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Shorter days offer time to slow down

Posted by BJ Roche  December 20, 2011 02:38 PM

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Years ago I was doing some last-minute Christmas shopping at a garden shop in Amherst when I came across an unusual loyalty program: For every $30 purchase, customers got a free Thich Nhat Hanh poem. This is not the kind of thing you’d see at, say, Banana Republic, and the cynic in me loved it. It’s kind of rich, right? There’s the irony of spending thirty bucks to get a quote about mindfulness. Only in western Mass., kids! Plus, Zen master has a Facebook page. How Zen can that be? I could go on all day.


And yet, when you take a look at some of his words:

"From time to time, to remind ourselves to relax and be peaceful,_ we may wish to set aside some time for a retreat, a day of mindfulness, when we can walk slowly, smile, drink tea with a friend, enjoy being together as if we are the happiest people on Earth."
— Thich Nhat Hanh (Being Peace)

You might agree that the guy has a point. At a time and in a season when none of your 753 Facebook friends has time for a face-to-face cup of coffee, something is amiss. Is it time for a slowdown? To stop checking that e-mail 50 times a day? To go for a walk? What do you think?

In her new book, World Enough & Time: On Creativity and Slowing Down, Northampton poet Christian McEwen argues that we pay a price for the ease and constant companionship of technology, and that busi-ness isn't all it's cracked up to be:

"It is as if busy had come to equal 'interesting' and 'important,' and being hard to get hold of translated, seamlessly, into 'social cachet.' "

McEwen offers some tactics for slowing down: take a walk, spend time with younger people, reread a book you loved as a child. Of course, this is not rocket science, but at a recent reading at my local bookstore, McEwen encountered dozens of readers eager to talk about another way to go through life. She points out the, er, slowly growing slow movements like Slow Cities, Slow Art, Slow Design and Slow Money. To which I'd add Slowtravel, a nice site for travelers who like to take their time.

The coming weeks may offer a few chances to reclaim the slow life, at least for an hour or two. Take them! Here are the ways that work in our house. This year we will try to uni-task; watch the movie without tweeting every scene, eat the meal without the cell phone on the table. It can be done. What are your slowdown tips? Head over to the Facebook page and post ‘em.

Watch a corny holiday movie. Our fave is the 1954 chestnut, White Christmas, which features Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney-and-the-fabulous-Vera Ellen. The dancing! The dresses! The prescience of global warming! I love the kitschy scenery, from a Miami nightclub to the Vermont barn, and you could cry watching Vera Ellen dance.

Listen to some good music on the radio. WGBH offers an embarrassment of riches this time of year, from the Pops to the Festival of the Nine Lessons and Carols, which is a lovely way to close out the year, even if you're an atheist. And if you missed Robin Young's recent Here and Now story with music suggested from retired choir director Ron Cohen, check it out here.


Dine out with a friend or partner at the bar. I don't mean a Faye-Dunaway-Mickey-Rourke kind of place; you know, some place nice. You end up meeting new people and having a way better time than sitting by yourselves. Order something with "tini" at the end of it.

Paint your toes. Or get someone to paint them for for you. We don't generally do this in winter. But. My sister tells me that coloring your toes is actually good psychologically because it sets a boundary between where you end and the rest of the world begins. I thought this was bunk until I actually tried it a few days ago. It takes concentration to paint your own toes. You have to do it slowly. I believe that Thich Nhat Hanh might approve, although I have no confirmation of that.

It's not like coral-colored toes will end corporate corruption, or bring about world peace, or get your recent college graduate a job. But when you're in the kitchen worrying about these things and stop and look down at your bare feet, you will smile. Try it. Even if you're a guy.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
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About the author

BJ Roche is a writer and teacher who lives in Western Massachusetts. She’s a senior lecturer in the Journalism Program at UMass Amherst, where she teaches writing, new media and More »

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