The isolation and boredom of the Covid 19 pandemic and lockdown has been pretty tough in many ways, but it has helped me be clearer about what things are important (and not important) to me.
I thought if I summarised them here it would help me remember them better, also so I could share them in case they’re helpful to anyone!
1.Follow my path with heart
(Those of you old enough to remember Carlos Casteneda – a popular spiritual writer from during my hippy days – know that I stole that)!
It’s more important to do what I love, and has meaning for me, than what I think I ‘should’ do or what other people are expecting me to do – although the approval that comes from that can be seductive. This means sometimes doing things I don’t particularly enjoy, as long as they’re leading me the right direction. My current motto is: my dreams show where I want to go – but only plans will get me there! As it happens, I feel happiest when I feel I’m making the world a better place in some way; but that doesn’t give me the right to criticise people who have different motivations
Which leads to:
2. Don’t ask or expect others to pick up my sh*t.
That includes everything from taking on my fair share of the domestics at home, to trying not to cause any damage to the planet that will be left for my children (or theirs) to repair. I try to avoid doing any harm, and ideally would like to not use more of the world’s resources than I would have access to if they were distributed more fairly across the world. I am generally failing at this – it’s hard to give up the luxuries I’ve got used to, like driving a car etc – but hope I’m moving in the right direction; and I think that in the past year, more of us have been pushed into breaking the mental link between consuming and happiness, and been reminded that the simplest things can bring us the most joy – just spending time with family and friends, for example.
3. Try to act, not re-act; and ‘never take it personally’. (And don’t make assumptions)
I also fail at this a lot of the time, but every time I do I’m reminded how much this approach enables me to have a more happy, connected and peaceful life, and help those around me to do the same. Like last week, when a guy was overtaking dangerously and cut in front of me, and I responded by giving him a generous dose of the finger and the horn, only to see him later – when I got to the hospital car park that was my destination – helping his very pregnant wife out of the car. You can imagine how I felt. These days I try to expect the best from everyone, and if someone’s not able to do that, I’ll assume they’ve got a good reason.
4. It’s not my job to fix other people – and anyway I’m not qualified!
For some reason, I’ve too often had the arrogant idea that I knew what was ‘wrong’ with other people and what they should do about it. But I’ve had some good lessons about that lately – especially from the teenaged stepson I inherited when I got married two years ago. I was full of suggestions about what I thought his mum should change in her parenting style – including not ‘spoiling’ him (mum’s do have a tendency to do that.). I also tried telling him how I thought he should behave differently with his mother – which didn’t go down very well with him – or her. I finally learned that it’s best to stay out of disputes with anyone I’m not related to – until I’ve known them long enough to gain their trust and respect, and to know what I’m talking about. My motto for this is now: don’t give advice unless it’s asked for; and even then, keep it short!
5. Stop thinking and start living (together).
Things became strained between my wife and I during the past year – none of which was helped by the pandemic and lockdown. We found ourselves sharing the same house, but in very different emotional spaces. I did a lot of thinking about what the problem might be, read a pile of of books and came up with various theories – but was so busy trying to fix things that I was blind to the main thing that she needed: for us to spend some quiet time together so she could explain what was going on for her, and I could give her a good listening to. She explained how a lot of my ‘advice’ (see above – ouch!) had felt more like judgement and criticism, and she’d lost confidence that I’d be willing and able to listen if she tried to tell me about it. After an hour of me not talking or trying to ‘fix’ things – and several rounds of tears (from both of us), I had a much clearer idea of what she needed (and didn’t need!) from me. She was also more than willing to hear how things were for me, and it felt like the foundation of our relationship had been repaired. Result! From now on, I’m making sure we have regular time to catch up and connect with each other on a deeper level.
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