Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Learning to slow down

 The last few months we were in the UK were, unsurprisingly, manic. Packing up a house, getting rid of things and making endless lists and plans. I was also doing a demanding teaching course which I didn't want to cut corners on. Every evening we had to achieve something, anything or we felt like we’d never be ready to go. Paperwork, visas and bills swirled around us, all demanding our attention. It was exhausting and all-consuming.

Even before we planned the move, like many families I'm sure, getting to work every morning was always a rush. However much time we gave ourselves in the morning we always seemed to be in a mad scramble for bags, shoes, keys, lunches and bombing out the door to nursery then the office and then the same again in reverse later in the day. I only worked half days in the UK so my afternoons were a bit calmer but still, trying to get anything done between L’s naps and mealtimes meant that I’m sorry to say I was far too often that harried mother goading her tired children to hurry up.

I’m not going to claim that China has made me a different person (yet!) but I’m really trying to be more mindful of my time and how we spend it. With our opposite schedules and F’s kindergarten sessions we are still clock-watching more than I’d like but I am really trying to slow down and live in the moment a bit more.  I read a great quote last year that has really stayed with me.

“He did each single thing as if he did nothing else.” Charles Dickens

This is how I aspire to live- mindfully and finding the joy in everything I do. Instead of thinking about all the things I should be doing, I aim to really concentrate on and appreciate what I am doing at any given moment, be it writing, cooking, teaching or being with my family. I am working on  embracing unstructured play with my children and allowing life go at their pace.

I am also learning to say no. We were recently offered some extra, very well paid teaching work which we turned down. We like teaching and this would be to small children which fun, but our schedules are pretty full just fulfilling our contracted hours. If we wanted more money we’d have stayed at home. We took a two thirds pay cut to come here so if we were working purely for money we’d be on the wrong track entirely. Our time and time with the children is precious and I don’t want to lose it just for some extra cash. We don't have a lot of money, but right now we have enough to live in a simple way and for that I am very grateful.

I read Carl Honoré’s book ‘In Praise of Slow’ last year and at the time it really resonated with me. I’m about to start re-reading it to help rekindle that spark and remind me of all the things I swore I'd do when I finished it, not to add to a 'to do' list but instead a 'not to do' list, how liberating is that?

Do you have trouble keeping pace with life and long for more time? I'd love to know how and if you manage to slow down as I have a lot to learn.


  1. I am absolutely awful at doing each single thing as if I were doing nothing else- when I'm doing most things my mind is always wandering, thinking about what I'm doing next or something in the past. It takes me a real effort to wrench my mind away, change down gears and really get absorbed in the here and now. It probably has quite a lot to do with the way I live: my brain is probably too used to racing around trying to finish a dozen things at once that it finds it hard to stop. So I'm not any help!
    But I'm sure after the move you'll find the space and time to do this and get into better habits.
    I think turning down the extra money was a very hard and very brave thing to do. Much admiration for being so strong.

  2. Me too, that's why I'm trying to improve it. I see how absorbed my children get in games and I compare it to the constant whizzing about in my head and want a little bit of their concentration for myself! Thanks very much for your kind words, it feels like the right decision.

  3. I am sitting on my bed with a coffee on the bedside table and the cat at my feet. I've been home from my casual job for about an hour and in another hour my daughter will be home from school. I am taking this moment to be still. To take care of myself and to read things that will inspire me on this journey of simple living. Thank you Ailsa. I enjoyed your post. And thank you for reminding me about 'In Praise of Slow' - I too enjoyed it when I read it. You ask how we/I manage to slow down. I am not very good at it at times but I am learning to mentally list my priorities and to check them when I am asked to do something. If it doesn't fit up there in my top few priorities I say 'no' kindly but firmly with no explanation. I also learnt a long time ago that if for example the phone rings and I am eating dinner with my family - I don't answer it. I figure a message can be left or the caller can ring back. We tend to respond most to the immediate - or what we might consider urgent - then we are at risk of missing the very things we value most. Oh and something else - someone else's emergency does not need to be ours.
    I look forward to continuing this journey with you. Asta x
    You might like to check out the Facebook page I share (me in Australia, born in Scotland - and Ellen in San Diego). http://www.facebook.com/thesimplylivingchallenge

    1. Hi Asta, thanks very much for your comment and all your good ideas. The no interruptions at meal times is so important,thanks for reminding me. It's easy to forget but sets a bad example to the children and instantly you lose that lovely family focus. Having a mental list of priorities to check off is a fab idea too, I'm going to work on that one! Your facebook page has some really great ideas too, will definitely be spending some time there later today. Thanks for sharing!