic one). But these movements are more than just about slowing down–they recognize inherently that the faster we move, the fewer connections we make: with ourselves, with each other, with our creative gifts, and with the world as a whole. So let’s now explore some of these slow movements and what they provide.
Nature Spirituality and Slow Spirituality
I’m going to start by introducing my own kind of “slow” movement: slow spirituality. Cultivating a deeper relationship with time is certainly a principle that seems inherent in the druid traditions and in related nature-spiritual traditions. Anyone following the wheel of the year is certainly concerned a tremendous amount with time: the eight holidays on the wheel of the year are all about timing and the sun and it’s slow movement across the sky. The phases of the moon reflect this on a monthly cycle. We focus on the interplay of light and dark, the slow changing of the seasons, the minute changes from day to day of weather patterns. All of this takes observation and interaction with nature and a lot of time dedicated to understanding this larger cycle of the seasons. Sure, there are ways of going about these practices that are “fast”, but moving fast means you miss most of the important pieces. In the AODA, for example, we ask that all members spend weekly time in nature, daily time in meditation, and time just observing and interacting with the world. This time is critical–and it is through these activities that deepest understandings are often cultivated.
In fact, I think part of the reason that so many people are drawn to meditation, ritual and other druid practices is that it offers a way to slow down and change pace. The more time you spend with these practices, the deeper they will go and the richer the rewards will be. There is much room for exploration in linking the slow movements to the druid tradition and key practices within it.
Another aspect of these slow movements is “slow travel.” Slow travel refers to the idea, again, that efficiency is not always the best way to travel to new places and that we miss a lot if we don’t take opportunities to slow down. We are conditioned to work to get to a place as fast as possible: it’s how our GPS technology works and when we sit down to plan a trip, it is often getting from point A to B quickly. But what about everything between point A and B? Is that worth seeing? What might be discovered there?
And so, here are a few simple ideas for slowing down: rather than taking the 70MPH highways for a whole trip, consider some 55MPH back country roads and see what there is to see. This allows you some exploration time as well as gives you much better fuel efficiency! Or, rather than default to taking flights everywhere, consider taking the train or a bus to get where you are going. Train travel, in particular, is my favorite: you have ample room, you get to see a lot of the countryside, and you don’t have to deal with extremely intense security situations and screening and blaring televisions. It also is a more earth-friendly way to travel. When you plan your trip, plan in a few “extra” stops that you aren’t planning. Give yourself some wiggle room so that you can explore and see what is out there.
The same applies to hiking and travel by foot–if you’ve ever been on any of the big trails, I’m sure you’ve seen the hikers with their poles, hiking like mad to get where they are going. Most of them are so intent on their goal that they forget the journey itself! I have the opposite approach; much to the frustration of some speedy folks with me, I like to take the time to wander, get lost, explore the woods, and more.
Even here in town, I budget a little extra time for my walk anywhere I am going so I can literally stop and smell the roses, visit the bramble bush each day to observe how it is changing and growing through the seasons, watch the flight of birds overhead, and so on. Even that extra 5 minutes that I take on my walk to work or to the bank really gives me peace of mind.
I think in our travel, there are times we do really need to get somewhere, and there are times when we do not. Finding a balance is one of the keys to this part of “slowing down.”
It is no surprise that the slow movement started as a resistance to fast food. Fast food and industrialized food processes embrace the current ideas of efficiency and profit at the expense of all else, perhaps in some of the most egregious ways possible. But, as Wendell Berry points out in the Unsettling of America, industrialized farm systems’ emphasis on efficiency ends up exploiting the land for profit. Industrialized food treats nature, animals, plants, and humans all as machines, trying to get the most out of it in the fastest amount of time possible. In other words, if efficiency is the only metric by which we measure our food production and cheapness is the only metric that we use to measure its consumption, we lose much.
The slow food movement was born from a rejection of these industrialized food values: we should know where our food comes from, have relationships with our farmers or our own land, and grow food that is healthful and that is grown in a way that is healthful to the land. Wendell Berry writes that small family farmers aren’t concerned with efficiency as much as they are concerned with the long-term health of the land, the idea of doing things well, and building in nurturing practices. When we purchase their food at farmer’s markets, directly from them, or even in grocery stores (which are increasingly carrying more of these kinds of options), you are not only purchasing something better for you but also better for the land.
In addition to the rejection of fast food and other convenience foods, slow food focuses on cooking one’s own food from whole ingredients, growing food, knowing one’s farmers, and supporting businesses who are engaged in nurturing and healthful practices. Those in this movement often have potlucks to break bread and share.
One of the things I like to do is a “slow food” metric and ask myself: how long would this take to produce at home? Can it be produced at home? That helps me stay away from too much processed stuff. Since I cook a lot from scratch, I’ve been learning how to make foods I like to eat from their base ingredients–this teaches me a lot about how processes something might be. For example, I like to eat tortilla chips and hummus. Making my own tortilla chips was an incredibly gratifying, but intense, experience (I will be working on this again, hopefully, this year with better equipment!) Even if I don’t want to make my own tortilla chips all the time, making them once has me much better appreciating what went into it.
Another aspect I see connected to slow food (although others might disagree) is fermentation of various kinds. Most often, I make homemade sodas (using a ginger bug), dandelion wine, or saurkraut. These foods simply take time and it is really exciting to see how they transform as they go through the stages of fermentation. Slow food at its best!
A final aspect of slow food, in my opinion, is the act of eating itself. I have a number of friends who are mindfulness practitioners, and they have taught me much about enjoying a good meal. I think we are so accustomed to rushing through everything that meals aren’t an exception. Learning how to slow down, pay attention to the meal, chew your food well, and enjoy the company is a part of this slow food process–and a powerful one!
Slow money is a recent offshoot of the other slow movements–it is focused on slowing down the current derivative/investment banking and creating alternative systems of cash flow that are based on ecological and nature-honoring principles. An organization tied to Slow Money is working to line up a variety of people to invest in ways that “bring funds back to earth.” This movement is focused on investing locally, avoiding “too big to fail” banks and businesses, and investing in the health and fertility of our land (so you can see clear ties to the slow food movement above). Groups connected to slow money are popping up all over the world! In fact, a whole range of alternative structures, particularly for financing, exist: land contracts arranged between buyers and sellers (so we don’t have to deal with big banks), micro-investments and loans, and so much more. I’ve been happy to pursue some of these options in my own life and they have worked out really well!
A lot of the techniques I’ve shared on this blog over the years can be classified as slow living. For example, living by candlelight naturally allows you to slow down and changes your life rhythms in subtle–yet powerful–ways. Using a compost toilet helps bring your own waste back into the cycle of life, as does various forms of composting. These are simple techniques, yet allow us to slow down and cycle nutrients. Hiking and foraging, especially when you aren’t in a hurry and are willing to get lost in the woods, is a wonderful way just to slow down and take it easy. There are so many options here–and each of us may find our way into slower living differently. When we combine these physical things with the spiritual practices of meditation, regular ritual, honoring the seasons, and so forth–we can really bring our life more into a healthy balance. One small step at a time helps you slow down and bring you more fully into the present moment.
A Slower Mindset
As I work to shift into “slower” ways of living and doing, the most important thing I’ve found to remember is that I need to shift my expectations. I can’t get a giant “to do” list done on my only day off from work. If I did that, I’d not have enough time to just sit in nature or spend time in my sacred garden. And so, a re-focusing of my own expectations helps me slow down and realize that there are things I just don’t have to do at this moment (and learn to put less of them on my plate to begin with). Once we begin to mentally adjust our schedules, plan not 100% of our waking hours but less of them, then we have an opportunity to slow down and enjoy what nature brings. Now, I schedule “open” weekends where I have nothing on my agenda, nowhere to go, and see what happens (usually, I end up in the woods and in the art studio–and these are amazing days!)
A second part of a slower mindset is recognizing the difference between doing something efficiently and doing something well. Do we need to get all those things done, or can we just get one thing done well? This is a question I am always asking myself: how can I do this one thing well?
A third part of a slower mindset has to do with cultivating patience. Impatience is widespread these days (try driving the speed limit around town, lol!) One of the big shifts I’ve worked to make in the last few years is calm down and silence my inner “impatient” dialogue when I found myself waiting for people, waiting for things, etc. It was a big issue for me, but I’m happy to say some progress has been made!
The Return of Creativity
I have a number of friends that practice “unschooling” with their children. The stories they have shared with me all have many features in common. Unschooling is self-directed learning–children decide what and how they want to learn and go about learning it. What my friends report happening in the transition to unschooling (especially out of public school, where children get no self-directed learning at all), is that the children, when given freedom, begin with a variety of electronic binging behaviors: excessive watching of TV, playing 12 and 14 hours of video games, and so on. But soon enough, usually within a few weeks, they get bored of playing video games and watching TV all day and their natural curiosity returns. Suddenly, they are inquisitive, questioning, and active in the world around them. Some of them begin to undertake considerable projects–building and launching weather balloons, understanding how to grow crystals, learning how to grow vegetables and learning about the biology of soil, making baskets, and so much more. I think this is a nice example here about the nature of unstructured leisure or play time, and how humans, when given the opportunity, naturally will find useful things in which to pursue if they have the time and energy to do so.
What unschooling does for children, leisure time can do for adults. We once were those naturally curious and wonder-filled children, asking questions, being curious, being constantly at play, being able to move from playing music to making mud pies to building forts in the woods. And then, modern life crushed our creativity with bells and demands and suddenly time wasn’t ours and our work consumed our lives and…yeah. The loss of our creative spirits and the loss of our creative selves happens as more and more demands are placed upon us. I believe this wonder-filled, creative, and curiosity-filled place to be one of our natural states of being. One of the reasons retired people are often so interesting is that they find a hobby and pursue it with relentless passion–because they can. I believe that slowing down and cultivating more unstructured/leisure time can allow us to get back to that place of creativity, curiosity, and wonder we had as children.
Here is just a small list of the things that leisure can get us:
- A rest from daily stress (family, workplace, health-related, political, environmental); the ability to rebuild, nourish, support and heal the physical body
- Time to think carefully and with a sound mind
- Time to think about opposing ideas and carefully wrestle with the ideas they contain
- Time to explore the wilds
- Time to travel to other places
- The ability to build and enjoy community and friends
- Time to explore and experiment with options for sustainable living
- Time to plant a garden (annual and perennial)
- Time to gaze at the stars and clouds
- Time to engage in spiritual practices of all sorts (meditation, outdoor activity)
- Time to develop relationships and connections: with other humans, with plants/trees, with bodies of water, with the living earth
- Time to get lost in the woods
- Time to pick through trash to find treasures
- Time to go foraging
- Time to heal the land and scatter seeds
- Time and energy to do all the things we say we “wish we had time” or “wish we had energy to do”
- The time to engage in various bardic arts and learn new bardic arts / time to dedicate oneself to a craft or skill in seriousness
- Time to read books and to ponder, meander, and think about them
- Time to pick berries and can them
- Time to do some home food preservation
- Time to brew up some good ferments and good wine
- Time to do all the things. All the things.
I believe that we can fully embrace our human gifts if, and only if, we make the time and build in more unstructured time in our lives to do so. This is about all I have to say at the moment on slowing down and thus, this concludes this post series at present. Thank you to everyone who had such wonderful things to share as we worked through these issues–I gained much from reading your stories and from our conversations.