Slow seeing

Greenwich Park

Greenwich Park

Yesterday I wrote a poem called the ‘Glow of Slow’. I had been intending to write something else when I sat down with pen and paper, but the phrase came to mind, and I wanted to play with it.

I think that it was front of mind because the days have been glowing recently. When the sun comes out in autumn in England, and shines behind the yellowing leaves on the trees, and shines through the bare branches where the leaves have already fallen, there is no other word that can describe it than glow. And it makes you glow inside.

There is a softness in the quality of light at this time of year, that is very different to the brightness of summer sun. It is a softening into winter, and it is a slowing down. Autumn is a time of slowing down in nature as preparations are made for winter. Even amongst busy, urban lives there is often a desire for a corresponding slow down, but our jobs require us to keep going at the same pace (or in many cases even faster in the run-up to Christmas).

I will seek to keep this glow of slow with me as I travel through my busy days.  As my husband said to me this morning, “Slow is in here”, pointing at his forehead. It is also in our hearts, and our way of looking at the world. “What we see is what we look for”. This is so true. It is true on the obvious level that it is maybe not so obvious as I only saw this clearly the other day – if I see trees and nature, that is because I have chosen to go to the park. I can then choose what I see there as well. So I can choose to see slowly, or I can choose to see fast, which perhaps equates to not seeing at all. Seeing slowly. Apparently in an art gallery the median time spent looking at a painting is 17 seconds. Another study found that the average viewer looks at a painting for less than two seconds, spends ten seconds reading the text on the wall, looks at the painting again and then moves on.

When was the last time you stopped and looked at a tree? When was the last time that I stopped to look at a tree? Properly. Probably when I had a camera in my hand. That is what I like about photography. I remember when I went to Morocco that my camera stopped working at some point because of all the sand. And I missed taking pictures because I wouldn’t have the record of what I was seeing – but I also missed the act of framing what I was seeing, which helped to me to focus on and process what I was seeing rather than just walk on by.

Intentional seeing. That is an area to explore. Miksang is a Tibetan word meaning ‘good eye’ and it has lent its name to the contemplative art of photography, which is about true perception and true expression. Maybe this is where slow comes in – as a way of leading to true seeing.  


At the pace of nature


Leeks gone to seed, Embercombe

I refound this poem this evening. It talks about slow, and the pace of nature. If we are ever in a hurry, it is good to go back to this, and remember you can’t always see the growth that is happening. Thank you to Sharon Blackie for publishing this on her blog, which is how I came across it. 

The Seven Of Pentacles

By Marge Piercy

Under a sky the color of pea soup
she is looking at her work growing away there
actively, thickly like grapevines or pole beans
as things grow in the real world, slowly enough.

If you tend them properly, if you mulch, if you water,
if you provide birds that eat insects a home and winter food,
if the sun shines and you pick off caterpillars,
if the praying mantis comes and the ladybugs and the bees,
then the plants flourish, but at their own internal clock.

Connections are made slowly, sometimes they grow underground.
You cannot tell always by looking what is happening.
More than half the tree is spread out in the soil under your feet.
Penetrate quietly as the earthworm that blows no trumpet.
Fight persistently as the creeper that brings down the tree.
Spread like the squash plant that overruns the garden.
Gnaw in the dark and use the sun to make sugar.

Weave real connections, create real nodes, build real houses.
Live a life you can endure: make love that is loving.
Keep tangling and interweaving and taking more in,
a thicket and bramble wilderness to the outside but to us
interconnected with rabbit runs and burrows and lairs.

Live as if you liked yourself, and it may happen:
reach out, keep reaching out, keep bringing in.
This is how we are going to live for a long time: not always,
for every gardener knows that after the digging, after the planting,
after the long season of tending and growth, the harvest comes.



The satisfactions of learning to slow down

Part 2 of 2


Where might you go on a pocket holiday?

In the first part of this article, I talked to pyschotherapist, counsellor and advocate of slow living Bonnie Grotjahn about the satisfactions of the slow.

Having discussed the satisfactions, I asked Bonnie what advice she would give to someone who wanted to incorporate more slow into their life. She suggested 5 things that you can do as a starting point:

Noticing – This might be a first step.  This could take the form of noticing the impact of what you are doing, noticing when you want to speed up, and how you speed yourself up, and being curious and non-judgmental about this. You notice – ‘I have the impulse to switch on the TV’ – what might you notice from this? It is not about saying, “I must slow down”. You need to be gentle with yourself.

Stepping away from the computer – Having one day a week not doing anything on the computer is a good way of slowing down, taking time on this day to do physical things with attention.

The pocket holiday – One of the main barriers to slow for me is that I think this requires dedicated time. Yet it can be about finding ways to build slow into your day. Bonnie provided the idea of the ‘pocket holiday’. You might be yearning for a holiday and a chance to slow down. But you can take a pocket holiday and stare out of the window for five minutes, or imagine a place that you’d love to be, and this can make a difference.

Bringing slow into our product choices – We can support slow in the economy through the choices that we make, for example being mindful of the products that we buy, trying to buy those that are built to last or can have a second life, rather than being on the fast road to landfill.

Learning to say no (and looking after yourself) – This is such good advice and insight from Bonnie: “In some cases, people both want to and fear slowing down.  What do you fear might happen if you slow down? Or say ‘no’ to a possible activity or demand someone is making of you? It can be worth exploring any messages you might have been given, or beliefs you may be holding, about your value as a person if you ‘do’ less.  I often see clients who need support to feel OK about defining themselves, saying ‘no’ where that would be healthy for them and accepting that – for any variety of reasons including getting older or another change in circumstances – they need to prioritise looking after themselves.”

What are the barriers that might be stopping you from going slow? What are your experiences of slow? The satisfactions as well as the barriers? And what has helped you to slow down?


Bonnie practices at Cotswold Talking Therapies and can be contacted through their website –

The satisfactions of slow

Part 1 of 2

Bike in forest, Finland

Bike in forest, Finland

What do we mean by slow? This question came to me during a thought-provoking and fun conversation that I had with psychotherapist, counsellor and advocate of slow living, Bonnie Grotjahn, on the topic of slow.

The overriding theme that emerged for me was satisfaction. We often talk about things satisfying our needs. But are they actually needs that need satisfying? What if we turned to slow instead as a methodology for satisfying us? And what are the conditions that are required for this?

The satisfaction of slow awareness
Through studying psychotherapy and changes she has incorporated into her own life, Bonnie is aware of the importance of being more conscious about her thoughts and feelings. Before, she didn’t know as well what satisfied her, and was more reliant on outside stimulation.

Many of us turn to our favourite crutch outside ourselves, whether it is food, alcohol, drugs or even excessive exercise, in trying to find satisfaction. But this often just leaves us wanting more.

So, as Bonnie said, the alternative is to stop to ask, “What is going to feed me from the inside?”

The poet Tess Gallagher said “You can’t go deep until you slow down.” And whilst it might not be as true to say that you can’t slow down until you go deep, there is some truth in this reverse formulation as well. By becoming more aware of your own internal experience, you become more aware of where you are going too fast and where it would be beneficial to slow down, aware of what you are feeling and experiencing in a non-judgemental type way.  And from the basis of awareness you can choose what you do, rather than acting out of habit.

The satisfaction of slow moving

Bonnie is a keen cyclist, enjoying the journey from one place to another – and it is about practicality as well, as she lives in a small town and her and her partner don’t own a car. It is the quality of experience that primarily motivates her to cycle rather than strong environmental reasons, although that is important as well.

She told a story of how one very cold weekend she cycled 25 miles with her partner. They stayed in a B&B and cycled back the next day. A few weeks later, they borrowed a car and happened to drive near the place where they had been. And she was struck by the contrast in the experience that she had of the place on the two journeys. “It’s not very often you say that, ‘That was a really satisfying drive.” Bonnie reflected on how when you are cycling there is satisfaction of moving yourself, breathing, stopping, enjoying the journey. The same is true of walking as well.

In my definition of SMCG (slow moving creative good), I touched on slow and moving, but not so much on the effect of the two combined – slow-moving. Many writers are also keen walkers because of the way slow-moving stimulates and allows room for their creativity. And the satisfaction of creative ideas that might bubble up is another satisfaction of moving slowly.

The satisfaction of slow making – and self-reliance

Bonnie also makes preserves and sourdough bread.  She started making marmalade about 5 years ago, and now has branched out into jams and jellies.

She described vividly the experience of making marmalade, and its therapeutic soothing qualities. “It is about bringing my attention to what is in front of me. Noticing the oranges as I am cutting them, the smell of the oranges. The sense of ‘here I am, I am making something’. The physical grounding. I’m creating. And it’s got its own pace, you can’t rush the process”. Listening to Bonnie, I wanted to get in the kitchen and start making jam, have a pot bubbling away slowly, filling the kitchen with the smell.

Play is also an important element. Every batch of jam is slightly different, and Bonnie takes pleasure in honing the recipe each time, seeing how she can improve it.

Bonnie challenged herself to see if she could make enough to last her through the year, and the cupboard is certainly full now. This is another source of satisfaction – of not having store-bought goods, of enjoying what you have made yourself. That aspect of satisfaction of self-reliance applies to slow-moving as well – you are not relying on other people or machines, and that contributes to an enhanced sense of self and your capabilities. At the same time, paradoxically, this enhances your connection with the world around you because in order for you to be self-reliant, you need to have a direct relationship with the environment rather than a mediated one.

In the second part of the article (to be posted),  I receive good advice from Bonnie on learning to slow down.

Bonnie practices at Cotswold Talking Therapies and can be contacted through their website.

Learning the skills of slow – or zen and the art of bike maintenance

Milanese bike

Milanese bike

It was a fine autumn day today and I was visiting a friend who lives on the other side of south London to me – 18km to be precise according to Google maps. It would take me 1 hr 10 mins to cycle there, Google told me. I decided I would give it a go. I needed some fresh air and exercise.

But first I had to get my bike ready as it has been a few months since I have cycled. An hour later, and after all nearly giving up, I had managed to get a working bike together, taking a wheel off one bike and putting it on another. Set to one side, I had one wheel that needs a new inner tube, and another which needs a puncture fixed. And, thanks to a flat tyre on the way back, I now have another one that needs fixing.

My first thought was that I will take them to a bike shop tomorrow and get them fixed. But I can do the fixing myself, even if I have to look it up and remind myself of how to do it.

My experience today in trying to get a bike working reminded me of the skills that are actually required to live a slow-moving life. Because we are more self-reliant, we need to know how to be able to do and fix stuff. But these are not skills that are widely taught – and it is the type of skill that it is easier to learn from someone else rather than trying to teach yourself. I learnt what little I know from an ex-boyfriend. But if I wanted to up my skills where would I go?

I read in The Big Issue this week about The Cycle Hub in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, which is a bike shop/café/repair centre and runs workshops – the two upcoming maintenance workshops are fully booked. Doing a quick Google search revealed that there are numerous places in London where you can learn the skills you need to keep your bike on the road. I like the look of the ones at the London Bike Kitchen.

What I was reminded of today is that slow (some types at least) actually require preparation and skill. But that the actual preparation is a form of slow in itself (albeit rather frustrating at times when you don’t have the skill), and that learning the hands-on skill is a form of slow too. One thing leads to another. I’m actually looking forward to getting my hands dirty at a bike maintenance course. Next thing you know, I’ll be building a bike.

Meeting the needs of people and behaviour change – an example from Carlsberg

carlsbergMorten Nielsen was fed up of being boring. Morten is Director of Corporate Social Responsibility and Public Affairs at Carlsberg Group. Sustainability, sustainability, sustainability.

Euro2012 was coming up. He saw this as the perfect opportunity to engage people enjoying Carlsberg at the football games with sustainability. But it couldn’t be boring.

He looked at research around what consumers wanted at the games. Two of the prime things were showing support for the team and enjoying the game.

He then went to talk to the marketing team. He went undercover as someone from business development. He didn’t mention sustainability. This was a brief all about meeting consumer needs – how can we enable people to show support for their team? How can we help them to enjoy the game?

And the marketing team came up with some ideas. People could support their teams by throwing their empty cups into recycling bins branded with country colours. Carlsberg brand ambassadors would talk to people about alternating their drinks with water to make sure they fully enjoyed the game – and encouraged them to use public transport.

Both ideas were a great success. This story demonstrates a couple of things:

  • Willingness to try a different appproach
  • Importance of sustainability working with brand and marketing teams
  • Putting the needs of people at the centre of brief – how can you meet those needs? And then the answer is likely to be more fun and surprising and effective.

Thanks to Morten for sharing this story at the Reimaging Consumption Summit in Paris in October 2013.

Growth vs development – or how can we liberate creative possibilities?

Growth vs development – or how can we liberate creative possibilities?

Yesterday’s blog on repairability and lifecycle of products prompted a comment that it is not only objects that need to be regenerated within their life span. It is humans as well. We need to be able to reinvent ourselves, or be doomed to decay.

This comment led me back to a quote that I read yesterday from the Chilean economist, Manfred Max-Neef:

“Growth is a quantitative accumulation. Development is the liberation of creative possibilities. Every living system in nature grows up to a certain point and stops growing. You are not growing anymore, nor he nor me. But we continue developing ourselves. Otherwise we wouldn’t be dialoguing here now. So development has no limits. Growth has limits.”

I love this.

To go back to my FMCG vs SMCG blog post – an FMCG economy is focused solely on growth, it is about a fast turnover of goods, so that more and more goods can be sold. SMCG is about development. ‘Slow moving creative good’ is the liberation of creative possibilities.

What if instead of brands asking themselves “How can we sell more?” they asked “How can we liberate creative possibilities?” I am willing to bet the results would be more sustainable – and slow, moving, creative and good.

And to return to the point that I started with, the results are similar if we apply them to our own lives. “How can I get more stuff?” keeps us unsustainably stuck in growing the amount of stuff that we have. Whereas if we have as our focus how we can develop as human beings, then the concern with quantitative accumulation begins to fall away.