By Kimine Mayuzumi
Is slowing down a privilege and therefore unworthy of attention for many (e.g., working-class, racially minoritized, etc.)? Or is it one’s choice? Would I have said that slowing down was a privilege six years ago when my family lost any source of income?
In 2010, we returned to Toronto, Canada, after my partner’s visiting-scholar contract ended in the US. I worked on my Ph.D. dissertation and my partner seeked a job. Our financial situation was deteriorating. Besides the higher rent, during the first year, we experienced scam, financial fraud, and theft. I had a costly endodontic treatment. We could not afford to visit my family in Japan anymore. We were living on our saving without knowing how long our jobless situation would last. The fear of witnessing our decreasing bank balance was tangible. Would slowing down have been something unattainable and inapplicable to me then?
Life has become fast-paced and many want to slow down. While noticing the rising demand for slowing down, I have come across several critics. For example, a blogger critiques the book, The Slow Professor, arguing that Slow is about privileging the privileged, well-paid full-time faculty, because slowing down is self-indulgence.
In fact, many would argue that the Slow movement is for middle-class (Mendick). The modern concept of time, productivity, and mind over body has become measures of societal success and has compelled us to be in control, constantly work and forget our bodies. If having a lifestyle for such success is prerequisite to or assumed by the conversation on Slow, no wonder many become skeptical with Slow movement when they are denied capital towards “success.”
However, after researching and blogging about slowing down, reflecting on my past, and interacting with a variety of people, I have come to realize that slowing down certainly has positive effects especially during tough times. Here I “critically and selectively appropriate [different meanings] of slowing down” (Mendick, 2014) and argue that it is a choice for everybody, not for a privileged few.
Speed works well when it’s not constant and when it comes from excitement within. However, constant speed stemming from fear, anxiety, shame, and guilt can be a self-harm. Slowing down is about having stop signs in our life roadmap – being recharged right at the moment. Our intention to align our mind with the present moment, not in the future, is the most important ingredient for quality downtime. Going outside the house/office and becoming mindful of our breath and what we see and hear are effective strategies to reframe and slow down. It is salient to stop and acknowledge our body and surroundings.
Slowing down is about self-care. Everybody on this planet needs to sleep and breathe no matter how busy or oppressed we are. Slowing down is about nurturing such gifts. Sleep gives energy. Breath is life.
We could still choose not to take the gifts seriously by sleeping less and taking our breath for granted, which is quite common. Nevertheless, quality sleep gives us optimum energy. Is trying to cultivate our sources of energy a privilege? Quality sleep is not determined by how well-off we are materially. It is about how well we can dissolve the stuff in our mind and relax our body. Do I choose to look at social media before bed or stretch my body so that I can relax and fall asleep?
The distress from financial instability, trauma, social unrest, and injustice is related to how little we can rest. There are structural issues of who has more pressure under difficult circumstances. But, let me echo some compelling arguments about self-care needed during tough times particularly for the marginalized. Self-care is about self-preservation and “an act of political warfare” (Audre Lorde). No matter what, we need to be grounded on who we are by going back to the gifts of breath we were given, which can sustain us collectively for the long term. Resiliency is not about pushing through, but resting first.
Our society’s values for “more” and “faster” are underpinned by a linear concept of time associated with control and progress. As such, those of us who do not produce expected outcomes are forced to feel like losers and labeled derogatorily as “lazy.” Some groups are more prone to shame, unworthiness of belonging, due to societal pressures and oppression. Internalizing shame makes us become unkind to ourselves, particularly our bodies. Slowing down is about nurturing self-compassion. Slowing down opens the way to say “I am enough,” while pushing through does not. Slowing down is about developing our self-worth within, not by comparing ourselves with those who go to Cancun for vacation.
Regarding our Toronto life, the uncertainty my partner and I faced was unbearable especially when our life was slow without a job. However, there was one gift that made us feel at ease. It was our 3-year-old son, who knew how to enjoy the moment. His genuine smile gave us hope in the present moment, not the future. Riding a second-hand toy car down a slope was great fun for him. His laughter was contagious. Sharing day-old bakery stuff with him was such a treat. Playing tag with him made me forget the worries about the future. The 2011 catastrophe of earthquakes and tsunami in Japan made us also appreciate the simple life we could share as a family. We felt freer when we embraced uncertainty.
I am not saying that slowing down solved all the problems during our tough times. Instead, it allowed us to navigate through the challenges together. If we had been more cognizant of slowing down then, we would have been more self-compassionate and avoided some of the conflicts/depressions caused by our low self-esteem. While we are financially stable now, we still need to remind ourselves of slowing down. It is a choice we make consciously by reminding ourselves that we are indeed a human-being not human-doing that is neither sustainable nor healing.
Photo credit to keywest3