Savour the sweet air, if you can, whenever you can. Remember that a small part of what passes for wisdom in this world is actually just patience.
A pleasant, peaceful and prosperous new year to you, gentle reader. How do these opening days of 2021 find you? How are you feeling, right now? What do you want to change in your world?
I don’t make New Year’s resolutions. I believe that you should always make changes to your life as soon as they need to be made, rather than at some arbitrary recurring point in time. You will know when the time is right to make the change that needs to be made. This post is therefore not about a New Year’s resolution. It is a little reminder to myself. One that I will in all probability forget.
Yet I must try to remember that there are times when doing nothing is the best policy.
Is there a cure for Must Do All The Things syndrome?
Years back, my wife suggested to me an excellent two-step process to clear your mind of anxiety and worry. Step one is to sit down with pen and paper and write whatever comes to mind about what is on your mind. Step two? Tear the resulting words into tiny pieces and banish them binwards (or flamewards, if you have adult supervision).
I did this most recently at the start of my 2020 festive season break. As always seems to happen, the first days found me anxious and hyperactive, frantically trying to fill every moment with meaningful activity. My wife has dubbed this Must Do All The Things syndrome. After a few days of this, I couldn’t take it any more. Time for desperate measures. I sat down to empty what was bothering me onto the page. When I’d finished, I realised that I might actually learn something if I tried to remember what I wrote. I could at least try to prevent the Groundhog Day inevitability of finding myself in this tiresomely frantic state the next time life gifts me a little downtime. So just this once, I typed up my scrawls before tearing up the original paper. Here they are:
I have somehow made it through to the closing days of 2020. This must count as the toughest, most stressful year that I have had the privilege to live through. The pace has been crazy, relentless. I – as with so many other people – have had to find ways to cope and have had to adapt them as I went along.
But while this year has been unpredictable in many ways, my reactions – now I have the some time and space to rest, reflect and recuperate – have often been much more predictable. Even if I might have been blind to this in the moment.
I always seem to get to the end of the year and feel the year’s – indeed, life’s – relentless forward motion pushing me on. At a point when I really do not need to be pushed. I always seem to find it so hard to unwind and to decompress.
Small mistakes that I have have made and inadequacies in how I decided to face the year the year eat away at me. Making rest impossible. The year’s final, cruel trick. I am impatient to unwind.
So much of what is tearing me apart is so risibly stupid. So inconsequential. I know what I am doing wrong. I must accept all these wrongs. I must forgive myself. I must let go of it all. I must not be blinded to things that I might have done right. I must not be blinded to all the good and the love in this world and in my life.
The word “patience” keeps coming back to me. So much of what I am unhappy about in how I have dealt with this year comes down to my being impatient. Racing into problems that I could easily have avoided (or that might have seemed or even proven to be much less serious) by holding back, or even by doing nothing. Wanting often to do all the things immediately.
I need to learn true patience. A small part of what passes for wisdom in this world is actually just patience.
I must learn to exhale. I must learn to breathe in and to savour the sweet air. I must learn true patience.
Physician, heal thyself
I wonder if I am not alone in reacting in this way to downtime? A little after writing the above words, I came across a tweet from a possible fellow sufferer.
My good friend Seán Jones tweeted about an all-too-familiar set of symptoms. Seán was having a tough time unwinding from a frantic year. I realise that I am opening myself to cries of “Physician, heal thyself” here, but I tweeted Seán some attempted advice based on my own recent experience of Must Do All The Things Syndrome.
If you can, whenever you can
It is too early to guess how 2021 might compare to the year just gone. It seems almost impossible to contemplate that it could bring more of the same only worse than its predecessor (yet this is a contingency that is sadly all too plausible). Then again, 2021 might yet usher in a new era of peace and prosperity, good sense and good health for all (a contingency that feels sadly altogether more remote… but you never know).
What is certain is that life’s relentless forward motion will resume with full force as 2021 hits full gear. As always, the pace of unexpected challenges and the demand for us to face up to them in the moment could overwhelm our inclination for patience and good sense. This risk becomes all the more acute in the current context of an ongoing pandemic that is expected to deliver “the biggest hit to mental health since the second world war”.*
But no matter how bad things might get, here will also be small moments of respite along the way. Don’t let these go to waste. Remember that there are times when doing nothing is the best policy.
Breathe in and savour the sweet air. If you can. Whenever you can. Remember that a small part of what passes for wisdom in this world is actually just patience.
To Seán Jones: I sincerely hope that you were able to unwind fully and to enjoy the happy, restful and restorative festive season downtime that you deserve.
To my future self: Please try your best to avoid Must Do All The Things Syndrome.
To you, gentle reader: May 2021 prove to be an all-round better year for you than 2020 may or may not have been. May today be nothing but kind to you and yours.
* If it is feasible for you to do so, please consider making a donation to the Samaritans.