The art of slow


Dear Artist,

Louise and I left Glasgow after packing her digital piano, the Rhodes, the amp, the cables and the mixing deck into the back of her Vauxhall Corsa. We curled the off-ramp and headed north, the moorlands expanding around us in mounds of soft jade and broom. As time passed, our words awoke like an old engine — at first in little tumbles, then chugging with a warm hum. By late afternoon we’d crested the northwestern tip of Skye and arrived at a crofter’s house, now called Red Roof — a miniscule, chapel-like café with a pitched ceiling, a weaver’s guild, pottery studios, orbited by a flock of sheep. Artists’ spaces and holiday rentals sit hungry for future poets. I got out of the car and stood in the thousand-year-old wind.


“Loch Coruisk, Isle of Skye”
oil on canvas, 1831
by J.M.W. Turner (1775-1851)

A recent survey by the U.S. National Parks and Recreation Association found that 38% of Americans describe themselves as “always” feeling rushed. Mindfulness junkies call it “hurry sickness” — some even interpret the Chinese ideogram for “busy” as made up of the characters for “heart” and “perish.” Labels aside, under Skye’s long gloaming I felt my imagination open like a cloud-break. “It is in our idleness, in our dreams,” wrote Virginia Woolf, “that the submerged truth sometimes comes to the top.”

The inhabitants of Skye discuss the weather with a passion New Yorkers reserve for things like real estate and parking. Stories of winter gales and writing by hand at dawn, of hill-running and lighthouse keeping, set the imagination to the rhythms of nature — the pace of every daydream measured only by hours of daylight or twilight and the cadence of sheep bleats coming from the fold. A gateway to creativity motions from the blowing grasses and the distant earthy lip of a skyward tilting cliff edge.

Here are a few ideas:

Omit something from an over-scheduled schedule.
Pay attention to the hurry of a small task — slow it down.
Look for a long time.
Walk slowly without destination.
Arrange a shrine to slowness and keep it within view.
In sacred creative spaces, let there be no timers.
Watch the weather.


“Loch Scavaig, Isle of Skye”
oil on canvas, 1883
24 x 38 inches
by Sidney Richard Percy (1821–1886)



PS: “Art is the means we have of undoing the damage of haste. It’s what everything else isn’t.” (Theodore Roethke)

“I only went out for a walk, and finally concluded to stay out till sundown; for going out, I found, was really going in.” (John Muir)

Esoterica: By the time we reached Ullapool, our heartbeats had synched to the rhythm of the sleepy tugs pushing their shiny reflections to the harbour’s edge. I pulled at an ancient doorway and slipped into a vestibule stacked with slow things: a catalogue of charts showing remote Scottish islands, a book of Gaelic poems, sheets of music, cake recipes, essays on politics, the environment, religion. “The geographical pilgrimage is the symbolic acting out of an inner journey,” wrote Trappist Monk Thomas Merton. “One can have one without the other. It is best to have both.”

“Stare. Educate the eye. Die knowing something. You are not here long.” (Walker Evans)

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  1. Oh, Sara–What a heartfelt letter this is…You have eloquently illustrated the push and pull of excitement in fulfilling goals, the sad goodbyes, the doldrums of the voids, and the creative spirit in all of us to “Carry on and Keep Calm” with mindfullness. I could truly feel your rich experiences and thank you for sharing them… (-:

    • Thank you for keeping these letters coming. This was a particular important letter for me. I seem to always be in the action mode and not in the defuse mode. Slowing down can be so important when it comes to painting. Letting the mind rest sometimes show us where we can improve a painting, a poem, or just our thinking about a subject.

  2. Wonderful wonderful letter, I’m trying my best to slow down. Sometimes it works. I must get back to Scotland again, land of my birth.

  3. Nancy Ericksen on

    To Sara’s ideas for slowing down I would add “Say no to some requests for your time. “If I had said “yes” to yesterday’s request to sit the gallery an extra day this month, I would not be able to paint today. I would be rushing around to fit time for family into the holiday instead of savoring the company of people I love. It sounds counter intuitive but sometimes the word “No” is not a negative thing.

    • In science, No is as valid as Yes; it is not a negative, it is the discovery that something does not work, or cannot be replicated, (TUrning lead into gold.) Yes, I, too, am learning to say no – but it has taken me 80 years to become quite good at it!

      How I’d love to see all the broom in bloom! As good a lupines here in NS…where open skies are close to home and fuel my soul. Thanks for recalling my own trip to Skye (1953) to me!

      • The “Science” comment, thank you, gave me the courage to write this. It, I think, turns the ideas of haste and slowness upside down. The “heart-body-mind” is connected, throughout, by the speed of light. The intellectual mind (conscious thought) by the speed of verbalizing. To quiet that noisy verbal brain is, of course, the issue. Difficult to explain here, and difficult to grasp without concentration and faith, why some of us cannot stop “thinking” is explained (in 3 different ways) at Not for the faint of heart.

      • My husband jokes he can “teach” you how to say, “no” in three easy steps:
        1 Open your mouth
        2 Say “no”
        3 Close your mouth.
        I need to remind myself of this very often. No explanations just a clear and simple “no”.

        Good suggestions for taking the slow route, Sara. Thank you. TW

    • I learned the power of “no” when my children were small and I was asked to volunteer for various worthy causes. At first, I said yes to most requests, not wanting to seem uncooperative, ungrateful, etc. The results were predictable: less time with my family, no time to make art and feelings of resentment and frustration. The first time the light bulb clicked on and I said “no,” much to my surprise, the world did not come to an end! From that moment on, I became very intentional about how I used my time. At 74, it’s something I still do each day. This blessed life is not a dress rehearsal. Pay attention, slow down and relish it.

  4. Sara…..Just came back from Scotland (Wigtown – the book capital of 1000 inhabitants in it’s little village) and the quiet and slowness, along with its extraordinary beauty, was what struck me as well. It really is a strange thing to race around all the time and then enter a truly quiet and mindful place where internet is difficult to get and news comes locally at the pub. It makes one realize that no matter our speed, the world will still go on in one form or another. I often tell my painting students to go fast, go slow. A paradox, but one we can take with us in everything we do. Thanks so much for your postings

  5. For the rest of my life, whenever a breeze blows I shall think of that thousand-year-old-wind — and slow down.

  6. Sara, ‘slowing down’ brings to mind my first painting trip to the lovely land of Cornwall in 1984. It, too, was at a ‘ slow pace’ and Ioved it! How, it has taken me to my eighties, to put it to practice. I now frequently say ‘no’ to art projects, so that I may find my final years full of painting and sketching, at a slow pace! … Thanks for the beautiful writing!
    Don Getz AWS

  7. Thank you for this wonderful reminder to all who will listen. It’s a perfect time to be aware of this need to slow down. I’ve often been criticized by “faster” people. Yet I NEED to be slow, to take my time in a place. No one has time to feel the wind, smell the air, watch the sky, experience the sunrise. Paint those feelings!

    • Merri McElderry on

      Thank you Sara, again for your delightful, enchanting post here. It reminded me of one of my favorite poets W.B.Yeats here. The mists of the holllow to you in all you do…Love Merri

      I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
      And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:
      Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee;
      And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

      And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping
      Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket
      There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
      And evening full of the linnet’s wings.

      I will arise and go now, for always night and day
      I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
      While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
      I hear it in the deep heart’s core.

      W. B. Yeats

      • This poem by W. B. Yeats is so beautiful, it brought tears to my eyes. I have walked the moors in Scotland. When I feel the breeze now I think of the ‘thousand year old’ winds, and I am very grateful. Yes, I paint too, and the best is when I paint from my soul. The results are far beyond what I could ever do on my own.
        Thank you for sharing Merri, and God Bless.

  8. Oh Sara, you write so beautifully, painting pictures with words. Thank you for this letter. I find that “slowing down” is often a challenge and “making time” to just be, and SEE is so very important. Here’s to building shrines to slowing down!

  9. Bridget Syms on

    Wonderful post. I went to Iceland earlier this year and experienced a real sea change to my whole view of my life and work. Such a sparse country but so rich in time and those Thousand year old winds. What a beautiful phrase, thank you.

  10. hi Sara. I don’t post very often, but I love your posts as I did your father’s. Yes, I avoid stress. I no longer have to work, but even when retired it is easy to get hooked into stressing out . I take classes at the university, but as an audit, so I don’t get grades. I paint, draw, write letters everyday. I was wondering if you read the outlander by Diana gabaldon? It is historical fiction about Scotland and Skye. It made me fall in love with Scotland. Thanks for the post.

  11. A poem to slow… from Iquitos, Peru, where I am setting up a studio and live over the river…

    I g u a n a R e s t i n g
    (Iquitos, Peru)

    Always seems to sleep,
    though eyes are open.
    Occasionally birds
    fly near, a boat
    goes past on the river.

    Magical — iguana
    is there!
    Green scales
    against the bark
    of the kapok tree.

    Iguanas eat leaves
    and so are found
    amongst this green
    and yellow flow.

    Watching for weeks
    I finally see
    him eat,
    even manage
    to photograph his tongue
    extended to snag a leaf.

    He seems to like the
    older leaves
    and I imagine
    them sticking
    in the throat.

    But there is no
    coughing, wheezing,
    throat clearing
    like I must do
    every morning.
    Whatever he eats
    is not sticking
    in his throat.

    The iguana goes back
    to its motionless rest,
    a guardian for this river,
    my lookout spot,
    the birds and fish,
    the coming and going of boats,
    and the people collecting gas
    or unloading giant bags
    of charcoal, children
    and dogs, the big-screen TV’s
    walking onto their
    small boats, enough
    to connect them
    to the cities
    I’ve left behind.

    I am becoming
    the iguana resting,
    and it is a good place
    to be in this time.

  12. thanks for sharing your adventures . life is a journey to be enjoyed . not a race . don’t go too fast or you will miss so much .make memories to be savoured later on in your journey .as with painting , enjoy the process as much as the result . great letter Sara .

  13. Bill Thompson on

    Most of what is valuable in life comes from paying attention, and paying attention takes time. Excellent essay!

  14. Yes! Yes!
    Unfortunately, “slow” has such a negative connotation. It has come to suggest poor productivity or intellectual weakness.
    Maybe we could adopt the word “deeply” to describe this approach to life and creativity. As in, “I don’t work slowly, I work deeply”.
    If you or your readers want to explore this further, I recommend “World Enough and Time” by Christian McEwen.

    Thank you, Sara for taking the time to continue this newsletter. I really appreciate your voice in it.

  15. Ok! I live in Scotland and believe me when I say I’m rushed off my feet between teaching in college , painting, exhibiting travelling, workshops and of course family life. My mother visited from California and she said everyone in Scotland seems to be in a hurry, they are always busy – oh the irony!
    I think being in a place that allows you to get off the carousel of life, even for a short while, is good for the soul, wherever that might be. A time to think and contemplate- getting away from your life is the key.

  16. I thoroughly enjoy your letters and stories Sara, there is so much of your dad in you in the way you write and think. I love the feelings you impart and your wonderful outlook on life. I loved that expression, the 1000 year wind. I have been to that part of Scotland and it is a remarkable memorable place.




    • Paul, I agree that there is so much of her father in Sara’s writing and thought. Now, when I open the “Robert and Sara Genn Twice-Weekly Letter” e-mail, before I click through to this site, I try to guess who the writer is (if it isn’t obvious). Sometimes I’m quite surprised!

  17. Mary Manning on

    Sara, that thousand-year-old wind blew life into me here in southwestern Utah this morning, as temps flirted in the high 70s ( down from lows in the 80s). Your words, images and the comments with this piece are so stunning, I realize in 68 years, like other sages say, it took an entire lifetime to slow down. Saying No is brand new to me, but the more I say it, the more comfortable and creative I feel, time to watch clouds, paint skies and water. Thank you so much for everything.

  18. Sara, I am writing this from a place of thousand year old winds, Vancouver Island. I recently lost my husband, my soul mate and I am trying to learn how cope with the alone feeling in my heart. Your letter ” The art of slow” helps me validate the changes in my life. The Yeats poem that Merri shared is so touching, I haven’t read it for more than fifty years, since school days and I have a feeling I will be reading it often……Thank you……..Linda

    • Linda ….. I too am on Vancouver Island…… and yes we have certainly been having the winds !…. your letter touched something in me and reminded me to be grateful for all I have in my life right now…..peace and blessings to you ……. Marilyn

  19. My husband and I just returned from Scotland, including Skye and the Outer Hebrides. Wonderful ancient energy in the land and the people. I finally slowed down and stopped taking a million photos and trying to sketch & just breathed in and listened to the wind and the water and smelled the Highland mountains. I can still feel the memory is in my body.

    Loved the art there – it reflected the feeling of the place

  20. Thank you so much for your wonderfully evocative writing – I love the “1000 year old winds”…..unforgettable imagery. I thoroughly enjoy reading your letters. Thanks a million

  21. What a beautiful letter Sara, thank you. As many other people have said here your writing is so evocative and I loved your ‘thousand year wind’ phrase. I can picture that in many places in Britain where the trees have grown pretty horizontal due to endless wind.

    It was really helpful to me too to hear other readers’ comments about considering ‘slowly’ as ‘deeply’ instead, how easy it is to say ‘no’ physically in three easy steps (!) and how long it’s taken some people to master the practice. I shall keep trying.

    To me, so much of ‘slowness’ is actually mindfulness – which takes me back to your post Sara and the ideas you posted.

    Your letter reminded me of a scene I saw yesterday. As I walked over the foot bridge to the Cafe and Penguins I passed a lady standing on the bridge, just looking out to sea. She stood there for a full five minutes. I was rushing so much I didn’t register until your letter.

    Thank you.


  22. Your letter is pure poetry and oh how I love reading your words and your dad’s. Inspired for the day’s painting – and maybe some words too – today. Thank you! Jenny


  24. Sara your writing makes me melt. I am a wanna-be writer/poet and painter and I will share this with
    all my writer friends. As a painter I was a realist for many years before going to surrealism and then
    I met Josh Goldberg and he brought me to non-objective abstract where I plumb the depths and pursue
    the possibilities. I saw your website. Wow! Now that is abstract . . . and poetic! Why would I be surprised?
    Thank you. Thank you.

  25. Mark Collins on


    I’m slowing down the tune
    I never liked it fast
    You want to get there soon
    I want to get there last

    It’s not because I’m old
    It’s not the life I led
    I always liked it slow
    That’s what my momma said

    I’m lacing up my shoe
    But I don’t want to run
    I’ll get here when I do
    Don’t need no starting gun

    It’s not because I’m old
    It’s not what dying does
    I always liked it slow
    Slow is in my blood

    I always liked it slow:
    I never liked it fast
    With you it’s got to go:
    With me it’s got to last

    It’s not because I’m old
    It’s not because I’m dead
    I always liked it slow
    That’s what my momma said

    All your moves are swift
    All your turns are tight
    Let me catch my breath
    I thought we had all night

    I like to take my time
    I like to linger as it flies
    A weekend on your lips
    A lifetime in your eyes

    I always liked it slow…

    I’m slowing down the tune
    I never liked it fast
    You want to get there soon
    I want to get there last

    So baby let me go
    You’re wanted back in town
    In case they want to know
    I’m just trying to slow it down

    Leonard Cohen

  26. Sadly, I don’t think there are many occupations left where “slow” is the norm. With technology as it is, we are speeding up exponentially day by day. Being an artist, to my knowledge, is still one vocation where “slow” is an asset.. True there are times when mood and enthusiasm force upon us a need to just react quickly and apply paint or make our efforts happen without thought or contemplation.
    Generally, though, art is a contemplative “slow” process. Or at the very least it should be.
    Its been some time since writing on this site. I’ve thought long and hard on the reasons why I stopped contributing here. Odd as it may seem, I had the same reaction to listening to the Beatles music when John Lennon was taken from us. This may not relate to some but I’ve been “slow” in coming to the realization that I need the community to which I was once a part. Hello Sara.

    • Hello, Rick. Thank you for being here.
      And thank you to everyone taking the time to leave your insights. What a treasure of experiences here. Thank you all for reading and writing.
      Sara and TPK Team.

  27. I’ve been editing a lot over the last couple of years (paring down belongings and time commitments, etc)…the word I like is “depth”. I rather do more with less.

    While reading this letter and the replies, however, I’ve decided to make an addition in the definite regular reading of these letters and responses. While I love having enough time, space and solitude, there is also the need of connecting with a community or tribe…this looks like a wonderful connection. Thank you all for contributing and believing in values that often can seem off the beaten path.

  28. This is one of my favorite posts. Thank yo so much for validating my belief in renewal of soul. I am in my summer home in the Colorado mountains, far from the hustle and bustle of Dallas, our home city. I think my summer retreats here are the reason that I am living so long. Most thankful for that.

    • Where in Colorado? We live in Grand Junction and once had a vacation home in Lake City, summer home to some of the nicest Texans. Have a wonderful summer here!

  29. Dear Sara: Just returned from running a workshop in my favorite piece of heaven on earth, the Door Peninsula of Wisconsin and just a day returned was already rushing headlong into “the schedule”. Door had put me in my slow butas soon as I returned I had started to lose the slow. Thanks for the reminder, I’m back in slow mode!

  30. Sara, you have captured it oh so beautifully. I visited Skye 30 years ago and discovered Three Chimneys, a tiny “Taste of Scotland” restaurant housed in a crofter’s cottage. I believe it now also includes an inn. Skye has remained with me since then as an inspiration for things simple and slow in life. Thanks for the memories –

    • Anthony Forsyth on

      Dear Sara, I loved the letter and the thousand year old breeze (more often a gale mind you) , and it was lovely to meet you at the Red Roof and to hear your music. And its true, life does slow down here. I watch my vegetables grow day by day , and of an evening we watch for the owls when they take to the air, and the days wander by. And I have surprized myself writing this.

      • Thank you Anthony, how wonderful to have met on Skye and now to be here together! I hope you’ll enjoy the letters and this miraculous community of artists.
        In friendship, Sara

  31. Sara forgive me but somehow I missed this post. As I am reaching my 70th birthday this summer I am constantly reminded of the lightening speed of our journey through life.
    Now, searching for memories of slow, contemplative and joyful experiences when as a young artist, my mind drifts back to weekend get togethers with close fellow artists in Ontario.
    Wonderful moments of sharing thoughts, ideas, discoveries, painting, sketching, seemingly oblivious to the time or resonsibilities of scheduals. We met on Saturday mornings and spent the entire day exploring nature.
    It is true these are the lasting memories. Slowly, or now I will say deeply walking this truly inspiring landscape brimming with possibilities with young aspiring artists, I will always be truly grateful.
    Thank you to all the Artists who shared their words and beautiful poems and to you Sara for your insight into what helps us to continue to grow in all aspects of our lives.

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