Bon Voyage!

July 18, 2012

“The voyage itself is not important, but rather the one with which you travel that counts.”

Travel is one of the best ways to see how slow you can go. Waiting in line to board planes, buses and trains is a great opportunity to test your patience; you might also be confronted with a new culture, even if it’s in the same country.

I am reminded of the microcosm that is Bavaria every time I travel outside its boundaries. From where I live, you can go as little as two hours and be in an entirely different world (and country).

As you travel this summer (or winter for folks way down South), notice how the pace of life changes, depending on where you are. For someone in New York, their slow might be your fast (or vice versa, although I doubt it!). It is possible to live at your custom speed no matter where you live. While the world is unfurling its chaos, remember to drive just a little slower. You’ll get to where you are going faster if you go slow.

Trust me on this.

It’s one thing to take a day off on the weekend, but entirely another when you decide to take a mid-week break. For those of you new to The Power of Slow, it may seem like a daunting task to even consider taking a day off “just because”. If panic is seizing your throat as you read this, hear me out for a moment, okay?

This past week I opted to explore a new area smack dab in the middle of the week simply because I wanted to. Husband was travelling, the kids were at school for their only ‘long day” until 3 pm (don’t get me started about half-day schooling in Germany!) and I saw no reason to sit on my fanny in front of my computer when I have an iPhone to check in for any client fires I might need to put out.

And so I tapped in an address that looked fascinating in my GPS and, as my mom likes to say, took a God trip for the entire day. As if carried by angels, I maneuvered through traffic and reached my destination with plenty of time to enjoy the day. A nice walk through the park, a delightful lunch and some cherished alone time in my car as I listened to my favorite music, made me a patient, loving person again. Because let’s face it: too much stress, too many demands and too little fun are not conducive to a balanced life.

When I got home, the kids happily greeted me, did the chores I asked them to and seemed genuinely grateful to see me again. And you know what? No one died, my clients didn’t fire me and I had a song in my heart from all the fun I had that day.

If you’re thinking “yeah, but that can’t apply to me” right now, here’s the thing: it’s about creating the opening for new things to come into your life. When you say “I can’t do that,” “It’s too difficult,” “I don’t know how so I won’t even try,” you are creating the mental parameters for your predictions to come true. In other words, you are right! But if you approach your life with possibility, with the thinking that “This is what I want and I envision a world in which it happens,” there’s no arguing with you. You’re right again. With that kind of thinking, the sky is the limit.

I promise you this: if you create sacred space for your own evolution, the world will adapt to you instead of you always having to adapt to it. And who wouldn’t want to live a world of their own making? The truth is we all do. The question is what world do you want to live in?

Life’s a Beach

June 13, 2012

Last month Expedia.com released its 2012 Flip Flop report. Seeing as I developed a flip-flop method for measuring your pace of life, I feel it’s only appropriate to post this nifty infographic.

Germans top the list of beach-loving nations ~ it could have something to do with the fact that summer is typically measured in days, not weeks or months here. Pardon my cynicism, but honestly~ 20°C does not equal warm, folks.

Note the Brazilians’ attitude toward the beach. They like to dance, relax, sunbathe and dine there. Anyone care to do a little Samba along the coast? In my view, the Brazilian attitude toward relaxation wins hands down!

Husband shuffled lethargically from the car to the house and back again. Three hotels and 1,000 KM later, he had had enough of vacation. Admittedly, ten days is a long time of non-stop togetherness. Eager to return to my every day life myself, I predicted he would be out of the house before 8 a.m. the next morning.

He was. :)

Is there such a thing as too much time off? While I am a true advocate of frequent breaks, vacation and extended periods of rest and play, work drives meaning just as much as our playtime does. It’s undeniable. And I must admit I truly missed my life (including my dear friends, pets and even my clients!) after taking time off from it all.

And that’s a good thing.

So to answer the question: can you have too much Slow, I would say no, you cannot because slow means mindfulness in this context. Being mindful is the path to great happiness. Working mindfully is a part of that too.

For instance, are you mindful after you’ve had a vacation about how you feel when you return? Have you ever taken time off, only to dread returning to your daily grind? That’s when you know a sabbatical itself won’t solve your issues. In that case, it may be time to reevaluate your life in general.

Consider:

  • What’s working for you today?
  • What isn’t?

It is easy to get overwhelmed when reflecting on how you might make changes in your life. Maybe it isn’t your actual pace of  life that is tripping you up, but perhaps it is the content with which you fill your days. Dread, in any case, is a good indicator that something is awry.

Here’s a quick dread test (as found in The Power of Slow): when you consider doing something, does it make your heart sink or sing?

That’ll tell you a lot.

How might you move your life from dread to delight today? Hint: Do one thing that excites you. Then tell me about it. Because here’s the thing: when you share your excitement, it spreads like wildfire. And who wouldn’t want to be on fire with your special kind of enthusiasm?

Where in the world is it legitimate to kiss a stranger, drink wine at lunch and ride on the water even during a lightning storm?

If you guessed Italy, you’re right.

If you have spent any time in Italy at all, you will know why it is the birthplace of the Slow movement. It’s not that Italians are, per se, turtle-like. In fact, they are quite efficient (even their trains are on time!). But what informs their unique power of slow is the way they embrace life itself.

“You want to stay all day? Okay! You want to leave, okay, too!” the resort manager exclaimed in June when we found ourselves not wanting to depart after having enjoyed a week of Italian sun. He ended up giving us a free night (and a bigger place at the week’s beginning). When we spent another two weeks there in August, we started to think maybe he was giving us the special treatment.

One day, he stopped by on his bike and smiled.

“I have an idea.”

I winked at him over my glass of Chianti and said, “I like your idea already.”

He told us of a friend who has a sailboat. He’d take us out for a four-hour sail around the harbor of Trieste, “if we felt like it.”

Boy did we ever! Despite the two-foot jelly fish that rolled around the harbor waters, we managed to get on and off the ten-meter sailboat without trouble. It was a perfect, windless day so the sailing part was definitely sloooow. We topped off the evening with a sunset dinner at a nearby restaurant whose salmon made me weep. It was that good!

The last day was a tad cloudy so I headed to Venice while the kids and my husband stayed at the resort for a final day of frolicking. There I learned the water taxis are as punctual as the trains. As we skippered along the ocean to the island of Lido where the Venice Film Festival is being held, I pretended to ignore the lightning flashing behind my new friend’s head. He distracted me with his recounting his latest film in which he plays a priest murderer. I couldn’t help but notice there was a priest sitting in the boat so I felt a blend of relief and fear that my actor friend may have had ideas!

The next day, we unwillingly left our beloved Italian resort on the island of Grado and returned to Germany. We couldn’t help but notice the different pace of life immediately.

It’s good to be home with Italian memories in our suitcase, waiting for the next time to unpack the joy of slow under the Adriatic sun.

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Benjamin Franklin
Image via Wikipedia

Benjamin Franklin meant well. He advised his tradesmen audience in the aptly worded „Advice to a Young Tradesman”  that time is money. In his day a person of trade, well, traded his time for the money he earned. In many cases today people think they still do that as well. But what they are really doing is spending a lot more time thinking about work than they are paid to do. Thanks in large part to technological advances, work has seeped into many aspects of our lives. So while we’re swinging our child on the swings, we’re solving that problem at work in our heads or on our cell phones. Many times you will see people ceaselessly thumbing their BlackBerries at coffee shops during ‘leisure time’. In today’s world, time is not money, my friend. Time is time and money is money.

In the world of slow, time does not equal money. Instead, time equals your existence.

The truth of the matter is ‘the time is money’ adage has gotten us into a lot more trouble than we realize. Because we live our lives based on the misleading premise that time is money, we attempt to do more in less time. We begin to confuse activity with productivity, as if the ‘doing’ will grant us ‘being’. Inadvertantly, we hop on the hamster wheel, running as fast as we can with a competitive mentality about the clock and what it supposedly represents.We have a negative relationship with time that gives us a sense of time starvation instead of abundance. Even our precious vacation time is not immune from the time-money equation.

According to expedia.com’s latest International Vacation Deprivation Survey conducted by Harris Interactive in April 2010, nearly one-third of the respondents admitted to engaging in work-related while on vacation. The trend seems to be increasing. In 2010 30% reported that they check work email or voicemail while vacationing as opposed to just 24% in 2009.

If you love what you do and you are not stressed by it, that’s one thing. But if you feel you can never disengage from your work to regenerate, chances are you need to entertain the idea of a lifestyle change. As this slide show proves, you needn’t worry about when you will ‘get there’. You’ve already arrived. And yes, time abundance can be yours.

Your body will tell you if you’re on the right track. Have you ever wondered why you feel so much better while on vacation? Not only is your stress level reduced, but you also tend to engage in more leisurely dining and longer sleep. Your body is a wonderful barometer for whether or not your pace of life is working for you. Inject some slow into your summer routine and see where it leads you. It might just take you off the beaten track. Take it from me, a recovering speedaholic. The road less traveled is a great place to be!

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Family Vacation

August 7, 2009

Air travel leaves me with a blend of thrill and fear. There’s something remarkably impossible about lifting people into the sky for a few hours, only to land safely on the other side of the world. When packing, I usually reach a point where I say “If I don’t have it by now, I don’t need it.” It’s a motto of mine I use for most every occasion that involves hunting and gathering.

The holidays is another time of year in which I engage in the “Done, not perfect” attitude. We can only get so much done, see so many people, wrap so many gifts.

Taking vacation to see family, like we are tomorrow, is no different. Everyone wants a bit of your time; it is a loving and joyous request that can sometimes pile up into a scheduling nightmare. We are challenged to learn to say ‘no’ with kindness, to set boundaries and to preserve the integrity of what vacation is all about ~ rest, relaxation and fun!

Take the power of slow wherever you go. I am reminded to do the same.

Vacation Deprivation

June 15, 2009

According to the annual Expedia.com Vacation Deprivation survey, we’re in trouble. We don’t have much time off, and we don’t even take the time off we have.

vacation timeStudying the vacation habits of employed workers from the US, Canada, Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Austria, Australia, New Zealand and Japan, Expedia.com reveals that the French take the most time off (an average of 36 of their 38 vacation days) while US workers limp in last place with the number of days they have available: 13 (it is forecasted that they will take  only 10 of them in 2009). Juxtaposed to the Japanese, 7 of their 15 vacation days will be left on the table this year.

I’m in love with my work just like many people I know. But, like my family, I can leave it behind for a few days and still feel good about myself. After all, I am contributing to a higher rate of efficiency by filling the tank, greasing the engine, whetting the knife – you get my drift?

The survey goes on to report that 34% of employed US workers do not take all their vacation days in one year (this trend is rising – in 2008, it was 31%). Thirty-seven percent of employed US adults work more than 40 hours a week (need I mention France’s baseline 35-hour work week? Prime Minister Sarkozy has taken measures, however, to loosen the grip of the shorter work week to stimulate the economy.)

More work and less play makes Pièrre, well, less playful. And that goes for us working stiffs, too.

Are you vacation deprived? Do you yearn for the brightness a holiday can bring to your life? What are your plans this summer?

Power tools

June 2, 2009

Sunday is a day of rest like no other in Germany. A fairly traditional society, Germany observes more religious holidays than any other European country I know (with, perhaps, the exception of Spain). I live in Bavaria, which is the most conservative state in the nation. Hanging your wash on the Lord’s day is enough to get you expelled from the city walls. Or so I thought.

Last Sunday my husband and father-in-law attempted to finish the porch they had worked twelve hours to assemble the day before. Mind you, we were looking at not only a Sunday, but also a Monday holiday with great weather and a job to do. I grew increasingly concerned that we wouldn’t be able to get it done because of the no-noise law on Sundays and holidays.

My husband and father-in-law decided to bend the law a little and turn on the circular saw. Not once. Not twice. But three times. Now I would have turned a blind ear to the light knocking of the hammer. They were being really quiet. But when they whipped out the saw, I got nervous.

They’re gonna get us! I scowled and fretted about it for the rest of the day.

My in-laws suggested we apologize for the noise, which we did the next afternoon. Approaching whom I thought would be the most difficult neighbor to address, I gave her a kind smile, which she promptly returned. I power toolsapologized profusely for the noise and for breaking the day of rest. She sang my father-in-law’s praises, saying how helpful he had been while my husband and I were away for a week’s vacation. They had moved in to care for the kids, for the house, and, as it turns out, for the entire neighborhood.

“What’s a little noise? You had to do what you had to do. Take care now!” She grinned and gave a little wave.

I was stunned.

My father-in-law had quietly laid the groundwork, chatting it up with neighbors, sweeping up the debris in the common driveaway after a major storm knocked leaves everywhere, and spent time with each of them in some way. He made his presence known and spread positive energy.

And I realized all this time my worries were nowhere else but in my own mind. Kindness pays. Worrying does not.

That’s a power(ful) tool I’ll take with me on life’s journey.

Right on Time

May 29, 2009

“Oh no!” my friend’s email cyber-wailed. “I forgot your birthday…” Actually, she had not. She had remembered right on time.

prague's clockI spent seven glorious days on a Spanish island with two of my favorite people in the world: my best friend and my husband (my other best friend). Completely offline, I wouldn’t have gotten my friend’s email any sooner. In fact, on my birthday itself I had a hard time capturing the moment. It was as if I tried to pay particular to that elusive something just beyond reason, tantamount to expression yet unutterable in itself. I decided the whole week would be my birthday. What’s in a day when it can be cherished in the hours or months or years you grant it?

My best friend and I have always been in synch (in fact, her birthday is two days after mine). Externally our lives look very different. She is a single professional with her own business just outside of Washington. I am a married work-from-home writer with two intensely challenging adorable kids. But we always seem to contact the other just in the moment we need it most.

There is something deeply pleasurable about living in the knowing that everything happens at the exact time it should. What would our lives be like if we were always ‘right on time’? Not in the clock-sense, but in the measurement of knowingness?

Pretty liberating, I’d say.

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