I almost bought the book ‘Slow’ by Brooke McAlary a couple of months ago in a local bookshop but I was worried my desire for slow living and simplicity was becoming somewhat idolatrous. Also, the thought of spending more money on a self-help book was ludicrous when clearly the other ten I’ve read haven’t changed much of anything. I ended up borrowing the book at the library and taking it with me on a week away in the country. I’m trying to think of the reasons I resonated so strongly with this book and I think a lot of it is because the author is Australian. It comes across in subtle ways, but Brooke talks like people I know so it feels like a friend having a chat about their life and things they’ve found helpful rather than a motivational talk. Although a lot of American self-help books are all about #realtalk and #authenticity, I still feel the cultural gap.
The book starts with a letter to Mr and Mrs Jones, withdrawing from the race to keep up with them. Ironically we were staying with a Mr and Mrs Jones on a very slow week away in the country, drinking tea and reading books. I love how Brooke weaved throughout the book how slow living is not a quest for a new Mr and Mrs Jones. Now I do follow #slowliving on Instagram and it is as the author describes. Currently 1,187,363 pictures, mostly of a new aspirational lifestyle this involves muted tones and trophy lives.
Start with Why
The fact that Brooke starts with why is really important to me. While she doesn’t mention faith or religion specifically (I did think it was worth a mention!) this is what it brings up for me. Other books I’ve read have been more ‘get everything perfect then you’ll have room for what’s important’. If you spend the time figuring out what’s important to you and what’s not, it will set you up for the journey of slow. If fashion isn’t important to me, spending six weeks organising a capsule wardrobe wouldn’t be the best use of my time. I am guilty of exactly this. “I will spend this month organising my life and creating my perfect schedule slash rhythm of life and it all starts next month.” I said that about January, then February, then March, then April and now it’s almost June!
Brooke’s chapter on decluttering is very practical and does not make it the holy grail of slow living. I’m encouraged by the author’s journey to do a little bit each day over a longer period of time rather than give an unrealistic time-frame for perfection. If decluttering is getting rid of stuff, how do we stop ourselves from just accumulating more stuff? De-owning goes deeper.
So, I felt good about my decision to borrow this book from the library rather than purchase it straight away. ‘In order for us to extricate ourselves from the ever-revolving cycle of want-buy-declutter-want-buy-reclutter we need to figure out what’s worth caring about, and what’s worth caring less about.’ (pg. 118)
Brooke McAlary writes: ‘I had no margin. No room for change or flux. Mentally, I was operating beyond capacity and when something happened which threw me, even a little, I had no room to expand. There was no buffer to help me cope, so I blew up’. (pg. 135) Brooke credits a huge part of her mindset shift to mindfulness. There is the practice of mindfulness from the Buddhist tradition, but there is also the concept of mindfulness being the opposite of mindlessness This author explores the concept rather than the practice. Common words and phrases were ‘paying attention, noticing, awareness, waking up’. As I read this, I started to think about Ignatian Spirituality, which asks the question, how can we become a contemplative in action? In some ways, it’s the Christian equivalent of mindfulness. I even think of the Daily Examen, a prayerful reflection on the events of the day, as an act of mindfulness. From the Reimagining the Examen (book and app):
- Relish the moments that went well and all the gifts you have today;
- Request that the Spirit leads you through your review of the day.
- Review your day.
- Repent of any mistakes or failures;
- Resolve, in concrete ways, to live tomorrow well.
Reading the Bible with your imagination is another example. The act of immersing yourself in the story – to taste, smell, hear, see and feel what is going on – can really enhance our understanding of the scriptures. It’s like reading in 3D.
Disconnect to Reconnect
Technology is one of the reasons why slow living is almost impossible. As I sit outside a local café writing this, two women on the table onto my right chat with their phones on the table. They are just one beep away from being distracted. On my left two women are waiting for their coffee while one is on a phone call. My writing is just interrupted as I notice a missed call from a friend and text back that I am free to talk after I’ve left the café. (Pet hate: phone calls at cafes!) I write this to demonstrate that the act of simply having a coffee is under threat, and according to Brooke McAlary the fault lies with us:
“The technology isn’t the problem; it’s how we choose to use it. And it is a choice. We choose to keep our phone in our pockets. We choose to put them on the dinner table. We choose to respond to emails at 11p.m. We choose to update statuses when we’re sick, or in bed, or on holidays, or while someone who loves us waits for us to look at them. We choose to document an endless succession of previous, personal moments, and we choose to view so much of our life through a screen”. pg. 167
What I love about this chapter of Slow is the insight the author has into how destructive our use of technology can be. How much of it is mindless? How much of it is attention seeking over being attentive?
After renewing this book several times at my local library, this week I finally had to drop it in the returns pile! I will definitely be buying myself a copy, perhaps even the USA edition set for release in July that can be preorder here. I also listen to Brooke McAlary’s The Slow Home Podcast on iTunes (you can find it on Stitcher too).
Note to readers: Its nice to be back blogging again, after several months break (okay, we’ll call it maternity leave). I’d love for you to leave a comment about your thoughts and questions on on slow living, as I hope to write more about this way-of-life and how it connects to monastic charismatic spirituality.