The Most Important Thing(s)

I have a new self-help obsession.  It’s only been a week and already it’s beginning to rival the ‘angel train’ as possibly the most useful idea I’ve come across in the world of self-help-ness.  I came across my new favourite obsession quite by accident last week: a book I was reading mentioned an online article that sounded useful; I looked it up, then followed another link and found myself reading about MIT.

Initially I thought MIT had something to do with the prestigious academic institution in the US with the same acronym.  I soon realised, however, that it stands for Most Important Thing.  And those three words pretty much sum up the concept: each day (or I guess it could work just as well for a week or a month, or possibly even a year), you decide what is the most important thing that you want to do.  You may even pick a few Most Important Things.  The principle seems to be that by simply deciding what your priorities are, you are more focused on achieving them.  I was attracted to the notion because I was feeling overwhelmed by an ever-growing to-do list and I wanted some kind of tool for trying to discern where to start & what to focus on.   

I’ve used it for a week now (both for work and for non-work things) and I can honestly say that it is amazing.  The focus, do-able goals have not only made me feel like I’ve been achieving something, but I have been getting stuff done – even if it is as simple as thinking ‘I’m going to reply to that email’, I feel I’m moving in the right direction again.  I feel calm and centred.  And that, I guess, really is the Most Important Thing. 

I’m sat on my bed in a state of awe and wonderment. Earlier, I caught some of Brian Cox’s programme about the story of the universe. It’s all so mind-blowing, mind-boggling, awe-inducing. The amazingness of the universe and the phenomenon that we know as life bought to mind again a Japanese Haiko that I heard at Quaker meeting today: “Think of the probable. Think of the possible. Then go for a swim.”

Waking up today to a blaze of bright sunshine, the world seemed light years away to the one that I went to bed with last night. I know that I’m lucky – the world can seem bright and fresh and new to me because I’m not living in a war zone or the sight of a disaster. Rather than feeling guilty about my good fortune, though, I should just be grateful. And today I felt especially grateful as I sat in the garden eating my lunch and enjoying the beautiful weather. I also felt grateful as I walked through blossoming woodland as the sun went down. I feel grateful again now as I sit on the sofa with my knitting. To give my gratitude some meaning, I’ve made a donation to the Red Cross appeal for Japan. I may be trying to let go of my guilt, but I still feel I should try to share my good fortune with those who have been less fortunate.

I have just climbed into bed with a haunting sense of feeling useless. This feeling stems from having passively, helplessly, watched the news, watched the agonies of people’s lives in Libya and Japan, and closer to home too. And worse still, I found my mind drifting as to whether I should try a more orangey shade of red lipstick (I caught some of the BBC’s Silk beforehand and was clearly quite taken by the protagonist’s make up). It’s left me feeling wretched and guilty-how can I pretend to myself that I’m a concerned citizen who feels for the plight of others when my mind drifts so easily from the monumental to such selfish trivialities? I am feeling suffocated by my own human frailty and I don’t know what to do about it.

Ten Days

Gosh, I cannot believe that it’s been ten days since I last posted.  This is the longest I’ve gone since I began the blog almost a year ago.  It seems funny that I haven’t posted as I’ve had plenty to write about.  In fact, my busy-ness is possibly the reason why I haven’t posted: not so much not finding time to write, but not knowing which thought or feeling or activity to write about.  So what I have been doing?  Here’s my last ten days in ten bullet points:

Saturday 12th: Ran a toy stall at a spring fayre – lots of fun, even though it ended up being more of a free-for-all play area rather than actually selling lots of the toys.  It’s difficult trying to ‘hard sell’ to three year olds.

Sunday 13th: Made a new friend.  The older one becomes, the harder it seems to meet people and make friends with them, especially people who are not related to your work in some way.  But I have met someone and she seems lovely and I think I can honestly say that we are now friends.  It’s a good feeling.

Monday 14th: Cut my hair off.  Well, I didn’t cut it.  My hairdresser (who multi-tasks by being my sister-in-law too) did it.  I could write reems and reems about why I did it, but I will restrain myself to saying that I love it.

Tuesday 15th: Spent a lovely evening with some old friends in Manchester, catching up and making plans for a future gathering.

Wednesday 16th: Had a jolly time at the quiz in my new local, with the satisfaction of making someone laugh so much that I thought that medical intervention was actually needed.  As well as always being good to make people laugh, it seems particularly pleasing when you know that the comment you’ve made challenges their perception/assumptions about you.  Slightly less pleasing is that I cannot for the life of me remember what exactly I said to generate such a reaction.

…………. To be continued

I woke up this morning thinking, to paraphrase Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, ‘I’m not in Guildford anymore’. It was incredibly windy and this persisted throughout the day, blowing and shaking the trees around where I work as if they were mere twigs. And having adapted words uttered by Judy Garland, I’m now in danger of running into an SJP/Carrie Bradshaw moment: these winds made me think about the winds of change that blow through all our lives. In recent months, I’ve felt as if my life is in flux, but when I thought about it more deeply, I’ve felt this sense of change and development for several years. And maybe that prolonged sense of change is the key: a close friend and I were discussing only the other week how you imagine that when you get to a certain point in life, eg marriage, then change will cease, but as you get older then you realise that change never stops. The winds blow continually through all our lives. In many ways, such wind is life itself. We cannot stop it, nor should we try. These winds are movement, freshness and awe-inspiring.

Count Your Blessings

I’m super-duper excited that today is Shrove Tuesday!  My excitement is not about pancakes, but about the fact that today being Shrove Tuesday means that tomorrow is Ash Wednesday – the start of Lent. 

Until last year, I always felt a bit ambiguous about Lent.  The forty days & nights that preceed Easter have no particular significance in terms of Quakerism; the Quaker view that every day is special means that we don’t recognise particular days as ‘holy’ or ‘religious’.  The idea of arbitarily giving something up also seemed like it could end up being a pointless exercise devoid of meaning.  At the same time, the idea of doing something, using the period as a time of reflection, had huge appeal.  But what? 

As I was musing on possible Lent-related activities last year, a leaflet fell out of a magazine (Psychologies, to be precise) and into my lap.  The leaflet was for Christian Aid’s ‘Count Your Blessings’ Lent programme: daily snippets of info & statistics designed to encourage reflection on how blessed we are.  I can honestly say that it changed my life, encouraging a level of gratitude that was far beyond anything I could muster up before. 

I was delighted when I saw that they’re running something similar this year.  I have my leaflet ready & I’m desperate for Lent to begin.  Whether you consider yourself religious or not, I’d encourage anyone to give it a go.  Follow the link in the banner above & see where their Lent journey takes you…

Count Your Blessings