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Gillie Sutherland Gillie Sutherland

Dead time is where the magic happens - smile, breathe and go slowly

Written by  Gillie Sutherland Apr 11, 2022

He was one of those characters, you just looked at him, and you felt a sense of peace.

His name was Thich Nhat Hahn, in my opinion one of the greatest teachers of our time, “the father of mindfulness”, but sadly he died earlier this year.

I have no doubt his work will live on, through his many books and teachings, and for his simple quotes that have inspired so many people to live a more mindful existence, and to find peace in every moment.

The power of his words was in the simplicity, and this week I was reminded of one of his favourite mantras, which can be applied in most situations.

“Smile, breathe and go slowly”.

It really is so simple.

I’d long been using the term “smile and breathe” in my classes, but until Croatia, I hadn’t fully embraced the concept of going slowly. But since “Polako” is literally written on my skin now, it has to be integrated into everything I do.

My latest endeavour is mastering the art of “slow food”, and this week I enjoyed perhaps my favourite meal in my whole time in Croatia.

The surprising part about that statement is that I cooked it myself. On a fire I had built with my own hands. It was my number one choice of Croatian food, Veal Peka - cooked under the “bell”.

I’d had it on a few occasions previously, but this was different.

In the morning we had gone to a local butchers and chosen the perfect (and reasonably priced) piece of meat on the bone.

I chopped wood with an axe, and built a fire in the outdoor kitchen, then prepared the meat and potatoes in the Peka dish, while the fire burned down to just the embers.

Clearing some space for the meat dish, covered with the “bell” lid, I lay some of the embers over the pot, and this is when the cooking finally began.

It was now just a case of waiting, something that doesn’t come naturally to me, but I’m learning that what I may previously have described as “dead time”, is actually where the magic happens.

The time spent in anticipation of what is to come, the liminal space, the pause in between actions - this is now my favourite time.

Even waiting for my car to go through its inspection so I can get it re-registered isn’t as painful this year. Whereas previously I had been pacing forwards and backwards in frustration at how long it was all taking, this year I just said: “ok, let’s get coffee while we wait”. I’m becoming more Croatian by the day.

And the food, well the food was worth the wait, and I realised that what I loved about it was that it was such a long and slow journey. There was plenty of time for an “aperitif” with my friend while we waited, and I had time to build another fire inside for when it got cold outdoors.

I think what a contrast it is to the fast food movement in much of Western society. There’s a chain in London called Leon, whose strapline is “naturally fast food”, and seeing people queue up to be handed their ready-made meals which they eat on the go, I think how ironic it is.

There’s nothing natural about it. Nothing in nature is rushed. That’s the point.

I believe that if we go back to this slower pace of life, with practises like slow cooking, the healthier and happier we will be. We just need to slow down.

So as I lounge in bed drinking coffee and eating my croissant this Sunday morning, I have zero guilt or anxiety around being “lazy”.

This is a more peaceful way of living, and it’s exactly what is needed right now. I don’t need to “do “ anything, I just need to “be” here and enjoy this moment.

I smile, breathe and go slowly. The rest of the day can wait.


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Gillie Sutherland grew up in the north of England, before settling in Devon, but has now swapped her UK address for one on the Adriatic in the very south of Croatia, in Cavtat. A professional Wellness Consultant she now runs retreats and online courses from her Konavle base. She also writes a weekly column for the Devon newspaper, The Express and Echo.

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