"Sharpening the Saw"
There once was a carpenter who couldn’t keep up with his workload. Every day he toiled late into the evening to get it all done. A friend dropped by, and taking pity on his exhausted mate offered to give him a hand. But when this helpful friend went to use the carpenter’s saw he was startled to find it very blunt. “No wonder you struggle to get your work done mate, your saw needs sharpening,” said the friend. “Ahh,” replied the carpenter sadly, “If only I had the time to sharpen it. But as you can see I am too busy.”
The point of this tale is that sometimes in life we have to take time to make time. This has been my experience. Over the next few weeks I will be sharing useful life hacks and resources related to organizing yourself, your home, social life, finances, social media, children, garden, voluntary activities, cooking, shopping, gift giving and holidays. I’ll share how I changed myself (externally), my domestic environment and then my wider world. Resources and people that have changed my life for the better. Let me be clear. My purpose is not to tell anyone how to live their own life. This is my personal journey. I have learnt a lot from the journeys of other people. I don’t believe I have become a clone of anyone. I believe we all have to live our own authentic lives. Telling my story is about speaking my truth. And that truth gets clearer and less wordy the more I speak or write it. As I read, watch, listen I pick up useful life hacks and wisdom which has made my life more meaningful and enjoyable. And then in the process of living life in a more mindful way I make discoveries that are uniquely my own. Hopefully you, the reader, will find something of benefit in the largely practical stuff I cover in the next few weeks. If you yearn for a slower, simpler life then this will interest you.
I have spent most of this year looking at how we can enrich our inner world. Last week I wrote about research that demonstrates how important our external environment is to our well-being so I have been reflecting on what sorts of external things have made a difference to my life. I would love to hear about anything you have read, tried, thought about that has helped you simplify life and slow down. My life is not always slow. In fact, this year has been pretty busy. Inevitably life involves busy periods but by simplifying what I can I create a breathing space, a buffer zone that is invaluable during busy, stressful times. I always put a use by date on busy times too respecting the ebb and flow of life. This is something yoga brought home to me. The kind of yoga I teach is called Maha Vinyasa Flow. It is a slow dance-like flow to the breath that starts off gentle, builds to a more challenging climax and then eases back into restoration and stretching. It is wave-like to reflect the ups and downs of life. Stress and relaxation. Both are useful and productive. Interspersed throughout each flow are poses that invite rest. So the yoga flow becomes a moving meditation on life. The rest poses remind me to pace myself and even in the busiest of times weave some stillness into my days. Where I can just be and take stock and appreciate how far I’ve come. Where I can dream of what is to be and enjoy the simple things in life. Fresh early morning sunlight filtering through trees as I sip a cuppa in a comfortable armchair gazing out at my garden. Taking the time to watch a bird or a baby or a sunset. The little things which probably aren’t little at all.
I believe a slow, simple life creates more space and time for the people and experiences that enrich us. Mindfulness and meditation help us accept what is. But the flip side for me of the contemplative life is action. They go together. Meditation helps me to become still. This invites me to take a long loving look at what’s real. I discover gratitude and loving kindness. And doing that will eventually lead me to some kind of action. Some people think that meditation means to clear your mind of all thought. For me it is more about seeing what is there and dealing with it without becoming sucked into some vortex of unhelpful, repetitive rumination. In the process I find some stillness, rest and clarity. I don’t ignore my thoughts but I do take a step back from them. A natural result for me of regular meditation and journalling has been the change in my everyday thought life. These days I notice my head is much more preoccupied with the here and now; with the next steps I need to take on my own life journey; with what I want to do to help move the planet forward. I am much less preoccupied with anxiety, nursing offences, jealousy, resentments and regret. This surprised me. It is not something I expected because I initially approached meditation as an experiment. It is a blessed relief.
A practical outcome of developing my inner life was becoming more aware of my values and my “why.” That is, what gets me up in the morning? What is most important to me? and what do I want to give my energy to? This sparked a reassessment of just about everything including really practical things like how I organize my home. Once I discovered what was important to me I wanted to minimize time spent doing less important things. I wanted to slow down and live more simply to create less waste and more joy. When I was young I heard the slogan “Live simply so others can simply live.” It has stuck with me. I want to invest my life in meaningful relationships and experiences not money and things. That doesn’t mean I spend with gay abandon, neglect sensible financial planning or live like a cave man. It just means I am content with being comfortable rather than rich, and consider what is adequate and enough rather than constantly pining for the next greatest “thing.” What is the least I need to live well. I want to do my bit for the world without burning out; or neglecting myself and those most important to me. I want to have daily encounters that foster belonging, connection, joy and awe. I want a tribal life. And I don’t want to belong to just the one - that’s too small for me. And I want to connect with something that’s bigger than myself.
My husband and I have spent the last 10 years exploring different ways of slowing down and simplifying. We haven’t found the perfect work/life balance - I kind of suspect it is a myth, but we have learned a thing or two I would like to share with you over the next couple of weeks.
Some materials we have found useful in our search for a slower, simpler life are:
“The Simple Home” by Rhonda Hoetzel
“Destination Simple” by Brooke McAlary
“The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up” by Marie Kondo
“The Art of Frugal Hedonism: A guide to spending less while enjoying everything more” by Annie Raser-Rolland with Adam Grubb
“Underspent” by Rachel Smith
“The Zero Waste Home” by Bea Johnson
“The Blue Zones Solution” by Dan Buettner
“Walk Gently Upon the Earth” by Linda Hogan
“The Nature Fix” by Florence Williams
The Slow Home Podcast by Brook McAlary
Smart and Simple Matters Podcast by Joel Zaslofsky
The Minimalists by Joshua Fields and Ryan Nicodemus
The Mindful Kind by Rachael Kable
I hope to share more resources/books with you as they come to mind in the next few weeks.
Minimalism: A Documentary about the Important Things
The Zero Waste Home
Zero Waste Lifestyle
Zen Habits by Leo Babauta https://zenhabits.net/
The Slow Home https://slowyourhome.com/the-slow-home-podcast/
Slow Your Home https://slowyourhome.com/
Becoming Minimalist https://www.becomingminimalist.com/
The Minimalists https://www.theminimalists.com/