Busy. It's become a badge of honor, an excuse, a shield to hide behind, a reality for many and above all, a buzzword to avoid. Whether you are trying to be less busy or are currently drowning in it, I've managed to slow down (a bit) in my own life, and have a famous city in the South to thank.
My penchant for constant movement isn't just a product of my generation; it's genetics, too. Even now in his seventies, if you ever catch my dad sitting down, it's usually because he's looking something up on the computer so he can get back to work again.
I like doing stuff. I like being productive. And believe me, there's nothing wrong with that. But when all that doing and moving hits you like a ton of bricks and you find yourself 32 and unable to even relax for one single minute (you can forget about meditating), you realize you need to do something about it.
So I moved to New Orleans. I figured if there was any place that could teach me to slow down, it'd be the Big Easy. I'm happy to report that after a year and a half of living in the Crescent City, I have successfully slowed down (again, a bit), and I've slowed down in two key ways. Though the setting for my busy-busting transformation is certainly city-specific, these ideas could apply to whatever city or town you may live in.
→ Turn the phone over, lean back and soak in sights and sounds to trick yourself into slowing down
A couple of evenings ago, it was close to sunset, but still sweltering. Flies buzzed around in circles, touching down for a moment on the small beads of condensation on the tables before being swatted away. I was sitting outside at one of my favorite coffee shops in New Orleans' Bywater neighborhood, waiting on someone to meet me. Two women outside the bar across the street were smoking and laughing. Inside the coffee shop, tunes from the local WWOZ radio station were replaced by a live piano player, the notes of which were floating out onto the street. Lola the NOLA pug was lapping up water from a bowl at the next table, saying hello to everyone who walked by. What little breeze there was made the leaves—a mix of vibrant green and bright yellow where the sun hit them—on all the overgrown plants that surround the coffee shop, gently sway a bit, creating a soft rustling sound you could hear during the lulls between coffee shop conversations. Despite the heat (the kind of temperatures that have you sweating even while you're sitting in the shade—not moving—at 7pm), the whole scene was quite…heavenly, to be honest.
Sure, New Orleans is a city with a lot of sights, sounds (and if I'm being honest, smells) to soak up. But I'm convinced that every city has something that can be absorbed if you only give yourself the time to do it. It's hard to pay attention to what's around me when I'm on my phone catching up on work emails. But because sitting still and doing nothing is still pretty tough for me, I actively soak up instead. I basically trick myself into slowing down. (But it works!)
→ Take your time getting there
The first time the St. Charles streetcar I was riding in stopped at an intersection and the driver opened the door, stood up, and walked away without saying a word to any of the passengers, I wasn't quite sure what to think.
It was a light load...just a few tourists and me, and they all looked at me for answers. I had none. We could all see from the streetcar's windows that the driver had walked into the gas station across the street at the intersection. Was there an emergency? Would he come back? He returned a few minutes later with a cold drink.
That was the day I realized destinations in New Orleans aren't necessarily meant to be reached in any time-efficient, direct way.
It took me a little while to get used to it, but the lesson to take your time when you're going places has recently started sinking in. Nowadays, when I take the streetcar over to spend an evening laughing with my friends on their cozy porch that overlooks St. Charles Street, I give an estimated time of arrival in a range of a few hours; in New Orleans I set up hang outs like a cable repair company.
It's the same with walking places, too. Maybe it's just that New Orleans is incredibly romantic, architecturally delightful and hiding curiosities in nearly every corner, but again, when I'm headed somewhere, I now try to make sure I give myself extra time to wander into a used bookstore, marvel at an architectural feature or (literally) smell a rose.
Who would have thought the key (for me, anyway) to slowing down in life is, well...actually physically slowing down.
Could it be for you, too?