Crushed by pressure.

first-step

There are times in our lives when we are crushed into immobility by pressure.  It may be the pressure of too much stimulation, like a soldier caught in crossfire who freezes instead of leaping for cover.  It may be pressure of time and work, like the office worker who faces such a towering pile of work and impossible deadlines that they can’t focus on a single task.  It may be an artist or writer facing self doubt about their personal validity leading to a mental block.

Military special forces deal with situation number 1 by putting recruits through stress again and again until stress becomes their new norm.  Special forces are special because when everybody else is running blindly for cover, or freezing on the spot, they can make rational decisions.  They assess the situation, make a decision and act.

Experienced office employees know you can only focus on one task at one time.  Don’t believe people who say they can multi-task.  Focus on the here and now.  Pick the most important thing.  This may not be the most “urgent”.  Do one thing well.  Complete it.  Then do the next most important thing.

Many people become stressed by the things they cannot change.  It is like a person standing in a room with a burst pipe worrying about global climate change.  You can’t solve global climate change today.  But maybe you can fix a pipe or call a plumber.  Keep it small, keep it simple.

For the writer or artist with the mental block there are a million pieces of advice.  For me what works is the discipline of writing something.  Anything.  This blog.  Lay some words on a page.  They may be rubbish.  They may turn out to be good.  They may just clear your mind.  The simple action of placing words on a page or paint on a canvas, with no motive, can be enough to move you forward.

Robert M Pirsig in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance described an A student with a mental block.  She had to write an essay about her home town and got stuck.  So he told her to walk to the main street, stand outside the library, count bricks from the ground on the corner and stop at e.g brick number 20.  Then write about that brick.  Once she started to write about the brick she could not stop, and the story of the whole town unfolded.

In Time Management Training they describe their approach to daunting tasks as “Eating an Elephant”.  It’s hard to eat an elephant in one meal.  Much easier if you chop it up into lots and lots of meals.  Then just eat the elephant one meal at a time.  Before you know it you will run out of elephant.

A Grain of Sand:  by Robert William Service

If starry space no limit knows
And sun succeeds to sun,
There is no reason to suppose
Our earth the only one.
‘Mid countless constellations cast
A million worlds may be,
With each a God to bless or blast
And steer to destiny.

Just think! A million gods or so
To guide each vital stream,
With over all to boss the show
A Deity supreme.
Such magnitudes oppress my mind;
From cosmic space it swings;
So ultimately glad to find
Relief in little things.

For look! Within my hollow hand,
While round the earth careens,
I hold a single grain of sand
And wonder what it means.
Ah! If I had the eyes to see,
And brain to understand,
I think Life’s mystery might be
Solved in this grain of sand.

 

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Feng Shui

Mess

There is a Chinese proverb that says “To advance your career clean out your attic”.  It is not meant to be metaphorical like when we say “sharpen the saw” and really mean take a new course to upskill.  The Chinese literally mean “climb up there and clean out your attic”.  It is a principle of feng shui, the Chinese philosophy that life energy is tied to design.  The weight of possessions in your attic is pinning you down.

In Western societies we have the concept of spring cleaning, a way of shaking off the confinement of winter and breaking out into the new year.  It is with this in mind that we had a combination  cleanout day today.  The Christmas lights and decorations were all taken down and stored away for another year.  Then we started into a major document cleanout.  We tore through all our stored paper and cleared out anything out of date.  Bank statements, bills, contracts, receipts, manuals, guarantees, notifications.  Drawers and drawers of the stuff is now in the recycling bin.

Then I moved my home office from the rather cold landing down into the den/music room/ games room.  Here I am in the warmth with a fully functioning office.  The old site on the landing is now a comfy seating area.

It all feels great.  Good things are ready to happen now.  Just you see!

 

 

Make your moments

Tube

Photo by Matt Crabtree (16th Century Tube Passengers)

I spent years commuting to the big city on the train.  It is a journey of 1 hour 20 mins on a good day, 1 hour 30 mins mostly.  So that’s 3 hours daily on a train.

Say that to many people and they think you are crazy.  They think this is 3 hours a day wasted.  How little they know.

Much of my time on the train was spent working.  In fact it was the time getting to and from the train that had the potential to be “wasted”.  But you only waste time if you choose to do nothing with it.

That’s why I connect so well with the image above.  This lady on the Tube is not wasting time, she is eating it up, stealing precious moments for herself.  On a commute I had time to hear the music I want to hear, read books, write poetry.  Downloading podcasts gives me access to lectures on Byzantine emperors, audio books of many of the classics, some of them made hilarious by dreadful pronunciations by the narrator.

This photograph was taken by Matt Crabtree who said

One morning in 2016, on a tube journey into central London, I looked up to see a lady dressed in a velvet hood, seated in a classical, timeless pose. Immediately, a 16th-century Flemish painting came to mind. I looked around and suddenly found I couldn’t see anything else but people held in their own Renaissance-like, personal moments’.

I get that too, how travelling on public transport is like starring in your own reality TV show.  A stream of people pass each day through your life.  You have the regular characters and some who only appear in a single episode.  Each has their own part in the story and it is a wonderful story.  The story of life.

 

Feliz cumpleaños Andrés Bello

2000 Bolivars

20000 Peso

Venezuealan poet Andrés Bello was born on this day in Caracas in the year  1781.  Pray not for riches, fancy furniture or tables filled with fine foods.  Wish instead for a simple home, surrounded by natural beauty, and the kiss of the one you love.

With such a sentiment it is funny that you find this man on both the Venezuelan 2,000 Bolivar note, and also the Chilean 20,000 peso note.   Philosopher, writer, humanist, diplomat, explorer and has the claim to fame of being teacher to Simón Bolivar.

Rubia; by Andrés Bello

¿Sabes, rubia, qué gracia solicito
cuando de ofrendas cubro los altares?
No ricos muebles, no soberbios lares,
ni una mesa que adule al apetito.

De Aragua a las orillas un distrito
que me tribute fáciles manjares,
do vecino a mis rústicos hogares
entre peñascos corra un arroyito.

Para acogerme en el calor estivo,
que tenga una arboleda también quiero,
do crezca junto al sauce el coco altivo.

¡Felice yo si en este albergue muero;
y al exhalar mi aliento fugitivo,
sello en tus labios el adiós postrero!

 

Happy Birthday William Blake

Blake

Born this day 1757.

The Clod and the Pebble; by William Blake

“Love seeketh not itself to please,
nor for itself hath any care,
but for another gives its ease,
and builds a Heaven in Hell’s despair.”

So sung a little Clod of Clay
trodden with the cattle’s feet,
but a Pebble of the brook
warbled out these metres meet:

“Love seeketh only self to please,
to bind another to its delight,
joys in another’s loss of ease,
and builds a Hell in Heaven’s despite.”

Ship of Death

Schooner

Here is a verse composed by Henry Van Dyke Jr “For Katrina’s Sundial”

Time is
Too slow for those who Wait,
Too swift for those who Fear,
Too long for those who Grieve,
Too short for those who Rejoice,
But for those who Love,
Time is not

There is a huge bank of sundial poetry and mottoes.  Many of the epigrams are in latin.  Most are about time, how we use it, how short it is, how our lives are fleeting things.  I also like this poem from Van Dyke where he uses the ship as a metaphor for the life of a person.   Ships as symbols for death are not uncommon.  Perhaps the clearest examples we have are from Pharaonic and Viking burials.  I attach a couple of good examples at the bottom.

Van Dyke was born on November 10th, so I am belatedly wishing him a happy birthday.

 

 

Gone from my sight: by Henry Van Dyke

I am standing upon the seashore. A ship, at my side,
spreads her white sails to the moving breeze and starts
for the blue ocean. She is an object of beauty and strength.
I stand and watch her until, at length, she hangs like a speck
of white cloud just where the sea and sky come to mingle with each other.

Then, someone at my side says, ‘There, she is gone’

Gone where?

Gone from my sight. That is all. She is just as large in mast,
hull and spar as she was when she left my side.
And, she is just as able to bear her load of living freight to her destined port.

Her diminished size is in me – not in her.
And, just at the moment when someone says, ‘There, she is gone,’
there are other eyes watching her coming, and other voices
ready to take up the glad shout, ‘Here she comes!’

And that is dying…

Death comes in its own time, in its own way.
Death is as unique as the individual experiencing it.

 

Khufu

Model of the Khufu Solar Barge found in his tomb.

 

Viking ship, Oseberg, a 9th century burial ship, Vikingskiphuset (Viking Ship Museum), Bygdoy peninsula, Oslo, Norway, Scandinavia, Europe

The Oseberg Burial Longboat

Lincoln was wrong

Gettysburg

I am writing this blog post from a house that was 23 years old when Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address.  That imbues me with a sense of perspective in the history of that speech.  Like the walls of this building those words have endured the assaults of time and have embedded to become stronger.  They have transcended the fickle winds of fashion to become rooted in the fabric of society.

On this day in 1863 Lincoln delivered his speech.  In an age when speeches ran to many hours these words seemed curt to the attendees, who never even settled in to the subject before it was done and dusted.  The photographer at the event failed to take a picture of the president delivering his speech.  The speech was over before he was ready with the camera.  He managed to capture a blurred image of the President descending from the podium after concluding his delivery.

The Gettysburg Address is probably the best known speech in the modern world.   Generations of American children have memorized it for school recitals.  It is held up as a model for brilliant speech.  Short, to the point, not a wasted word, powerful and compelling in its call to the people to build a better future.

In one regard it is wrong.  Lincoln said “The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here..”