23 June 2013

The softness underneath the hard shells...

My friend in Arizona, has two desert turtles for pets. During my recent visit, her husband reached down, picked up one of the turtles, and asked me to feel the turtle’s skin that was within the shell. He wanted me to get a feel for how soft and tender that skin was. It was indeed. 

I did not make much of it then. However, later in the day, back at home, while sorting through the clutter, which had found home in my mind over the weekend, I thought of the turtles. 

The skin under the shell was very soft. Quite in contrast to the parts of skin exposed to the elements, which were sturdy, rough, and harsh. 

In there I discovered a parable for the human condition. We are very much like the turtles except that our shells are not that apparent. 

Only when we feel safe and secure in our associations are we able to let our guard down and expose our true tender loving nature. In intimate relationships, where partners feel safe sharing their physical and emotional selves, the tenderness is easily expressed, perceived, received, and reciprocated. However, the same partners, in their routine interactions, may choose to carry a thick skin, sharp claws, and a harshness that could make people cringe. All because hey did not feel safe. 

Security, however, is a fleeting phenomenon in a highly unpredictable world, which continually puts our sense of well-being to test. In relationships, the demands, complaints, asks, responsibilities, the daily chores, the burden of expectations of another and of ourselves, all are a barrage of tests that we each of to respond or react to on a continual basis. They challenge us to keep an open heart when everything screams to strengthen the shell that would make us safe. 

When faced with these challenges it is easy for us to burrow our tender selves behind a hard shell. It is not hard to imagine the din and clamor of two shells colliding against each other, trying to dig out the tenderness from underneath, that once was, only to find the shells getting stronger and thicker in return. Neither wants to expose the tenderness until it is known that the other shell has been withdrawn; and many a times, not even then. 

Life in a shell is safe. Life in a shell is not alive. Life in a shell is long. Life inside a shell feels long. 

Life presents opportunities but makes no demands of us to come out of our shells. We may demand the other drop the shell first. There is no way to know if the other shell is still there when one is clenched tightly within one’s own shell. If we choose to keep the tenderness trapped then all that is there is a fearful mind, sharp claws, rough skin, and a scared being. Living but not alive. 

01 June 2013

The thing to do about To-do lists

To-do lists get things done. How would you know what all needs to get done unless you had written down a To-do list? There is always a chance you will miss doing something that needed to get done because you had not recorded it on your To-do list. That would just cause waste of time, and potentially money and convenience as well, since it would require additional effort or another trip to the same place or something of similar nature or even of greater repentance.

I hence created To-do lists with a fervor that few can match or imagine. I had multiple lists on my phone, some written on paper at the house, couple in the car, and several at work. These lists found me their diligent follower and servant as I feverishly worked day-in day-out, on weekdays and on weekends, to help reduce their load while keeping a diligent eye out for where they needed to be perfected by new additions.

I got things done!

Recently, however, I have come to realize a few other aspects of these To-do lists, which have been eye opening in other ways.

I have come to question life as a list of things to do. I believe life is more than a laundry list of things to be accomplished. Buried under my plethora of lists, I had some sense of this sentiment, but never truly actualized it.

Lately I have stopped creating To-do lists. When I say stopped, I mean totally, completely, absolutely stopped. I create them no more. Nada.

To those of us who still live in the world of To-do lists, it would sound scary and perhaps even stupid. Many may be going in their head, “Yeah, right! We shall see how long it would last. He would never get anything done and will always be playing catch up! Good luck buddy!”.

Yet, the truth of the situation is that even though I had similar concerns going in, I am yet to miss having these lists.

There are two very important lessons that I have learned by not having To-do lists anymore.

The first important thing I learned is about prioritization. Much of what we jot down on our lists is not all that important to begin with. It would be okay if half of those items did not get done at all. Then there are other items that do not need to be done right then-and-there, aka, they do not deserve the sense of urgency that they may find showered on them as when they are added to this elite To-do list. There are in reality very few items that are truly that important that they need to get done. For such items, I really do not need a list. For some who are totally remiss on memory faculties, a list may be a much needed aid. However, for most of us, average memory is good enough to remember these items and it may also improve our memory functions by learning to retain a couple of items, which we, with the advent and adoption of latest technologies, are becoming increasingly stale at.

The other important lesson I learned has to do with our tendency to procrastinate. I realized that writing down a thing to be done on the To-do list gave me an excuse to not attend to it at the moment - It is now recorded and I will get to it in due corse of time; I am assured it will get done and I can relax. Wrong! The list, given the nature of it and of one’s mind, continues to grow. Items get added all the time. It does not always get addressed in a first in first out basis. We address items of the list randomly. Consequently, the items that were not all that important to begin with, continue to weigh on the list and on our minds as we continue to defer them until a later time when we will be able to attend to them. Or conversely, we busy ourselves with the not-so-important items at the expense of the truly important ones, to get a sense of accomplishment and busyness, without really getting much of import done. Lists accentuate procrastination.

In absence of lists, I remember to do that which is important and do it as it needs to get done, without deferring. This is not to say that there are things that on occasion do need to get done and do not get done. It also does not mean that this system is for everyone. There are people who will swear by To-do lists - and I was one of them and I know how you feel - and more power to them. To me it has really come down to understanding what is important for me in my life at this point of time - and it is not about getting more things done in less time nor is it about getting done everything that possibly can be done.

I have come to the realization that my life is not about checking things off a To-do lists. I want to experience an abundance of time to dwell in the seemingly trivial acts of a day. These acts may be of no importance to other but to my own quality of life - reading, meditating, spending time in nature, and like. I do not want my days to be filled with running around managing lists and being managed by them. I trust myself to do that which is important and needs to get done. And I am comfortable with assuming responsibility for dropping a few balls here and there in interest of this new found freedom and relief.

Now that I do not have these lists, I find my weekends to be truly relaxing. I am able to read much more than what I was able to before. I am less stressed. I am less hurried, I am more at peace with myself, and, best of all, my efficiency has gone up! This sounds paradoxical but it is true - that which is truly important gets the required attention and that which is noise, gets ignored. 

For now, I am basking in my new found freedom and joy at being free of the heavy chains and bounds of needing to constantly check things off a silly list of things to do. I am more at ease in accepting myself with my accomplishments as well as with any misses.

After all, the joy of the journey is available only to the traveler riding the chariot. For the one pulling the chariot, there is only labor and a feverish hunger to arrive expediently at the destination. I have decided to let the chariot of life pull itself forward while I witness and contemplate upon, in reverence and in gratitude, its unfolding mysteries in their ever-pristine unsung glory.