Thursday 10 March 2022

Incomprehensibly miraculous

I liked the way that the train company has lowered it's expectations of human behaviour; the 'quiet coach' is now renamed the 'quieter coach' in the hope that people might be able to just keep it down a bit.

Network Rail on the other hand are my new favourite company as when I went to the loo on York station I found this wonderful *FREE* sanitary towel dispenser in the ladies. How excellent is that. I mean I don't need them any more, but hurray for progress. 
I have been up and down the country, and then down and up the country in the last ten days and was looking forward to a little calm relaxation for the last few days of my leave but tomorrow I find myself getting the middle-of-the-night coach to London to keep Monkey company while she gets her VISA FOR JAPAN!!! It's been a frustrating six months that she should have been there enjoying all sorts of wonderful experiences, but they finally opened the border again on 1st of March and with any luck she might still see some cherry blossom. 

Also so much for all the blog posts I was going to get written (travel time can mean plenty of reading time) but this is due back today so will just get the one done.

I have followed Oliver Burkeman's column in the Grauniad and he has written lots of books, of which 'Four Thousand Weeks' is the most recent. Four thousand weeks sounds like a lot in one way, but hardly any in another (it is only an average, I plan on having well over 5000). I liked this book because it is more about having some perspective on our ideas about time and how we use it, rather than yet another time management tome. I am not one of those busy busy people anyway. I fritter my life away in huge swathes some times. I can't remember what I have done with the last decade. And I have developed my 'saying no' skills over the last year. I noted when I looked at my payslip yesterday that I have earned less this year than last, and that's because I have done less overtime, taken my days off and enjoyed them. But I do still worry about wasting time and that I should have some kind of long term plan with things I want to achieve. Along comes a book that basically tells me not to stress about it. 

He talks here about how people try and 'clear the decks' of all the small clutter of life before they feel about to apply themselves to the big important projects:

"One can waste years this way, systematically postponing precisely the things one cares about the most.
What's needed instead in such situations, I gradually came to understand, is a kind of anti-skill: not the counter-productive strategy of trying to make yourself more efficient, but rather a willingness to resist such urges - to learn to stay with the anxiety of feeling overwhelmed, of not being on top of everything, without automatically responding by trying to fit more in. To approach your days in this fashion means, instead of clearing the decks, declining to clear the decks, focusing instead on what's truly of greatest consequence while tolerating the discomfort of knowing that, as you do so, the decks will be filling up further, with emails and errands and other to-dos, many of which you may never get round to at all." (p.50)

I liked the book because it is a philosophical musing on existence as much as it is advice:

... but now here comes mortality, to steal away the life that was rightfully yours.
Yet, on reflection, there's something very entitles about this attitude. Why assume that an infinite supply of time is the default, and mortality an outrageous violation? Or to put it another way, why treat four thousand weeks as a very small number, because it's so tiny compared with infinity, rather than treating it as a huge number, because it's so many more weeks than if you had never been born? Surely only somebody who'd failed to notice how remarkable it is that anything is, in the first place, would take their own being as such a given - as if it were something they had every right to have conferred upon them, and never to have taken away. So maybe it's not that you've been cheated out of an unlimited supply of time; maybe it's almost incomprehensibly miraculous to have been granted any time at all." (p.66)

This one drew my attention because it coincides with my own feelings about parenting and children. Too much parenting focuses on what the child will become and does not allow them to just be, though it is just as applicable to adults:

"In his play The Coast of Utopia, Tom Stoppard puts an intensified version of this sentiment into the mouth of the nineteenth-century Russian philosopher Alexander Herzen, as he struggles to come to terms with the death of his son, who has drowned in a shipwreck - and who's life, Herzen insists, was no less valuable for never coming to fruition in adult accomplishments. 'Because children grow up, we think a child's purpose is to grow up,' Herzen says. 'But a child's purpose is to be a child. Nature doesn't distain what only lives for a day. It pours the whole of itself into each moment ... Life's bounty is in its flow. later is too late.' " (p.132)

And this, most of all, because it proposes the idea that a life well spent does not mean you have to achieve something significant, and it is the one I felt that I really took to heart from my reading:

"No wonder it comes as a relief to be reminded of your insignificance: it's the feeling of realising that you'd been holding yourself, all this time, to standards you couldn't reasonably be expected to meet. And this realisation isn't merely calming but liberating, because once you're no longer burdened by such an unrealistic definition of a 'life well spent', you're freed to consider the possibility that a far wider variety of things might qualify as meaningful ways to use your finite time. You're freed, too, to consider the possibility that many of the things you're already doing with it as more meaningful than you'd supposed - and that until now, you'd subconsciously been devaluing them, on the grounds that they weren't significant enough." (p.212)

He ends the book with some questions and some points of advice but also with a quote from Jung that says, to paraphrase and abbreviate, put one foot in front of the other and quietly do the next and most necessary thing.

Stay safe. Be kind. Relish the miraculous.

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