Friday, 22 October 2010

Slow down...

You know the feeling. From the moment the alarm clock goes off to the time you set it again, is increasingly a blur. Somehow you get through the day, but by the end of it you can hardly remember what you've done, let alone who you've seen or what you've eaten. Life in the fast lane, it would seem, is running away with you.

Trying to do too much, too quickly, in an effort to stay on schedule may be a symptom of 21st century living, but it's beginning to take its toll both emotionally and physically.

The have-it-all dream has turned to a do-it-all nightmare and for women in particular who are trying to manage their lives. So much so that in a Top Sante survey 43% of women said they took time off work for stress, while nine out of 10 said that they had too many roles to juggle in their lives.

It was to examine questions like why we continue to live like this, even when we know it's detrimental, that Carl Honoré wrote his book, In Praise of Slow. It describes a worldwide movement emerging to challenge the cult of speed.

"The book came about because of a series of articles I wrote about the Slow Movement in the National Post [a Canadian newspaper]. When I was seriously contemplating the 'one-minute bedtime story' to read to my son in an effort to reduce the time it took to read to him I realised it was all too easy to get sucked into the cult of speed. I wanted to find out what others were doing about it."

The 21st century was destined to be the age of leisure, according to pundits ranging from John Maynard Keynes to Alvin Toffler, but somehow all that our many labour saving devices and information technology has done is to raise the stakes. Do more, and do it now - there's no excuse not to get things done in the shortest possible time. There's no need now to ever stop in our 24/7, 365- working-days-a-year society.

"We think that life is about doing things," says Christopher Hansard, a leading practitioner in Tibetan medicine and director of the Eden Medical Centre in London. "And we confuse 'doing' with 'being' and start to define ourselves by what we do, rather than who we are. In addition, all this 'doing' creates an excessive production of the stress hormone adrenaline, to which we then become physically addicted, so the high levels of adrenaline start to feel normal. The danger of that is that it affects us physically and emotionally. Physically, excessive amounts of stress hormones affect the bowel, leading to digestive problems while the brain is affected by what are, in effect, neurotoxins and cognitive function is reduced. Emotionally, we react with irritability and anxiety. And if we continue, then spiritual and physical burnout is inevitable."

Even the search for wellbeing can become frenetic, as we rush from work to the gym to therapist to the organic supermarket. We have to learn to use the 24-hour society to our advantage, not our detriment. As Honoré found, there is a "slow movement" and it's growing.

The home of the Slow Food ethos is Italy, launched in 1986 by the culinary writer Carlo Petrini, after a McDonald's opened near the Spanish Steps in Rome. Now, Slow Food has over 100,000 members in over 132 countries and promotes indigenous cuisine and supports small local producers

But food isn't the only thing to be celebrated and savoured slowly. How intimate can a couple get if their sex life is limited to five minutes, twice a month? This is not say that everyone should be having Tantric sex, but merely to state the obvious: that sometimes it's good to share time with someone you care for. An increasingly speedy life can become an increasingly isolated one.

"Another danger is that we inadvertently impose on our children the idea that only meaningful activity is valid," says Honoré. "So children are whisked from pillar to post with additional maths lessons, music appreciation, language classes - no wonder so many of them are chronically over-tired and showing signs of clinical stress. Proponents of 'slow schooling' advocate time to chill out and be bored, so children can have time to process events in their life, start to utilise their imaginations and find their own motivations. Some schools have even gone so far as to stop giving homework, believing school is for work and home is time to relax."

"When it comes to slowing down," he continues. "It is best to start small. Cook a meal from scratch. Take a walk with a friend. Read the newspaper without switching on the TV. Add massage to your lovemaking. Or simply take a few minutes to sit still in a quiet place."

Embrace the slow: how to decelerate

* Leave holes in the diary rather than striving to fill every moment with activity. Easing the pressure on your time will help you to slow down.

* Set aside a time of day to turn off all the technology that keeps us buzzing - phones, computers, pagers, email, television, radio. Use the break to sit quietly somewhere, alone with your thoughts. Or try meditating.

* Make time for at least one hobby that slows you down, such as reading, painting, gardening or yoga.

* Eat supper at the table instead of balancing it on your lap it in front of the TV.

* Always monitor your speed. If you're doing something more quickly than you need to simply out of habit, then take a deep breath and slow down.

Monday, 18 October 2010

Spanish edition

Spanish edition published January 2011