Monday, 21 June 2010

"The water that bears the ship is the same that engulfs it." (Chinese proverb)

When I was a little girl, my mother gave me a book I really loved. It was very small, illustrated by Joan Walsh Anglund, and entitled A Pocket Full Of Proverbs (It was the same book as the one in the link, but that is not my copy or my photo).

I loved both the pictures and the proverbs, and two of the sayings in the book stayed with me particularly. One, which I took very much to heart, said:

Of all the sayings in the world
The one to see you through
Is ‘Never trouble trouble
Until trouble troubles you!'

The other one I liked specially said:

One thing at a time
And that done well
Is a very good rule
As many can tell.

In some times and places, that has been accepted wisdom. Multi-tasking, of course, has been with us as long as there have been tasks that needed doing; but ‘One thing at a time' has offered a counterpoint.

For me, an important aspect of the journey into simplicity is my hearty desire to stay sane: and this is made easier if I am not overwhelmed.

My to-do list for tomorrow is quite long. It has several elements: ongoing writing and associated tasks (eg reviewing cover copy and biographical details for a book going through the publishing process); tasks to do with funerals I am conducting this week and next; family obligations and household admin tasks; contacting or visiting friends in trouble/distress; the usual daily tasks and commitments of housework, prayer, cooking etc.

And I am forced to admit that, having finally solved the last of our roof leaks, we now face a beetle problem – woodworm I suspect, having done a little online research.

The Beetle Crisis has brought home to me yet again the value of living simply. Because none of us ever knows from one day to the next what will hit us next: but 53 years on the planet has confirmed to me the reality that something will. We do ourselves a favour if whatever hits us next finds us calm and ready, not distracted and tied up with prior commitments

If our lives are uncluttered and simple, we can usually find the resources to respond to each life event as it occurs, doing whatever must be done to restore peace and order and wellbeing. If we are busy and harassed, things get left and get worse, problems protract and compound, new problems crashing into the back of old problems still lining up to be dealt with.

Simplicity doesn’t make our problems go away; it probably doesn’t even reduce the number of problems that will come our way: but it will allow damage limitation.

My life is not yet simple enough. At present, I am over-involved in the lives of others. My to-do list is made longer because I have inadvisedly allowed my life to become too entwined with lives where problems are not managed well and simplicity has not been an aspiration. So the beetles find me already dispirited and tired – and who will deal with the problem but me? Nobody.

It is a helpful lesson. I intend to simplify further, reducing my possessions and household stuff, reducing commitments and involvements, so that the ‘very good rule’ of ‘one thing at a time and that done well’ becomes no longer a mere aspiration but an actual feature of my daily life.

I think in 2011 I will write a Rule of Life for myself, and ‘one thing at a time’ will be an element within it.

William Penn said: Have but little to do, and do it thy self: And do to others as thou wouldest have them do to thee: So thou canst not fail of Temporal Felicity.

The Buddha said that those who are ‘skilled in goodness and who know the path of peace’ should be ‘…unburdened with duties and frugal in their ways; peaceful and calm…’

At a time in my life when I had many duties to fulfil – when I was pastor to six chapel congregations scattered over a wide rural area – I used to say to myself ‘Attempt less and achieve more.’ I think I need to focus on that as a present resolve.
To disentangle, withdraw from involvement, is very difficult – especially when you care about people, and you see them getting in a muddle because they have for one reason or another not chosen wisely. It is more difficult even than withdrawing from the addiction to possession and consumption: but it is part of the discipline of simplicity, essential to the Quiet Way.

Sometimes when I have been de-cluttering the house, I have taken one of two approaches: either to establish a principle that for each new thing coming into the house, two must leave; or just to get rid of two things, however small, each day. It is time to take the same approach and apply it to my commitments and relationships.

We have more de-cluttering to do, without a doubt: but I am becoming aware too that I shall never arrive at space and peace (which ministers to others as well as creating serenity in myself) unless I resign over-involvement and entanglement with the lives of those who live without discipline.

Another good saying, ‘Love them and let them be,’ applies here. This is not the detachment of indifference, but the wise non-attachment of the Quiet Way. Please don't misunderstand it as a callousness or apathy, an indifference to others. On the contrary, it is about staying loose and free and peaceful not only for myself but for every person that crosses my path needing peace and loving-kindness.

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