By Catherine Bernier, photographer, writer and meditation instructor
I just came back from a busy week of photo journaling in Prince Edward Island. During my time there, I discovered that most islanders embody “Slow Living,” unknowingly. They take care of their farmhouse, track bird migration to determine changing weather patterns and cook jam for their neighbourhood in exchange for fresh eggs and a good chat on their doorsteps. I grew up in Gaspesia, a beautiful peninsula just on the south shore of the Saint Lawrence River. Growing up, I learned the same Slow Living culture, and how at the time I thought it was so boring. The buzz of the city was far more stimulating to me. Fast forward to today, and I could not miss the island life more. I try to find balance in my city life by practising the slow living mindfulness I once had, taking care of my self-sufficient cabin in Nova Scotia while really appreciating the life I now have in Quebec City. My quest for balance has become an art of living. It takes constant trial and error, but never wavers from my intentions.
The Roots of the Movement
The concept of “Slow Living” was named after the slow food movement in Italy in the 1980s, in response to the fast-food industry. The slow food movement practises traditional food production processes: growing your own or buying locally sourced produce, learning about quality produce from market gardeners and taking the time to cook and enjoy family meals.
This movement echoed to North America, where the cult of performance - "time is money" - took power over common sense. Slow Living has emerged as a response to relieve the chaotic North American lifestyle. It teaches us to slow down, take a step back and enjoy life by being in the moment. It reminds us to be aware of the possibilities available to us, that we are able to build a meaningful, intuitive life guided by our own intentions. In my opinion, the movement goes beyond the idea of slowing down for self-care, it also responds to the collective desire to take back the reins of our existence.
Learn to Live Mindfully
People who know me, know how much I love to be on the move. Over time, I learned how to balance my fast pace of life, but at first, I was a mismanaged, hyperactive mess with a desire to please everyone. This resulted in a lot of pressure to constantly be up to par. I had far too many things going on at the same time. For a while, I told myself I was not doing enough - or even worse - that I was not enough! I started to get depressed and question my purpose is in life. Even today, FOMO (fear of missing out) hits me hard, when I scroll through my social media. Who can relate? We’re all in the same boat when it comes to navigating modern misery.
The good news is that with a few bold changes and perseverance, we are able to better honour the life offered to us. Today, I am learning to free myself from my automatisms and really rehumanize myself. Slow Living is a gradual process that does not happen overnight. It works slowly and on several levels: through mental and physical well-being, self-awareness as well as caring for others and the environment.
Changes to Honour
"The problem is that we think we have time," - Buddha
The first time I read this sentence, I said to myself: “Hey, I’m so right! I need to keep pushing harder and move as quickly as possible.” Be careful, there’s a nuance! It's time to create change, to prioritize what really matters here and now, because every minute on autopilot is a minute lost. Disguised under the label of normality, insanity is part of our daily lives. It is better to get rid of our automatisms and anchor ourselves in the moment to feel full. When we stop victimizing ourselves, we fight the system and gain back what we have lost. Deciding to see what’s important requires courage, giving up certain habits, even removing toxic people out of your life and ultimately, illusions of happiness. Sometimes you can feel like an outcast, but there is nothing more satisfying than being aligned with yourself. The voice inside your head is always right and if we don't listen to it, it will only cry louder. To truly listen to ourselves, we need mental clarity and a healthy lifestyle. Try these Slow Living intentions and practises for a healthier body and mind::
-Do morning yoga (10-15 min)
-Meditate every day (15 to 20 min)
-Examine your habits and your product consumption
-Source from local markets and purchase in bulk at off-peak hours
-Swap TV/web/social media for a good book
-Open up to new circles of friends and people you wouldn't usually approach
-Cook at home with a group (e.g. make a “batch” of granola bars and share amongst your friends)
-Take the time to thoroughly chew your food
-Try a new sport/activity
-Get outside and move your body! (once a day, don’t look at that clock!)
-Invest in a community project
-Create a zen space (space and time dedicated to a passion or an activity)
-Leave the room spontaneously
-Allow yourself to make mistakes
-Learn to say no
-Prioritize quality over quantity
With that said, my daily life does not always look like a beautiful quiet river! As a freelance photographer, writer and meditation instructor, my weeks can still get pretty crazy. During these intense periods of work, morning yoga and my freshly squeezed morning juices don’t exist! However, I am aware that this is temporary, so I power through my week, knowing that I will plan a healthier week next week (and I really do plan it!)
Challenges feed the human brain. It is only when long periods of intense challenges end up wearing us out. Humans can be ultra-productive machines, but sooner or later we wear out physically, mentally and socially. Humans need breaks in order to keep going. These breaks free up physical and mental space to regain strength until the next challenge presents itself.
I can't talk about Slow Living without telling you about my mindful escape: surfing. My boyfriend and I renovated a self-sufficient cabin in Nova Scotia. That way, we allocate space and time to practise this revitalizing activity. Surfing praises slowness. Not because you move slowly on a wave, but because the learning process is long and perilous! There are no shortcuts. It is only the time invested in the water that is most valuable and the positive attitude towards the challenges that arise. A wise lesson that I’m trying to apply to my life. Everyone can benefit from practising an activity that praises slowness and revives our roots such as gardening, picking mushrooms, fishing, bread-making, painting, upcycling furniture, kayaking, hiking, bird watching, cooking with friends, dancing, playing outside with the kids, etc.
The challenge is to prioritize what makes sense for you. Daring to change your rhythm of life is the basis of the Slow Living movement. By slowing down, we allow ourselves to take a step back, to redefine our place on Earth. We are built to live in harmony in a complex and naturally interconnected ecosystem. To slow down is to take over the reins of our own life, instead of consuming it blindly. On the road, it's always easier to stop at a McDonald's for a ready-to-eat meal. The best option is to pack a meal, fill up your water bottle and bring reusable utensils. And God knows the idea of putting energy where it matters does good and brings fulfillment to the trip.