Last month, on a brightly lit stage in West L.A., Maria Shriver asks me this:
But how? How do you do it? What would you tell someone who wants to slow their life, but can’t? Who feels totally buried already?
I pause, blink at the lights. I say something about how there’s no easy formula, how it’s different for everyone, but how we can start by simply paying attention. Get off the phone. Breathe. Survey our lives, look for triggers, invite passion into the day.
But of course there’s more.
I’m a firm believer that living slowly is possible in any season. It takes practice, of course, to see past the mechanics of it all – to peer at your current circumstances and call the whole lot of a gift. It takes practice to remind yourself that perfection is not just around the corner, that arrivals do not exist, that a better set of circumstances do not necessarily lead to a better life.
After all, slow living has never been about logistics. It’s about linguistics.
The question is not what slow living looks like, who can achieve it, how to master it, where to do it.
The question is not “What is slow living?” but instead is “What is slow living for?”
And the answer is simple: Each other.
Slow living is for connection, for community. For looking a crossing guard in the eye when we thank them. For making the time to help the woman in aisle 9 find the olives. For having the space in our day to welcome an impromptu visit from neighbors, for having the space in our mind to open the door wide even though the hallway’s a mess.
It is thinking about the way we live, and asking ourselves why.
And so, of course we can all do this. In any season, at any moment.
But if you feel buried, here’s a shovel:
Do not victimize yourself.
You are not buried alive until you are buried alive. Call it what it is; resist the urge to exaggerate your current state of living. Chances are, if you are reading this, you’re noticing a bit of a chasm between the life you lead and the life you want to lead, and here’s a secret: we all have this chasm. We all have this gap. There is nothing broken in you that is not broken in everyone. We are each conditioned to want something different than what we have been given. And so, you have two options: (1) Chase someday, or (2) Accept today. I recommend the latter. Remind yourself that you are here, breathing, alive and well(ish). For now, let that be enough.
The trick, then, is to notice the chasm. So what, you’re not yet who you want to be? Who is? Live with the tension. Cozy up in the space between; get comfortable with the discomfort. This is life, in all its glory. Do not numb it. Do not wish it away hoping for days void of hardship. Once you’ve noticed the chasm, you’re well on your way to the good work: figuring out what it means to live a life that’s ripe with limitations and riddled with lessons, but resounding in love.
Consider your compass.
We’re not talking goals here. Life is immeasurable, with a path that winds in the most unfathomable, incredible way. Rather than setting a goal to encourage the arrival, consider setting a compass to encourage the journey. A compass guides graciously, rather than mandates mercilessly. It offers a gentle whisper that yes, you’re headed in the right direction. It is ever-necessary in navigating your life with conviction and curiosity, rather than convention and conformity. Find your compass in something unchanging, something that you deem true and stable and secure. (Mine is here.)
Put on your boots.
Listen. I know what it’s like to have a crippling mortgage. I know the stress of mounting medical bills, of mouths to feed, of requesting overtime hours under fluorescent lights. There is much of this in my book, and so I will simply cut to the chase: after the 2008 financial crisis, Ken and I fought hard to carve out a life with little-to-no overhead. We budgeted only for needs, not wants. We spent weekends and evenings building separate freelance portfolios, quitting our weekday 9-to-5s once we’d created sustainable demand for our work. We ate peanut butter sandwiches for dinner and called it lovely. We moved to an area where purchasing a home in cash was possible, even probable, where we could live a flexible life that wasn’t dictated or constrained by finances. I quit shopping for sport. We gave generously. We simplified in every area possible, and yes, there was a trade-off (there is always a trade-off). It was ever worth it.
You will be tempted to resist making a change because of the “but.” But what will our family think? But what will my career look like? But what if it’s too hard? It is wise to survey the “but,” to consider it a lesson in preparedness, to let it inform your plans. And then it is wise to proceed anyway.
We needed to live the fast life to understand why we needed to live a slower one. We needed to chase the wrong things, to learn the hard lessons the hard way. The failing nearly always comes before the learning, and sometimes, yes, even after the learning. It is an impossible step to skip. Allow it. Learn from it, and re-learn from it again and again.
Take one step; start small. Experiment. Ask yourself what area of your life brings the most stress, currently? Get specific. What stumbling blocks are ahead? Move them, or move around them. My girlfriend dreads picking up the dry cleaning, so she now keeps a strict No Dry Clean Only clothing policy in her home. Another friend despises her inbox, so she rewards herself with a Skittle for every email answered. Infuse tiny joys into your day in whatever way you can. You have far more power over this than you think.
Lighten your load.
We are a culture of more. When we see a roadblock, the temptation is to throw more stuff at the problem – distract, distract, distract. And yet, often times, the solution is to offer less. I know a mother of eight who felt buried in dish duty, but instead of adding a dishwasher, she simply offered less dishes: One plate/glass/utensil per day, per kid. If they want to eat my next meal, she’d say, they’ll have their dish cleaned and ready. Boundaries bring clarity, creativity and perspective. Insist on them.
It is nearly impossible to navigate your path when you’re looking down, staring at the phone, scrolling through journeys on vastly different terrain. Lift your eyes. Do you see it? Your path is here. Focus. Pay attention. Greet the people you meet along the way. Look at the wide sky, offer thanks for your smallness.
Survey your surroundings.
If you’ve been consulting your compass for long enough, your surroundings will look vastly different than they used to. Don’t forget to peer at the path behind you. Don’t forget to see how far you’ve come, see where you’ve tripped, see where you’ve detoured, see where you reoriented back onto your path. Peer at the panoramic. Call it beautiful.