Learning to Slow Down

Learning to Slow DownRecently I’ve been learning to slow down.

This realisation has been dawning on me for some time, but it really came to a head Tuesday evening. I’d been working from home as I had a number of things being delivered (sadly not the main item I was looking forward to – a new laptop – but yay parcels! all the same), and shut down my work laptop shortly after five pm.

I decided around half past five that since it was such a lovely evening (warm, slight breeze, still sunny) I’d go on a bit of a walk as I had the previous night. There’s a just-under four and a half mile route from my house, through the length of the heath, then around and down through the village, that takes about an hour and a quarter to walk around.

Learning to Slow DownIt was peaceful. By this time of day most people have left the park to go home, and only the occasional jogger or lone couple on the grass remain. Given that on Sunday afternoons it can feel as busy as a central-London high street, it was a lovely change of pace. The slowly setting sun cast a lovely glow over the greenery and there were times when it felt like you could be in an enchanted forest, when stumbling upon an enclosed tree-lined pathway with no one else around.

Learning to Slow DownUnlike Monday evening, when my main focus was on the exercise-aspect of the walk and I was attempting to learn some Italian through the Michel Thomas lessons, yesterday I decided to take some pictures whilst on the walk – it was such a beautiful day that I couldn’t resist.

I noticed that deciding to take photos along the way of my walk made me pay more attention to my surroundings. I would stop more and look at things that I’d otherwise walk past without noticing. I would realise how vivid the green of the leaves looked when the sun was shining through the canopy of trees, or be amazed at how quiet it could get in a park still pretty close to central London.

Learning to Slow DownWhen I decide to go on a walk along a particular ‘route’ I very seldom deviate from the path I’ve decided on ahead of time. On Tuesday I forced myself to give into my curiosity about things – what was that fountain and what is the inscription surrounding it? – and even just allowed myself to stop and take in the scenery without worrying whether other people cared at all about what I was doing. London’s a busy city and everyone’s used to being on a rush to go places. A piece of advice I often give to visitors is to ‘look like you know where you’re going’, even if you have no idea. Learning how to slow down – or even stop – isn’t really something people do here. If anything, you learn how to speed up.

Once I gave into the temptation to slow down, to stop, to explore, to take photographs, it was like a switch had been flicked inside of me. Not only did I suddenly not care if people saw me walking in circles around something I was trying to get a better look at, but I had the overwhelming urge to go play in the grass like I used to do when I was a child. I felt freer, it was like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. The only thing that stopped me from taking some time to practice my handstands and cartwheels (two things I’ve been unable to do for over a decade now) was the fact I’d done a lot of upper-body exercise the day before and knew I didn’t have the strength to do so. But I wanted to! And I have no doubt that if I continue going on these evening walks I’ll end up tumbling on a patch of grass sooner rather than later.

Learning to Slow DownWhy am I talking about learning to slow down –

– rather than just giving you reason to go and take in the flowers and feel a bit more child-like for a few minutes?

Before I made up my mind to go on the walk yesterday, there was a large part of my brain that was rebelling against the idea of going. The initial reaction I had to my thought of “it’s only half five, I could go for another walk” was that an hour and a quarter is a really long time to spend when I could/should be doing something else instead. This gave me pause – 1) it was only half past five, so I’d be home before seven, 2) I didn’t actually have any plans for the rest of the evening, and 3) the whole attitude of that thought was that going on a walk and taking in the scenery would be a waste of my time. But why would it be a waste of my time? What am I concerned about missing?

I met someone recently in a class we share who seems very concerned about doing things now. Despite the fact that it takes many years to cultivate a craft or a skill well and develop your experience in it – particularly in creative and performance pursuits – she wanted to know how she could get on with making it professionally as quickly as possible – and we’re in an introduction class. Now there’s absolutely nothing wrong with being enthusiastic – it’s fantastic, in fact, and I absolutely encourage her to pursue her goals – but a lot of creative careers are a long time in the making. It can take many, many years before an actor can earn enough money to live off their acting alone – it’s a marathon, not a sprint. A blogger needs to spend time cultivating their readers, a musician their fan-base, a painter their body of work.

Because these pursuits can take such a long time to grow in size (and some never grow particularly big), being concerned with ‘how long is it going to take?’ is not the best approach to have. Learning to slow down and enjoy the process makes these endeavours – your hobbies, your passions, your hopefully future full-time careers – all the more rewarding and fulfilling, because you realise their richness along the way.

Learning to Slow DownIt’s all very well being able to say “yes! I managed to walk four and a half miles this evening”, but turning that into “yes! I had a lovely long walk in the sun this evening, I took a number of photos because I realised how beautiful and peaceful everything looked and discovered an old fountain dedicated to someone from the 1920s, enjoyed spinning round in circles a few times when no one was looking AND I walked four and a half miles” makes the whole experience infinitely better. Why are we all in so much of a hurry to just get to the end point? The process – the journey – is where we’re going to spend most of our time.

We should learn to enjoy it.

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