Slow Sunday

Remember when we used to have a day of rest? In Christian countries, it was Sunday. Work stopped, stores closed, the sound and fury of the city subsided.

But that’s all a distant memory now. Sunday has become just like any other day of the week: we work, shop, surf the Net, sit fuming in traffic jams.

This is folly. Most cultures have some kind of Sabbath tradition for one simple reason: we all need a break.

It’s probably too late to turn back the clock to make Sunday an official day of rest. The genie is out of the bottle and the world is too complex and multicultural to accept an enforced Sabbath.

But we can still set aside a day to relax, reflect and spend time with the people that are important to us.

One way to do that is to take part in the Slow Sunday Campaign. It is the brainchild of Resurgence, a wonderful British magazine that espouses a Slow view of the world. One Sunday a month, its readers are invited “to take part in simple actions that symbolize a rejection of commercialism, a passion for the planet and a desire for change.”

One Sunday it was baking bread. Last time it was planting something.

I love this idea. We’re all so busy and frenetic that we almost need a campaign to remind us that it’s okay to ease off one day a week.

My own Sundays are already pretty slow. In the morning I play soccer with my son, his friends and few other dads. Then we usually cook, eat a leisurely lunch and maybe go for a walk.

Come to think of it, our Saturdays are kinda slow, too.

If the Resurgence campaign catches fire, the next step might be to start crusading for Slow Weekends…

Slow down with a siesta

Today is National Siesta Day in Britain! And siestas are the ultimate expression of Slow. Taking a post-prandial snooze seems like heresy in our fast-forward culture, but actually it’s very good for you. It can boost productivity by over 30% and almost double your alertness. It can also enhance memory and concentration, reduce stress and the risk of heart disease by 34%. It can even help you lose weight. So what are you waiting for? I’ve just finished lunch and that means one thing: zzzzzzzzz

Cutting corners?

I’ve just heard from a psychiatrist in Poland. He has a plan to set up a network of small urban refuges where people can escape the hurly burly of city life and reconnect with their inner tortoise. There will be a quiet space to relax, recharge and reflect. There will also be consultants on hand to measure stress levels and give advice on how to live more slowly. These venues will be called Slow Corners. Someone in Norway is working on a similar idea. Certainly I can see a role for little oases of slowness in big cities. I was in London’s Oxford Circus filming a segment for the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) a couple of days ago. The idea was for me to stand still while the crowds swarmed around me. The place was an ant-hill – pedestrians racing hither and thither, barging past each other, cars and buses lunging through red lights. The closest thing I could find to an ubran refuge was Starbucks, and it wasn’t a refuge at all. It was jammed with customers jostling to get their caffeine fix. Two men almost came to blows over who was first in the queue. And all of this to a pounding soundtrack by the Arctic Monkeys. I was almost relieved to get back out into the mania of Oxford Circus.

Iceland takes the plunge

I’m in Iceland at the moment singing the praises of slow. This may be a small country – the population is about 300,000 – but the virus of hurry has entered the bloodstream here, too. In Reykjavik people race around in their cars jabbering into mobile phones. Everyone has a packed schedules and the working day is long. But at least Icelanders have an antidote: soaking in the outdoor pools that dot the country. In one complex near my hotel in Reykjavik, people of all ages, shapes, sizes and income-brackets come to soak in the warm water underneath the northern sky. There are no Plasma screens showing CNN, no speakers pumping out muzak or MTV and everyone leaves their mobile and Blackberry at the door. You just relax, let the mind wander or chat quietly. The best kind of slow.

A cure for vacationitis?

The aversion to taking a vacation has gone so far that big companies are now looking for ways to force their staff to take a break. A recent report in the New York Times reveals that PricewaterhouseCoopers has taken to closing down its entire US operation twice a year to ensure that its employees down tools. Everything stops at the well-known accounting firm for 10 days over Christmas and five days around the Fourth of July. During the year, the company also sends electronic reminders to staff who are failing to take enough vacation time. Posters depicting idle days away from the desk now hang in its New York office. One high-ranking member of the firm says that “we wanted to create an environment where people could walk away and not worry about missing a meeting, a conference call or 300 e-mails.” Not surprisingly, productivity is up since the new push for vacation.

And if PricewaterhouseCoopers can do it, then….

Slow vacation

We’ve just come back from the ultimate slow holiday – travelling round Holland by barge and bicycle. I can’t think of a better way to see a country. Pedalling through the countryside and villages, stopping to picnic or sightsee or join in a pick-up soccer game. Cycling offers the perfect speed, fast enough to cover lots of ground, slow enough to take in the details. In the evenings you can smell suppers cooking as you glide past the open kitchen windows. Our unorthodox tandem sparked more than one conversation with the locals. Holland is amazingly bike-friendly, with dedicated cycle paths all over the place, even in the cities. The Dutch cycle everywhere. In Amsterdam you see businessmen in smart suits pedalling home from work. Or elegant women in high-heels cycling off to meet friends for lunch. Even bad weather doesn’t put them off. If only the rest of the world would follow suit. Imagine if you could cycle round London without fear of being squashed by a bus or an SUV. No one in Holland wears a cycling helmet, by the way. Apart from the tourists.