The greater pleasure of taking (more) time

By Caitlin Kelly

Cover of "In Praise of Slowness: How A Wo...
Cover via Amazon

Loved this post, from one of my new favorite blogs, key + arrow, written by a young couple in Austin, Texas. This, from georgia, on the sensual, slow-moving pleasure of shaving, old-style:

I use an old style safety razor..the kind your grandpa may have used. A big heavy piece of chrome and a single double sided blade.

Once I found myself in the position of trying to explain why I prefer to use this older style to a friend of mine. He’s like most guys these days and use whatever 4 blade vibrating head gel strip gizmo they have selling these days.

As i described the process involved in preparing for a proper shave, the pleasure, the advantages….one item provoked the strongest reaction.

He couldn’t understand why I took up to 20 minutes or more to shave and that’s really when it hit me. When you look at the rise of technology and the death of manly rituals, inevitably the clock is to blame. We have sacrificed a whole host of simple pleasures for the sake of time and we are ultimately the poorer for it.

The pipe gives way to the cigarette. The ocean liner gives way to the airplane. The restaurant becomes the drive-through and the conversation becomes the text message…and all because we, as society, continue to believe that if we could just save a bit more time in our day we’d be able to really get to the things we wanted to do.

Ironically, in the pursuit of having enough time to do what we want we are forced to dilute or discard the very things we wanted in the first place…

While it’s easy for city folk to romanticize oldey-timey hand-hewn rusticity — who really wants to chop (all their) wood and haul their water? — I agree with his point of view.

Slow down!

One of the things that vacation reminds me to do — and I always, eagerly, do it wholeheartedly — is mostly ignore technology and its pinging, ringing, buzzing, beeping, dinging, lit-up demands.


Or else.

Or else, what, exactly?

Unless you’re a head of state or awaiting the news of someone’s imminent birth or death, is anything really that urgent?

There is something so lovely and soothing and sensual about slowing down and doing things with a measured, thoughtful, focused attention.

Twice on our recent vacation in Canada, I simply lay down for a good half hour or more, once on the mossy edge of a granite lake-side and once on the smooth, rounded grey stones of another lake. I watched dragonflies and ants and small leopard frogs and got up again with pine-cone gum embedded in my leggings.


I also emerged completely refreshed.

You can’t really speed up the making of risotto, one of my favorite time-consuming recipes. Nor can you quickly and enjoyably make bread or soup or pastry or bathe a baby or give someone a really good massage or arrange flowers or stare into the night sky.

All of these activities take time.

They require our attentiveness. They can’t be rushed, without spoiling the experience.

Which is, in my view, the whole point of the blessing of our senses. If you don’t stop to even notice the roses, how can you make time to bury your nose in those pink or orange or creamy white petals and smell them?

Do you really want to rush patting your dog or cat? Hugging your sweetie?

One of my favorite books on this topic is by a fellow Canadian, Carl Honore, a fellow alum of the national newspaper, The Globe and Mail.

Here’s his 2005 TED talk in praise of slowness, the subject of his book of the same name; he was prompted to write the book when he found he couldn’t slow down at bedtime when he read to his small boy, tempted to do it at his usual frenzied pace.

In his talk, he says:

“We live in a world obsessed with speed…to quote Carrie Fisher, these days, even instant gratification takes too long…We’re hurrying through our lives instead of living them.”

How about you?

Do you ever slow down?

How does this affect your quality of life?

28 thoughts on “The greater pleasure of taking (more) time

  1. Caitlin – a very timely and much needed blog. In fact, I took a deep breath and tried to relax my body even before reading this. It has been a long time, too long, since I have just sat and looked out at the field and the birds. I can’t think of one thing I am not quick about doing and keep thinking I’ll slow down when I get to this place or that place. I need to do that.

    1. Thanks!

      This surprises me, for you are a visual artist…and making art takes time. My motto is do less, more slowly. I still get a hell of a lot done and feel truly present when I sloooooooow down. Jose’s Buddhism has helped me with that; the 8-day silent retreat we did in July 2011 helped a lot. I sat for an hour in the garden there, just watching a very bad bunny eating everything in sight.

      Now sitting for even 30 uninterrupted minutes in silence in nature feels challenging. But worth it. 🙂

      1. Yes, the art part takes as long as it needs and I am very focused when I do it – in another world really. Sometimes the concentration is such that I need to take frequent breaks. It is the outside things that are a strain right now. Now if I were seeing a bad bunny eating everything in sight….I would watch too.

    1. So interesting.

      I know my vacation was a good one because I generally had no idea what day it was, rarely looked at a newspaper and avoided TV almost the entire time. I spent a lot of time outdoors and in nature. I absolutely dread Monday morning this week — when the time-weight falls again.

  2. Oh, I find all sorts of reasons to slow down. I still use a regular razor rather than an electric one, which I find gets the job done better than the electric gizmos.
    Anyway, I have a phrase I picked up from a comedy manga, which goes “Make haste, less speed.” Even if you have to hurry, if the job requires you to take care, you might want to slow down and get it done well rather than quickly. It’s served me well so far.

  3. i think that it is of great importance to our lives. it is so easy to get caught up in the rush and stampede of life, that it is imperative that we remind ourselves to slow things down and everyone benefits from this experience. we are in the moment, experiencing it in all its richness, and not thinking about what is next, just what is.

  4. “Unless you’re a head of state or awaiting the news of someone’s imminent birth or death, is anything really that urgent?” Love this.
    I have been practicing what is called Mindfullness, which is essentially being fully present in the moment in which you are living. I linger and feel the texture of avocados befor bagging them, I listen when people talk vs thinking about my To-Do list, I pull over and watch a flock of geese flying… I live.
    I heard this same Ted Talk and recommend everyone listen to it.

    Another good post by you, Caitlin!

    1. Thanks!

      It’s such a simple thing — to be fully present. I wrote about mindfulness and became much more aware of it after a retreat focused on this. Once you withdraw from the hasty insanity, even for a few days, why subject yourself to it whenever it’s possible to escape it?

      We miss most of our lives by rushing through them. And to reach….what?

  5. I’ve seen material from the 1880s complaining about the speed of modern life. It’s way worse now. Slowing down is good. Savouring the moment is what we should be about; and I fear we forget that in our haste to find endless novelty – supplied, these days, by evanescent electrons.

    1. It must have been very difficult indeed in the 1880s to move from an agrarian/rural life to one dictated by electricity, automation, shiftwork, factories, Taylorism. I find all of it quite brutal. We rush about with no sense of how hurried and harried we have become.

  6. I think we have come to value time more than the things that we should be putting in it. In the last year or so I’ve become aware of the “here and now” philosophy, Eckart Tolle, Zen, and all that, and I’m all for it, and I’m working on it! I worked at a huge corporation where “multi-tasking” was valued even though no one was really multi-tasking, but just juggling too many things at once to do any of them properly, and then bragging about it.
    So, what I was going to say is I recently bought a shaving mug and soap and a double edged razor, and it takes me longer to shave now, but I figure, why would you want to do anything fast, with a razor? Plus, anything that used to take three minutes, who cares if it now takes seven minutes?
    The other thing, when I worked, the first half of my drive downtown was 15 minutes along possibly one of the most beautiful routes in Kansas City (they do have them) and I noticed long ago that almost everyone commuting alongside me was harried and angry, and too tense and on hyper-alert for lane infringement to enjoy any of it, which was a shame.

    1. I keep wanting to buy my husband a lovely badger brush and shaving bowl…but he resists. If I were a guy, I’d definitely want to enjoy the process!

      “why would you want to do anything fast, with a razor?”

      Too funny — and true!

      We’re very lucky to have a gorgeous commute, by train along the Hudson River or by car down leafy, curving parkways. People who don’t enjoy their lives are wasting a precious and finite resource. It’s sad.

  7. I spent so much of my life in a hurry- trying to cram too much into a day. Just recently I have subscribed to the slow down and enjoy life plan. I’m much more content. We miss way too much when we are in the hurry up mode.

  8. ianprichard

    Great post! And great timing, as I felt like I’ve been running amok since waking up this morning. And Mondays are the worst days to feel so rushed…
    But for the most part, I do try to take my time doing things and to let things happen and to notice them when they do. A couple rituals/things I (try to) do consciously/mindfully.

    I get up hours earlier than I “need to” so I can take my time in the mornings to meditate, eat, make lunch, tidy up, read the paper or a book, practice French (my latest project). It helps me feel like work is something I do in the middle of the day, instead of something all-consuming that I break my neck rushing out the door to get to first thing five days a week.

    I grind coffee beans every morning, not so much for the taste (cuz who can REALLY tell?), but for the smell and so it feels just a little tiny bit less like dumping medicine into a bowl.

    I make bread every week or two (and not in a bread machine). Erin and I cook a lot, but for the most part they’re simple, straightforward, efficient meals – sourdough bread with a wild starter I made from scratch and keep alive/healthy is none of those. It’s a 4-6 hour process that I use to reconnect to the ideas that food is sustenance, that we use various parts of our environment to keep ourselves going, and that doing so deserves time and effort and attention.

    I write (with a pen) thank-you notes, and thinking-of-you notes, and birthday cards and short notes to friends and family and colleagues and other writers I know and admire. I don’t know if anyone likes getting them any more than an email, but it does me good to concentrate on them for the time it takes to write and address a note.

    Thanks for the reminder that slowing down is an everyday practice.

    1. You are my hero!!!

      Love that you are so aware of the difference it makes to slooooow way down and appreciate life’s small(er)pleasures, which every day can offer us if we’re open to them.

      Jose gets up early for the same reason, and reads Buddhist texts — good prep for the NYT business section, where he works!

      I have personalized stationery, for me and for me and Jose, and plan to spend this week writing and mailing thank-you notes to all our hosts in Canada for the past two weeks. As someone who writes for a living, I can assure you that ANY fan mail is very welcome indeed. I have a few hand-written thank-yous and I absolutely treasure all of them.

      Bon courage avec vos etudes. (That’s probably REALLY bad French!) 🙂

      1. ianprichard

        Merci! Personalized stationery is super cool, but man, it seems like a racket it’s so expensive!

        I’m sure Jose needs all the “centering” he can get before walking into that office.

      2. Not necessarily. There are places and suppliers that are less costly — but how often does one buy personal stationery? Maybe once a year at most…even if it’s $300+, amortize it out. For us, of course, it’s a business expense.

        So true. It is a machine with many moving parts, often far from working smoothly in harmony as one might expect or hope.

  9. This is such a meaningful post. I do love the shaving anecdote. I try to take time to cook like this – a couple times a week. ON the whole, unfortunately it often takes some external prod to get me to slow down, be more intentional. Such as when I was in recovery from knee surgery. It took post knee surgery for me to realize that while I recovered in a narco-stupor that all those things I thought were so important on the task list probably didn’t matter. There still there and even though I plug away at them, I question them more, send more to the cyber trash. What really mattered was that the cat intentionally sat on my lap everyday. That he still got aggravated when I pet him one too many times. That my girls brought me tea and books. That my husband took time from his arduous travel and work schedule and employees that make his business profitable — too took care of me. This forced slowing down, made me realize how important sitting and watching the sunset with the family is. It resets your clock, your priorities, even if the cat didn’t want to hang around for it. Thank you for your provoking posts.

    1. Surgery — and recovery — is a very powerful way to teach us to, literally, sit STILL and slow life down…I’ve had two knee surgeries, a shoulder repair and a new hip, all since January 2000, so have a lot of this experience.

      It is a much nicer way to live…to truly BE in the moment with people. It’s all we have, yet we often ignore it and assume (so wrongly) we have “all the time in the world.” We really don’t.

      Glad this one resonated for you!

  10. Great post, Caitlin! I couldn’t agree more on the value of slowing down, being present and mindful. One of the reasons why I enjoy being in rural or desert environments, being in nature in general. Nature has its own rythm and we city-dwellers often miss that. Turning off all the electrical equipment is also smart and easy way to relax. The 24/7 connectivity of the internet can feel like a curse at times. Time slows down when it’s not being measured and/or interrupted all the time.

    Btw, I love that you’re writing thank you notes on personalized stationery. That is very classy, indeed.

    1. I am really never happier than when out in nature and/or very far from a clock. I can usually tell what time it is without reference — during daylight hours with sun — within a half hour. I think that comes from observation over time.

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