My journey to Slow

Posted on Dec 1, 2013 | 3 comments

My journey to Slow

Here I am,  dedicating myself on a project aimed at spreading the Slow movement. Funny thing is I’m not yet ‘slow’ myself.

Last year as I zoomed into a co-working space for a meeting with our Fremantle Wind Farm volunteer group a friend said to me, ‘Claire you’re always rushing from one thing to another, you should just put a wind turbine on your head and generate electricity from that.’ It has struck many people as strange that someone like me, someone who loves intensity, tries to squeeze every inch out of their day (resulting in chronic sleep deprivation), would offer themselves to spruik the Slow movement.

But it makes sense, I promise.

I have always been the kind of person who does everything. In my naive (er) younger years, I really thought I could. In my last year of my undergraduate I was doing a double degree, finishing my honours, got my second dan black belt in karate, working and still managed to go on a road trip for a festival a week before my honours was due in. And I felt on top of the world.

It wasn’t until I was in my first professional job that my ‘can-do’ attitude combined with my idealism turned around and bit me. Hard. I was in a caring profession in a high needs environment. Turns out that is a recipe for burnout.  I remember the moment that someone came into my office and told me something that should have triggered off my stress response. In that moment I realised that I felt nothing. I continued to half-listen to the story while the other half of my brain was putting the pieces of the puzzle together; my morning exercise making me feel worse rather than better like it used to, coffee triggering a revolt from my body, brain fog, insomnia, exhaustion smothering my weekends. My adrenal glands were shot.

Time for a change. So what do I do? Ride my bicycle alone from Mexico down to Argentina in an attempt to save the world with my project, Cycling for Cohesion. Long story, you can read more about it in an upcoming blog. It was a life changing in a good way but not always, or even often, fun. I am not so interested in extended traveling unless there is some kind of purpose greater than myself so as things started to unfold with the project not quite as planned I found it quite a drag. This became a negative cycle as I then found it harder to focus on the project work.

I eventually sat down in a park in Colombia and wrote to myself “you can’t do good if you don’t feel good.” By taking care of myself physically, mentally and spiritually, I am able to be a much more powerful force for good. Not to mention being happier and healthier!

One of the best things to come out of this trip was that it focussed my thinking in how I could really make a difference in the world. Sustainability was my thing but I was never keen to be a technical expert so science or engineering were out, as was being a health profession working with people one to one. I had always felt my contribution would through working with people. Cycling for Cohesion helped me understand the importance of having an engaged and active citizenry; having people participate at some level in decision making is crucial when tackling complex problems. I moved my skill development focus to stakeholder engagement, strategic planning and facilitation and was immensely happy that I did so. I got to apply those skills in the energy sector, a key battleground for action on climate change.

This was all good stuff, things I thought would make me feel satisfied. So I was quite alarmed when I noticed myself feeling more and more disconnected and struggling to find a deep sense of happiness. It was like being on sailboat standing boldly on the prow anticipating a glorious landing, but somehow you just watch the shore get further and further away. The mind can choose not to believe it for a while but the longer you persevere with willing ignorance, the more the realisation has time to build up before coming back to engulf you. I thought I was doing the right things in terms of finding meaning and happiness but I felt lost.

But with chaos and disorder comes an opportunity for reorganisation and learning. Intellectually I got all that stuff about the nature of the universe, how everything is interconnected etc but I didn’t feel it, I ached for a visceral experience of it. Desperate to re-find a sense of stability and purpose, I jumped onto an opportunity to do a retreat that involved six days alone in a wild place, with nothing to do other than be present with a small assortment of supportive practices to  enable the ego to dissolve away and feel the truth that is our oneness with everything else. This was a profound lesson in the power of presence.

Returning from this experience, the centre of my being was soothed and I was even more determined to contribute to that which is greater than myself. I was set on undertaking another social innovation project, this time better prepared with lessons under my belt from Cycling from Cohesion and a much larger network of wonderful people. I liked the idea of doing cycling adventure around Australia and I had several ideas of what I might be able to offer as I went. Resilience, systems thinking, some positive psychology topics and enabling groups to collaborate to solve complex problems were all topics I thought I could speak and run workshops on as I went, but the idea was rightfully still pretty loose.

With the intent of developing this rough plan in the forefront of my mind I found myself sitting at the Happiness and Its Causes Conference where I heard Carl Honore speak about the Slow Movement. ‘This was it!’ I thought. Primed from Michael Leunig’s wonderful line in the previous presentation, ‘you can’t love anything at speed,’ Slow seemed to make so much sense. If you don’t Slow down long enough to listen to yourself then how do you even know who you are in order to love yourself or to understand what it is that believe in and stand for something? If you don’t shut up and listen to others when they are speaking then how do you develop empathy which is so crucial in being able to act as a cohesive team. Moreover, if you don’t Slow down and sense your connection to other living things and Mother Earth herself, then how do you want to save her?

It was so perfect! It covers all those topics I was interested in pursuing, fits with my health background and more recent work in stakeholder engagement and facilitation, and relates to my passion for innovation and positive psychology. What grabbed me the most was that underneath the multitude of things related to Slow, lies a foundation of presence. What if we could harness this immune-system-like reaction to our cultural addiction to speed, to help link people to the power of presence; a simple transferrable skill that could be the ultimate catalyst for improving our relationship with ourselves, others and the planet.

With my mind still racing after a day I then had the thought, ‘wait, I’m not Slow! How can I go and talk to people about the virtues of Slow if I do not embody the principles at least to some extent myself?’ This did not seem like a recipe for a successful project. Then I was inspired to think big and the idea to use my own transformation as part of the project. For so long it has been bugging me that I don’t make more time for meditation, that I do so many things but end up skimming the surface with most of it, that I learn new skills and rarely take anything to the point of mastery and I have been absolutely horrified at my own steadily increasing distractibility. So why not do some action research into Slow and share the journey with others?

This was the birth of the current high level project plan; first an experiment phase as I transform myself and deepen my knowledge of Slow, and then the Ride for Slow Movement.

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3 Comments

  1. Hi Claire!
    Well done on writing such a cogent expression of your thoughts and intentions 😉
    I felt myself really identifying with you on several levels (although perhaps you are more of a high achiever!!)
    Best of luck with this project and I really do want to hear more about your processes in becoming more mindful and present in the moment. This has been something I have been working on myself – I even have a catchphrase that I tell myself when I’m feeding but itching to go and do something else.
    Be still and know that I am God.
    This may or may not float your boat 🙂
    Best of luck!

  2. Claire, you are wise beyond your years Nd are where your’e meant to be right now…

  3. Claire, it appears we share many experiences not the least a frustration around feeling the need to hurry up and slow down. Still working with this dilemma but the work is where the answers come from. With age has come a realisation, the faster I go the slower the change, it also seems when I am slow the answers come quicker.

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