“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.”
Guest post by student from School of International Training (SIT) Bolivia program
Sitting across from Fabrizio, a member of an urban experimental community in La Paz, Bolivia—Casa de los Ningunos—I ask him what he thinks the future of the “Great Turning”, or what Joanna Macy describes as the paradigm shift needed to transform the current reality of violence and oppression, environmental destruction and human rights violations, greed and speed, and hyper-consumerism to a more peaceful, socially just, and environmentally sustainable one. A reality of imagination; of creativity; of joyfulness; of well-being; of resilience; of bliss. He pauses for a moment and takes a slow sip of dark coffee, allowing the steam from his cup to spiral around his face. I follow his gaze out of the window of the second story kitchen, across the bustling metropolis of La Paz, over the red foothills of the Cordillera Real, to the peak of the glistening, snow capped 21,121 foot Illamani. He exhales, steam rushing across the wooden table. Suddenly, he looks back at me and states, “Hay tres cosas. Hay que creer. Hay que crear. Y hay que criar o cultivar.” (“There are three things. One has to believe. One has to create. And one has to nurture, or cultivate.”)
I first moved to New Mexico after I graduated from college, in 1993. Unbeknownst to me, at that same time, my wife-to-be, Melissa, was living not far away, in Santa Fe. Later, in 2001, I arrived for the first time in Bolivia, a country I made home for some nine of the subsequent fourteen years. Just three months after I arrived in Bolivia in 2001, Melissa arrived to Cochabamba, where she lived for two years before returning to graduate school. We didn’t meet in New Mexico, nor did we meet in Bolivia. However, our “invisible red strings” had begun to intertwine.