Slow reading, slow living

Life is better when there are chunks of time available for being slow. Not dumb or behind, but slow in a way that allows for a deep connection. A lot of the time my partner sees me making a deep connection with our couch, but I swear to you that there’s more going on than napping. A slow read lets my mind enjoy the other connections the line on the page inspires. It lets me pause to savour an unusual word, an image, a personal response.

It is tempting right now to draw a metaphor about value, to question the ideas of “efficiency” in comparison to what we know about the experience of slow, deep, contemplative periods, but actually you can already see where I’d go with that idea.

Instead, let’s touch on how the pantomime of busyness that is so popular, that escalates our misery and turns the idea of slow into a 1984-type thought crime. I’m talking about people who spend more time telling you about what they’re going to do than getting their head down and doing anything. And who then get promoted above you (hahaha, no really).

How did we get to a point where talking about how busy we are (and I know that we are busy, but you know in this way we’re referring to the self-aggrandising version. Imagine the scenario of the  heroic narrative over the bbq salads that seeks to one-up your busy with their *epic* level busy. It’s a game many are willing to play and why not? Being busy is culturally rewarded it is celebrated, it is a visible thing in a world of invisible work.

To be slow, rather than fast, is to be a failure of a kind. In this age, to be slow is said as a curse, a negative judgement of diminished of capacity, of relevance. Those are powerful stigmas against being slow. It is a shame because this simple summary level idea of what slow might be, is putting people off deliberating or consulting before making a decision. It puts pressure on people to say yes to more activities or responsibilities. It makes it hard to justify reading for fun or watching a sunset or those delicious afternoon naps.

Did you just think “I wish I had time for a nap”? Maybe you also followed that with “I’m too busy for a nap”. Any example I give will be likely to trigger someone and that’s partly because of this weird culture we have right now.

Could you try it? Could a slow day here and there be for you? Binging on a bucket of books or afternoon naps, date night out of the house – could any of these ideas tempt you? Don’t wait for life to slow down for you. Don’t wait for an empty chunk of hours to fall in your lap.

I invite you to make some slow time for yourself this week. Get deeply involved in that time with whatever you like, reconnect or dream and imagine. Just do it nice and slowly.

Overcommitted

overcommittedEver been overcommitted? Ever found yourself juggling time madly multitasking and pushing your own limits to get everything done? Of course you have, and how silly does it feel to realise you’re the one who signed up for this storm of activity. Sometimes it takes a lightning bolt to show you the terrain that you’re stumbling over. That terrain is actually flat – you’re tripping over your own haste.

You’re in charge of deciding what your time is best spent on, but sometimes you’re the wrong person to make that decision. You don’t think to put your hand up and ask for help, after all, “You can manage“.  So you push on, managing to get by and catch yourself at the stumbles, head up, and carry on through the stress.

Overcommitted is a warning sign, it is a hand up, asking for help. If you’ve felt these first warning signs of storms in your life, take a deep breathe and pause. You have a choice here to give yourself a break. So reconnect with your commitment to meaningful and mindful activity. Quite possibly, a lot of the expectation you’re overcommitted by is from you. You got here from your desire to get it all done, make all the achievements and meet the high expectations of those demanding inner critics. Let me remind you – they are insatiable. They will always have a little thing where you weren’t good enough, didn’t do enough, let yourself down.

Overcommitted is a downward spiral

What might be next? Your health or your close relationships as you take for granted the fuel that is sustaining you and the people who understand what you’re reaching for? Don’t let there be collateral damage from wanting to do well, come back to your centre and recommit to less. Evaluate and select only that which is most meaningful to you right now. Let go of the expectations that you’re drowning under that don’t serve your higher purpose and those that are not in alignment with your intention.

You are not a failure. You’re someone’s beloved, so remind yourself that you can only do, what a person can reasonably do, and that is enough.

You just being is awesome

being open your hands RUMIYou, just being here, you’re awesome. You don’t need to “do” anything to be valuable, or worthwhile or precious. You are a wonderful human being. Sure, you’ve got some flaws, everyone does, but you know what? You just being is awesome. That goes for every single sentient being in the world. Imagine how many wonderful people there are behind all those faces that blur past you in the streets or on trains or television. Every one of them is a soul in a body.

So, What do you do for a living?

Mostly we get caught up in what we do. What we do for work. Our culture is very worky worky. Work is, by definition, both a noun and a verb. What we do is called work and when we are doing it we are working. That’s obvious enough. But it pushes just being out of the picture. There’s “working” and then “not-working”.  We don’t remind ourselves that it is useful to just be. Be yourself. Be quiet, be unfunny or a bit sad or thoughtful, be filled with hope, wonder, or just contentment. When you’re worried, anxious or down, that’s who you are too. It is not the job you do for a living that matters it is the being you express by your living.

What people love about you is your being, not your resume

Think about someone you love. Think about what it is about them that you love … I bet it wasn’t that last project they worked on in the office, or their resume, or any of that worky worky stuff. It is in the way their soul shines through and speaks to your soul. You know, that “somehow you make me the better version of myself I like to be” feeling. Maybe you or your beloved is one of those amazing, inspirational people who manage to express their soul in their work day as well. Fantastic and congratulations! Long may you prosper. Ask yourself, if that company crumbled or the economy faltered, and somehow the work was gone would your love for that person vanish too? No.

Connect with being

Maybe put your ‘to-do’ lists aside for a day or two and let yourself rest in being. Let’s be adults, if this is the weekend you’re moving house or catching a plane go ahead and do the things you need to do. But once you’ve done what is needed, stop. Let it be enough. Your purpose is to be here, now, mindful in each moment. Decide moment to moment to do what is needed, or just be. If you can think of something to do that is awesome and expresses your soul into the world, then by all means do it and live long and prosper doing so. If not, you, just being, that’s awesome too.

Boldly go in your direction

keep-calm-and-boldly-goWe’ve talked about starting over and it is worth touching on that idea again, because the pressure is often to do Big Things. You know, Those Boldly go where no man has gone before expectations*. That’s fun for a while if you are an intergalactic adventurer, or a woman. (I mean I even got to make a pennyfarthing where no wo-man had gone before) but at a certain point, most of us just want some help with the basic “boldly go” part.  Those first steps or stumble in a new (for us) journey are their own bold adventure. It could be asking for help to plan an overseas holiday when you’ve never left the city but everyone around you is infecting you with their itchy feet.

Taking action in alignment with your own values put you back into the driver seat of your own life. Freedom is in being bold on your own terms. Maybe committing to a slow shift in your eating habits, or starting to go for walks again or maybe a gym session or saving money. Whatever it is for you, where you’ve had a hint of fear, or worry about what other people are going to say, or if you’ll look silly, or fail, or or or … well, that’s an opportunity for some bold baby stepping.

Boldly go (but in bitty bubby steps)

We yearn for big wins and particularly successful people who are used to achievement forget that starting over is all about starting small. By small, we mean really small. Simple. Two minute tasks, being mindful, remembering to make a choice rather than react. These are the baby-what’s the next thing I could do that takes me towards what I want? Take a little action, bitty bubby ones but bold, feel bold. You’re courageous! You’re brave! You can totally do this!

Be bold baby!

By the way, it doesn’t even have to be about fulfilling your dreams, maybe just do the things that are bugging you and that let you simplify that endless to-do list.

Sometimes being bold is saying “no, thanks.”

No to more commitments, things that serve other people, or things that aren’t helping you get your own stuff sorted. Maybe being bold for you is asking for some help (maybe from all those people you’ve already been helping all this time?) or be bold and be brutally honest with yourself about what is really important to you.

So muddle onwards in your own direction and boldly be yourself. There honestly is no one better suited to it than you.

*Like discovering new galaxies or intelligent alien life. No pressure, right?

Winter solstice – waiting on a sign

waiting-for-a-signHave you been waiting for a sign about what is coming next? The solstice is around the corner and it is a great reminder that what you’re asking for is being answered. The earth has turned in a circle of the year and we spiral through the rhythms of our lives. Here in the south the sun is about to be reborn – it is a time of renewal. The sign you’re waiting for is already up and all you need to do now is see it.

Not as easy as it sounds

What we can get stuck in is a rut of things being literal. We expect the world to put up a billboard for us and to advertise directly in a way we can’t miss. After all we’re busy! We’ve got a lot of emails to read and stuff to do. It is not like we’re sitting around with time on our hands, no way, we’re multitasking our way to the end of every week trying to keep a dozen things on the go. As people say these days “Aint nobody got time for that!”.

But wait – there’s less

You have all the time there is – a lifetime – but how easy is it to get that confused with jobs and roles and the expectations of the world. House prices and debt repayments and whoa Christmas is on the way! It all rushes up and around us. Take a moment here. The sun comes up every day. Let it be your sign. Let the sun’s tides be a cue to do a little less, take a little time, wait a little longer. There’s a time later on for blazing away. Now is a time for looking around and taking in what is waiting for you.

Is there something you’re asking for? Look and listen now for the answers that are being suggested. This is it. Life is here now.

Hoarder’s regret

Hoarders regretHoarding is one of those compulsive behaviours that is hard to battle. It makes so much sense when you’re in the grip of it, and this digital age gives hoarders easy access to so much more stuff and to so many more reasons to hoard. Sorry, not reasons – justifications. Our reasons are hidden and lost so much of the time, they’re the last thing we want unearthed.
Stuff is the most obvious symptom, but it certainly isn’t the only thing. Food is also very common. Books I have previously confessed to also. Bits of string. Obviously. So handy. Photos – another thing made easier to duplicate and hoard in this digital age. Money. Like Scrooge McDuck there’s an urge to pile up coins and notes somewhere safe against a future of doubtful resources. Hmmm but what if something happens to money? Best diversify and hoard precious metals or gems too. And it is now, at this far shore, where the hoarding mind spins into another space and realm. What if those thing are no longer precious? Plush toys, pocketknives, fishing hooks, lenticular placemats of unicorns, all this and more becomes important. Potentially life saving.
I’m lucky. My hoarding is driven by this wildly irrational fear of the future. Others cling more strongly to the past, or are caught in a time-vortex around a particular event. So many flavours to it, and we all wish it were otherwise and can’t imagine any other possible way to face a day.
The future is a fascinating beast. She swirls and morphs moment by moment, drawing everything thing into an unknowable melange that defeats all but the most gifted of divinatory oracles. And so a future arrives, needs unravel and find the hoard … wanting. The hoarder misguessed, mistepped, invested heavily in screws when widgets took precedence. Oh the pitiful tragedy of a hoard unusable.
Here’s a lesson. Nothing stashed is worth anything. TV shows of antiques and rare finds that earn a fortune to the collector are a rarity worth mentioning. Reality is the regret in having to eventually pay someone to take it all away. Unless you use it, for the original purpose you purchased it for, before the mice and mould and age weary it beyond hope or you simply forget you have it. You won’t listen. No hoarder does. You’ll entomb it in plastic and seal it in tubs and catalogue and cross reference the resources. But it doesn’t help.
The future demands nothing of us than the bravery to live in right now. Everything else is a case of hoarder’s regret in the brewing.

Gandhi’s storage unit

Recently I came across a picture of the personal items of Mahatma Gandhi that were auctioned in 2009. Many people enjoy the secretive delight of peeping into other people’s lives and handbags, particularly famous and powerful people and Gandhi was both. I wondered what the historians found when they looked into his storage unit.

Gandhi's personal belongings

He was an incredibly active and influential leader in Indian politics from 1915 through to the eventual political emancipation of India in the late 1940s. During this turbulent time his leadership was to earn him the endearment of Bapu (Papa). What does a man of this stature, of this importance own? What iconic luxury items might he flaunt to demonstrate his power? What valuable investments would he hold and what unique mementoes and gifts from a grateful population does he display? In short, what can we learn about modern living from Gandhi’s storage unit?

He’d had a long and successful career in law, travelled the world, met with many famous people. He was a well published writer, a political activist and leader, a family man and a philosopher. He was assassinated in 1948 at the age of 78. This was someone still in his peak, still active and publicly involved in the world, not in a hermitage or in any way winding down his life. Should be quite the haul of cool and amazing things!

Live simply so others may simply live

Famously, he owned very few things. The selection in the picture represents nearly half of his worldly stuff upon his death. No need for a storage unit. In fact he nearly wouldn’t have even needed a bag, most of his belongings were his daily wear. That’s his eating bowl there. He owned one book and a little statue (of the Three Monkeys) and actually, that was pretty much it. He replaced those sandals as they wore out, he had the one outfit. It is radically stark. There’s a wallet and reading glasses and a watch, that much most people have on their bedside table.

But then, nothing else. It is confronting.

Not just the lack of books (libraries were a real option in the 20th century) not just the lack of photos (he and his family were already being publicly documented) there’s nothing that to a modern eye says ‘this is who I am”. No music, no brands, no toys or other discernable displays. No sporting goods or dvds or miniature Eiffel Towers. But of course we know very well what type of man he was, what his beliefs were, how powerful his integrity and focus was. I don’t know if he was deliberately proving a point about stuff, but it sure feels like it.

What might our lives be like if we embraced only those things that were necessary to what we do, how we live our purpose in the world? His may be an extreme example – but what if it isn’t? What if we acknowledged how useful it is to share resources for the  many (libraries and kitchens and laundries) and keep our personal items humble? Humble stuff in life obviously does not have to mean humble impact.

Let Gandhi have an impact on you, especially if you’ve ever felt frustrated or smothered by your belongings or debt. He lived in a modern, complex world and he did it meaningfully and successfully without a collection of boxed vinyl figurines from a tv series or even sunglasses. There are seven billion people in the world, and there’s not enough room for us all to have a storage unit.

Be happier

Why do we put off having a good time? Sure, technically, celebrating is normally reserved for a ‘significant event’ but that shouldn’t put the dampeners on enjoying our day-to-day living more.

That’s what we all want, right, to be happier?

shared mealDon’t wait to celebrate. It is a long way between birthdays and promotions through the year, those special events often slip by us anyway. Birthdays are particularly fraught with baggage in our culture where youth is venerated. What can we do to be happier in our lives? Time is ticking people, this is our life we’re talking about!

What stops us being happier?

We worry – but by definition worry is about things that haven’t happened yet. So we’re making ourselves less happy now to think about things that may not happen in the future.

We turn worry into anxiety. While worry is tiring, anxiety is crippling. It isolates us from support and undermines our confidence.

The world is noisy. There is an avalanche of data every day, we’re suffocating under information and opinions.

Lots of people are mean and selfish. Let’s not go into this one too deeply, but I bet you thought of an example immediately didn’t you? Probably from the last day or so. We live in a crowded and pushy world, where a lot of people are out to get what they can.

Never enough money to go around. Do you get to the end of your pay and still have some week left? Do you wonder where the last pay went to?

We don’t have time. So very busy all the time with doing things and buying things and planning things and worrying. Oh my. So much to do! Where does the time go!? Another month and still you haven’t gotten around to that important thing you wanted to start? Drive faster, work harder, try harder to squeeze it all in. ARGHHH!

We just don’t think of it. It is a bit of a rut, day to day, doing all the things you have to do. Plodding through work and chores and bills and buying groceries and getting that thing fixed and all the other details. Being happy just kindof slips out of the picture.

Seven things you can do this week to be happier

Live in the now. Take life a bit more ‘as it comes’, or as a wise friend used to say “one meal at a time”. Of course you have big-picture plans and a few things you really want to achieve, but let go of obsessing over the illusion of control. Roll a little as the waves of life come at you.

Count your blessings. Make a list of all the things you’re grateful for. It is the best ever antidote for other people being nasty. Why? Because it brings you back into a core space that is ok, a space from which you can worry less about other people being grabby, because you realise you probably already have enough. Want a challenge, send a postcard or a letter to someone and thank them for being in your life or for something particularly that they did.

Buy less stuff. Being happy is an experience, evaluate how you spend your money in terms of what you value.

Turn off the worry switch. Anxiety is a horrible outcome from a quirk of our clever brains. The capacity to think through events that had not yet happened gave early humanoids a survival advantage. These days it keeps the wheels of our minds spinning when we need to be sleeping. Not so helpful. Learn about sleep hygiene and mindfulness practices that suit your variety of worry. If you can’t act on your concern, mentally count numbers. Or do maths. Really.

Be in a bubble. Cut out some (or all media) and detach from the ‘stay informed’ imperative. You need some of that intellectual energy to deal with your own life, to solve problems (see ‘worry’, above) or to create and heal. You won’t miss much. If you feel like a challenge, learn how to meditate and give that a go. You’ll get the secret bonus that meditators know all about (true quiet).

Time travel. Pretend you already lived today and then time travel back to the morning and tell yourself what the one important thing to do is. Just do that. No matter what other random, confusing, urgent and distracting things happen, hold onto the knowledge that future you needs current you to just do the one thing. You’ll change the nature of your time. Trust me, I’m a Doctor.

Share a meal. No need for a special occasion or fancy food. Just enjoy an ordinary meal in company. Chat about your hopes. Listen. Relax and enjoy the taste of the food, feel grateful for the earth that grew it and the people who worked to bring it to your plate. Tell jokes, daggy ones you remember from when you were a kid.

There you go.

None of this is too complex to grasp and you don’t need to hire a professional to do the paperwork to get started. Don’t like this list? No problem, here are 10 scientifically proven paths to be happier and Dr G will point you to any number of similar lists.

The real trick? Just make one of them happen. Now’s your moment, act on a whim so you don’t over-think it.

This week, don’t wait to celebrate. Make the call and put an idea into action. You’ll be happier for it.

We are all in this together

There is a team of people who help make these essays happen and it is probably the same for you too, that what you make is not done in a vaccum. Hmmm. Team sounds very sportsy doesn’t it? Maybe even with someone blowing a whistle and pointing and someone else keeping score. Imagine instead people choosing to collaborate and play together sometimes with one purpose and sometimes with another. Perhaps like a Sunday afternoon gathering of friends – you come if you can and contribute how you’re able. There’s always food and conversation that is delicious, filling, and unique.

That’s a nice image – all sitting around sharing good times, making art and memories. Those moments we can treasure. Days like today it is worth remembering how many more people there are in your world who contribute to everything you have and do. Most of them you’ll never have a chance to meet or know or thank in person but in our globalised and specialised world they are legion.

Who are these mystery fans and assistants? They are the people who grow your food, who can it, bake it, transport it, sell it. They are the people designing and making your clothes, your phones and computers, your books and movies. They are the people who sweep the streets, collect the garbage, unblock drains and watch over us through the dark hours. They do their jobs and allow us a place to do ours. Of course we expect that all those people paid to perform their jobs, and mostly they did, but should that stop us from being grateful that they did it with care or at the cost of being with their loved ones? Just because we use an economic system where money is the means of exchange it doesn’t make the people inside that economy invisible or unimportant. Or rather it doesn’t as long as we each remember them and honour them for their contributions to our lives, comfort and convienience.

The world is full of strangers who are on your team – in unexpected ways.

Thank you for reading and being on the team.
There are plenty more conversations and meals for us to share. Everyone is welcome because we’re all in this together.

With thanks to my Editor, Riley.
Riley drafting a new post

You are already home

We’ve come to the core, possibly the most important element that there is in reconnecting to your own soul, your own freedom. It is a bit counter-intuitive, because initially it will seem like it has basically nothing to do with you personally, but if you can stick with it is a big one. There’s nothing bigger in our world. Literally.

Earthrise photo taken by Bill Anders of Apollo 8 1968It is, of course, the Earth.

Our precious planet is so vast and accommodating, perfectly suited to us and so amazingly varied but even that sentence shows a human point of view. We are just one of the multitudes of creatures who belong here (and only here), we consider it ours, but we belong to it. We were born of this world, not just on it. I find this endlessly wonderful but I understand if you’re asking ‘What’s in it for me?’

Imagine you knew, deeply and without question where your loyalties always fell? Wouldn’t that make things clear? What if there was a really simple equation that could always inform your decision making at a fundamental level?

The Earth is a single, finite planet. For all the rah-rah of astronomy in the almost infinite reach of the space we’ve been able to explore through our amazing technologies we’ve found maybe a dozen that maybe might do the trick. If we could get to them, which we can’t (the best candidates are between 20 and 1200 light years away). And I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty leery about signing up for a one-way ticket to even a hotel no one has reviewed, let alone a planet no one is confident can support weeds or insects.

What you can get from this is that the Earth is special. We all enjoy a nice Sci-Fi, just remember that the Fi part stands for fiction. The reality is that we are lucky lucky lucky to have this planet. More than lucky, without this planet nothing about us makes sense. We’re formed by this gravity, we’re formed of this chemical mix, and we find only a small range of temperatures and chemicals safe. So how does this help you? YOU BELONG HERE. The needs of the planet are your needs.

Pretty simple.

Anything that damages the planet is not in our interests as a species. Economy, culture, sport, fossil fuels, wildlife, tourism, smartphones, all of it, everything you can imagine is a fully-owned subsidiary of planet Earth. Look at that amazing photograph. Taken on Christmas Eve, 1968 by Bill Anders as the lunar orbit brought the NASA ship into sight of the Earth.

“For the first time in history, humankind looked at Earth and saw not a jigsaw puzzle of states and countries on an uninspiring flat map – but rather a whole planet uninterrupted by boundaries, a fragile sphere of dazzling beauty floating alone in a dangerous void. There was a home worthy of careful stewardship.”

What a lovely line there at the end, “worthy of careful stewardship”. I think that’s a much more graceful way to explain sustainability. No matter how many ways we describe the intricate interdependencies of related ecosystems, that single image sums it up so perfectly – there is nowhere else. It is all there, in that one ball. We are all in this together. Sustainability isn’t an ‘ism’ we should be into because it is cool or underground or a way to achieve carbon emissions, it is because it is the unarguable reality of a closed system. There’s nowhere to throw anything ‘away’ when you look down on the blue-green sphere.

To an individual human the Earth is so huge, so humbling. Our technology gives the impression that we’ve shrunk it, that we’ve tamed it and controlled it and put it to use for our betterment. Try walking somewhere. Try growing your own food. Try to swim to that island you can see. It is hard. We’ve created a tension between our physical and technical relationships to the Earth. They are out of synch. If you get back in touch with your personal, physical reality to the Earth, it can be so freeing. You know, deep into the core of yourself, that you are one of the stewards of the Earth. We all are, we’re born into that relationship. You know that there’s nowhere ‘away’ for (for example) nuclear waste to go – we simply bequeath that problem it to generations on from ours.

You and I, we’re part of this world. Our bodies come from the alchemy of our ancestors and the Earth. Physically and spiritually we are of this place. It is miraculous and obvious and comforting. In the words of Marshall McLuhan  “There are no passengers on spaceship earth. We are all crew.”

I find that incredibly liberating because it reminds me that everything else is a form of consensus reality. I can choose if I participate or not. When you start with what is real – the planet and the gifts of air and water, when you live from those as your basis, the relative value of everything else is easier to gauge.

So take your shoes off and feel some dirt beneath your feet. Look up at the stars and the moon tonight and be glad for your beautiful blue bubble that holds you tight as you do.