March 11, 2015

Day 519 – Go slow

It’s not often we hear someone say go slow or slow day in life. We are nearly always encouraged to keep going and to make the most of our time, so hurry up because no one wants to waste time. I for one like to go slow, this is partly a result of my travels but partly a result of me listening to my body. I don’t like to rush or to be a hurry; rushing to work, eating in a hurry and walking quickly to catch the movie. Of course, I have done all of these things back at home and on occasions here but I would really much rather take my time. I would say I am really more like a turtle in this respect. I don’t want to hurry to do something, I want to enjoy my food for example.

This led me to research ‘slow food’ and there is in a fact a whole slow food movement. It was founded in 1986 by an Italian journalist, Carlo Petrini and the aim is to provide an alternative to fast food. He saw how many people were in a hurry in life which in turn meant few enjoyed a sit down meal, most opted for fast food. Thus, he started the slow food movement which encourages people to eat local and regional food, to shop from local markets, to eat in small family restaurants and to cook using traditional recipes. Now I have never really been one to buy food from a local market but it did get me thinking about trying to support local farmer’s markets if and when I can. I tend to prefer small, local, family restaurants over fast food chains and I want to sit down and enjoy what I eat whenever possible.  We are what we eat after all.

After reading about this movement, I came across ‘slow cities’. This was inspired by the slow food movement and was started by the mayor of a small Italian town, Greve in Chianti. In contrary to the fast-paced, busy cities, slow cities have less traffic, less noise and less crowds.  These cities also increase the number of green areas, plant trees, build pedestrian areas and promote local businesses. The aim is to essentially live in a city which is less frantic and stressful and thus, in turn, aims to achieve a better quality of life. I was born and raised in a city, a large, busy, crazy city, one which many people love and many others dream to see – London. I can’t deny it, I love London but the idea of living in a slow city is ever so appealing to me. Who likes to sit in traffic? Who enjoys listening to the road works or all the road diversions? I got my driving license several years ago but haven’t driven once in London or aboard. I love the idea of planting more trees and having more green space. So, one day I hope to visit a slow city to experience what it feels like to live and work there.

Slow cities led me to google slow travelling and sure enough there is a slow travel movement. Slow travel essentially entails slowing down, to became familiar and part of local life and culture. It enables you to connect to the people and the place. So rather than spending three days and then moving on to the next city and then the next, slow travel is about spending a week or more in one place and immersing in local life. Slow travel is about taking the time to explore a town without feeling the pressure of having to see all the most touristic spots. On the contrary, it is comfortable travel and enables you to find different sites which are not in guide books. I never planned on becoming a slow traveller but I am. I have stayed in Encarnacion for six months now during which I time I volunteered and worked. I never planned on either but before I knew it, I was living here and sure enough I wanted to because I’m happy here.

All of this slowness led me to finally research slow living. Many of us lead a very busy, crazy life with little work-life balance and we constantly try and restore some balance. Before I left London, quit my job, finished studying, I was living a pretty hectic life and despite the crazy, I thought it was normal because most people around me, at the time, had a crazy life, so it was no problem for me.  But there were of course days when I felt overwhelmed and I wanted to slow down, I needed a break. During the course of my travels, I learnt more about being mindful and listening to my body. I learnt to slow down and appreciate the present moment rather than fast-forwarding it and thinking about the next day/week/month.  It is a process of becoming more aware of our mind, body and soul.

I know the above may make me sound like a hippie to some. I know I am a hippie and I wouldn’t have it any other way. But it got me thinking, what is a hippie?  The hippie movement started in the 1960s and 1970s and it opposed many of the maintain morals of American life. It was a youth movement that spread to other countries around the world.  They dressed in unconventional ways, favoured communal living, opposed violence and war and put flowers in their hair.  They aim to spread peace and love, smoke weed and eat vegetarian food.  I believe in making love and not war, I oppose violence and war and I’m a vegetarian. I could put flowers in my hair and wear unconventional clothes but I’m don’t smoke much weed.

For me, a hippie is something else, something more perhaps. A hippie is someone who lives and breathes freely.  They are free from emotional guilt or constraint from society. They live their life the best they can, doing what they want, how they want but without hurting anyone else. They are not tied down with morals or values they do not believe in. Someone who can master this is truly amazing. Someone who can maintain a level of freedom without becoming absorbed by culture or customs, is free. We are born free and I like to think that we die free but during the course of life we are bound by responsibilities and have this pressure to meet expectations and to sometimes live our life for someone else which makes no sense.

A hippie also doesn’t take life too seriously. Life is too short so we may as well make the most of it.  It is good to joke, to laugh and to make others laugh. We can’t always solve a problem or change someone’s situation but we can make them feel better and what better way to achieve that then making them laugh. For me, my childhood until this day, was surrounded by laughter thanks to my dad. He was always laughing or making us laugh and without perhaps intending it, it is one of his best qualities. I don’t always agree with my dad and we have a different outlook on many aspects of life but I love how he can make a serious situation light-hearted. Thanks to him, I am sarcastic and I laugh at almost any situation no matter how bad. It is how I cope with the shit in life because again, I can’t always change it so I may as well laugh at it.

A hippie is someone who spreads peace and love. I talk about peace and love most days but I believe both to be important. I don’t believe in violence and I oppose war. I studied history so learnt a lot about why countries or leaders felt it was ‘necessary’ to go to war and I quite frankly don’t agree. Who really gains in a way? What do you gain from a war? Peace? No, rather hundreds of thousands civilians and soldiers die trying to gain victory or peace and on occasions neither are achieved. I studied the Indian road to independence and the Civil Rights Movement and I support the non-violent methods of fighting for justice, for standing up for what you believe in rather than violence. I am all too familiar with the psychological impact of war on soldiers and the physical impact of war on cities. I have yet to understand what anyone has gained from war. In the same way, I don’t understand why so many people like watching Game of Thrones. I never followed it but having finished the first season, I can honestly say I hate it, there is nothing I like or enjoy about it and gained nothing from it. It does me no good because it promotes and glorifies war and violence.

A hippie is someone who has fun. Fun is subjective of course, for some, fun is about getting drunk or getting high but for others it is about watching a good movie or dancing. Fun for me is all colours of the rainbows, Trying something different or doing something crazy is fun. Being adventurous and living in the moment is also key. During the course of my travel, I have experienced crazy and had a lot of fun; I have had many a crazy motorbike rides, bus rides, border crossings, hikes and night’s outs. I went paragliding, dancing, climbed mountains and talked to monks. For me many experiences encapsulate fun, not just crazy moments but simple, straightforward things too like, cooking.  I also enjoy living my bucket life which is endless but entails many things I hope to do or see.

Someone who drinks, smokes weed and enjoys life is a hippie. I drink, I have drunk more along my travels then I did when I was in London. Alcohol is considerably cheaper in several of the countries I travelled to and culturally it is something that brings people together. I was never much of a beer drinker but I have drunk a lot of beer over the past year and sure enough it is not as bad as I thought. I was never one to smoke but again I have smoked when amongst friends but no getting high. I believe you can enjoy life and do neither, I have good friends who love life and do neither and I admire them. I admire how they live their life and how they refuse to give into pressure or social convention. I have met people who feel as though they need to drink or that alcohol is their best friend because it is reliable and available. I don’t drink with the intention of getting drunk, I drink socially and I also don’t have to drink to have fun. I can sense people who enjoy life from their energy so the rest doesn’t matter.

Enjoying life is linked to having a balance in a life and not getting stressed easily. Those of us who are content with our work-life balance or enjoy life are less prone to getting stressed. It is of course all connected, how we live our life, do we enjoy what we do in life, our work life and social life and what or who in turn stresses us out. For me, my job was stressful, it is a stressful profession but I loved it, I went into work prepared and I left feeling high. The last few months however, I was more stressed and needed a break because my work life had become my life. I was so busy trying to support women affected by domestic violence that this was all I thought about and when I wasn’t working, I was studying and so I had no balance. As a support worker, you get so busy supporting your clients or others that you forget to look after yourself. Everyone else comes first and self-care is non-existent. I knew I needed a balance when I left and that working their was a choice. Maybe I go back to that but I know wherever I work, once back home, I will try and gain a balance.

My sister often jokes I’m an animal loving, vegetarian, tree hugging hippie, yes maybe I am. I like to hug trees,I like hugs in general, I’m a huggy person and I managed to convert my family so now they are too. Hugs are very important to me; a hug when your happy, when you feel sad, when you feel lost or confused, when you leave for work and when you go to sleep. There are so many excuses to spread hugs so why not hug your friend, your family, your girl/boyfriend, the children you work with, your neighbour, your hairdresser and the baker? I love animals and would love to have a dog, a dog is truly a man’s best friend and they are reliable and ever so cute. A dog is also another excuse to spread hugs. Despite travelling around South America and now living in Paraguay, I’m still a vegetarian, I have tried more meat but have no intention to go to the other side. I’m happy being a vegetarian and given that I never grew up eating meat, I simply can’t stomach it now.

Hippies also like to sing and dance and be colourful. I love music and also love to sing although I don’t sing particularly well. I love to be surrounded by music wherever I am, in the kitchen, on the road, in a bus or out on a mountain top. I love to dance it off and I miss dancing with my flatmate. For me, dancing to your favourite tunes is a great release after a busy week. I’m not particularly good at dancing but it’s great to dance like no one is watching. Over the course of my travels, I have danced many a nights away with friends and locals and I love these moments. I’m also a colourful person, nothing is black or white, their are all shades of grey and blue in between. I like bright colours and have different colours for different feelings. Colours are another way to express yourself with the world, something creative and beautiful.

I’ve often been labelled different or an odd ball and used to think I was the black sheep of the family. But a hippie is someone who is different, spontaneous and someone who takes risks. I’m different in many ways but I have met many people like me along my travels so I know I am not the only one. I am spontaneous and like to live with no plan, not knowing what I’m going to do next is unnerving but liberating at the same time. I don’t try and control every aspect of my life or day, I’m free and accept there are many things that I can not control. I believe in leaving some things up to fate, to the universe and I believe that if something is meant to be then it will be no matter what. I take risks, I make decisions and choices and then ponder whether it was the right thing to do or not. I am indecisive over many things in life but the big things, I manage to make a decision on.

Finally, a hippie, for me is someone who is happy, warm, caring, kind and loving. I have many friends who are happy or optimistic and they spread their warmth. I haven’t seen many of my friends but they care about me and take the time out to show it. I feel their energy and love even though I am so far away. Words are very important but sometimes a lot is said when nothing is said at all. My friends know me, they accept me, they don’t judge me and they reassure me. I have friends tell me that I’m optimistic or that I have positive energy which yes, it is true, it comes from within me but I have this energy because I’m surrounded by it. We attract certain kinds of people and we decide who stays in our life. Any relationship is an investment and at times it is complicated and exhausting but there is some invisible bond, energy holding it all in place.

So yes I’m on the road of becoming a better hippie and I encourage you to do the same because it really is something truly amazing. I want to live slowly but feel deeply. I want my soul to be alive and spread nothing but love. I can’t control or change people who don’t like me but I have nothing but love for them. I will carry on dancing with flowers in my life and spreading peace not war