Slowing Down the Speed of Life

- Posted by Quaker Earthcare Witness in Pamphlets for Sharing,  | 6 min read
Landscape of water and bare trees
Photo by Kathy Barnhart

This article is part of our Pamphlets for Sharing series produced by QEW’s Publications Committee. Download the PDF here or order print copies by emailing

Slowing down is a spiritual process, based on reverence for life, ourselves, and each other.

LIFE has its own cycles, rhythms, and processes, which need to be honored for maximum benefit, or to prevent disastrous consequences. Gestation, for example, cannot be speeded up. Yet in 21st century America, who has enough time for life, for living?

Our society and our own cultural expectations seem to require us to live in “fast forward,” asking more of us than we can sustain over time. We are using ourselves up, and using our planet up. Everything seems accelerated.

Rainwater, which in the old days sank into the soil, streams, and water tables, now rushes across paved-over lands, erodes stream banks, and causes floods and subsequent droughts. Similarly, we are deluged with incessant information which does not sink into us to become knowledge and eventual wisdom.

Children growing up are too often rushed from one activity to another, without time to play in the sand or discover shapes in the clouds. Because of busy schedules, there are fewer family meals, thus depriving children of shared “wisdom time” around the table.

All of us are affected by the current pace of living, and it all is taking a toll on our planet. As a therapist and life coach, I frequently hear people’s distress at being overworked and overwhelmed. I hear variations on themes of:

  • Incessant pressure and busyness.
  • Ever-rising expectations, never-ending demands.
  • Multi-tasking, no time to concentrate.
  • Fatigue, restlessness.
  • Breakdown of relationships and social networks, intimacy famine.
  • Disconnection from nature.
  • Lack of focus and meaning.
  • Soul-hunger, spiritual void.

It seems we have no time for rest, reflection, heart opening, or spiritual deepening! Many people crave something different, but don’t know what or how to find it. In 1941, Thomas Kelly wrote words even more relevant today:

“Strained by the very mad pace of our daily outer burdens… over the margins of life comes a whisper, a faint call, a premonition of richer living which we know we are passing by.”

Kelly invites us to honor our fundamental Quaker testimony of simplicity: “Life is meant to be lived from a divine Center. Each one of us can live a life of amazing power and peace and serenity, of integration and confidence… on one condition, that is if we really want to.”

Life coaches, like Quakers, raise queries: Are you living your own life as you truly wish to live? Are you living from a divine Center? What is really important to you? What are your key values, priorities, passions, testimonies, and witnesses? Does your life actually reflect and honor these?

What do you want more of, and less of, in your life? What brings you energy, fulfillment, and joy? Since you and the planet are profoundly interconnected, what are the contributions you want to offer our world?

Life itself is sacred. Time and energy are gifts from our Creator. Are you using them reverently? Is there time in your life for reverence? Slowing down to the speed of life does not mean dropping out or doing without. It does mean deliberately creating your life through the power of choice.

Clearly and with commitment, tend what is really important to you, and do much less of what isn’t. Your beliefs and values guide your priorities. So will God’s leadings on how to use your time, energies, and talents, if you create space to discern them.

Where can you start?

  • Slow down! Just breathe. Rest, reflect a while, take time to pray. Then slowly, bit by bit, reclaim your own life.
  • Develop a spiritual practice to center your days.
  • Make careful choices about how you use your precious, finite time and energy. Join the “Take Back Your Time” movement. To clear time for what you really want, what can you cease doing? Are you asking more of yourself than you have the time or energy to do? If so, you are not living sustainably.
  • Consider your energy. What activities and involvements feed you and bless you? Which drain you and stress you? Increase the former, weed out the latter.

MANY of us North Americans, so wealthy by world standards, come to feel possessed by our possessions. Not only is our time completely filled, but our drawers, closets, houses, and garages are overflowing. Papers and clutter overwhelm us. We need ways to confront our burden of stuff and to make choices to let go of some of it. Look at each item through the criteria of, “Do you truly love it?” “Does it lift your energy?” and “Is it genuinely useful?” If not, why keep it? Can you buy only what you need and will use?

Slowing down is not easy in today’s culture. It will take diligence and care to do so. But you can do it, one small choice at a time. Pace yourself, at a rate you can continue over time. Get support for making choices and changes. Act now: Commit yourself to three small steps that you will take this week toward creating the life you really want, steps such as, “I will play with my child this evening” or “I will rest 15 minutes daily” or “I will clean out my top desk drawer” or “I will not serve on the X Committee.”

Choose your commitments, post them where you will see them, and do them. Tell someone you trust that you will do these things, then report back in a week that you have done them. Doing this, you will be surprised by what a difference it will make. Small consistent actions create large changes over time.

ALL this comes down one basic truth: The simple life begins inside us, with our connection to the Divine.

Slowing down frees time and space for spiritual connection and reverence for life. We must act on what our deep hearts already know: All life is sacred. Everything is connected. From this space, we can create a world we are proud to leave to our children and all future generations. Reverence for life empowers us to take responsibility for, and to care for, ourselves and each other. Through our choices and actions of love for the sacredness of life, we “re-member” our own lives, and we contribute to the renewal of our planet.

What Quaker Meetings Can Do

Support individuals and families experiencing difficulty in simplifying their lives.

Sponsor study groups to address these concerns. Materials could include:

— The “Voluntary Simplicity” study guide from the Northwest Earth Institute.

— Relevant Quaker writings, such as those of Thomas Kelly and John Woolman.


Books and pamphlets

Burch, Mark A., 1995. Simplicity. (Gabriola Island, B.C.: New Society Publishers)

Kelly, Thomas, 1941. A Testament of Devotion. (New York: Harper & Brothers)

Kingston, Karen, 1999. Clear Your Clutter With Feng Shui. (New York: Broadway Books)

Moore, Thomas, 1992. Care of the Soul, a Guide to Cultivating Depth and Sacredness in Everyday Life. (New York: HarperCollins)

Muller, Wayne, 1999. Sabbath: Restoring the Sacred Rhythm of Rest. (New York: Bantam)

Pierce, Linda Breen, 2003. Simplicity Lessons: A 12-Step Guide to Living Simply. (Carmel, Calif.: Gallagher Press)

Pipher, Mary, 1996. In the Shelter of Each Other. (New York: Random House)

Popov, Linda Kavelin et al., 2004. Pace of Grace. (New York: Plume, Penguin Group)

Small, Tom. Freeing Ourselves from Possessions. Quaker Earthcare Witness pamphlet.


Joanna Macy’s The Work That Reconnects

Northwest Earth Institute

Pace of Grace