"The Discovery of Slowness"
This is my last post of the year and with it I wanted to recommend the book I entered 2021 reading: The Discovery of Slowness by Steven Nadolny (translated from German). I initially saw it as a recommendation by the artist/designer, Christopher Niemann in Netflix’s Abstract.
The book is the fictionalized account of John Franklin that lived from 1786-1847. He was an actual explorer that did various expeditions to find the Canadian North and the North Pole, fought in multiple wars and was also Governor of Tasmania. But these are all plot elements in the much deeper story of how he perceives the world: Franklin processes the world much slower than everyone else and as such, his entire perspective of the world is unique. Eventually he uses this as an asset in traveling the northern seas since the timeless days and nights appeal to him in a way that they dissuade most others.
What I love most about the book is that it provides a completely different view of life - everywhere I look things are moving faster. Speed is the virtue. Efficiency. Productivity. Go go go. But in The Discovery of Slowness, Franklin turns this on his head. Despite tough decades growing up where everyone dismissed and punished his slowness, over time it becomes his invaluable asset. It allows him to notice the world in a way that is rare. He sees details everyone else misses - the world a place of hidden beauty. For example here is a passage from when Franklin was in the middle of a battle at sea:
“And while the veteran sailors were feverish or frozen, John experienced one of those moments that belonged to him, for he could ignore the fast events and noises and turn to changes which, in their slowness, were barely perceptible to others. While they were crawling toward morning and the guns of the Trekroner, he enjoyed the movement of the moon and the transformations of the clouds in the night sky almost dead with calm. Unceasingly he gazed through the gun port; his breath deepened; he saw himself as a piece of ocean. Remembrances began to drift by, images that wandered more slowly than he himself. He saw a congregation of ships’ masts, standing close together, and behind them the city of London. Always when ships were assembled so closely and quietly, a city belonged to them. Hundreds of riggings hung over the port buildings like a scrawled, elongated cloud.
As I type this I find myself wanting to re-read the book. Yesterday I was in a parking lot with the most beautiful sunset: the sky was lit in dramatic purples, yellows and oranges shining upon the nimbo-cumulus clouds that framed the deep blue sky. It was a moment John Franklin would have loved.
This book put me in the right frame of mind to slow down this year. Over and over again I kept finding solace and peace in moments of detailed attention. Through yoga, drawing, music, reflections on impermanence, walking meditation, deep work, monotasking, mono no aware, finding patterns - all of the things that gave me peace happened when I was able to stop and focus.
And so as we go into 2022 in a few weeks, I revisit this book as a reminder of how much beauty there is in the particulars. It’s a great reminder to slow down and enjoy every breath.
May your new year be full of peace and happiness and slowness. I’ll write again in 2022!
Sunset on the way to Santa Barbara earlier this Fall