More than dust

The testimony of outward simplicity began as a protest against the extravagance and snobbery which marked English society in the 1600s. In whatever forms this protest is maintained today, it must still be seen as a testimony against involvement with things which tend to dilute our energies and scatter our thoughts, reducing us to lives of triviality and mediocrity.

Excerpt from Faith and Practice, North Carolina Yearly Meeting, 1983

…When I have something very difficult to face that I know I can’t cope with, then I turn desperately to the source [the Light, the seed, God, the holy spirit…]. One of the things I find most infuriating about myself is that I often let the contact go when the emergency is over and flounder along without it for months on end when my everyday existence could be transformed by it. It is as if I opened the blinds in my house for only an occasional hour when – for example – I had an important visitor, or a cable arrived, or I had to sweep up some broken glass; and afterwards allowed the blinds to fall closed again. So that for ninety-per-cent of the time I bumble around, do my housework in semi-darkness, strain my eyes trying to read and can scarcely discern the feathers of those to whom I talk. More than anything I want to learn to live in the Light. So I think, anyway, but in fact I perhaps don’t altogether want to take the demands involved, don’t want to see all the dust in my life.

Quaker Faith and Practice, Fourth edition, (20.05), Jo Vellacott, 1982

Working for and with people with cancer, I have regular reminders of what matters. When the diagnosis comes and the worst is true – you have cancer; it has spread; there’s nothing more we can do – it can be the first day of the rest of your life. An awakening. A rebirth. A chance to live before it’s too late, to move beyond existing as you did before. I’ve seen bankers transform into marathon runners and poets, living their last years more fully than perhaps all the years before.

And it feels shameful to squander my health, my relative youth, my children’s early years, on distractions which ‘dilute our energies and scatter our thoughts, reducing us to lives of triviality and mediocrity.’

Yet I do just that.

Dentist appointments. Updating wills. Renewing passports. Boiler maintenance. Paying off my credit card. Vacuuming. Complaining to the bank. Delayed trains.

We are a “quintessence of dust” indeed, to quote Hamlet, when we live our lives this way.

That’s not to say that life is only meaningful when we don’t have to deal with these things. Of course, I have to make dental appointments, update my will, pay off my credit card. I have to work a day job that pays the bills, and it’s hardly my choice whether the trains run on time.

Perhaps this is why the quotes at the beginning of this article struck such a chord with me. Pulling back the curtains and letting the light in allows us to see the room for what it is, dust and all, so we can choose what we do with it. And hopefully see what is the furniture in the room – the stuff that matters hidden amidst the dust.

Not that this is easy. A simple life may be demanding. Freed from the distractions, what is left? Love. Truth. Justice. Self awareness. Compassion.

These are demanding. They are hard work. But they are the opposite of the trivial and mediocre life.

Journal prompts:

When I pull back the curtain and let in the light, the dust I see is…

Without this dust to dilute my energy and scatter my thoughts, what’s left is…

My simplicity is a protest against…

My simplicity allows more _______ in my life, which this week will look like ________.

You can fill these in as many times as feels right.

Example:

My simplicity allows more kindness in my life, which this week will look like prioritising the projects at work that will help people the most.

My simplicity allows more love in my life, which this week will look like being really present with my children.

 

Life, love, and death

Life can be full of false dichotomies, the most profound of which, it would seem to me, is the way we have come to draw a big black line between life and death.

I’ve been thinking about death, as last week a friend passed away. We knew her time was limited. Cancer. She was 81 – though age, I find, is not the comfort it once was when I was a child and learned of death. For we are all human, and with each passing year of adulthood I find that the idea of maturity is somewhat a myth; I increasingly see the frail child inside each person, myself included, behind the veneer of adulthood.

I am saddened by the thought I won’t bump into her at the shops or see her with her granddaughter when we meet up for the kids to play together. Our friendship was not an especially close one, so I can only imagine how those closest to her are feeling the loss. So without in any way taking from their plight, I want to say honestly how the world does seem a little less joyful as it continues without Dinah in it.

In times of death and mourning, I have returned to this excerpt from Natalie Babbitt’s charming book, Tuck Everlasting, about a family who find a spring that gives eternal life to those who drink from it. When a girl named Winifred finds the spring and discovers the secret of the Tuck family, who drank from it years before, they try to explain the reality of living without death.

“I don’t want to die.”

“No,” said Tuck calmly. “Not now. Your time’s not now. But dying’s part of the wheel, right there next to being born. You can’t pick out the pieces you like and leave the rest. Being part of the whole thing, that’s the blessing. But it’s passing us by, us Tucks. Living’s heavy work, but off to one side, the way we are, it’s useless, too. It don’t make sense. If I knowed how to climb back on the wheel, I’d do it in a minute. You can’t have living without dying. So you can’t call it living, what we got. We just are, we just be, like rocks beside the road.”

It’s hard being on the wheel, and saying goodbye. Continue reading “Life, love, and death”

When the world is getting you down

I have seen a lot of people suffering lately.

The rise in ultra-conservative politics. Deep division in our societies over what feel like key issues. Hurtful actions and language towards women. People rising to positions of power that fill some people with a sense of fear, injustice, or powerlessness.

We consume the news like an addict, looking for relief from the very thing that troubles us.

So I wanted to write a post in the hopes it provides some balm, some inspiration, for responsible self-care. Continue reading “When the world is getting you down”

Enough is enough (in a good way)

I was listening to the Happier podcast episode 187 where co-host Elizabeth Craft was talking about going away for the weekend with her family. As a TV writer, she’s super busy with her new show that’s just been picked up, so she was struggling to get away early on Friday to go camping with her husband and son. Instead, they went without her to the campsite on Friday night so she could work late, and she joined them the next day and they all came back together on Sunday. She was remarking how great it was, and by the time she got there it was like she’d been with them the whole weekend. And her son Jack got to ride on the train and get some quality time with his Dad.

I’ve frequently been caught off guard by something that seemed lame or not quite good enough that ended up being perfect for my son.

Sometimes, enough is…well, enough. Continue reading “Enough is enough (in a good way)”