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Slow living explained with Neeti Mehra from Beej Living

A writer, an entrepreneur, an accountant and finally a sustainability expert, Neeti Mehra wears many hats but none as important as being an active presence in the slow living space in India.

Slow Living is a lifestyle that emphasizes the importance of taking slower approaches to everyday life. Simply put, it takes a less-is-more perspective in every aspect of life. While the concept is not new, the implementation of it across the globe is fairly recent. Driven by a need to find a balance in her fast-paced life, Neeti launched BeejLiving in the summer of 2016. A platform dedicated to providing a guide to slow living in India, she promotes healthy lifestyle choices and gives voice to many brands and leaders who do the same.

One of the first of its kind, the platform is the perfect starting point for anyone looking to shift into a more conscious lifestyle and learn about sustainability and slow living. Recently, we invited Neeti to have a chat with us and explain what living slow means and how it spans across all areas of life.

Tell us a little about you and your journey leading up to starting BeejLiving. What inspired you to take the leap?

I started BeejLiving in 2017 as a studied response to our fast-paced lives. As a bean counter-turned-publicist-turned-editor with over 18 years of experience in publicity, styling and communications, I felt a need to dig deeper in what life had to offer. I became more conscious about the way I lived my life and started to eliminate non-essentials.

I was travelling the world and seeing how other countries had conversations about their arts and crafts, even young countries, with none of the rich historical narrative India had. I felt that someone needed to speak about the different facets of India, but in a modern context, making the conversation relevant to the younger generation, especially millennials. So many of our traditions were being lost without being documented. In today’s fast-paced connected world, there was even more meaning for deep experiences, be it healing traditions, local food, handicrafts, etc.

The idea behind Beej (a seed) is to focus on ‘slow,’ namely, looking back to our traditions, but in a modern context, while creating new traditions for the future. BeejLiving is a platform for the intersection of sustainability, traditions and mindful living. It nudges you to live mindfully within contemporary chaos, highlighting brands, people and a lifestyle, with a nod towards conscious, self-aware and responsible living.

What is your definition of slow living? What does it mean to the modern consumer? 

It is an antidote to our fast-paced lives. A slow life is balanced, meaningful, and life-affirming, purposeful and fulfilling. It’s a long-term view of your own life and the world around you. Slow living helps you control the narrative of your own life, where you are not defined by the standards, timelines and a lifestyle the world decides for you, but what you decide for yourself. The slow life is not escapist, rather, it is a dynamic, self-aware and reflective life. But then again, the slow life is not meant for everyone. A lot of people enjoy the pace and momentum of living in the fast lane.

Modern consumption is driven more by greed, the pleasure of possession, rather than need. Do objects own us or do we own the objects? Once we realise our happiness doesn’t lie in possessions of no significance, our consumption patterns will shift. It is time to stop attaching value to an object based on its price, but rather, understand the process, the story and the people behind it, unpeeling each layer like a gauzy onion and see how it resonates with your authentic self. The real value of an object is what it means to us. A handwritten letter. A meal on the sand dunes. An inherited wardrobe.

"You weren’t meant to be just another fig on a stick running on a treadmill to nowhere. It’s time to slow down and discover yourself. And what YOU want from life. Not what others have defined as success or happiness for you. "

How interconnected are sustainability, mindfulness and slow living?

The intersection of slow living, mindfulness and sustainability is rooted to our traditions of oneness. When you live mindfully, completely aware that we are all interconnected, we live with a generosity of spirit that there needs to be enough for everyone, including the future generations. The spirit of conservation and regeneration is something we can observe from nature, where nothing is ever wasted and everything is consumed and goes back to earth. Automatically, our life becomes in sync with nature, with the cycles of life and with our own rhythms. And that is what is slow living.

What is slow fashion? What does slowing down mean for the fashion industry, is it a movement or a whole new market?

Slow fashion starts from the tuft of cotton or bale of thread right to the time it reaches the hands of the customer. It is a narrative that threads the life of different artisans together who’re involved in the process of making a garment right from the beginning. For the consumer, fashion doesn’t go beyond the finished garment, but slow fashion is so much more than a finished product on a coat hanger. The industry, going ahead, needs transparency embedded in its systems. Slowing down means putting checks and systems in place that correspond with UNDP sustainable development goals and also a healthy dose of humanity. If fashion is creating billionaires selling fast fashion, while exploiting garment workers, a majority of them women, then the system has failed. The new paradigm of fashion needs to show respect to the people, environment and animals.

It’s not easy to slow down in a society that seems to reward and appreciate the speed. What are some of the biggest hurdles you have had to cross?

In an age of FOMO, very little value was attached to slowing down, considered a refuge of either the super privileged or a hermit. The pandemic has forced people to slow down, though not the ideal way of taking a pause. It has indeed made people stop and reflect on what they want from life and reprioritise accordingly. I’ve been speaking to a lot of people, and hopefully, the small little steps they are taking now in the lockdown will spill over to the new normal too.

Do you think being ‘rushed’ can be detrimental to our productivity, health and happiness?

Think of a multitasking octopus. Does he know what arm 4 is doing and what arm 7 doing, while he feeds himself with arm 3? That’s us. Entangled and ensnared with multiple distractions and energy wasters. How can anyone be happy, productive or healthy in such a scenario?

In a digital age, where there is an abundance of stimuli as soon as you ‘log on’ how do you manage to maintain the equilibrium and utilize technology in a conscious manner?

It's very simple actually. Is any interaction with a screen depleting you? If it is making you anxious, stressful or sad? Then just change the channel! Switch off, step back, and regulate your time. I don’t watch too much TV and if I do, I never binge watch. Make sure you recharge our batteries too throughout the day either through exercise, meditating, journaling, sleeping and whatever activity gives you energy. A digital detox is also good. I’ve seen if you prioritise your life and are really busy offline, you really don’t have time to waste online. Make life real for you. Not unreal for your followers.

Minimalism and leisure are values that have been around for a really long time. What makes them relevant now?

We’ve been fed on a diet of maximization, especially through films and wedding couture where more is just adored. I really cringe when I see another bride from top-to-toe being strangled by her own choker. We know we can’t sustain it. Even just for a one-off occasion. As long as we are comfortable with wastage and numb to excesses this will continue. But a lot of people are very conscious of the impact of what they do. And, today, less is more. I can think of no better epitome of grace than my own grandmother who wore a single string of pearls and had less than a dozen simple starched salwar kameez and one pair of shoes. Or Rajmata Gayatri Devi. Anything else is trying too hard.

It can be daunting for people to make the switch to a more conscious and slow-paced lifestyle. What advice do you have for them? Can you give us some tips to get started?

Start by observation. What part of your life overwhelms you? That is your starting point. Start prioritising and eliminating the non-essentials, then move ahead to a different facet of your life.

What are some of the resources (books, videos, Instagram handles, blogs) you recommend that could help people on their journey to slow living?

For me, a shift internally has always been more integral than any external decorative changes. Beejliving.com and the Instagram handle @beejliving are great places to start. The One-Straw Revolution by Masanobu Fukuoka on organic farming and philosophy was life changing. Benjamin Hoff’s The Tao of Pooh and the Te of Piglet are great reads. I’ve been studying Vedantic philosophy, Yoga and Tantra and this discourse has altered the course of my life. For actual how-to-do-it, a google search will bring up what you are looking for.

 

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