Lessons from the sloth

Sunday Times - - Contents -

Jo­han­nes­burg has an in­ces­sant, fre­netic en­ergy. In a coun­try that seems to be con­stantly mov­ing at full throt­tle, Joburg doesn’t even slow down to cor­ner the bends. No won­der so many of its in­hab­i­tants are stressed out, highly tense, cof­fee swill­ing, over worked, un­der-rested ma­ni­acs. En­ter the sloth, an an­i­mal from far away in the jun­gles and forests of Cen­tral and South Amer­ica that al­ways has a be­mused, con­tented and serene coun­te­nance on its adorable lit­tle face. We could learn a lot from this com­posed and easy-go­ing crea­ture. Noth­ing seems to get him riled up or stressed out as he swings from the tree­tops or lazes in their branches high above the jun­gle traf­fic be­low.

Dutch jazz singer Ann Bur­ton said: “The point of sloths is to bring a sense of won­der, magic and hap­pi­ness to all other species. Did you know that ev­ery other an­i­mal’s favourite an­i­mal is the sloth?”

This is the quote used by au­thor Ali­son Davies to pref­ace her book, Be More Sloth. It’s a guide to get­ting the hang of liv­ing life in the slow lane.

Filled with prac­ti­cal ad­vice, quotes from fa­mous peo­ple and a good dose of in­for­ma­tion about the sloth, not to men­tion il­lus­tra­tions of sloths in var­i­ous states of sloth­dom, the book aims to give read­ers a method for slow­ing down, tak­ing stock and get­ting some per­spec­tive.

“The win­ner of the race isn’t al­ways the one who comes first,” writes Davies, “Rush­ing through life, we miss so much, and we don’t al­ways per­form at our best.

“Over time all the fren­zied ac­tiv­ity and stress takes its toll, leav­ing us lost, with all sense of pur­pose gone. To pre­vail and pros­per, take a steady, yet de­ter­mined ap­proach and you’ll find life, and all its chal­lenges, flow with ease.”

I know what she means. The de­mands of life, its com­pet­i­tive­ness and the con­stant urge to keep striv­ing at all costs lest we be left be­hind can make us feel like we’re on a tread­mill in­creas­ing in speed and in­cline and we just can’t get off. Wake up, dress kids, feed them, school run, gym ses­sion, rush to work, eat at your desk, jug­gle meet­ings, grab a cof­fee, lift scheme, rush home, cook din­ner, do home­work, pre­pare for the next day and start all over again — or some ver­sion of this. Any­one re­late?

Davies says she dis­cov­ered her ad­mi­ra­tion for sloths when they were brought to her at­ten­tion by her cousin. They’re cute, she ad­mits, with their goofy fea­tures and win­some smiles. But she won­dered how much they ac­tu­ally got done.

She found that the an­swer was a hel­luva lot — ad­mit­tedly with­out try­ing very hard. Davies saw the ex­is­tence of the sloth as a phi­los­o­phy for life that she felt the need to share. Here are some of the main tenets:

Be still

Slow down, rest to di­gest, en­joy the mo­ment, prac­tice the art of pa­tience, know your pri­or­i­ties, don’t over com­mit, fo­cus on sin­gle task­ing.

Turn things up­side down

See things from a new per­spec­tive, en­joy your own unique­ness.

Be more in­ten­tional

List your su­per­hero skills, un­leash your mon­ster and chan­nel it into a phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity. Live less out of habit and more out of in­tent, do enough — not too much.

Be kind to your­self and oth­ers

Open your heart, be more thought­ful, pay at­ten­tion to oth­ers, give your­self a hug.

Be more pos­i­tive

Do what you en­joy, ac­cept com­pli­ments, smile and find peace.

What Davies also dis­cov­ered while in­ves­ti­gat­ing the sloth was that the an­i­mals never stop smil­ing: “While this is likely be­cause of their fa­cial colour­ing and their cu­ri­ous-shaped mouths, there is also much for them to smile about,” she writes. “These gen­tle crea­ture are Zen with a cap­i­tal Z.”

But more im­por­tant than any im­i­ta­tion of the sloth’s be­hav­iour, Davies ad­vo­cates tak­ing the time to slow down and dis­cover your­self, be­cause in this ex­tremely fast-paced world we are los­ing con­nec­tion with who we re­ally are.

Be More Sloth is pub­lished by Quadrille and is avail­able for R172

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