It’s been a long while since my last blog entry. One whole year and three days has passed by since I last put pen to paper here! This was not unforeseen: I realised early last year that I was being drawn onto a new and different path, as a fledgling writer of fiction that is. I have surprised myself by managing to churn out over twenty short stories since March 2019, many of which are still works in progress as I slowly find my feet in what feels like a whole new world. Last year I read Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury,and things kind of unfolded from there. This is a new experience which blogging has no doubt helped steer me into and helped prepare me for. In many ways, after all, writing is writing- a thing that requires us to put ourselves out there, on days both good and bad. It can be lonely and frustrating, but we press on because it’s worth it! When I look back at some of my blog entries now I feel proud at what I managed to do- all my hard work, and the joy and satisfaction that I felt at a piece well done. And as for the people who I follow and who have followed me, whose writing I have so enjoyed, admired, been deeply touched by, even at times amazed by- a whole gamut of responses and emotions have come up for me just in being part of this community of writers. And whether I blog here once a week or once a year, there is no doubt that this community has been a joy, an education, and a source of inspiration to me, and I will always be grateful for that. Thank you ♥
I treated myself to a few online purchases recently: 3 movies, 1 series and 3 books. Part of the fun is that sense of happy anticipation while I await my order and that Yes! feeling I get when the parcel arrives and I just know that the wait was worth it. Now there’s the fun of looking forward to indulging in my new purchases in the weeks or months to come, when the time is right. The books are for my husband, while I now have two covetable classics: ‘The Misfits’ and ‘Roman Holiday’, and ‘Luther’ an historical drama to enjoy over the holidays. We have already started watching ‘Borgen’, a Danish political drama from the popular Nordic Noir series, which we love, subtitles and all.
Then there are the spontaneous, unplanned ways to have fun, when opportunities suddenly pop up and you find you’ve been gifted with a little surprise. This afternoon for example, following several days of dry, baking heat, the clouds started to gather overhead and I lay, flat out on a patch of lawn as a few tiny, delicious drops of cooling rain came softly down. I rolled around a bit on the cool grass, full length, from side to side, reminded of childhood days when my siblings and I would play at tumbling down the grassy slope near our house, laughing all the way. After a few minutes I got up and went back inside feeling quite refreshed and revived after my little brush with nature. Speaking of unplanned fun (and nostalgia), a few weeks ago I switched on the TV in the middle of a weekday (not my usual routine) to test whether the remote was working, and Lo and Behold, there was a re-run of an episode of Magnum PI… Tom Selleck, shorts and botanicals printed shirt and all! I couldn’t resist. I used to love watching Magnum PI in the 80’s. I ended up watching the best part of a full hour while I did the week’s ironing. True nostalgia…and loads of fun 🙂
There must be as many ways to have fun as there are people on the planet, considering that we all come with our individual likes and dislikes, available resources, and whether we are aged 6 or 60. Then of course we get fun on different scales, like the big overseas trip which you’ve been planning for ages, or fun on a tiny scale such as a quick game of Soduko on your phone to see if you can beat your previous score. We all sometimes need a break, a distraction, from the everyday, the ordinary, and the things that have become frustrating and infuriating. We need fun for our peace of mind and to help us keep a sense of perspective in our lives and also just, well, for fun.
Simple is not always the same as Easy, and I find this to be so as I go about my efforts to reduce waste, and my carbon footprint in general. I’m doing my bit to live simpler/ lighter/ less cluttered/ more focused, and this has been largely a hugely rewarding process, but it takes effort and perseverance. It’s a bit like detoxing: you have to go through some pain before you come out clean on the other side! I look forward to the time when Simpler becomes altogether Easier. For instance, as I try to be a conscious consumer, a weekly groceries shop at the mall is a challenge where I brace myself for an encounter with rows of overpackaged items on shelves, much of it in single use plastic. This will only really change when producers of goods and the retailers who display these goods make some major changes. And here in my Johannesburg home, where I am in a process of decluttering and have made good progress with clearing out shelves and cupboards, there have been unexpected obstacles. My husband, for instance, has proved to be surprisingly sentimental about letting go of some of his old stuff, including clothing that he literally never wears, and a set of golf clubs that hasn’t been used for about 10 years (he hates golf and is happy to admit it!)
And then sometimes the simplest, most effortless things are there right in front of you, for your enjoyment. If we open our eyes and ears, we may be rewarded for our efforts in the loveliest of ways, just by being receptive to the simple beauty that surrounds us. And very often it is that thing that we live with and so often take for granted. On that note I was inspired to write this mini-ode (that’s clearly not a real word) to my beloved pets one Saturday morning…..
Entry from my diary:13/10/2018-
Early on a Saturday morning, my first cup of tea of the day:
Annie may have the world’s biggest doggie eyes, as she peeps up at me with those big, dark, almond -shaped orbs from her cozy spot on her aqua -coloured doggie blanket; head tilted slightly sideways and resting on her little white outstretched paws.
Jasper positions himself next to me and proceeds to give himself a thorough cleaning, as only an agile kitty cat can do. Lying midway between his back and his right side, he licks with firm, head -rolling strokes his furry white tummy and chest, and then with a gentle sigh, rests for a moment before proceeding to paws, ears and other kitty bits.
My husband called me a perfectionist the other day. I was taken aback. I’ve never really placed myself in that bracket before, thinking instead that I am simply not good at prioritising, too easily convincing myself that there is something more important that I am avoiding, and that I am focusing on the wrong thing, the easier thing. I had been complaining to him about my own procrastination on things that I have good intentions of doing, and then finding that somehow they remain undone, or partly done and unfinished. This kind of constant second guessing about what to do and when, leads to time wasted as I pause in doubt of what I should be doing with my own adult 55 year old time. It feels strange sometimes that this adult who studied yoga and yogic thinking for years, who has taken comfort from and offered comfort in maxims like “Just go with the flow”, so easily slips into that insecure space where making a simple choice just feels so hard.
But he may have a point. my husband, that is. Perfectionism can be debilitating, especially when you believe you lack that boldness, that flourish, that ability that is required to tackle the job perfectly. The sad thing is that one then ends up feeling stifled, reluctant and even unable to move on and try, and instead finding it easier to stick with things easier or more familiar. Fearing a lack of certainty, a lack of perfection, one misses out on the chance to aim for the stars (and if you miss, you may just shoot the moon instead ;)) In constantly awaiting perfection, or waiting for that perfect moment to try something, one misses out on life. So yes, perfectionism can cause procrastination, and I have at times been frozen into inaction by my own reluctance to try something that may turn out less than perfect.
It takes me back to my days as a yoga instructor. From time to time I would have a brand new student say to me ahead of class “I can’t do a headstand or a shoulderstand yet, will I be OK in this class?” assuming that they may be at a disadvantage if they can’t manage these things in class. These things, bear in mind, are postures (asanas) that no yoga beginner should be expected to master, and in fact can cause serious injury if attempted too soon. Being prepared to embark on a journey toward self-mastery is part of the wisdom and beauty of yoga. True yoga (not the yoga that belongs in glossy magazines and inside sweaty gyms) requires patience, perseverance, self-compassion and the willingness to take the necessary steps towards a desired outcome.
It’s the same with any task: for instance, I have decided to refurbish the second hand, vintage wrought-iron table that I bought for my bedroom, and I have come up with 3 options:
- Do the research on doing a thorough renovation. This involves sanding down the metal to remove the old paint, and then priming, painting and finishing, using materials specifically intended for metalwork.
- Sand down the table a bit, leaving some old bits of paint visible, giving the table a deliberately distressed and aged appearance.
- Use some of the leftover paint that I used to paint a small cupboard in my bathroom to paint over the table, leaving some old bits of paint visible, giving the table a deliberately distressed and aged appearance.
You may agree that option 1. is for the perfectionist, whereas 2. and 3. is for the casual crafter with little time on her hands, and a budget to stick to.
My life as it is right now dictates that option 1. is just not on the immediate horizon and that if I want a pristine job done, the perfectionist in me will take it to the specialists who are paid to do such things. But then my budget tells me that paying more for the renovation than what I paid for the table in the first place does not make sense, so I have decided to go for option 2 or 3 instead. I’m still deciding. Either way, I can accept that sometimes perfection is just not on the cards and that good enough is good enough.
We all need to feel appreciated and recognized for our efforts from time to time. We need feedback from others to know that our endeavours count for something, especially when we feel that the wheels are turning too slowly and that the things we want to achieve seem out of reach. Our family members, friends and those we consider our peers are often the mirrors which reflect back to us our place in this world, and while we should never let other’s opinions make or break us, there is no doubt that people matter, in the sense that we sometimes simply need to know that what we are trying to do is not going unnoticed. At TheFreeDictionary.com, ‘AFFIRMATION’ is described as ‘a statement intended to provide encouragement, emotional support, or motivation…‘
Our need for recognition and support is echoed in ‘No Man is an Island’, a well known proverbial expression coined by John Donne in the 17th Century. The phrase expresses the idea that human beings do badly when isolated from others and that we have a need to be part of a community in order to thrive.
All this was brought home to me whilst reading through the readers comments one of my recent posts and enjoying and appreciating the the positive feedback I received. One of the comments in particular, from hilaryhunterwriter, stood out for me. It ended with the simple statement: “Keep up the good work” and somehow this short sentence inspired me to just that. Suddenly I felt a unexpected pride at my efforts and in that moment it felt like what I had written was elevated to something more special than before. And perhaps that’s the critical issue: that it sometimes takes someone other than ourselves to recognize what we are doing and the impact that we have, because we often fail to see it at those times when we just can’t see the wood for the trees.
A few weeks ago I visited a close, slightly younger family member who has in a short space of time been through several operations including reconstruction surgery and has been on cancer treatment since. Despite having to deal with devastating emotional shock and invasive treatment, she has continued on her way towards physical and emotional recovery with astonishing energy, positivity and determination while the rest of us look on in awe. I decided to tell her once and for all that I think she has been amazing and that I admire her hugely for the way that she dealt with everything. This resulted in a long and rather tearful hug on both sides, as more words of love and appreciation tumbled out. I left with a feeling of lightness of spirit and somehow relieved that I had spoken from the heart in this way, even at the risk of becoming emotional. I think that this lightness and sense of relief came from knowing that what I had expressed had been ‘sitting’ with me, needing to be said, and that there is no time like the present, especially as Tomorrow is Promised to Nobody. But maybe that’s a subject for another post….
“Nothing in the world is more yielding and softer than water; yet it penetrates the hardest. Insubstantial, it enters where no room is. It is so fine that it is impossible to grasp a handful of it; strike it, yet it does not suffer hurt; stab it, and it is not wounded.” Bruce Lee (November 27, 1940–July 20, 1973)
Bruce Lee understood the power of nature. His “Be Water”quote (on YouTube) from the TV series Longstreet, is one of those perennials that remain relevant and powerful, and continues to attract seekers of peace looking for meaningful sustainable ways to meet life’s challenges. Even as a young man (he was only 32 when he so sadly passed away) he was committed to do so much more than be the physical powerhouse and world renowned actor that he became. He was a family man and a seeker of truth. To quote his daughter Shannon Lee, he was a “teacher, family man, martial artist, philosopher, and innovator who became a cultural icon because he actively lived his philosophy of self-actualization.”
Read more Here on the moments of clarity and conviction that led up to him becoming spiritually inspired and moved by the qualities of water in all its potential, from the power of its gentleness and yielding to the power of its force and magnitude.
British naturalist and environmental writer Michael McCarthy explores the powerful feelings nature can stir in us in our day to day lives: “They are surely very old, these feelings. They are lodged deep in our tissues and emerge to surprise us. For we forget our origins; in our towns and cities, staring into our screens, we need constantly reminding that we have been operators of computers for a single generation and workers in neon-lit offices for three or four, but we were farmers for five hundred generations, and before that hunter-gatherers for perhaps fifty thousand or more, living with the natural world as part of it as we evolved, and the legacy cannot be done away with.”
In his book The Moth Snowstorm: Nature and Joy, Michael Mcarthy writes about his passion for nature beginning in his difficult early childhood and continuing into adulthood, and he presents us with some hard facts about our dwindling natural resources. He expresses his deep concern for the future of our natural world and his insistence that as a “resource” nature is far more than an exploitable asset but a true source of joy and connectedness.
“Our origins are of the earth. And so there is in us a deeply seated response to the natural universe, which is part of our humanity,” Rachel Carson, a 20th century marine biologist who was truly in love with nature, and unselfconscious in her “preoccupation with the wonder and beauty of the earth.”
Both of these wonderful, devoted pioneers believed that despite everything we are still essentially nature’s children, and that the natural world is not separate from us, it is part of us. They believed that if we truly look out with our hearts and our minds to the beauty and realities of our precious world, we will connect more and more with our own ‘loving nature’ and become less tolerant of the neglect and destruction that is so commonly part of what we call progress.
Read more about their research and writings on Maria Popova‘s wonderful website: Brainpickings- an inventory of the meaningful life.
” It’s the action, not the fruit of the action, that’s important. You have to do the right thing. It may not be in your power, may not be in your time, that there’ll be any fruit. But that doesn’t mean you stop doing the right thing. You may never know what results come from your action. But if you do nothing, there will be no result..” _(Mahatma Gandhi)
In 2007 a woman called Beth Terry wrote a letter to her city council member in Oakland, California, opting for the banning of plastic bags from grocery stores and other retail outlets in her area. Since then she has to date turned out a total of 746 blog posts, all centered around ways to reduce the devastating effects of plastic pollution on our environment, with a strong emphasis on reducing our own individual plastic footprints. And her blog is just one aspect of her site myplasticfreelife.com, which is a comprehensive resource for plastic-free living. She makes the point that our actions matter. Our efforts count. Allowing ourselves to be overwhelmed into inaction does not help. Don’t be paralyzed by perfectionism; you will end up feeling discouraged and frustrated, believing that your efforts towards creating positive change are pointless. Read below to where she discusses this very issue:
The reality is that there is a lot of hidden plastic that we inadvertently consume every day simply by being alive in this modern age. If you ever eat in a restaurant, you consume plastic. If you buy anything from a store, you consume plastic… even if you buy it from a bulk bin. Because often, the foods in the bulk bins come shipped in great big plastic bags. And even if they weren’t, there was probably some plastic involved in growing the food in the first place. Organic farmers may have used plastic sheeting to keep out the weeds.
The idea of living a plastic-free life is not to become so perfect at avoiding plastic that you feel smug about yourself. Realizing just how unavoidable plastic is when you really trace back the life cycle of a product can wipe that smug grin off your face and provide a humbling perspective. Our personal actions DO make a difference, though. I know it can be tempting to say, “Oh, the problem is so big, I might as well give up.” Don’t.
Read the full post here, and take a moment to remind yourself that it’s perfectionism that is pointless, and it’s the action, the effort, that is important.
Our actions should never involve unnecessary strain, force or intervention. Keep your actions natural and spontaneous in order to find your own balance and momentum. Stay relaxed so as not to impede the process of ‘non-doing’. Our actions are more authentic, more true, if we can allow nature, rather than force, to guide us.
These are some of the central ideas in Wuwei, a key aspect of the Chinese philosophy of Taoism, and it encourages us to practice ‘going with the flow’, allowing our actions to be relaxed, spontaneous and natural, thus avoiding tension and unnecessary effort.
Seeking simplicity is for me not only about making eco-wise and efficient choices regarding the environment, my health and my home. Our thinking guides our actions, and if we find ourselves feeling under constant pressure to get things done and to get them done just right, we may want to step back a bit to a simpler, kinder way of relating to ourselves. It is all too easy to get caught up in over-thinking, which leads to tension and anxiety and can take the joy out life. We start to fear change: new opportunities are instead perceived as unwanted challenges and we start anticipating difficulties rather than possibilities ahead. I am speaking from direct experience here! And even mundane, repetitive action (housework, anyone?) can feel like less of a chore if we can relax into it rather than approaching it with a sense of dread and a feeling of tension. There is always room for improvement in the way we think about ourselves in relation to the tasks that we set ourselves and to the tasks that life itself sometimes unexpectedly presents to us.
Read Soon Teo’s fascinating posts about the power of Tao Here.