A Celebration of the Slowed Down Life (or Creating Pockets of Peace in Our Frenzied Lives)

Once upon a time, I had regular lunch dates with the Lifestyle section of The Straits Times. I’d cart the broadsheets to the kitchen table, curling my feet onto another chair or the cupboard handles nearby—to the resignation of my poor parents—devouring pages while chewing at a languid pace befitting good, well-mannered girls.

Or so I’d like to imagine. Let a woman pretend.

Other days, I’d have books in hand. My reading material ranged from Enid Blyton’s stories and Tintin comics to proverb dictionaries and cookbooks. I had the loveliest time gazing at pictures and reading the instructions. While I never attempted any recipes, I savoured the aftertaste of consonants on my tongue.

As technology grew accessible, I swapped paper for PC. The Kindle followed, as did the iPhone. I came back from my student exchange to find the family subscription to the Straits Times cancelled.

Well, my mother shrugged, no one at home reads the papers anymore.

The library was the next to go. Once down the street, it left me next for swankier premises fifteen minutes away. I mourned the loss with sad music and my mealtime routine of leisurely page-turning ground to an absolute halt.

For convenience, its eBooks and The Straits Times Digital for me now. I get my articles and novel fix hurriedly on the commutes to and from work, while queuing for milk tea, and even in the shower (sorry, mom). Reading has become an activity I squeeze in-between the must-dos. I’m not sure if I have the time or attention span to pick up a physical book and get lost in its pages anymore. It’s sad.

Is it the same for you, too? Do you have laid-back routines/rituals that, due to circumstances, taken a backseat in your life? It might be tough, but why not make a conscious decision to bring them back or even create new ones? I have! It’s done me a world of good.

There are benefits to sequestering ourselves away from the world once in a while, especially from technology. While it’s great to have a world right at your fingertips, a recent study has found that information can be like drugs to our brains. Researchers at the UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business discovered that information and monetary value share a common neural code, which activates brain regions involved in the reward cycle. It’s partly why we snap to attention when we receive email notifications or Facebook tags; we feel a sweet rush from any information at all, even if it isn’t particularly useful. This encourages us to stay connected 24/7, which makes it easier to feel overloaded—unable to catch our breaths.

These days I make a habit out of taking pen to paper, writing snail mail for special occasions as well as those who want to receive it. Time scuttles away as I assemble jumbled thoughts, fill in addresses and add finishing touches. No letter is truly complete without a little décor and whimsy.

(Tip: Try dimming your lights when it rains and write a letter. It’s really therapeutic.)

Writing a few letters can take hours, but it matters little. I get to slow down when I write them. All senses are engaged, helping me to unplug and live in the present moment. In these hours, I get peace from the overstimulation of today’s fast-paced and screen-reliant lifestyle.

Mail sent out in February

It’s slow (both to reach the receiver and to put together), sure. I’ve learnt how to be patient as my mail wings its way across borders and towns. I’ve learnt hope and anticipation that friends and pen pals would enjoy its contents. I’ve learnt understanding when they take a while to respond, or if they never do. Life is hard. We should all go easier on ourselves.

I’ve also converted a blank journal into a scheduler. When the end of a month nears, I set one or two hours aside to set up the following month’s pages. It helps keep me mindful of the passage of time.

Prep for January

It might be more time-consuming as compared to using Google Calendar and store-bought schedulers, but it does make a huge difference. I get to reflect on the current month and look forward to the next. I’ve learnt how to ease up on the need for perfection. The grids don’t have to be equal. A line can be a little crooked. If it works, it works.

Someone on my Facebook feed posted this once: You/something doesn’t have to be perfect to get the job right. My scheduler isn’t the prettiest, but it helps me unwind and keep track of my days. That’s all I need!

That feeling of satisfaction when you bring a friend over to the dark side? Priceless

Living a slow-paced life is tough in today’s society, but slowing down once in a while is more doable and incredibly beneficial for our systems.

I’m not going to further extol the virtues of snail mail or scheduler building because what works for me doesn’t necessarily work for everyone. Instead, take this as a reminder to slow down/do something mellow whenever you can and in whatever way you like. Start from monthly intervals! You’ll probably emerge feeling calmer and happier while learning some things along the way.

What can you do? There are loads of options, but here are two:

The first’s simple and cost-effective. Ditch your phone (or put it on Do Not Disturb mode), plug into a soothing binaural beats playlist and start walking. That’s it! Many famous authors, businessmen, and innovators have made long walks part of their lifestyles and encountered their breakthroughs then.

Alternatively, try diffusing a nice scent and slipping on a steam eye mask. This helps you keep your eyes shut for at least 20 minutes. Turn on the air-conditioning and dim the lights, then take deep breaths and listen to piano instrumentals of your favourite songs. Slip off to sleep or spend time in quiet introspection after, whichever floats your boat. Your eyes and mind will feel relaxed!

So, what will your new, laid-back routine be?

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