This article appears in Volume 24: The Slow Issue.
Sometimes I feel like I’ve swallowed my iCal. Its little grey dots prickle under the surface of my skin and in those half-lucid moments between sleep and wakefulness, it isn’t technicolor fantasies that swim beneath my eyelids, but instead the ghostly outlines of events not yet experienced, dates not yet honoured, agreements not yet upheld.
This slavish dependency on my schedule is nothing to be proud of, but I suspect it’s hardly unusual. In our click-swipe culture – in which instant messenger has replaced long phone conversations, love has been assigned to an algorithm and there’s a perverse pride in complaining about our packed-out calendars – it’s easy to feel like we’ve been left skating in the shallows of our own lives. And this attitude is making us sick, with eight per cent of the UK population alone now diagnosed with some form of anxiety or depression.
It all points to the existence of two worlds: the “fast” and the “slow”. The futuristic world of the fast is hyper-real, tech- amplified, hedonistic and ever-accelerating; whereas the retrospective world of the slow is authentic, off-grid, reflective and back-to-basics. Neither is superior, yet for too long most of us have been living in the former alone. Now, a backlash against this relentless pace looks to redress the balance by putting meaning over money, savouring the moment over bolting it down, and moving counter-culturally into the stream of the slow.
This movement often manifests in a step backwards – to nature, to tradition, to the land, to spirituality and, eventually, back to ourselves. For the writer Anna Hart, it meant literally stepping away from her smartphone and into a kayak for a few days of fishermen and fika in a Swedish archipelago. Swapping planes for boats, trains and bikes allows us to appreciate the spaces in-between destinations, as the poet Rosalind Jana found during her weekend of decadence aboard the Venice Simplon- Orient-Express. Our Digital Editor India Dowley similarly cherished life on the road, experiencing a cycling-induced epiphany amid the “very hilly” terrain of Transylvania.
The lure of traversing unknown lands on foot led the writer Rae Boocock along part of England’s oldest mapped route with the British Pilgrimage Trust, where she mused that “the countryside has become a canvas for my thoughts. Walking is a prayer, the rhythm of my footsteps a form of meditation.” The power of perambulation informed my own journey in the mountains of the Japanese region of Shōnai, where a similar “bring your own beliefs” philosophy enabled me to sift through my thoughts and rediscover the potential of the present moment.
Two bishops, two pilgrimages, several priests and a plateau of gods and goddesses parade through the pages ahead, paying tribute to the notion that there is solace to be unearthed in ancient wisdom. The writer Delilah Khomo found her voyage up the Nile to be one not only back into the past, but also “into that region of the soul where one confronts the forces that moved the Egyptians and that still have the power to move us”. Meanwhile, the photographer Jimmy Nelson sees his beautiful portraits of the world’s oldest tribes as a conduit to understanding “what it truly means to be human”.
If the recent crazes for Danish hygge, Swedish lagom and Japanese wabi-sabi have taught us anything, it’s that the handmade and imperfect have value against the pressures of automation. Culinary escapades in the Mediterranean isles of Andros and Malorca allowed our writers to imbibe the time-honoured traditions of the land, while a Portuguese farming retreat provided a veritable harvest of local fare.
As autumn rolls in we invite you to reject the siren call of your smartphone and instead spend time savouring the stories in this issue, in order that you might carve out a slow and silent space of your own.