Microwave Culture, the Myth of Balance, and the Peace of a Slowed Down Life

Slow living. This concept that I'm basing more than just my blog posts around. It sounds pretty, peaceful even, but what is it? I've hinted at it, talked about it in passing on some of my other posts this year, but we haven't exactly defined what it is. And while the details might vary by person, the concept is the same - it's about decelerating modern life, by being mindful of our time and making sure every day is full of things that matter to us. Not the things that we think matter or that society tells us should matter, but the things at our core - our real needs and values. It's slowing down in order to quit stress and foster peace in its place.

But let me start at the beginning of how I got to the place of slow.

Microwave Culture

Have you heard that term before? It's been used to describe our way of fast living - not only pursuing more but pursuing it quickly. We want to eat junk food, eat way more of it than we should, and we definitely don't want to wait longer for it than the 2 minutes it takes to heat up in the microwave. And it applies to so much more than just food. 'The next best thing' is constantly being pushed at us through marketing. We're being told to keep pursuing more. Always more. More products, more clothing, more house, more job, always keep trying to get more because it's that next best thing that's finally going to make us happy and the faster we get it, the better our lives will be.

All that pursuing does, though, is distract from any problems in our lives. We acquire more in order to quickly mask a problem or solve it temporarily rather than dare take a minute of pause to ask how we can eliminate the problem altogether and stop it from reoccurring. The 'band aid on a bullet hole' method, if you will, which we logically know never works. But we continue to fall for it when it comes to consumerism and busyness. We buy organizing devices instead of cleaning the house, we buy planners to schedule more into our days, we work more hours to pay for a bigger house to fit all of the stuff we 'need' instead of learning what 'need' really means.

Too many people fall into this trap and then beat themselves up for feeling overwhelmed and eventually totally burnt out. They get anxiety and depression, believing there's something wrong with them because they can't balance all of these things that we're all supposed to have and do.

The Myth of Balance

When someone has a lot of things going on in their life but manages to get everything done, people call it balance. 'Look at all that stuff she balances!', as if it's almost synonymous with 'easy' or 'efficient.' I've heard that before - I work(ed), cook, clean, help my parents, take care of Hawkeye (and John), get dressed everyday including doing hair and makeup, blog, exercise, go out with friends, sleep, etc. 'How do you find the time?' and 'how do you balance it all?' were common questions, as if it were effortless. Bloggers have a knack for that, I think, making it look effortless to keep a lot of balls in the air.

But it's not balance, because balance is a myth. At least the common-held idea of what balance looks like is a myth. It's portrayed as this thing that you can achieve one time and then suddenly life makes sense and everything is calm. Of course, that's not what balance is. Tightrope walkers make it look so simple but what you don't see is the constant work they're doing up there - being aware of every muscle movement, every shift in the wind, every breath they take. Making adjustments every half-second. Balance is a lot of work. And it's not sustainable.

We're really pushed by society to be the best, most intense, most efficient version of ourselves, but not everyone is cut out for that life. I know I'm not. Busyness is not a badge of honor and busyness does not equate to success. Your value and your personal identity are not weighted upon the gold stars you receive from other people for being busy.

If you live in America, that statement might come as a complete shock to you. It's entirely possible that a similar sentiment has never been suggested to you at all, because that's our culture. But what's the alternative? Well, living like a Blue Zone.

Blue Zone Living

A slowed down life (and a chosen one, not one forced upon you by quarantine) might seem like a obscure, distant, or even impossible dream, but it's actually the standard for the world's longest living and healthiest populations. There are 5 cities across the globe (California as well as in Italy, Japan, Greece and Costa Rica) that were studied to see why their populations were living so long and why everyone, even their elderly, were so healthy. Unsurprisingly, there were a lot of commonalities even though the cultures are so different. The whole study is incredibly interesting, so I highly recommend checking out the website and books on the subject if you're curious. But the base line? Slow.

These people have a defined purpose in life to satisfy low-level needs (this idea is called Ikigai, from the blue zone in Japan), eat real, whole foods, walk a lot, minimally impact the planet, enjoy physical work and the outdoors, and have a close community of family and friends. They live a relaxed pace of life that completely ignores clocks - no hurry and no worry to be somewhere else and do something else. No constant need to pursue 'more' and no stress or anxiety, which, by the way, manifests as inflammation and disease in the body. Truly, it's no surprise that this way of living is healthier and promotes longevity.

Peace: a Slow Life

If you read my post earlier this week, you'll know that I was doing a whole lot of things that did not promote heath and longevity. I had way too much stress on my plate. Some of it self-inflicted and some of it dealt with by pursuing more instead of getting at the root of the problem. I ate a lot of crap food instead of cooking, I traded sleep for time in my day to do more, I used social media as both a distraction and an excuse ("it's for the blog!") Like I said, not sustainable. Something had to give. Someone had to put boundaries on my time, mental health, and life in general, and that someone had to be me.

Balancing wasn't the answer, often causing more problems than it solved. I don't want all of the work that comes with the balancing act, I think I've made that clear. I don't want to keep adding things to the task list while making constant micro-adjustments to keep it all 'balanced.' What I needed to do instead was prioritize. Ask how I can simplify, determine what I actually need in my life and what I don't. I was created for a much slower life, not for one of busyness - I don't function at my best when I'm living life like it's an emergency. That's not to say that everything can be slowed down, but I could certainly stop piling on extra stress and responsibilities.

My wardrobe and personal belongings are something that have been simplified for awhile, so I applied that same line of thinking to the more intangible aspects of my life. I found easier recipes, I put less on my social calendar, I quit shopping, I streamlined cleaning and now blogging, I decluttered digitally and unfollowed a lot of content that would make me feel more stressed - anything titled '10 ways to be more productive in your day' had to go. While I can't just remove 'my parents need me' from my to do list, I could at least remove these other inconsequential things to free up time and mental space. 'Take dad grocery shopping' didn't seem like such a daunting task anymore and I didn't have to rush him as he stopped to talk to every single person we passed, because I didn't have a mountain of work and other tasks at home waiting for me.

I have slowed down so many things in the last few months, which is why I'm not feeling the pinch of the quarantine yet. This is just life for me, and I enjoy it. Slow food, slow money, slow technology, slow routines, slow quality time with loved ones (some via facetime at the moment - tech isn't all bad). The 'how' of all of that will probably become more clear in future posts when I chat more about my daily life and more about living that blue zone life. But the idea of slow living and slowing down life isn't complicated in theory. You understand what I mean. It's just tougher to put into practice. The best thing to do is just start. You're probably already halfway there with this virus, so embrace it. It's a scary and stressful time for a lot of people, but try to adjust your mindset - this is a time of rest and healing. Life will look very different when we come out the other side, but maybe that's not all bad.