Sometimes it is nice just to close your eyes and let the sounds of the world gather around you. Dogs barking. The rumble of car engines growing louder and then more faint. My husband breathing. A TV set. My son chattering in his bedroom. A buzzing in my left ear. A gentle breeze blowing. My own breath and, if it’s quiet enough, my heart beating.
There’s a fine drizzle falling outside, and it is grey and darkening inside and it already feels like the long days of summer are well gone. I am wearing a jumper and dungarees, though it is not really cold, and I am sitting cross-legged on the sofa. My left foot has gone slightly numb, but I’m not moving yet. I feel like I could wrap myself up in a blanket, a cup of warm chocolate grasped gratefully in my hands. The cat is sleeping on the carpet near my feet, she knows that it’s not worth going outside today. It hasn’t been like this all day. There was a spell at lunchtime when the sun shone, and I went out running then. My first day trying to make a habit of running. No wonder I feel like curling up with a blanket now. The low light makes my eyes feel heavy, I feel enclosed by the world, sheltered, embraced, safe. I feel tired, but not in a bad way. Rather I feel like I could quite gently and easily flow into sleep, dreaming cosy dreams.
I was thinking about meditation and how hard I’ve found it to attempt to meditate every day. I just forget, or I run out of time or think I’ve run out of time and before I know it the day is over and I’ve done everything but meditate: surfed the web, washed up, made food, eaten food, drunk tea, watched TV, read my books. All of these things are fine and good, but surely somewhere I can fit in 10 minutes a day to sit and be in the moment?
I have thought this for a long time and I have berated myself for failing to find a mere 10 minutes in a day in which I can sit quietly and clear my mind. Then I realised, perhaps I was thinking about it wrong. Perhaps I don’t need to do 10 minutes but rather 5 would do. And if not 5, then 3. Or if not 3, then 2. And less than 2 is perhaps too little, but if only I can find 5 minutes then I can, perhaps, get into the habit and once I’m in the habit I can extend that 5 minutes to 6, and then 7, and then 8, and then 9 and then 10. And maybe beyond that. But the habit itself, I need to generate it.
I realised this after reading Leo Babauta‘s blog about the key to habit forming. I recently discovered the zen habits website and have been reading it a little bit, and I realised that it is and always has been me that holds me back from achieving what I want to achieve. Because I vacillate. Because I plan. Because I have spent so much of my life being prepared for the ‘just in case’ moment when instead I should just ‘do it now’, don’t put it off, don’t do something else, don’t wait, don’t think about going to the supermarket again because I might just need something tomorrow or the next day or next week. Do it now. It is crazily dangerous advice.
So I’m going to. Right now.
At the end of the tunnel was a door.
I opened the door, I walked through.
I entered a room.
There were desks lined up against the walls,
the room was full of people,
the chatter of keyboards clattering.
I went amongst them,
they welcomed me.
I took a seat
and I worked.
That was the first door.
After a while I grew tired of typing,
I stood up,
I turned around
and there were cakes on a table,
candles, balloons, a banner that read
people clapped me on the back,
they hugged me, they said
‘you made it’.
I didn’t know what I’d done to deserve it
but I ate my cake, I returned the hugs,
and then I saw another door.
I walked through it.
The second room was dark,
there were only a few people inside.
They looked the same: grey faces,
grey suits, a grey miasma
filled the air, their faces were serious,
the had the same eyes and the same mannerisms,
they wrote in identical books with identical pens.
I took my book,
I took my pen.
I sat at a desk and started writing.
They spoke in their grey tones, but they did not listen to me.
When I wrote with my pen, my words came out wrong
in all the wrong colours.
My pen was blue, my voice was all yellow and bright,
my eyes lacked seriousness.
They took the book from me and pushed me towards a door,
they pushed me through it.
Inside it was dark, I was alone.
I knew I had done something wrong, but what?
There’s a kind of tiredness that manifests like a fuzzy ball of wool wrapped around your head, and it mutes the world making everything that happens around you arrive as though in slow motion. You think this is a good thing, a kind of protection that allows you to connect with the world through a safe layer of cushioning, but really the reverse is true: the pain is all on the inside and that layer of cushioning only serves to keep it all in, trapped there right inside your skin, suffocating.
We have been cleaning out the kitchen cupboards, getting rid of (nearly) all those bits of kitchen equipment which have built up over the years: the blender, the bread-slicer, the coffee grinder, the excess of mugs and baking equipment and ceramic dishes. My husband wouldn’t let me throw out the deep-fat fryer, though we haven’t used it in years and are not likely to. We sorted through all our jarred things and disposed of everything that’s expired including that jar of wax beans that dated back to 2014 and I was sure we would use one day. The only cupboard that was spared was my collection of teaware and crockery, though I will have to sort that all too one day. But the best thing about having a clear out is this: it necessitated a trip to the tip.
I love the tip. The tip is the pleasantest and happiest place in the world. It is all neatly laid out and labelled like a well-used rolodex: electrical goods here, clothes and textiles there, inert waste on the other side, plastics, wood, metals. There’s even a place for asbestos, though I’ve never seen that used (thankfully). The staff are present and friendly, they love to help you find the right home for your waste and will take things for you if it’s quiet or they’re passing. Everyone is happy at the tip. I guess throwing things out has a sense of liberation to it. Where else can you toss your crockery so hard that it shatters into a multitude of pieces (except, perhaps, a Greek restaurant)? Where else can you legitimately take out all your pent-up frustration on the colander that’s been sitting on a shelf for 10 years collected dust in its holes? We toss things with flair into the far corner of the giant-sized skip, run back to the car and get more.
On the way home I was thinking up schemes that would enable us to visit the tip every week without being compelled to reduce our home to a few meagre sticks of furniture. Or maybe it would be worth it just to experience the daily pleasure of throwing things out and sharing that knowing wink with the person tossing their footspa into the small electronics bin, and the way they clap their hands together afterwards tells you that you know exactly what they’re feeling.
Sitting in my living room this morning I came to a strange realisation that nothing I did mattered. It didn’t matter how many books I read or how many I didn’t. It didn’t matter how I chose them or what they were about. It is not important. It doesn’t matter if I eat chocolate for breakfast or nothing at all, or how many cups of coffee I have or how little water I drink or whether I brush my teeth or wear the same clothes day in day out. Very little is important, very little in my life anyway. I do not harm anyone. I don’t significantly change anyone’s life except, perhaps, my husband’s or my children’s and there we are so interconnected we change each other’s, and yet our lives are so small and insignificant, and have no bearing on anyone’s outside ourselves, that it’s impact is negligible. I could do anything, but by anything I mean many small things – I won’t kill anyone, or change the world, I won’t bring about social change or change our political system. So what I do matters only, really, to me. It is obvious, of course, but also liberating to think that whatever strictures I place on my life I can remove them more easily, and however I behave it impacts on barely anyone at all.