Slow living lessons from a tiny island in the Swedish archipelago

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My childhood didn’t involve grand summer vacations in faraway land, no trips to see Europe’s big cities or old historical places. I was twelve before I went beyond the Nordic countries.

Instead, there were something else. A tiny island in the archipelago, bought by my grandfather when my mother was a kid. Too small to dig a well, but a simple house was built and electricity drawn in. No tv and, before smartphones and laptops, no internet.

There I spent many weeks every summer, doing what you can do on a small island without friends or the regular distractions of technology. Read, swim, play cards, row over to a nearby island, listen to the radio, lay around in the sun or hide from the bad weather in the house.

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Nowadays I don’t spend weeks on the island, but every summer I go there at least for a couple of days, to slow down and let life become simple.

Who had I been if I hadn’t spent my childhood summers there? Maybe I’d been someone more impatient, less fond of the slow and quiet life. Maybe not, maybe that was always inside me, because I’m also the kid among my siblings who enjoyed it best.

Regardless, I’ve collected a few lessons from my summer stay and brought them with me home. To remember when life starts to feel overwhelming.

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To step away from life’s obligations and achievements can restore so much energy.

Spring and early summer had me overwhelmed and stressed. A combination of moving and busy times at my day job left me tired and when I began my summer vacation I was deeply craving rest.

But even when on vacation, our homes are usually connected to a certain amount of obligations, tidying and upkeep. You might be lying on the sofa watching Netflix, but there can still be that nagging feeling of guilt for not doing something else, and so you don’t fully relax.

Going away can be necessary to step away from our chores, especially if we struggle to break a busy mindset. When we do, that’s when we can truly rest, recover from staying on top of too many things for too long. Many of us get used to life being crammed and slightly stressed, and we easily forget that we humans really do need our breaks.

The island has never been a place to be productive. I’ve tried to use it as a writing retreat multiple times, and yes, I’ve written there, but it’s not a place to hunker down. It’s a place for rest. And rest I did.

I read through some of my novel draft, but mostly I read other books, I knitted a sock, drank tea and swam in the sea. When I headed back home after a couple of days, I felt that lift in my chest, that pull inside of me, that tells me my energy is back.

Slowing down helps clear the mind to focus on what’s really important.

Earlier this summer, I wondered if I was losing interest in some of my creative work, because I couldn’t muster up any enthusiasm for it. I had lost touch with my long term goals and my belief in them.

When we’re in the midst of our day to day lives, our focus tends to be on all the things we’re occupied by. To do lists to check off, chores to keep on top of, things to do, people to see. Research shows that our brains struggle to focus on what’s actually important when there’s something more urgent calling to our attention.

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How often do we get the mindspace to ponder on life in our day to day lives? On what we really want to do and what isn’t so very important after all? For many of us, it’s when we take a step away, release ourselves of our always pressing tasks, that we see what we might have forgotten or disregarded.

During a week of rest, my creative energy returned bit by bit. First it allowed me to go through my ideas and plans, those I’ve written down before and inspiration started to inch its way back. Then, slowly, came the flow of determination, the one that comes from within, from a place of knowing what you really want. Even if nothing other than your heart is telling you to do it, and do it now.

Life doesn’t have to be as complicated as we make it.

Life on the island is simple. There’s little entertainment, and there are few chores. With no running water, our choice of food is limited and we use as few plates as possible. The house is small and never spotless, just trees and wild growth outside, no garden to tend to.

When it’s warm, you’re outside. When the sun moves, you move your chair to stay in the sun or the shadow. When you get too warm, or start to feel smelly, you swim in the sea. When it’s cold, you go inside. When it rains, you take the towels down from the clothes line and listen to the sound of the rain drumming on the roof.

We’re great at adding new layers to life, layers that are put in place to improve our lives but end up adding to the complexity. The things we choose to do might be great, but together they can add up to an overwhelming life.

Maybe a big deciding factor when we opt for a change in our lives should be whether it simplifies or complicates our lives further. Maybe we need a little reminder now and then that life doesn’t have to be so complicated.

At least, I know I do.

 
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