Slow Life

Practice of the Week
Slow Life

Category: Ecospiritual. These practices are oriented toward developing our spirituality through our connection with our planet home and our responsibility to care for it.

See also: "Don't Go So Fast"

Healing the Earth and creating a sustainable world can seem daunting. But stop for a moment and imagine a sustainable culture, a restored Earth, where humans serve and support the greater whole of the biosphere that ultimately sustains us all. What sort of lifestyle would the people live? Are they perpetually exhausted, stressed, and subsisting on fast food, or are they living at a healthier, calmer pace?

Most of us are very busy and very tired. Our obligations and duties leave many in a perpetual state of fatigue: sleep-deprived, overworked, exhausted, and without time to relax and savor the pleasures of life.

Homo sapiens emerged on the African savannah 200,000 years ago, fashioned by millions of years of natural selection into a tremendously adaptable species – or we wouldn’t be coping as well as we do with this radically different post-industrial world – but our elasticity has its limits. We are biologically wired to respond to the daily and seasonal rhythms of light and dark in a world without clocks, schedules, or artificially imposed deadlines. Our bodies and psyches are ill equipped to handle the myriad incessant demands and pressures that pull on us from all sides -- constant low-level stressors, raising our blood pressure and giving us indigestion.

How we feel about the pace of our lives is influenced not only by our own individual schedules and daily activities but also by the tempo of our surroundings. A bustling big city has a fast tempo, filled with the frenetic energy of people rushing here and there. A small rural town might have a much slower tempo, resulting in daily life feeling more relaxed. Urban dwellers might have to consciously search for an oasis of calm, such as a park or cathedral, to really slow down mentally and spiritually, a challenge not faced by those who live amidst a more relaxed tempo.

Every time one person or one family takes steps to slow down, to reclaim a healthier and more natural life pace, the quality of life of the individual or family increases, and the impact spreads through their circle of friends and family. Since healthy, natural, slow-life choices tend also to be environmentally friendly choices, the world moves toward sustainability.

Slowing down is difficult because we are embedded within larger systems over which we have little control. Even so, we can say no to additional obligations, and in so doing learn to tend to our personal boundaries. We can choose to simply stay home and hang out with our families, instead of rushing off to be entertained elsewhere. We can eat real food; turn hanging the laundry outdoors to dry into a kind of meditation; find a way to bring a slower pace to our days. These are not only soul-healing but Earth-healing choices.


1. Breathing the Hours. Medieval monks prayed seven times a day, pausing at set times from dawn to midnight to “pray the hours." Muslims pause for prayer five times daily. These traditions call practitioners away from the flow of ordinary life and create a brief liminal space amid daily tasks. Breathing the hours is a simple way to slow the frantic pace that drives us onward faster and faster. Choose how many times you would like to pause – at least four times a day – and at what times. When you pause, step to a window, or go outside. Focus on nature: sky, trees, grass, flowers. Take five slow, deep breaths, allowing shoulders to drop and belly to expand.

2. Slow Down Dinner. Together with friends or family, plan and cook a meal entirely from scratch, without “time-saving” devices: salad from lettuce from the farmer's market; beans soaked and cooked from dried, bread home-baked, etc. Also: no electric appliances (other than oven) allowed—slice, dice, mix and blend by hand. Use a tablecloth, cloth napkins, and make the occasion festive. Be sure the preparing is a communal endeavor shared by all who will join in the eating. Afterwards, wash the dishes in the sink, not the dishwasher. This may take some planning – so plan ahead. If you can't manage this weekly, try it once a month. The point is not to cause yourself more stress but to help you shift into a slower mode of being and have fun.

3. Conveniences that Maybe Aren't. Walk around every room of your house, and take note of any technology that didn't exist one hundred years ago. Then, go back over your list, and evaluate how each device affects your life. Do any devices suck up large quantities of time and/ or money without offering much in return? How do they affect the overall quality of your life? Adjust your home accordingly.

Group Activities

Looking at Time. Sit in a large circle with two white boards or large sheets of paper. Ask group members to share aspects of their lives that seem rushed or stressed, and write these on the first board. Next, brainstorm ideas that might offer creative ways to address the issues brought up by the group, and write these on the second board. Sharing insights into each others' lives can help us see possibilities we might not see on our own. At the next group meeting, follow-up to see how participants have adopted any suggestions from this exercise.

Questions for Group Conversation:
  • What aspects of modern work life encourage an ever-faster pace? How can we counter these without risking our jobs?
  • How are our children affected by the high-pressure, fast pace of society? Are they overscheduled? How are they affected by the pressures their parents face?
  • How do you understand the connection between slowing down and sustainable living? What other aspects of daily life might also show this connection? What can we do to not only help ourselves live healthier lives, but also affect the Earth?
  • What does technology have to do with slowing down? How have the various electronic devices in our lives affected our experience of time? Do we perceive time differently because of technology? If so, how?
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