“Would you mind getting out of the car to open that?” Loren pointed. A wooden gate stood like a lone guard between our car and the road ahead.
“Excuse me?” The backseat acoustics challenged my hearing. His voice perked up.
“The sheep. We’ve got to keep the gates closed, or the sheep will get away. There are a few more along the driveway too.”
Minutes later, the rickety vehicle carried us down the final bend and over the gravel path leading to Loren’s weathered farmstead home. It stood before us like an old friend, its front porch stepping out to extend a warm welcome.
Summer was cruel that year. Work hammered me to the wall. Social obligations and burnout had me cornered. Keeping people happy was my side hustle. “Just keep busy and distracted,” I coached myself. “The show must go on.”
But in my heart, I knew there had to be a better way. We needed room to breathe, assess, recreate. Loren’s waterfront farm seemed like a good place to sort through the chaos so off we went.
An aging ferry carried us from Vancouver across the Georgia Strait to Galiano Island. Our host picked us up at the terminal and ironically sped across the lazy road toward home.
It was our time to slow down and reconsider life from the sidelines, to fall into a cherished loveseat with one of a thousand books. To savor stillness and linger over wine before dozing off to the sound of whispering water.
As I rose from the car, I swear the weight of the city and all its burdens began to lift from my shoulders. The sound of salt water lapping over smooth cold stones seemed to call out, “You’ve got work to do, but you’re on my watch now.”
Welcome back to the real world
If only we could pause and step away from noisy life this way regularly, right? Imagine the possibilities. Freedom to create. Freedom to connect. Freedom to contribute. Most of all, a deep sense of peace.
Sadly, this routine is more in step with reality.
Wake. Scroll. Stretch.
Shower. Dress. Eat. Commute.
Work. Work. Work. Work.
Commute. Eat. Scroll. Sleep.
Work varies, of course. It might entail investor meetings or patients’ charts. Perhaps you’re getting a business off the ground or pulling pints at a pub.
Maybe you’re sweating over a midterm paper or peeling a two-year-old off the grocery store floor…again. Regardless, we each carry our fair share of responsibilities. Showing up is not optional and our days quickly fill themselves.
The itinerary above neglects everything in the margin.
Traffic delays, spilled Cheerios, and mind-numbing trips to Costco.
Tedious deadlines and unexpected overtime.
Homework and sibling rivalry and after-school activities.
A broken transmission and a leaky roof.
Social obligations and back-to-back family gatherings.
Let’s not forget bottomless email and long-winded political discourse on Facebook. Oh joy.
Meanwhile, outside our daily routines, the world at large beckons. Headlines take our breath away. Suddenly our frantic lives seem a petty concern and, in turn, we feel responsible for piling another heavy burden on our collapsing shoulders.
If your heart rate is sky high just reading this, congratulations. You’re alive.
Perhaps by now, you’re wondering, Can we even spare the time to talk about slow living?
Yes. And we must. Our world depends on it.
The Cult of Speed
In his book, In Praise of Slow, (aff.) Carl Honoré writes, “We live in the age of speed. We strain to be more efficient, to cram more into each minute, each hour, each day. Since the Industrial Revolution shifted the world into high gear, the cult of speed has pushed us to a breaking point.”
I imagine you’re nodding in agreement. Guess what? These words were published in 2004 before glowing devices hijacked our collective consciousness.
Before Facebook. Before Twitter. Before Instagram. Before YouTube.
Real-time life responsibilities circa 2004 seemed to swallow most people whole. Now the majority is also trying to juggle an online life: staying connected with faraway friends, promoting businesses, documenting family life, keeping tabs on global trends, reading headlines around the clock. My friend calls it “drinking from a firehose.” It never stops.
And the inconvenient truth is we’re bleeding time, our most precious resource. The average social media user loses 2.5 hours each day bouncing from platform to platform. It adds up to a staggering 38 days each year. How can we expect to achieve more in less time?
Not all social media is problematic, sure, but there’s no denying its role in speeding up our discontent, consumption, and reckless pursuit of “the good life.”
In her book, Chasing Slow, (aff.) Erin Loechner asserts “We are doing ourselves no favors when we look to the crowd to tell us where we are.” Evaluating our place in the world based on media-fueled comparison or perceived societal norms is no way to spend our wild and precious life. Are we chasing something worthwhile?
Sometimes Western society feels like a poorly-lit room full of exhausted people on treadmills. The masses seem to run on the brink of peril, desperately trying to stay centered. Left foot, right foot, each on their own buzzing apparatus.
There’s the illusion of progress—dazzling metrics congratulate outstanding effort—but people are not moving toward a meaningful destination.
Treadmill life is a solitary experience too. Noise pollution drowns serious conversation. People crave distractions in the form of screen time or up-tempo tunes. Anything to divert from the fact that everyone is running on a noisy treadmill.
At this rate, fatal overexertion is a real threat to society. Consistent sleep eludes most of us. Our health is on the line, and our inner lives need attention. Relationships pay the price. Collectively, we suffer the consequences of frantic living.
Enough already. It’s time we pause, take our pulse, and question our exhausting existence. We need to board a Galiano-bound ferry and step back from the city.
Why are we running?
What causes people to hoist themselves onto society’s perilous treadmill in the first place? Is it greed? Insecurity? Indifference? Compulsion?
Maybe it’s because we’re keeping up with the neighbors.
Maybe we’re trying to hide in the crowd.
Perhaps we’re chasing praise or pining for a corner office.
Maybe we’re afraid of being labeled “lazy.”
Maybe we simply can’t say no.
Of course, life has its seasons. We don’t always have control over our routine pace. Certain events, like a health crisis, occasionally barge in and immediately dictate how we spend our time.
But truthfully, how many people opt into treadmill life each and every day without pausing to think why? Let’s slow down and consider it together.
Taking a collective pause
Stepping into a simpler life requires a deep self-awareness. We must start slowly and check in with ourselves. It’s a vulnerable process, but it’s the only way to address the root problem adequately.
If you’ve ever been to a physiotherapist, you know one treatment will only get you so far. People don’t walk out of a session miraculously healed for good. Understanding the problem is the first step toward wellness. From there, a person can modify their lifestyle and regain strength. Otherwise, it’s only a matter of time before they find themselves in trouble again.
The same is true of the transition from a treadmill existence to a slower, simpler life. If we lack awareness of our problematic motivations and habits, our one-time fixes and good intentions will only get us so far.
The real question
Here’s a worthwhile thought exercise: Ask yourself why you’re caught in frantic living. After composing each response, immediately pose another question: why?
Why am I running at a breakneck pace? Because I can’t afford to slow down.
Why? Because if I do, my boss will think I’m lazy.
Why? Because I set an unrealistically high precedent for myself.
Why? Because I felt I had to prove my worthiness when I landed the promotion.
Why? Because I’ve always wrestled with low self-esteem.
Aha! That, my friends, is the kind of vulnerability that leads to self-awareness and breeds change. Before addressing the big picture, we must slow down and begin to understand our motivations for what they are. This means getting brutally honest with ourselves. If we don’t learn the root problem, we’re like the one-time physiotherapy patron.
If self-esteem is the real issue, that is where meaningful work must begin. Same goes for fear or greed or jealousy. Is the root problem fueled by external factors, like the media or people’s opinions? Is it something from your past? In most cases, bigger things are at play. Only you know the answer.
Pushing back to slow down
If we sincerely want to simplify our lives, show up for the people we love, and impact the world for good, we need to carve out space to slow down. The work starts with us.
Flannery O’Connor implores us to push back against the age as hard as it pushes against us. In this context, pushing back means hitting pause and stepping off a whizzing treadmill to collect our thoughts.
Here’s a list of simple practices to help you pause. Choose one or two and give them a shot for a week. It’s helpful to do this with someone you care about. Accountability and camaraderie go a long way.
Try making your bedroom a tech-free zone. Your eyes and circadian rhythms need a break. You can fall back on a simple alarm clock.
Check out before checking in each morning. Meditation, journaling, prayer–it’s up to you. If silence is deafening, try pulling on headphones and savoring a meaningful song with your eyes closed. Take deep breaths as you listen. Anything to promote a mindful start instead of a meaningless scroll.
Set up an auto-response for email. Politely explain you’ll be checking at set intervals: hourly, twice daily–maybe trim it back to a few days a week. No explanation necessary. If it’s urgent, they’ll call.
Dodge decision fatigue and eat the same breakfast each day for a week. Notice how this affects your morning routine.
Wind down by stretching in the dark for five minutes before bed. This helps ease your mind and body into a restful state.
Brené Brown says, “Hope is a function of struggle.” The struggle to step off society’s treadmill is our reality. There’s no clear shortcut to creating and maintaining a simple life but pausing is the first step.
Once the noise subsides and you answer the hard questions, the real work can begin. Clarity is around the corner so lean into the struggle. Trust me. There’s hope.
. . .
Elissa Joy Watts is the Managing Editor of Simplify Media. She believes in sincere community, radical kindness, and piping hot coffee. She channels the power of red lipstick and her love language is almond croissants.