Tag Archives: Slow

Want to Learn about Community? … Listen to the Trees!

“Trees also understand that slowness is the key to a good life. For humans, at the moment, it feels like life is going faster and faster. This way of living uses up so much energy that the quality of our lives doesn’t get better. We should slow down.” 
– Peter Wohlleben – 
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My father has always maintained that Mother Nature is the best teacher. He laments our modern day disconnect from the wild and the sense of ‘lostness’ that so many feel amidst our techno-driven, hyper-real existence. So it was with interest that I read the interview with Peter Wohlleben in the recent Slow Magazine and his study on The Hidden Life of Trees.

Peter’s premise is that trees, like us, experience pain, and form social and family bonds. His years of research have him conclude that different trees have different personalities. Some act as parents and good neighbours, while others are brutal bullies. Trees are anthropomorphic. It is almost as if they have feelings and character. They communicate via a ‘woodwide web’ of chemical and electrical signals. Their young ones takes risks and then learn life lessons from their mistakes. It is like trees form villages, recognising their friends from strangers.

As I fell down the rabbit hole of reading article after article about Wohlleben’s study of the ancient beech forest he manages in the Eifel mountains of Western Germany, I was reminded of my father’s sentiment – Mother Nature is a much better teacher than humans. While we wax lyrical about community and philosophise about life, trees just simply live their ‘philosophy’. No wonder one of the wisest men in ancient text studied the cedars of Lebanon and nature (1 Kings 4:33). Jesus himself suggested that we look at nature to obtain wisdom and meaning (Matthew 6:26).

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Wohlleben points out the communal nature of trees. In a tree community, every member is important, including the ‘weak’ ones:

Their well-being depends on their community, and when the supposedly feeble trees disappear, the others lose as well. When that happens, the forest is no longer a single closed unit. Hot sun and swirling winds can now penetrate to the forest floor and disrupt the moist, cool climate. Even strong trees get sick a lot over the course of their lives. When this happens, they depend on their weaker neighbors for support. If they are no longer there, then all it takes is what would once have been a harmless insect attack to seal the fate even of giants.”

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“Every tree, therefore, is valuable to the community and worth keeping around for as long as possible. And that is why even sick individuals are supported and nourished until they recover. Next time, perhaps it will be the other way round, and the supporting tree might be the one in need of assistance.”

Wohlleben has observed the friendships between trees, some deeper than others. They grow but don’t compete with each other and “if you fell one of those two trees, the other will die too, like an old couple.”

Trees teach us about life and community. In our very important, crazy-busy lives, we seldom notice their quiet and majestic presence. Unlike trees, our ‘developed’ world tends to shove our frail and ‘weaker’ members into places where they are not seen, somewhere on the margins where their presence does not taint our perfect image or require our time and understanding. We build on ideas about community that are quickly dismantled in times of crisis. We betray each other by the disregard we display to these very ideals. The ancient forests teach us that every tree plays a role. Even the oldest, frailest stump is cared for and significant. 

In this Year of Discernment, I have found the learnings about trees astounding and healing. I no longer stare past them as I look out my window. I notice these giant teachers of life. I find hope in their presence. Perhaps one day us humans can become as kind and learn to love our neighbour as these ancient Douglas firs and beeches? 

“A community that is growing rich and seeks only to defend its goods and its reputation is dying. It has ceased to grow in love. A community is alive when it is poor and its members feel they have to work together and remain united, if only to ensure that they can all eat tomorrow!”
– Jean Vanier, Community and Growth – 
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Congestions, Delays and Detours!

Odd, how life makes twists and turns. I never would have guessed that I’d end up where I am now, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I wouldn’t trade this path I’m on for the whole solar system, for that matter. If I’ve learned anything these last several months, it’s that sometimes the most scenic roads in life are the detours you didn’t mean to take.
– Angela Blount –

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I was meant to fly back home to the Sunshine Coast yesterday. The alarm went extra early to ensure that we could negotiate Melbourne’s traffic mayhem, and get to the airport in plenty of time for my 10am flight. But, alas, even at 6.30am the freeway had already ground to a standstill. My quick thinking partner took a detour, weaving in and out of tiny streets through sleepy suburbs. Then the phone went with a text message. My flight had been cancelled. I tried to call the airline to change to a different flight and was placed on ‘hold’. We listened to repetitive announcements and the jingle of ‘hold’ music for over an hour. By the time someone eventually picked up we had just arrived at the airport.

The person on the line was not helpful. Referring to the airline as ‘they’ it became obvious that the delicate job of dealing with irritated customers had been handed to some contract group. They showed no mercy. No, I cannot catch another flight that day as they were all fully booked! No, they won’t allow me to detour via another major city! No, they do not compensate in any way or form. You have to find your own accommodation. By the time I put the phone down I was in a frightful fury and we took the long trip home – stopping for strong coffee, as it was too early for wine!

After I managed to downgrade my feelings towards a rude airline encounter from ‘cold hatred’ to ‘loathe entirely’, it occurred to me how much of life was represented in those few frustrating hours. We plan our life journey: how we will travel, what we will do when we get there, and the people we will meet and greet … and then we wake up to life with all its detours, congestion and cancelled travel plans. Have you noticed that?

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Sometimes life feels so congested that we need to be reminded to breathe. We frantically look for a different way and venture on a random detour through uncharted territory. Our congested, helter-skelter life has flung us into some unknown suburbs that we have never heard of or thought we would visit – perhaps an oncology ward? Or an interview for a totally different career? Or surrounded by strange tribe of people that quickly become friends and people we love deeply.

There are times we are caught totally unaware. We thought we were bound for an exotic destination, only to have our dreams and hopes ‘cancelled’. We furiously dial the ‘God’ line – but it feels like God has placed us on hold and taken a liking to elevator music!! We desperately look around for a comforting word from the people around us, but they have been kidnapped and replaced with distant, look-alike cousins that mouth robotic, religious cliches that once held meaning.

Life is full of congestion, detours and delays. To expect anything else is to live with constant disappointment or frustration. It is not a matter of whether you will encounter these travelling companions but rather a matter of where and when. At any moment, life can grind to a total halt and we sit on the freeway and wonder whether it will ever go back to ‘normal’ – whatever ‘normal’ means. We cannot force things to start moving again, we just need to sit and wait. What a terrible dilemma for all of us addicted to our own adrenaline in a hurry-sick, congested world.

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So I was stranded yesterday. I treated myself to a pedicure and read my ‘Slow‘ magazine. Sitting in the corner of that bustling little store I remembered to be grateful. It was a begrudging sort of gratitude at first, but gratitude nonetheless. As I leant into breathing, being mindful and grateful, I reflected on my life. My whole life has been a set of detours, congestion and delays. I have walked paths I never dreamt of walking, I have met people I never thought I would have the privilege of meeting, I have been in spaces that were thin places – and so many of these encounters happened because of … you guessed it – detours, congestion and delays.

Most of the time we do not know why life can get so awfully complicated. We feel helpless and vulnerable when circumstances come into our lives that we have no control over. But there are a few things we can do. We can remember to breathe. We can practice mindfulness. And we can be grateful. May your delayed, congested and detour-filled life also be filled with unexpected joy, a sense of purpose, wonder and gratitude, dear Pilgrim.

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Slow Down and Chew Your Food!

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I used to eat fast. No, I mean it. I used to eat really fast. In fact, if you sat around our dinner table you would have noticed this terrible personal habit had become a family trait. We all tended to inhale our food. As a child, my parents worked busy and stressful jobs and I remember meal times were somewhat like the Grand Prix – ready, set … finish. That is until my grandmothers came over. I can still hear their voices, “Slow down and chew your food!”

This reprimand was most often ignored as we continued to shovel
nutrients into our facial cavity. In my hurried, stressful, all-consuming first half of life as a religious zealot, I continued eating with great haste. And my poor children probably felt they had Mr. Squiggles’ grumpy chalkboard at the table (not their mother): “Hurry up, hurry up.” And then it struck … acid reflux. My gut began to protest the
under-masticated volume of fodder thrown at it because of a frenzied need for speed. And so the wonderful and under-rated discipline of mindfulness began to be a part of my meal time routine.

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Let’s just face it: we are creatures of our hurried culture. Most of us hardly give any thought to chewing our food. It has simply become a habit. Yet this chewing process is a vital step in a functional digestive process – the way you chew and how long you chew dramatically affects your health.

Dr. Mercola provides 7 reasons why chewing your food properly has
significant benefits
:

1. You absorb more nutrients and energy from your food.
Smaller particles are easier to digest and increase nutrient absorption by your intestines.

“Particle size [affects the] bio-accessibility of the energy of the food that is being consumed. The more you chew, the less is lost and the more is
retained in the body.”
– Dr. Richard Mattes (Medical News
Today July 18, 2013)
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2. You maintain a healthy body weight.
It takes time (generally about 20 minutes) for your brain to signal to your stomach that you’re full and this may explain why one study found people reported feeling fuller when they ate slowly.

3. The longer you chew, the more your food is exposed to saliva.
Saliva contains enzymes that assist in breaking down food.

4. Chewing assists digestion as it pre-digests food into small pieces.

5. It is great for your teeth.
The bones holding your teeth get a good workout while the saliva produced cleans the mouth of food particles and bacteria.

6. Properly chewed food decreases excess bacteria in your intestine.
Excess bacteria causes side effects such as bloating, diarrhea, constipation, abdominal pain, cramping and digestive problems.

7. Chewing your food helps you enjoy and really taste your food.

Over the last few years, I am slowly learning to eat at a far more leisurely pace. I am learning to enjoy my food and to be grateful. It has made a remarkable difference. How I chew my food these days is probably a
picture of how I am now living this second half of my life. I have learnt to breathe, to allow space, and to say ‘no’ without always feeling responsible or guilty. My grandmothers would be so proud.

‘Hurry sickness’ is the malady of our modern culture. How are you
faring? Are you overloading your intestinal tract with copious amounts of junk hitting it at lightning velocity? Slow down. Think about the food that you eat. Will it nourish your complex, wonderful body? Take a moment to consider your meal choices. Are they harming our intricate planet? Remember, you are part of this world and with it comes responsibility.

You will find that as you begin to live and eat more mindfully you won’t need the volume of food you normally consume. So eat in peace, dear friend, and chomp, chomp, chomp.

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