Slowing Down... Time

Photo by Chris Lawton

“I want to live so densely, lush, and slow in the next few years, that a year becomes ten years, and my past becomes only a page in the book of my life.” – Nayyirah Waheed


Is there a word we can use to describe the way the afternoon sun shines through droplets of water as they fall on the garden? The way each bead becomes a tiny gem on its way towards the ground, lit up from inside, complete and beautiful before it hits the grass or the flowers or the leaves and moves on to become something else?  


If there’s not, there probably should be.


There is, after all, komorebi, a Japanese noun that describes sunlight filtering through trees. And mångata, a Swedish word that perfectly sums up the glimmering, roadlike reflection the moon creates on water.


When we hear what those words mean, we know. We know what it is to have experienced sunlight spiking through branches, or the shining path of light on the ocean. I love that. It means that despite being told we’re all too busy to slow down and live in the moment, we all spend time in the noticing. And slow? Well, she lives in those uncomplicated pockets of time.


Words and their definitions are time-traveling magic, don’t you think? That a certain combination of letters and a seemingly arbitrary, distant past decision as to their meaning is enough for you and me to communicate and share an understanding is incredible.


Sitting here in my office a few days before Christmas, a stinking hot summer sun beating down outside, I can take a certain collection of words and put them in a particular order. Then I can use those words to conjure up an image of light filtering through the trees, and you – sitting in your chair or reading the paper at the park – will see these words at some other time and you will understand what I’m saying. You will read these words, and the image of light filtering through the trees is transported from my mind to yours. The details may differ, but the fact remains that through a combination of letters and words, we were able to get an image from my brain into yours without ever having met.


Like I said. Magic.


“Slow living” is a phrase that is still in the process of finding its true meaning, I think. Because what began as a simple opposition to fast living (and all that it entailed), has become synonymous with a lot of other ideas about how to live a good life – many of them bullshit. It’s been co-opted by marketers and influencers looking to tap into a hashtag philosophy, and if your first foray into slow living happened to be on Instagram, you’d be forgiven for believing it’s merely another hipster-heavy movement of authentically posed shots and aspirational product flatlays. More marketing-driven, ego-stroking expressions of what it looks like to Live a Good Life™.


Because of this, “slow living” has gradually come to be equated with privilege. I get why it’s happened, and there’s some truth to the cynicism, but I still hate that people hear the term and think, “Huh. Must be nice.”


Because slow living isn’t about washed out linens or impressive yoga or photogenic hikes or magazine-worthy fashion or any other attempts to fit into a particular lifestyle. Slow living is about life.


The guts and glory and hand-holding and tear-stained truth of it. The tiniest details and the biggest questions, and the courage to explore them both to depths we’ve previously distracted ourselves away from. And what does all that add up to?


A life.


And what do you want your life to stand for? What do you want to leave behind when you’re gone? What do you want your legacy to be?


In the inaugural edition of The Dispatch, I told you that I’d written my eulogy. That wasn’t a metaphor. A few years ago I actually sat down and wrote a four-sentence eulogy. One that I imagined my two kids delivering many, many years from now as they stood in front of a room full of people I’d loved. In those four sentences was the summation of an entire life, and in the writing of those four sentences I was forced to ask myself what I wanted that life to stand for: what a life well-lived looked like. What a life full of the guts and the glory and the hand-holding and the tear stains held inside its decades, and what that would mean for me in doing the living.  


And while it was a challenging exercise (how do we sum up an entire life in four books, let alone four sentences?) what it taught me was that the peripheral stuff didn’t matter one little bit as I pictured my kids saying goodbye to me. As I imagined what I’d taught them, and the adventures we’d had, and the way we loved, and the changes we fought for, and the fact that I always made time for the people I held most dear.


What that exercise gave me was an understanding that time, while it may feel endless and plodding when we’re stuck in the day-to-day grind, is slowly moving past us. And the only way to arrest that slow passage of time is to live the hell out of it, whether that’s taking time to soak in the details of the light falling through droplets as you water the garden or commit to making the world a better place every day.


It’s in the living of our days that we stretch time and create memories that are deep and worthy. That we avoid regret, even if it means diving headlong into uncertainty or pain. That we don’t die wondering. That we spend our time, rather than letting it run through our fingers only to see that we missed the way the light shone through it.  


W.Y.O.E. (Write Your Own Eulogy)

If writing your eulogy is a little too far outside your comfort zone, it might help to think of things in terms of legacy instead. Grab a piece of paper and start to map your thoughts while asking yourself these questions:


  • What do I want to leave behind when I’m gone?

  • What don’t I want to leave behind?

  • When I strip away the stuff that doesn’t matter, what is really, truly important to me?


These are big questions, so rather than worrying whether you got the answers “right” (there’s no such thing anyway), simply jot down any thoughts or ideas that come to you. Don’t second-guess yourself and don’t censor yourself.


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