FF Life: The art of slowing down

An effective antidote to the cult of speed

N S Ramnath

[Image from Unsplash]

Carl Honore in his 2004 book In Praise of Slow, wrote: “In these early years of the twenty-first century, everything and everyone is under pressure to go faster. Not long ago, Klaus Schwab, founder and president of the World Economic Forum, spelled out the need for speed in stark terms: “We are moving from a world in which the big eat the small to one in which the fast eat the slow.” That warning resonates far beyond the Darwinian world of commerce. In these busy, bustling times, everything is a race against the clock. Guy Claxton, a British psychologist, thinks acceleration is now second nature to us: “We have developed an inner psychology of speed, of saving time and maximising efficiency, which is getting stronger by the day.”

In the past twenty years, the cult of speed has only gotten stronger. We want our groceries to be delivered in 10 minutes. We want to get our news fast, as it happens. We want to read it fast, ideally in bullet points. We ignore tweets that weren't posted in the past hour. We listen to podcasts at 2X or 3X speed. We use GenAI tools to summarise longer pieces. We don't have time.

One of the sad outcomes of this is that we seem to be losing the art of slow reading. While most of the media headlines and tweets might not deserve slow reading or deep reflection, some writings deserve both — passages steeped in ageless wisdom and have stood the test of time.

We have all read some of these timeless passages, irrespective of which religious or philosophical traditions we come from. An effective antidote to the cult of speed is to dig deeper into those writings. Read them slowly and reflect on them deeply.  

Eknath Easwaran, a spiritual teacher, offers a way to do this systematically and to integrate it deeply into our daily lives. When we do it regularly and mindfully, as if it's a spiritual practice like meditation — in fact, Eknath Easwaran calls it Passage Meditation — it can offer several benefits: concentration, peace, energy, inspiration, and greater purpose.

Here's a quick guide on how to go about it, drawn from the first chapter of his book Passage Meditation.

1. Memorise your favourite inspirational passage. If you don't have any, Easwaran suggests we begin with the Prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi.

2. Having memorised the passage, be seated and softly close your eyes. Ideally, do this early in the morning. “It is helpful if you can set aside a room in your home just for meditation and nothing else, a room that will begin to have strong spiritual associations for you.” And sit as if you are in meditation. “The correct posture for meditation is to sit erect with the spinal column, the nape of the neck, and the head in a straight line: not like a ramrod, rigid and tense, but easily upright.”

3. Go through the passage word by word, slowly. “When mind's desperate whirrings slow down, intentionality and good judgement appear, then love, and finally what the Bible calls “the peace that passes understanding.” Let the words, therefore, proceed slowly.”

4. As you go through the passage, do not follow any association of ideas. Just keep to the words. “Concentrate on one word at a time, and let the words slip one after another into your consciousness like pearls falling into a clear pond. Let them all drop inwards one at a time. ”

5. At the end of the passage, go back to the beginning, or start a new one.

6. Do this for 30 minutes every morning. “Put your meditation first and everything else second; you will find, for one thing, that it enriches everything else. Even if you are on a jet or in a sickbed, don’t let that come in the way of your practice. If you are harassed by personal anxieties, it is all the more important to have your meditation; it will release the resources you need to solve the problems at hand.”

Here are some of my favourite passages.

The Prayer of Saint Francis

Saint Francis of Assisi

Passages for Meditation

Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.
O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console,
To be understood as to understand,
To be loved as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
It is in dying to self that we are born to eternal life.

The Best

Lao Tzu

Passages for Meditation

The best, like water,
Benefit all and do not compete.
They dwell in lowly spots that everyone else scorns.
Putting others before themselves,
They find themselves in the foremost place
And come very near to the Tao.
In their dwelling, they love the earth;
In their heart, they love what is deep;
In personal relationships, they love kindness;
In their words, they love truth.
In the world, they love peace.
In personal affairs, they love what is right.
In action, they love choosing the right time.
It is because they do not compete with others
That they are beyond the reproach of the world.

A Garden Beyond Paradise

Jalaluddin Rumi

Passages for Meditation

Everything you see has its roots
in the Unseen world.
The forms may change,
yet the essence remains the same.
Every wondrous sight will vanish,
Every sweet word will fade.
But do not be disheartened,
The Source they come from is eternal —
Growing, branching out,
giving new life and new joy.
Why do you weep? —
That Source is within you,
And this whole world
is springing up from it.
The Source is full,
Its waters are ever-flowing;
Do not grieve,
drink your fill!
Don’t think it will ever run dry —
This is the endless Ocean!
From the moment you came into this world
A ladder was placed in front of you
that you might escape.
From earth you became plant,
From plant you became animal.
Afterwards you became a human being,
Endowed with knowledge, intellect, and faith.
Behold the body, born of dust —
how perfect it has become!
Why should you fear its end?
When were you ever made less by dying?
When you pass beyond this human form,
No doubt you will become an angel
And soar through the heavens!
But don’t stop there.
Even heavenly bodies grow old.
Pass again from the heavenly realm
and plunge into the vast ocean of Consciousness.
Let the drop of water that is you
become a hundred mighty seas.
But do not think that the drop alone
Becomes the Ocean —
the Ocean, too, becomes the drop!

United in Heart

The Rig Veda

Passages for Meditation

May we be united in heart.
May we be united in speech.
May we be united in mind.
May we perform our duties
As did the wise of old.
May we be united in our prayer.
May we be united in our goal.
May we be united in our resolve.
May we be united in our understanding.
May we be united in our offering.
May we be united in our feelings.
May we be united in our hearts.
May we be united in our thoughts.
May there be perfect unity amongst us.

Every Town Our Home Town

Kaniyan Punkunranar

Every town our home town,
Every man a kinsman.

Good and evil do not come
from others.
Pain and relief of pain
come of themselves.
Dying is nothing new.
We do not rejoice
that life is sweet
nor in anger
call it bitter.

Our lives, however dear,
follow their own course,
rafts drifting
in the rapids of a great river
sounding and dashing over the rocks
after a downpour
from skies slashed by lightnings—

we know this
from the vision
of men who see.

So, we are not amazed by the great,
and we do not scorn the little.

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About the author

N S Ramnath
N S Ramnath

Senior Editor

Founding Fuel

NS Ramnath is a member of the founding team & Lead - Newsroom Innovation at Founding Fuel, and co-author of the book, The Aadhaar Effect. His main interests lie in technology, business, society, and how they interact and influence each other. He writes a regular column on disruptive technologies, and takes regular stock of key news and perspectives from across the world. 

Ram, as everybody calls him, experiments with newer story-telling formats, tailored for the smartphone and social media as well, the outcomes of which he shares with everybody on the team. It then becomes part of a knowledge repository at Founding Fuel and is continuously used to implement and experiment with content formats across all platforms. 

He is also involved with data analysis and visualisation at a startup, How India Lives.

Prior to Founding Fuel, Ramnath was with Forbes India and Economic Times as a business journalist. He has also written for The Hindu, Quartz and Scroll. He has degrees in economics and financial management from Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning.

He tweets at @rmnth and spends his spare time reading on philosophy.

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