How Slow (or Fast) Do You Live Your Life?

I’m reading New Slow City by William Powers right now and I don’t think there’s a better time for me to be reading this book. The author talks about moving from a big house in Queens to a micro-apartment in Manhattan with his wife and their struggle to keep living slowly in the fast environment that is New York, NY.

I often find myself walking really fast on the sidewalk urging the people in front to get out the way or walk faster. This kind of thinking makes me feel guilty of rushing, of always being on the go. I believe that being in a rush all the time is bad for your health and well-being. It’s probably been proven scientifically too (but I don’t have the references – I challenge you to find some!).

Powers proposes that society in NYC, or basically all cities or urban centers, view time as a commodity, something that can be lengthened, bought, traded or sacrificed. But time is time. That sounds funny but it’s true – we all get 24 hours in one day. It’s a renewable resource that we are gifted with if we continue to exist. Some of us just have to work more while some get to have more free time. In response to this concept of time, Powers introduces Natural Time, which is where we lose track of time and it just sort of flows. It’s when “intuition and instinct guide action, not a schedule”. We’ve all felt it before. Whether we meditated and entered a zone of thoughtlessness or swam in the sea and felt one with the water or when we indulged in one of our hobbies or passions and we lost track of time.

Personally, it’s for those moments that I live and the reason why I am so dissatisfied with my job. The time is ever so slow. I wait for the clock to show 5 pm and it shouldn’t be that way. Instead, I live to write, to hit the pavements, to wander the city, to discover new things and to connect with people. You could say that I do these things to live and not the other way round.

Without sounding too creepy, our past follows us. And our future is us. It’s all one, not separated or linear.

Powers shares a great little insight into Inuit language; apparently, the Inuit have one word to mean both the “past” and the “future”, uvatiarru. How cool is that? I’m not an expert in Inuit language but I interpret this as meaning that the present is what matters. It also means that how you conduct yourself or think about the past will mold your future. Time is smoothed out – sort of cyclical- and life becomes something that isn’t about getting from point A to point B.  Life isn’t linear. Just think about memories. They pop up unannounced and resurface years later weaving their way in and out of our lives. People do the same. We meet someone in our childhood and meet them again in later life. Without sounding too creepy, our past follows us. And our future is us. It’s all one, not separated or linear. I think because work is supposed to be such a big part of our lives and our jobs fuel the economy and its growth, there is a pressure for our lives to progress in the same linear fashion. (The economy doesn’t even progress in a linear way either but that’s another topic!) But that’s not how humans are. Or at least that’s not how I want to live. Living to get from point A to point B is boring, and it’s a potential adventure wasted.

During the week, when I leave my apartment in Brooklyn at 8:05 am (or 8:15 am if I’m moving slowly) I am commencing my commute. Commute. That word describing getting from point A to point B. Do we use this word to describe a road trip? No. Do we use this word to describe a flight? No. This word is used almost always in regards to when someone is on the way to or from work. It is distinguished from other journeys because it’s sole purpose is to get you from point A to point B. No frills. Well, to hell with that. I am trying to change this one hour that it takes me to get to and from work. I want to change it from time to Natural Time, the concept I described above. Instead of sulking all the way to work (which is extremely easy to do when there are hundreds of people squeezed into a space that seems inhumanly possible to contain so many) I usually read. You can read a surprising amount of pages in a hour-long commute. I can race through a book in a week easily. I’ve recently been getting back into podcasts so I listen to them too. It’s a chance to learn something new, to educate yourself and to inspire yourself. If I listen to someone who has done something great it is a great motivator to follow my dreams. It gets me fired up. It gives me enough energy to get through the work day. Another thing I do when I’m not in the mood for reading or listening to podcasts or simply watching people. Of course many people do this. I bet you did it today when you were out and about! The subway is a great place to people-watch. But when was the last time you actually looked? Listened? Sometimes I realize I’m not really looking, that I’m self-absorbed and lost in my thoughts. There’s nothing wrong with that – I’m a complete dreamer – but sometimes I have to remind myself to not glaze over, or detach myself too much. I guess there’s a fine line between zoning out and remaining calm and relaxed. Life is tough, huh?

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