Reflection

February

The best thing about February is that it is short.

Each year, this dastardly month is upon us and drags me down with its general misery. You’re probably thinking how immensely unhealthy it is to make such strong connections between months of the year and feelings of well-being. Nevertheless, that’s exactly what I find myself doing…

Last week, I spoke with a few colleagues in the office about this (searching for some solace to be perfectly honest) and was surprised how even verbalising the different months provoked in me a strong emotional reaction. Without much thought at all, I was able to place them into the following categories:

Positive – April, May, June, July, September, October, December

Neutral – January, March, August, November

Negative – February

On reflection, the good news is that I have only placed one of the twelve in the negative category and even better news that there’s only a couple of weeks to go before it’s over.

In the meantime, I will just trudge on through the mire knowing that March is just around the corner and then I can start shifting up through the gears into the long stretch of positivity from April through to July – even writing these words is lifting my spirits!

There is one very happy day in February and that is Valentine’s Day. I’m certainly not buying into the commercial extravaganza but it was on this day 16 years ago that I asked my girlfriend at the time to marry me. Fortunately, she said “Yes” and the rest, as they say, is history.

Maybe this month is not so bad after all.

(Yes, it is).

 

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Motivation, Reflection

Sew what!

As the days have got longer and with the weather kind, I have been spending more of my evenings in the garden cutting the lawn, tending to the plants or just sitting with a drink, relaxing.  Well, that’s my excuse for not writing in a while.

A couple of events earlier this week inspired me to pen something tonight.

The first was not so good. I happened to be at a desk that had lost its laminate edging strip along the part you would sit facing, thus exposing the rough chipboard underneath. In itself this wasn’t a problem as I have rarely found the quality of desk construction material to have a strong positive or negative correlation with my productivity. However, as I leaned across the desk to plug in the laptop, my shirt caught on this jagged surface and pulled a handful of threads leaving a series of tugged and uneven “tramlines” down the front.

Now I hate to spend money on work clothes – this shirt was a recent purchase and one of my smarter items of clothing. I was pissed off and let this nag at me all day. I even found myself absentmindedly picking at the lose threads in some of my meetings. Letting small things bother me is a recognised failing of mine but I couldn’t shake this and upon arriving home at the end of the day was still miffed, but at least I could now do something about it…

…so I got a very sharp pair of scissors and set to work trimming off the threads hanging from the front of my shirt, no doubt more prominent thanks to my fiddling. All was going well until I held the scissors away from the shirt to pull away the last offending piece of cotton when I felt the blade catch. Ordinarily, this wouldn’t have been a problem but this was no ordinary day and these were no ordinary scissors – they were made in Japan, the Land of the Razor-sharp. In an attempt to finesse the ever-so-slightly damaged shirt back to its original state, I ended up poking a dirty great hole in the garment. Many would not notice some irregular looking stitching, many would notice a hole. Needless to say, my mood did not improve.

The second, and more positive, thing that happened was that I started listening to a podcast recommended by a colleague called Richard Herring’s Leicester Square Theatre Podcast . This involved Richard chatting with some other comedians, probably at the Leicester Square Theatre although I couldn’t verify this from the acoustics alone. I had a flick through the guests and settled on Katherine Ryan, a Canadian-Irish comedian who lives in the UK. Stating the obvious, the conversation was very funny and helped to wash away some of my frustrations. I had seen Katherine’s stand up before but what I really liked was her humility, honesty and terrific outlook. In her own words:

“You can walk through life and just not really pay attention to the things that don’t matter. You really can and then you can be happy all the time.”

When I heard this, my initial reaction was this sounded like somebody who had everything they could ever wish for – she is an extremely successful stand-up comedian – but in response to being asked such a question we hear that she learned to be like this when she had absolutely nothing. In other words, it was a conscious choice and she used this to build her life.

I really wasn’t expecting to pick up something that I could use to improve myself and my reaction to the challenges that life throws my way, both big and small. As I dropped off to sleep, I thought to myself, “it’s only a fucking shirt, sew up the hole and forget about it.”

We often can’t change the things that happen to us each day but we are in control of the way that we react to these external stimuli. Be aware of what matters and what doesn’t. I have even found myself questioning whether something I thought mattered really did. It’s worth challenging yourself on that point as the fewer things that do matter, the less you have to worry about. Not sure I can be happy all the time but being happy most of the time is a prize worth aiming for.

The next time you splash water down your front when washing up, drop a glass, experience internet outage, hear someone say something stupid, run out of milk, bite the inside of your cheek when eating or catch your clothing on a piece of furniture just stop to think about how you will react.

In many cases a simple “so what” will do.

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Reflection

Imagine

While I was writing How short, this life? I found out that a dear friend of ours had passed away. Well, just about one month later, his funeral took place. Despite the sadness of having to finally say farewell, the service was also a happy one where his family and friends shared their memories and celebrated his life.

A week later, and I have been reflecting on those eulogies. In one of his finest songs, Imagine, John Lennon sang  “Imagine no possessions, I wonder if you can.” Of course, nobody at the funeral talked about material things, the house where he lived, the type of car he drove, the clothes he wore. Rightly, they were about the person, his life, his achievements, his loved ones. When life comes to an end, the legacy will almost always be the intangibles or items with high sentimental value: a conversation; a chance meeting; camaraderie through work or volunteering; a cherished letter, picture or video. Most of us would give up everything we own to keep our loved ones with us on this earth. His brother summed up what he thought about his older sibling as “Splendid. He was a splendid chap.”

Hopefully, I have still got a long way to go before my final breath but I am clear on how I want to be remembered and would be very satisfied with the word “splendid” when people talk about me. We spend so much of our lives chasing the money and fretting about keeping up with the Joneses but how much easier would it be if you could recondition yourself to be satisfied with what you have got? This isn’t about shunning basic needs and for those unfortunate to have very little, what I am writing may come across as idealistic or the thoughts of someone with clearly not enough to worry about. What I am trying to say is once you have attained a reasonably comfortable standard of living with a roof over your head and food on the table, be thankful and try to avoid feeding an insatiable appetite for more and more.

In the Japanese animation Spirited Away there is a character called a Hoshigari (ほしがり) that gets its energy by satiating the appetites of the greedy who, in this case, keep asking for gold which it conjures up from its hands. In the end the Hoshigari turns on them and starts to eat up the very people it gave the gold nuggets to in the first place. It’s a poignant message in a film well worth watching if you haven’t seen it already.

I certainly don’t want to get eaten by a Hoshigari and so the next time I feel a hankering for something new I will channel my energy instead into imagining what I can do towards becoming a splendid chap.

That feels like a much better use of my time.

 

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