hard times; easy choices

This is a talk I delivered at my local toastmasters club on Monday 17th July, 2017.

In the first four and a half months of this year I visited 10 cities in 4 countries, mostly for work, some for leisure.

In early May, in the midst of this whirlwind of movement, I visited my local library, as I often do, and I was drawn to this book: The Art of Stillness: adventures in going nowhere. I'm not sure why I was so drawn to the book but it ended up in a pile of books that I borrowed that day.

On the 19th of May my whole world was rocked with the sudden and severe hospitalisation of my wife Clare and I haven't been anywhere since.

We lead lives that are too busy and too stressful. If you ask someone how they are you'll most often hear: 'Oh I'm just so busy; so many things to do!" And this isn't just for adults either; as the father of three young children I find their school and kindy friends have extraordinary busy lives: from tennis lessons before school, to gymnastics after school and playing soccer and going to birthday parties all weekend.

No matter how special we are, we all get given the same number of hours every day: a lot of us choose to use those hours to just be so busy. Because it's scarier NOT being busy. Being busy is a distraction in itself and allows us not to focus on the big issues and question our existence. We don't have time to ask: am I well? Am I leading the life I would like to lead?

Being busy also means keeping up with the Joneses, constant FOMO: fear of missing out. We work more to possess more: we spend more on conveniences because we work so much.

What we really need to do is slow down, do less, go Nowhere more. One of the reasons we are so stressed is because we have too much choice and such high expectations.

In good times choices are seemingly hard:

  • What airline should I fly?
  • What seat should I choose?
  • Where should we eat tonight?

But in hard times, when your wife is in intensive care and you're looking after your three young kids all by yourself for the first time in your life, all the choices become so easy because your priorities are so clear.

Whilst the month of being the primary carer of our three boys was busy it wasn't as stressful as I thought it would be. This was because I didn't face tough choices: I knew what was important and I what I had to do. When I was running around looking after our boys I would be grateful for everything my wife had done to that point, and grateful for a free moment to sit still in the winter sun with a cup of tea and a piece of dark chocolate.

We need to overcome the busyness of our lives. We can do this by reevaluating our priorities. What is important to us means we can make easier choices. Choices include what we shouldn't be doing too.

The time we save not doing the things we don't need to do can be used to slow down a bit, embrace stillness, embrace going Nowhere.

I'm not saying we should lead lazy or non-active lifestyles: our bodies are built to be active but being busy doesn't necessarily mean being active. You can be busy reading work emails, or binge watching a season on Netflix.

Just like you can be going Nowhere by dedicating some time for a daily jog through the forest. Being less busy means it's easier to prioritise exercise and reflection.

I'll finish with a quote from the book I ended up borrowing that day (I could buy the book with how much I now ore in overdue fines) and embracing:

One day Mahatma Gandhi was said to have woken up and told all those around him: "This is going to be a very busy day. I won't be able to meditate for one hour." His friends were taken aback at this rare break from his discipline. "I'll have to mediate for two!" he spelled out.

Published by

Al

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