Environmental crime is rising at an alarming rate: Wildlife poaching, smuggling, illegal logging, minerals thefts, toxic waste dumping and other felonies together now make up the fourth largest illicit enterprise in the world. And yet, for the time being, we fail to even appropriately recognize the severity of the issue…yet another example of our myopia in considering the effects of our actions. Bad news at a time when environmental crises threaten our planet and its diversity of species more than ever.
We live in an age of contradicting trends: Every other book at the store is A Guide to Mindful Living, and yet we can’t seem to put brakes on our worsening consumeristic and workaholic tendencies; we’re saturated with mantras meant to help us “live in the present,” and yet, as British philosopher Alan Watts puts it, “the working inhabitants of a modern city are people who live inside a machine to be batted around by its wheels. They spend their days in activities which largely boil down to counting and measuring, living in a world of rationalized abstraction which has little relation to or harmony with the great biological rhythms and processes.” Here’s an interesting perspective on the crux of the problem, and the importance of accepting the insecurity of transience.
“Your life will be in flow, if you let go. Everything that is meant to follow you will do so,” reads the small, fading post-it note taped to my computer. I first heard the quote from a friend about two years ago. At the time, she was going through a rather major life transition – finishing up her PhD dissertation, accepting a teaching job in a new city, and breaking up with her partner of five years. She shared the quote with me while we sat on a bench in a beautiful urban sanctuary in downtown Denver, Colorado – the Denver Botanic Gardens. As we sat together, under the warm Colorado sun, stealing glimpses of the still snow-capped Front Range, I began to study her. Amidst all of the external change going on in her life, I saw (and actually felt!) in her a deep feeling of inner-calm, an admirable congruity between her values and her actions. She had a grace to the way she moved effortlessly through her days, and a strong sense of “warrior presence”, something I explored in Twelve by Twelve as one’s ability to maintain beauty and control in their interior space, through being fully present in the moment.
Since 2011, when Melissa and I moved into our micro-apartment in Greenwich Village, we have not owned a car. Since moving permanently here to Bolivia, I have not driven a car either. I travel most places by foot now, occasionally by bicycle, and sometimes by public transportation – microbuses and trufis. In small places, like the town we lived in, in Bolivia, you can biped, or walk, almost everywhere.
Many cultures around the world view walking as a spiritual practice. Certain religious traditions, such as the Zen Buddhist tradition, use walking as a form of spiritual practice, as walking can form a unique bridge between every day, ordinary life and the extraordinary experience of meditation. Mindful walking can be meditation in action.
The Slow Movement’s roots can be traced back to the original Slow Food movement, which began in the late 1980s in Bra, Italy when a group of young and passionate foodies and social and environmental activists protested the construction of a McDonald’s in their town. They joked, “If there exists a philosophy of fast food, why not promote the idea of slow food?”
In 1989, this vibrant and impassioned group created the manifesto for the international Slow Food movement. In their manifesto, Slow Food voiced a strong opposition against globalization, namely the negative, homogenizing cultural and societal forces and the destructive environmental impacts of large-scale, industrial monoculture farming practices.
According to museum researchers, the average museum visitor spends only fifteen to thirty seconds in front of a work of art. In her recent article, The Art of Slowing Down in a Museum, Stephanie Rosenbloom explores the beauty and, yes, the art in slowing down in museums. In her article, Rosenbloom talks to a University of Pennsylvania professor, James O. Pawleski, who regularly requires students to spend at least thirty minutes with a painting. Professor Pawleski, among others, are building to a larger Slow Art movement encouraging museumgoers to slow down and savor the artwork they are viewing to fully experience it and appreciate its beauty.
In her recent article Sharon Salzberg, meditation teacher and cofounder of the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts, reflects on the idea of “proximity” and how by living in proximity, or in physical, emotional, mental and spiritual closeness with others we can foster a deeper sense of community, of place, and of connection with others around us and truly begin to decolonize our minds from the habitual us-versus-them mentality.
Some of the most important living organisms that have some of the most important functions in our biosphere are also some of the slowest growing and moving creatures on the planet. Similar to human beings these plants, fungi, sponges, corals, plankton, and other microorganisms are dynamic and mobile, grow and reproduce, move towards sources of energy and away from predators, however their speeds are hundreds of times slower than ours. In a world where emails and text messages can be sent in an instant, one can fly from New York to London in less than seven hours or can “see” someone (via Skype) halfway around the world in less than a minute it is difficult for our human eye to catch the slow, seemingly minuscule, changes in these organisms.
In a recent article in the New York Review of Books Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org, explores how Pope Francis is leading the Catholic Church in addressing climate change in the 21st century. While some favor market based technological advancement, Pope Francis, among many other radicals, is calling his Church of 1.2 billion to take part in a deep societal and cultural shift to respond to the needs of the planet and its people. Pope Francis writes, “intergenerational solidarity is not optional, but rather a basic question of justice, since the world we have received also belongs to those who will follow us.”
Thanks to Elizabeth Stilwell for her recent review of New Slow City. Stilwell, writer and founder of The Note Passer and member of the Ethical Writer’s Coalition in New York, lives 85 blocks north of our former 350 square foot micro-apartment in New York.
“Eighty-five blocks north in my own 350-square-foot apartment, New Slow City inspired me to assess this disconnect in my own life. An observer by nature, I am quick to accept the advice to slow down, to think, to take my time, to breathe, to daydream. Armed with this purpose, I’m beginning to see New York with fresh eyes. I’m slowing myself down to lengthen conversations, seek out urban sanctuaries, and experience “natural time”… Regardless of location, readers would do well to examine the slow living principles Powers lays out in New Slow City and, in the process, nurture a more content and meaningful existence.”