• James Aldridge

Slowing Down as/is a Radical Act

I’ve been to several events recently that have focused on the mess we are in ecologically, and stressed the need for action. They did a lot more than that and I’m thankful to have attended, and yet afterwards, once the excitement and pleasure of being with others has passed, I am left with the information and the emotional response, and I am overwhelmed.

I was passing through Avebury today, after an appointment in Swindon, on my way to my studio. Instead of keeping going I parked up and walked with my sketchbook to a quiet corner.

I sat down, shared a hot cross bun with a jackdaw, and wrote about how I felt. About the perceived need to do everything and do it faster, bigger, better. To work with more people, have more affect, to help to turn the tide. And yet I feel that I am ready to start slowing down. Not giving up, but not rushing about (I know, I’ve written about this before and probably will keep returning to the tension that I feel between the two).

Then I wrote this on my last page:

Something clicked as I wrote this. I’ve worked for 20 years using art to engage with communities and support them to earn about their relationship with the more than human world. I will still keep doing that, but not in a way that is bigger, faster, better, more.

I don’t want to be hurried up. I want to slow down. I want to invest in my individual arts practice, my daily artful practice of walking, noticing, giving the land opportunities to talk to me, and recording/interpreting those voices through making.

As I walked back to the car park along a narrow path, I walked behind a group that included a man using a wheelchair. They stopped to let a large group of Italian students pass, then offered to let me pass too. But I didn’t want to speed up to walk past, so replied “It’s okay. I’m not in a hurry” and let them move on ahead of me.

Just a few steps down the path I heard a rustle at the edge of the field. A vole? A lizard even?

I stopped, looked down and saw the lizard. I stayed frozen still, looking down, waiting for the moment when it rushed away from the threat that I posed.

But it didn’t, it seemed instead to sniff or taste the air, and gradually moved towards me, closer and closer until it was next to my foot. A beautiful, smooth, lithe little being, stopping to taste the air around me (it’s well camouflaged but you can see it to the left of my heel, head down, tail curving to the left side of the image).

In our recent collaboration, Artist Kathy Skerritt and I have been exploring ‘what/who looks back’ when we look at our rivers. In this case as I looked at the lizard, it tasted back, smelt back, felt my vibrations, came closer to work out who/what I was and whether I looked back in return.

This is what slowing down and noticing gives me. Being noticed in return – experiencing the interconnection that we so often ignore or deny. If I don’t slow down who will? What might happen if I don’t notice the lizard, if he doesn’t taste me?

I am at a place in my arts practice, my career, when I feel ready to share the learning from my 20 years of socially engaged projects, and to also move into this slower, deeper work that values the concept (and practice?) of interbeing.

I have to trust that taking time ‘out’ to walk, notice and allow the world in, is right for me and right for the world, and that those that feel called to rush out and take action, will need others like me to stay connected, and listen out for the non-human voices. Maybe this is what my role is.

'The greatest gift that we can give our troubled world right now is to be here – open.'

Joanna Macy

'If you are a poet, you will see clearly that there is a cloud floating in this sheet of paper. Without a cloud, there will be no rain; without rain, the trees cannot grow; and without trees, we cannot make paper. The cloud is essential for the paper to exist.

If the cloud is not here, the sheet of paper cannot be here either. So we can say that the cloud and the paper inter-are. “Interbeing” is a word that is not in the dictionary yet, but if we combine the prefix “inter-” with the verb “to be,” we have a new verb, inter-be. Without a cloud and the sheet of paper inter-are.

Looking even more deeply, we can see we are in it too. This is not difficult to see, because when we look at a sheet of paper, the sheet of paper is part of our perception. Your mind is in here and mine is also. So we can say that everything is in here with this sheet of paper. You cannot point out one thing that is not here-time, space, the earth, the rain, the minerals in the soil, the sunshine, the cloud, the river, the heat. Everything co-exists with this sheet of paper. That is why I think the word inter-be should be in the dictionary. “To be” is to inter-be. You cannot just be by yourself alone. You have to inter-be with every other thing. This sheet of paper is, because everything else is.'

Thich Nhat Hahn

(Originally posted on James Aldridge's blog in July 2019 -