In an age of speed… nothing could be more invigorating than going slowly.
In an age of distraction, nothing can feel more luxurious than paying attention.
And in an age of constant movement, nothing is more urgent than sitting still.
One of the joys of reading a well-written essay or book, or looking at a work of art or photography, is the glimpse it gives into a moment where the writer or artist really paid attention to life around them. It is the little details they notice – the expression on someone’s face, a brightly-coloured leaf in a grey gutter, sunlight filtering through leaves – which give that moment a little spark, a spark which is then transmitted to us through the power of words or art. When we rush through our days, anxiously driven by a long list of ‘(urgent!) things to do’, we tend not to notice much in our surroundings, let alone feel enlivened by quirky details, moments of presence, connection to each other and our surroundings. Of course, life is not just about going slowly – there’s also energy and exhilaration in speed and activity. It’s not so much about living fast or slow, but finding a balance between the two which works for us.
The practice of mindfulness is about being more attentive, to our own inner world as well as our surroundings. Sometimes we notice ourselves being mindless, running on automatic pilot, and we might admonish ourselves – I ‘should’ be more mindful. When we think of paying attention as a luxury, as Pico Iyer so beautifully describes it, instead of just ‘one more thing we should try and improve in our lives because we somehow know it’s good for us’, it opens up a whole new way of engaging with mindfulness.
Yes, we have great research showing the benefits of living a more mindful life, and this can be helpful and motivating. What we can also have, if we allow ourselves to slow down and to sit still from time to time, is the invigorating luxury of little moments of presence, delight, and meaning.
Take ten minutes out with some paper and pencil and either describe, or draw, something you notice in your surroundings. How do you feel after doing this practice?