When my psychologist recently suggested that I start practising daily mindfulness, I was skeptical. Adult colouring-in books, subscription-only meditation apps, breathing exercises — I know there’s science behind it, but mindfulness can sometimes feel like an industry built on fancy wellness trends and buzz-words.
Besides, slowing down is no small feat for someone with an anxiety or panic disorder. It’s counter-intuitive and confronting; bringing the conscious mind to a standstill and allowing the thoughts, however strong or intrusive, to run over you unchallenged.
That's why I was particularly interested to learn about something called 'Slow TV'.
Finding popularity with Scandinavian audiences back in 2009, 'Slow TV' has become a bit of an international phenomenon — albeit an unlikely one. In a world obsessed with speeding up, doing more, seeing more, achieving more, the idea that hundreds of thousands of people would choose to sit and watch an hours-long train trip unfold in real time is a little strange. But that's precisely what happened when SBS screened The Ghan: Australia’s Greatest Train Journey in January of this year.
Now Slow TV is back on Australian TV with SBS slowing down your summer viewing every Sunday throughout January - starting with the country’s longest rail journey, the Indian Pacific, which travels from Perth to Sydney.
I began watching a preview of the three-hour episode (a full 18-hour version will also screen on SBS Viceland) while waiting to board a plane at Tullamarine airport, a situation that would normally make me rather tense and anxious. Between all the urgent announcements, the crowds, the over-priced food and long security lines, flying has long been tied to feelings of anxiety for me.
However, sitting in the airport's busy food-court with my laptop open, I found myself being seduced by, of all things, Australia's transcontinental railway line. And I'm not going to lie - it came as a bit of a shock.
Having grown up right next to Sydney's inner-west railway line, there was something undeniably nostalgic and calming about the predictability of watching and listening to a train. However, there's more to The Indian Pacific: Australia’s Longest Train Journey than mere catharsis. It's kind of... hypnotising.
While the three-hour special includes slow, easy-to-digest information, facts and anecdotes; the documentary demands very little from its viewers. It's just there, plodding along from one side of the country to the other. For those in the mood to learn, it offers educational snippets on how the rail impacted Indigenous Australians on the Nullabor Plain, the new colony of South Australia, as well as the Indigenous trade route of the Blue Mountains. For those less inclined, the slow changing of camera angles and perspectives, including a rather sweet stream of the driver, welcomes one into a state of, dare I say it, mindfulness.
Mindfulness is, after all, nothing more than the psychological process of a person bringing their attention to the present moment. Again and again. This process can be hampered by our inclination to juggle several technological devices at the one time; our habitual watching of fast-paced TV drama in the evening, particularly before bed. We're so preoccupied by our social media timelines, work schedules and social calendars that it can feel impossible to experience and embrace the present moment.
Giving myself permission to tune out the world for three hours while watching The Indian Pacific, first in an airport, then on a plane, gave hint to the incredible potential of Slow TV as a form of meditation for a generation conditioned to experience the world through screens.
While I'm still struggling to incorporate other mindfulness practices and varieties of meditation into my daily routine, there's something strangely reassuring about the growing popularity of Slow TV.
To me, it feels like an acknowledgement of the unique challenges of modern life, an agreement that sometimes we need to turn down the volume - if only for the duration of a train ride.
Every Sunday in January 2019, SBS is slowing down.
Four marathon slow TV events, three hours each in primetime on SBS and streaming live on SBS On Demand. The full journeys of up to 18 hours will be shown on SBS VICELAND, the following week.