Living life well: some simple instructions, but harder to follow…
In work, do what you enjoy
In family life, be completely present.
Like a lot of people, I find the words above pretty hard to live up to. In the world that we live in, working hours are going up and up, and with countries, economies and companies in a tailspin, let’s be honest – the enjoyment we get from our jobs… well, it’s not going up.
As for time spent at home, if we’re not tired or grouchy, or distracted, we’re drinking to de-stress from work. Or we’re fighting with loved ones to de-stress from work. Or we’re sat tapping our phones reading twitter or facebook, in a futile attempt to make up for the real social life that we want to have… but we just don’t have time for anymore.
Modern life is hard. And we often go wrong.
Sometimes you go into robot mode – work, sleep, work, sleep, maybe watch tv and have something to eat. But you shut yourself down and go on autopilot. Like a capsized white water rafter, you give in to the current and curl yourself small to avoid getting hurt. You know that life may be passing you by, but it’s too hard to control. And the knowledge of what you’re missing hurts so it’s easier just not to think about it. So you clock in, clock out, and you eat your packaged sandwiches, and you watch The X Factor, and you try not to think of the time when you used to feel more.
Sometimes it goes the other way – in your desperation to grab onto your life you reach out, you fight hard, kicking and screaming to try and get toehold on something. To try and make up for the time that you’re missing. And in your desperation to grab life, like pulling a muscle, you get it all wrong. You get too drunk on your weekly/monthly night out. You fight with your partner or friends or loved ones, because they’re not ‘present’ when you hang out with them – because they too are too tired or stressed out or worried or neutral to give you what you want from their company.
I’m as guilty as anyone – I screw up all the time.
I don’t know if any of this so far is familiar to anyone reading. I suspect deep down that it probably is. And I know I’m as guilty – of all of these things – as anyone. The other day for example, I had a fight with my 6 year old daughter. I don’t know why, it was stupid and pointless. She gave me some attitude – probably caused by emotions she couldn’t articulate: the fact that she misses me, that I’m never around as much as she’d like. I got excessively stern with her, upset that our time together was being wasted when I’d looked forward so much to her tiny adorable voice, and her wonderful company. I know we both love each other, and we both want our time together to be special, but like a runaway train – or one of those cartoon snowballs that grows from pea-sized to ginormous as it rolls down the mountain – once we’d started bickering it got harder and harder to pull things back on track. And before I knew it, that was it. Game over.
After she went to bed grumpy and tearful, having told me emphatically that I was “a meany” and that “she hates her life” I sat on the balcony and – over a glass of wine – took my troubles out on my wife, resentful that she got to see the kids happy and cheerful whilst I got all the attitude. Which is stupid, because it’s not my daughters fault, and it’s not my wife’s. My wife puts up with much more crap from our kids than I ever will. And once she had refused to fall out with me, I sat in a silence, feeling sorry for myself but without knowing why. Basically, I behaved like a tool.
And that’s where I’m going with this I suppose – with the world as it is, we can’t all be celebrities, or billionaires, or have freedom to make our own decisions. Most of us work in jobs that are solely designed to put food on the table, and most of us spend more time doing them than we really would like. It’s easy to get down about it, and it’s easy to feel sorry for ourselves, and it’s easy to feel guilty or resentful, or bitter, or mardy (if you’re not British and you haven’t heard this word before, look it up. It’s a great one.)
And we’re the lucky ones. We’re the ones with jobs to be tired of, and families to be absent from.
So what do you do? Three simple rules for an easier life.
Back at the start, I said openly I’m not good at this Taoism – I’m not Mr Miyagi, or the Dalai Lama. I care way too much and I get too worked up. I’m going to write more on these things, but the 3 bits of advice I can give you (and which I try to give myself) are as follows:
Firstly, be kind to yourself. We all screw up, we all let people down, and disappoint them, and upset them, and fall out with them. Sometimes. As long as you’re trying, you’re doing fine. As Lao Tzu says
There is a time for being ahead,
a time for being behind;
a time for being in motion,
a time for being at rest;
a time for being vigorous,
a time for being exhausted
So if you’re sometimes mardy after work, or you don’t play with your kids as much as you’d like, or you bailed on your friend when they wanted a night out, don’t beat yourself up. You are who you are. And that’s ok.
Secondly, relax. As I’ve mentioned before in my comments on ‘caring’, it is exhausting trying to live up to perfection. And it’s impossible. If you try to be perfect you’ll burn yourself out – both at work, and in life. So relax.
Fill your bowl to the brim
and it will spill.
Keep sharpening your knife
and it will blunt.
Chase after money and security
and your heart will never unclench.
Care about people’s approval
and you will be their prisoner.
Thirdly, don’t think you’re a failure. It’s a meaningless concept that only exists in your head. There is no absolute measure of what makes a good friend, parent, partner or person. You’re not in the Olympics of parenting, and you’re not on trial at the Appellate Court of How Much You Call Your Parents. If you’re trying your best then that’s all you can do. Generations of human beings have lived without 60 hour a week office jobs, but did they do any better than you do? Were their marriages as equal or loving? Did they parent their children as actively? Did they have time for their friends once they’d left the coalmine/stopped hunting woolly mammoths/doing… you know, whatever people did in mediaeval times. Knight stuff or whatever?
The image you have of a perfect life, where you juggle your job with a wonderful relationship, rich social life and emotionally healthy well-adjusted children is probably a fiction formed by watching the Television. So let go of it, and accept how things are. You’re probably doing ok.
The Master does his job
and then stops.
He understands that the universe
is forever out of control,
and that trying to dominate events
goes against the current of the Tao.
Because he believes in himself,
he doesn’t try to convince others.
Because he is content with himself,
he doesn’t need others’ approval.
Because he accepts himself,
the whole world accepts him.
I haven’t posted for a while because I’ve been busy at work – Luckily there’s no mug for ‘Best Blogger’, otherwise I could also count that one… oh, you know what hold on. There is. Wow. Anyway, I’ve been busy but thanks for your comments and for reading, I really appreciate it. Have a nice weekend.