Slow down – take the time to enjoy
In a culture of haste, slow has almost been regarded as taboo but the concept is leisurely gaining pace
Sex icon, actress and epitomizer of risqué in the early days of movies, Mae West certainly gathered an attractive entourage of followers and her fair share of muscular men, one being a fellow thespian named Archie Leach– who later became better known as Cary Grant. Her secret lay in the combination of subtle flirting, elegant sultriness, bawdy double entendres and gentle teasing.
Such provocative yet measured mannerisms are best appreciated through a state of composure and cunningness.
This can really only be achieved when one allows oneself enough time to find the slower rhythm of life and focus on the finer details of the present.
By always seeking the destination and never enjoying the journey, we deceive our minds there is always something better the other end.
Mae West – lady of pleasure by unhurriedly enjoying the pleasures along the way – showed how slow can be seductive.
Time – our best friend or worst enemy?
The paradox of our society where we idolize time is that life has become a race against the clock. We humans have an insecure relationship with time. By living fast and speeding through life multitasking, we deceive ourselves that we have gained the upper hand of time. We craftily try to fit in more activities than time actually allows us. But we cannot change the number of hours in a day or the number of minutes in an hour.
We can control our time but we cannot control time in itself. It is this power struggle with time that has placed the modern man in a culture of haste, speed and hyperscheduling.
We treat time as a commodity, something to be toyed with, polished and perfected. In due course such fussing over time puts us in an estranged relationship with it. “Time is precious” is our modern cliché and is largely held accountable for the cult of speed. We make the mistake of saying that because time is so valuable we must do everything fast so as not to waste it. In an age of efficiency, steep competition and rigorous work attitude, unstructured time is seen as a vice. This warped attitude to time is predicated on the legacy of Benjamin Franklin’s infamous “Time is money”.
The irony though is that the full-fledging spirit of capitalism that we are so entwined in hasn’t allowed us to realize that we are locked into a 19th century framework when it comes to our beliefs about time and money. It seems that the Protestant work ethic hasn’t entirely left us either, in that work is still regarded a virtue and in effect a moral duty, which explains why we devote so much time to work. In an increased secular world, work almost replaces religion as we give into self-denial for the pursuit of economic gain. However, efficiency and calculation, rather than morality, emotion or custom, governs our behaviour.
Such rationalization takes a toll on our inner self and is responsible for the disenchantment we so often feel. This is because it pushes us towards a philosophy of fast. Life becomes busy, controlling, aggressive, hurried, analytical, stressed, superficial, impatient and active. Such an environment drives us to look for quantity over quality. These ways of being ultimately have a dehumanizing effect because it doesn’t give us the chance to connect, a characteristic essential for any well-functioning society.
One area in which this quantitative bias is particularly evident is in reviews of books, music albums and films, which use the number of copies sold, chart rankings and box-office takes as the indicator of how good the item in question is. By no doubt do statistical facts hold some truth, but we begin to lose our own sense of judgement and don’t trust our own instincts. Rather, we rely on numbers to paint our picture of the world. Anything where we have to form our own opinion is lost to the reigns of statistics. In the broader sense the denial of judging for ourselves is part of the social kudos of constantly wanting to be up-to-date and informed. Hence we never allow ourselves to rest and make personally informed decisions about which books, films, music, or art to buy.
Seeing but not feeling
What is worrying about the cult of speed and the emphasis on quantity that it projects is its relationship with the admired “to-do list”. In mapping out our day in the form of a meticulously crafted list we are making ourselves into our own slaves, where our day falls under the authority of a hapless piece of paper. We may justify this surrender for the satisfaction we later gain at seeing a completed to-do list. Hold on – this is where we need to stop and think. What has become of us if we are reduced to finding pleasure in a list covered with ticks?
The aim here is not to criticize the actual to-do list itself. Without causing offence, for those that seek a structured life it certainly does have its functions and it must be credited for being their saving grace. It’s the attitude to life that it breeds that needs to be taken into account when we religiously devote ourselves to such time-management techniques. Ploughing through a list of things to do for the sake of seeing a completed list only adds to our penchant for quantity and takes us further away from discovering quality. When our daily actions monotonously get churned out in a superficial manner we gradually slip into the habit of not taking the time to engage in something.
In the long term this fabricates an attitude where everything has to be instant. We lose out on the feeling of getting excited about something and of striving to make something happen. Anticipation is after all the key to pleasure. The problem is not the to-do list itself but the general philosophy it promotes. We need to be critically aware of the fact that it fosters a fast-forward mode, which creates an unhealthy relationship with life. With no deeper level connection with our activities, we lose intimacy with our work and become alienated from it. We may see the benefits of our work but we don’t feel them.
In all fairness, daily to-do tasks may not be the most riveting. However, approaching them in a slow manner allows us to unveil the pearls of pleasure hidden in even the most mundane of tasks. This is not to say that we will or should end up loving everything we do. More importantly, it’s a move away from relying on figures, lists and things that are immediately available to our eyes to learning to be more discerning.
Having a slow philosophy does not mean doing things at a snail’s pace but at a speed that allows us to make meaningful connections with our work and not superficial connections created by quantitative elements. We say we don’t have time to walk over and greet our friend, we don’t have time for that coffee or we don’t have time to sweep the path. This is because when we become so used to seeing our activities scheduled we neglect the spontaneous ones.
Slow is calm, careful, receptive, still, intuitive, unhurried, patient and reflective. This kind of approach allows quality to triumph over quantity.
It’s all about finding the tempo giusto. By always living in the idea that fast is somehow deeply modern, efficient and fulfilling, we forget about the simple pleasures of life, the activities that don’t require a fast pace. Before, we benefited from doing things fast, but as the world is becoming more complex, with more channels of communication, more sophisticated production techniques and higher consumer expectations, there is a call for a more refined rhythm. The returns of doing things too fast are having a negative effect.
Speed = Disconnectedness/Time
If we don’t slow down then we risk being reduced to a species in danger of extinction. If time equals money, then by speeding up we believe we are getting more time and hence more money. The insidious virus of speed submits us to focus on the quantitative, pushing us to want more and more, in terms of both time and material things.
The irony is that the extra time we try to win is a futile endeavour. This is because in the process of rushing through time in order to gain more of it we are not ever given the chance to stop, reflect and truly embrace our sought-after time. This puts our psychological security at stake and separates us from time and ultimately life itself.
Think of growing your favourite fruit tree. It has the potential to be bountiful, so it needs tenderness, love and care. When it receives the utmost attention, we can see the fruits of our patient labour.
The same goes for time. If it really is so precious then we have to treat it as if it were so. We need to nurture it, feed it with the things we like, be tolerant with it, cut and trim it occasionally so it doesn’t cast a shadow over us, see what it can give us and not what it is taking away.
It’s about devoting more of our time to the activities we enjoy. Only then can we begin to speak of the luxury of time.
Article by Paula Svaton