Cities serve the purpose of their creation. They bring essential things close to us. They make us reach faster to wherever it is that we are going. And they bring a kind of comfort and convenience even in the everyday struggles one has against the stream of time.
For some of us, however, they are disorienting. They add to the perplexity of life. We build cities, and cities build us in return. They make us run and collide, often with our own selves, and it takes a while before the inner machinery breaks down. There are ways we fail in a city and ways in which a city fails us. And so, we escape to towns less grim and demanding, only to come back again to endure the traffic jams, the self-denial, and the social circles that form the fundamentals of a city life. Cities, for the sensitive ones amongst us, can be cruel.
Do we have hope? How do we exist when cities are the source of our livelihoods, the address to our family homes, and the emergency rooms for any health issues? How do we not give up when our life’s path doesn’t or hasn’t yet led to a cottage on a hill or an old house in a sleepy town? How do we city-dwellers slow down?
Slow living is a conscious, mindful existence. It’s an attempt at bringing more balance and less stress into our lives. In this blog post, I’m trying to find ways to slow down in a big, fast city, to “be in the city, but not of it”.
1. Find a piece of nature
Even when the city we live in is not blessed with rivers, mountains or waterfalls, we all can find a small piece of nature that we can call our secret garden and spend a few minutes a day or week with it. We may have found a small, tucked-away neighbourhood park on a different route we may have taken one evening after work. Or, perhaps we have a small terrace to sneak onto and look at the sky on a full moon’s night. Some of us may be luckier to have a small garden that houses plants, flowers, butterflies and earthworms, offering us a peak into a wonder-smitten life.
2. Stop doing things on the go
Coffee on the go. Lunch on the go. Checking Instagram on the go. In the city, we tend to have or are compelled to have an air of busyness about us. A meeting seems more important than taking thirty minutes out to sit down for lunch. But what if we did? What if we actually take those thirty minutes and become stubborn about our unwillingness to compromise on it. What one thing can we stop doing to slow down our life and what we would we like to do instead? Feel compelled to answer office texts on your commute? Turn off your mobile date or phone. Feel rushed at lunch? Ask people to carry on about their day while you chew slowly or eat alone. The best way to complain about something is to create something better.
3. Be unproductive sometimes
A hot shower. Staying in bed all Saturday. Reading a comic just to feel like a child again. All of these and many more can be an invitation to life, even a celebration of it. We don’t need to be chasing something or achieving something all the time. Weekends aren’t always about up-skilling yourself so we can demand a promotion or be better at your next job interview. What is the one thing we can do which would serve no purpose to any living thing or take us any further ahead in life – but will offer us a tiny bit of pleasure?
4. Have a ritual
Rituals are a way to infuse meaning into the everyday things we do. It’s something that slows us down with our undivided attention and offers us a sense of gladness to have done it in the first place. We can relish sitting for a fifteen minutes meditation at bed time, brushing our teeth and scrapping our tongue in the morning, and the evening tea and biscuits with our dog. We can designate an hour once in a month to review our finances, or cook a meal once a week. Rituals are simply moments we stop for to offer our full attention to.
While most cities are built for fast-moving vehicles and might not be pedestrian-friendly, choosing to walk to nearby places when possible can serve both our sanity and our curiosity. Because cities generally don’t encourage walking and don’t take walking as a serious mode of transport, we find ourselves stuck in loneliness inside metal boxes amidst a crowd of people. Walkable cities are more breathable, and considering the emission levels around us, we all may very start challenging the status quo and start a mini movement for pedestrian-friendly roads.
It is absolutely not easy to break out of the conditioning we have had as a city-dweller. We’re automated to be fast, to cut in line, to tap our credit/debit cards because punching in the passcode will take our time and we only have 24 hours. We somehow believe some other place is always more important than where we are. We live as if life is a destination. We forget that we’re not here to solve this mystery. We’re here to revel in it.