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Slowing life down has multiple benefits

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Posted: Sunday, November 25, 2012 11:48 pm | Updated: 12:07 pm, Mon Jan 21, 2013.

FAIRBANKS - It’s cold and dark in Alaska, and the Mayans said the jigs up next month, so it’s a suitable time for getting bummed out. Right on schedule, Scientific American has an article this week titled “The Stars Are Beginning to Go Out” that includes the line, “This is, quite literally, the beginning of the end.” They cite a study by a group of cosmologists who have found that “95 percent of all the stars we see around us today were formed during the past 11 billion years, and about half of these were formed between 11 billion and 8 billion years ago in a flurry of activity. But the real shocker is that the rate at which new stars are being produced in galaxies today is barely 3 percent of the rate back 11 billion years ago, and declining … unless our universe finds a second wind, which is unlikely, it will only ever manage to produce about 5 percent more stars than exist at this very moment.”

In addition, I’ve been reflecting upon Euripides’ line that “Youth is a curse to mortals, when with youth a man hath not implanted righteousness” while reading about Kazuhiro Watanabe, proud owner of the world’s tallest Mohawk. His hairdo’s held Guinness’ record since 2011, according to the Houston Chronicle, and at 44.6 inches long, it requires two hours, three cans of hairspray, one can of gel, and several stylists to assemble. Kazuhiro says he grew his hair for 15 years as a rebellion against Japanese conformity. The young often rebel against existing orders, but this guy’s 40.

Still there’s hope. The cosmologists admit our Milky Way galaxy “still produces a few stars a year” and “is going to contribute nicely to that last 5 percent,” and Kazuhiro’s an artist and fashion designer, which explains a lot. Even more heartening to librarians and book lovers, and those concerned about “those kids today,” Pew Research recently released a report on Americans aged 16-29 showing 83 percent of them read at least one book last year, with 75 percent of them reading print, and 60 percent of them also use their public libraries. A bunch read books because of school, but 76% read just for pleasure.

That’s encouraging because youngsters who read for pleasure greatly improve their reading and comprehension skills, academic capabilities and overall chances of coping with life’s challenges, while diminishing their odds of landing in jail. Reading’s good for us, as a stream of brain steady studies are revealing. That’s why the Slow Book Movement emerged as part of the Slow Movement from Europe that tries to counter the ever-quickening pace of life. 

The mission of SlowMovement.com “is to make available information, resources, services and networking opportunities for everyone interested in exploring ecologically sustainable ways of thinking, living and interacting in our world community.” This loose group encompasses Slow Food (utilizing regional and traditional foods), Slow Parenting (“a response to hyper-parenting”), as well as Slow Gardening, Travel, Art, Architecture, Sex, Beer, and even Slow Science (enabling “scientists to take the time to think and read”) whose practitioners “suggest that ‘society should give scientists the time they need.” 

Amen to that, so long as they include the rest of us. The pace of our hurley-burley world is increasingly daunting, and any respite is welcome. According to Wikipedia, Slow Reading, also known as Deep Reading, “is the intentional reduction in the speed of reading, carried out to increase comprehension or pleasure.” SlowMovement.com says pleasure reading reduces stress levels while increasing creativity, inspiration, motivation and generally opening your mind.

Research from Michigan State reported on NPR recently is a case in point. Student’s brains were scanned while reading Jane Austen. Some were told to browse-read as if in a bookstore, while others read deeply, paying close attention to the writing. “Close reading activated unexpected areas: parts of the brain that are involved in movement and touch … as though readers were physically placing themselves within the story as they analyzed it.” This emerging field of research is known as “literary neuroscience” that studies how reading poetry, metaphors and comics affects us. 

Slowing our minds periodically is good for us. And though we missed celebrating World Sauntering Day (Aug. 28), we can always slow down by moseying (move in a leisurely, relaxed way), meandering (move idly) or sashaying (stroll at a leisurely pace) to our mind’s oasis: the public library.

Greg Hill is director of Fairbanks North Star Borough libraries.

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