Living Smaller and Slower: A Practice

In the last blog, I talk out the theoretical ideas of the art of slow.  Admittedly, it's a negative discussion  about the enemies of humanity that are the self, speed and "tomorrow".  Today, I want to talk about tangible practices that help us slow down.  

Before I start talking about concrete practices, allow me to head off a couple objections: 

Objection:  That's great that you all do these things.  I can't; I am actually too busy and have too much to do.  Maybe some day I will be able to slow down.  Does this sound familiar?  This is the lie of tomorrow - tomorrow is just that; it is always tomorrow.  To that objection, I sit on three boards, work two jobs, am a full time seminary student, a father to four kids, a husband for 15 years, and am avidly committed to fitness. I understand busy, but I stopped buying into the lie that world wouldn't go on without me or my over committed schedule.  As I mentioned in my last blog, the book of Ecclesiastes helped shape this thought.

Objection:  That's great that you all do these things, but it just isn't me.  I can't do things like you do them and I don't really want to.  I am not suggesting that people to mimic our practices, nor am I suggesting that these practices are the only ones that will intentionally slow your life down.  The practices you choose should be practices that help you maintain your values despite their seeming opposition.  For example, if healthy eating and living within your means are values, your practices should help you grocery shop on a budget while still making food choices that reinforce health. The art of slow encourages you to hold these values together, not choose one or the other.  This is not to say that these practices won't require sacrifice in some form, but I think you will find that things you hesitate to give up actually stand in the way of your desire to become more fully present in life. 

With those objections out of the way, let's talk about the practical ways we embrace a smaller and slower life.

DinnerThis is a common practice.  While it is simple and many of you already sit down as a family to eat, this practice is where we started.  The dinner table gives our family a central gathering place to slow down, talk about our day and breathe the same air together.

Downsize. Our life was too busy and geography contributed to that.  While our daily lives were lived in downtown Austin, south Austin suburbia was home.  Because of its location (only "minutes" from downtown), we were able to purchase a house larger than we needed.  This included two living rooms, one for the kids, one for the parents.  Over time, it became obvious that if given the space to do it, we avoided being together.  After some searching, we found the solution to these problems and that was an older home in East Austin, ideally located and intentionally smaller.  While there have been learning curves, a downsized space forces us to live in each others' space; it allows us to live closer together. 

Website. Some readers may know that this website was formerly known as: www.matthewhansen.me.  Sarah and I made the decision to change the emphasis from me as an individual to our family as a whole.  I wrestled with this conviction and finally made the change this year.  I do not intend or wish to project this conviction on any person who has an individual website, but this was a move I needed to make.  For me, having a website dedicated to me and my "brand" was a way to camouflage my addiction to self actualization and self glory using religious, "noble" jargon.  If I truly believe that my life finds meaning and functions best as part of the whole, then any presence, even an online presence, needs to communicate that as well.  Generally speaking, there is a disconnect in our world - our words rarely match how we function, making our words untrue and yet our value is determined by the words we say and not by how we function.  This created a identity crisis for me; I need what I say to match how I live.  After all, I am who I am because of my family and community, not because of what I say.  The me that others appreciate is a me created and forged within this family, so to stand alone or even hint that I am an autonomous individual is a lie. In a world where platforming the self is conventional wisdom, I find that it works against who I am as a human and sets me above my place as a social being.  When the good of the whole takes priority over personal recognition or ambition, it is necessary to slow down, consider and truly listen to the whole before movement is possible. 

Jiu Jitsu.  Our family, all six of us, practice the art of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.  We are often asked, "Why?"  BJJ acts as centralizing agent for our family; it meets our fitness and health commitments and our coaches are like family.  Above all else, Jiu Jitsu is prophetic for our family.  As individuals, we are busy, fast and strong.  These strengths condition us to use power - physical, emotional and mental - to make, or even force, things to happen.  The Jiu Jitsu way does not allow this. Instead, you must become one with your opponent. You have to feel it, and to feel it, you have to slow down.  The force and strength that we depend on off the mats causes injury on the mats.  For our family, Jiu Jitsu is not just something we do for exercise but is an epistemology for life. Jiu Jitsu channels a more primal self; the goal is not a compartmentalized accomplishment but is about slow growth, evolution and a long term commitment in the same direction. Our family enjoys the classes and coaches at Paragon Austin and value their commitment to Jiu Jitsu and to our family. 

Food. Health is a huge value in our life but so is our budget.  There is no way for these two values to work together unless you make the commitment to live slow.  In fact, these values often contest each other unless you intentionally allow them to intersect in a slower paced life.  We implemented this practice first in the foods we eat consistently.  Instead of spending more on processed foods, we cook our favorites together and for a whole week at a time.  While this practice costs time, it is time spent together as a family towards a common goal and it creates an appreciation for the food and the hands that prepare it.

Clothes.  Very few of us like laundry, especially when it consumes the better part of the weekend.  As a response to too much laundry, we got rid of clothes.  Everyone in our family has just enough to get them through the week and that's all.  This particular practice gave everyone so much excitement to do and it has already begun to show in the amount of time we spend maintaining our clothes.

Family as Community. In our household, community is everyone contributing to the common-unity based on their current abilities. This means that everyone contributes to the good of the household and is held to the same standards, regardless of age.  As well, we are generous towards and help each other.  Rather than the kids having the expectation that Mom and Dad will do it all, our kids know that if you are able to do it, then you are responsible to do it.  For example, there are four kids in our family and they all attend private school that doesn't serve lunch (not that they would eat a processed lunch even if it was available, but that's not the point), so the kids make their own lunches and this is their responsibility.  Kids produce the majority of laundry, so they wash, fold and put away their laundry.  At one level, this helps the household function better because it assures that no one has to spend too much time doing things they dislike.  At the same time, it is another community activity that causes us to work together.  As a family, these shared responsibilities create respect for each other's time and space, a realization of what others do for us, and thankfulness towards those who selflessly make our lives easier.

Play.  The ideas above support this idea.  The practice of play is why we are excited to take 4 kids on a 6,000 mile road trip; living and playing together is what we do.  Twice a year for the past 13 years, our family takes off on a 2,000 mile road trip - both of our families live far away - and every year one of the highlights of the trip is the time the six of us spend packed in our vehicle together.  We love each other.  We have fun together.  We are sanctifying tools for each other.  We enjoy each other.  This is where life explodes and all the fruit of family community becomes tangible.  The practice of play is why we can be found at Whole Foods on any random evening, sampling freebies and eating gelato.  It's also why the release date for our recent family movie was on the calendar for two months prior - because we plan to play together. 

While there are a more things we practice, these are a few that help us connect more as a family and live ordinary well.