How many times have well-meaning family and friends said to you, Breathe; take a break. And how many times have these words of wisdom fallen on deaf ears as you continue forward trying to set a new record pace in your life?
Now many of us will identify with ‘being busy’; with our jobs, our families, our endless social obligations. We pursue our dreams and hold off rest and respite until ‘tomorrow’ but tomorrow never comes, does it? That is until COVID-19 happened.
For many of us, the pandemic has forcefully put our busy lives on hold. Work, school, and businesses have stopped and we’ve been asked by government authorities to stay in the one place that some have avoided in the past couple of years – home.
Return to simple and slow
Movement restrictions in almost every country around the world have changed how we spend our time. Previously slaves to the culture of speed, some of us now have the luxury of time on our hands. UK surveys show that people spent their lockdown hours sleeping and resting; socialising and entertainment; practicing self-care such as eating and drinking, gardening and DIY projects, and keeping fit.
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In the US, the way Americans spent their money indicated that more people were cooking at home, learning a foreign language, completing home improvement projects, video streaming and gaming as part of entertainment and recreation. In an op-ed, American clinical neurologist and researcher Erin O’Connor shares that it took a pandemic to slow life down for her family. She writes:
“While the novel coronavirus has caused fear across much of the world, including in my own house, it has also helped me find a measure of peace. I am conscious that it took a pandemic to slow life down for me. I was unable to make that difficult choice voluntarily.”
Young people have also gained an appreciation for slow living during the lockdown. In an article published in the Vietnam Times, those being interviewed share about having the time to rest, enjoying precious moments with family, and are pursuing their passion and hobbies such as cooking and baking. “I used to love baking but with my busy lifestyle I fell out of that habit,” says Van Anh.
“These days, I bake more often and have even learned to cook Vietnamese dishes from my mom. We’ve had quality time and I enjoy every little moment!”
Many people have realized the value of home, family and self-care during the COVID-19 lockdown. As The Idler Magazine editor Tom Hodgkinson aptly puts it, “Now, it has become our patriotic duty to do nothing. It’s been a quieter, more contemplative life. Some days have just been spent pottering about, doing nothing. Why should we have to be doing something all the time anyway?”
Staying at home is the ‘New Normal‘
Now that staying home has become the new normal, people find themselves having more time to spend with their family and with themselves than they’re used to. Surprisingly, we’ve experienced the unexpected benefits of this COVID-19 pandemic in our lives. We have been given the precious opportunity to feel the joy of extra family time, reconnect, and create beautiful memories. According to psychologist Dr. Amanda Gummer, “Children will benefit enormously from having both parents at home. The simple pleasures in life are being rediscovered such as a family walk, board games, and doing puzzles. These are things that wouldn’t have happened in the hustle and bustle of pre-lockdown life.”
Besides getting much-needed rest, getting to know our neighbors, and avoiding the daily commute to work, there are other surprising ways that the COVID-19 lockdown has improved our lives. It reduced air pollution since there were fewer emissions related to economic activities. This has resulted in improved health outcomes. For example, the number of early deaths in India due to air pollution went down by 5,300 during the lockdown. We can see that despite the hardships that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused, it also brought mental and physical wellness to the people and benefits to the environment. Staying at home has not only stopped the spread of coronavirus, but it also helped save and improve lives.
Stepping graciously into slow living
This coronavirus pandemic has given us the gift of time. We are adapting to the slow life. But slow living isn’t a new concept born during the lockdown. It is rooted in Buddhist meditation practices that lead to the path of wisdom and enlightenment. It can also be found in the principle of mindfulness of Confucianism. Mindfulness is an age-old practice of being aware of what’s happening around us and enjoying the moment. This concept has also gained popularity through the slow living movement. Bestselling author of In Praise of Slowness: Challenging the Cult of Speed Carl Honore explains slow living as “Quality over quantity. It’s doing things with presence, being in the moment. Ultimately, it’s about doing everything as well as possible instead of as fast as possible.”
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When we take the time to do things properly, we realize that we are enjoying the moment. That’s when good things happen to our body and soul.
Defying the cult of speed
The world as we knew it involved fast-paced living, fast food, fast cars, fast fashion, fast cities, fast travel. Everyone was in a hurry. COVID-19 promoted THE GREAT PAUSE in our lives. The hours and days seem longer and slower and people find themselves feeling better and embracing a slower life. According to the American Psychological Association, the benefits of slow living and mindfulness include stress reduction, memory boost, increased focus, less emotional reactivity, more cognitive flexibility, and better relationship satisfaction. It also affects one’s overall health because the slower lifestyle enhances positive and healthy behaviors such as being physically active and home cooking. The studies show that slow living is healthy living.
The COVID-19 lockdown has given people the opportunity to stop and smell the roses, leaving many feeling grateful for what they have – health, family, jobs, access to healthcare – and that outside of the essentials such as food, water, shelter, family and nature they don’t really need much to be happy.
This pandemic is teaching us the value and joy of being in the moment. Living life in the slow lane. Soon, when the threat of the virus is finally gone, modern life will threaten to take away your peace and mindfulness. May you hold on to the lessons and wisdom of slow living as lockdown restrictions are lifted.
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Cover image by Retha Ferguson.