Glasses; Money; Phone

A couple of days ago I was reading yet more blogs about minimalist lifestyles, and came across  one called “Be More With Less (life on purpose)”.  One post in particular caught my eye – What’s in your purse.  (It’s an American blog, can you tell?)  Love the picture, by the way – wish I could find a handbag that colour!

Anyway it reminded me of a trick my daughters (now 20 and 23) have adopted to remind themselves of the essentials when they leave the house.  They chant “glasses, money, phone”.  These being the essential, irreplaceable things that they will always need.  Sometimes they will add other items, such as tickets (if travelling or going to  the theatre etc), or keys (as they have become more independent).  But it always starts “glasses, money, phone”.

If you believe that parents can learn from their children, here is the proof, as we have adopted their mantra, and found it helpful.  It also helps to remind ourselves that only a fraction of what we carry in our “purse” is really necessary, and when I have an hour or two to spare I intend to go through the contents of mine and reduce them drastically.

Of course, intentions are not deeds (who said that?  Maybe I made it up).  Here’s a better quotation: “The smallest deed is better than the grandest intention.” (Roger Nash Baldwin, pacifist and communist, and one of the founders of the American Civil Liberties Union)


Away from it all…

Getting away from home always seems to result in a number of insights into various aspects of life.
At the moment I am on my Easter holiday from my work in school.  I enjoy the change and the chance to see my family – both daughters came “home” and it was quite like old times!

We also made the journey “up North” to see my parents for a couple of days, then over East to take student daughter back to university, then back home the next day.

I realise that in some parts of the world, a journey totalling 750 miles would be no big deal.  Across the USA, almost-empty roads stretch from coast to coast; in France, I’m told, the main autoroutes are similarly clear of traffic.  But here in England, our motorways are packed with cars and lorries, nose to tail, impatient to overtake with the illusion that once past the next artic, the road will be clear all the way to their destination.  Sometimes all of the traffic travels at around the speed limit of 70mph, but if there are road works, or an accident, or just through sheer weight of traffic, it slows dramatically until we are creeping along, sandwiched between each other, overheating our clutches and our selves.  There is no pleasure in such a journey.  And that’s just the motorways.

Crossing the country from west to east, we decided to take the shorter, scenic route through the Peak District, rather than the longer motorway route.  In the middle of a busy Friday we found ourselves on the wrong road in Cheadle, a short but unpleasant interlude until we came across the right road, more by luck than judgement.  Lucky that we had two navigators and a road atlas to help.  The Peak District was as beautiful as I remembered, but then came Chesterfield, Staveley and Worksop.  Again the traffic slowed almost to a standstill under its own weight.  And we felt that weight, impatient as we were to arrive at our destination before the shops closed.

People these days expect to be able to travel where they like and when, at their own convenience and in their own vehicles.  But the roads are full.  There are too many people and too many cars.  Almost all of our goods are transported by road these days too.  Britain is a small country – in America we have seen that when a road is inadequate for its traffic, they build a whole new road through a previously untouched piece of land.  We have no untouched land, no wilderness, and if we did, would we want it to be wasted on roads?  We have beautiful countryside, but it is precious.

However, there are advantages in living in some of the busier areas.  In Cheadle and in Chesterfield, in Staveley and Worksop, it is possible for the people to find any commodity they want within a mile or so of their homes.  Food, clothing, furniture, hardware, carpets, curtains, antiques, lighting, restaurants, pubs, social clubs.  I saw all of these on the same street, and not just one of each but a choice of several.  Not only supermarkets but butchers, greengrocers and bakers shops. And people using the shops, going from one to another like bees in a hive.  Even in the city, it’s only a short walk from the student village to a market in the centre to buy fresh fruit and vegetables from a choice of stalls.

At home I have to drive 3 miles to go to a small supermarket.  In the same town there is one greengrocer, one baker and one fishmonger (no butcher).  And an eccentric but rather expensive hardware store.  After that it’s about 8 miles to the next supermarket and greengrocer.  Or 10 miles in a different direction to a different town.  If I want a carpet, I know of three places within 10 miles, but all in different directions, or I can go to the city, 15 miles away, for a similar choice in a smaller area.

Sometimes I feel I’m writing like an explorer in a strange country!

Does living in towns make life easier, or does it just make being a consumer and a traveller easier?

Maybe being in the country is slower and harder, but more real, less materialistic? More minimalist?

But don’t human beings need variety, change, stimulation, to keep us from becoming stale, dull and boring (and bored)?  This is why I like to get away from home, but I don’t do it enough, stuck out in the sticks on the road to nowhere, every trip a major journey.

Plato’s Podcasts (The ancients’ guide to modern living)

by Mark Vernon

Each chapter looks at one of the ancient Greek philosophers, putting them in their historical perspective and pointing out similarities with some modern dilemmas.

In the introduction, the author states that the turbulence of the times in which these people lived gave birth to philosophy, in the same way that people today are questioning and discussing lifestyles and ethics.  The times in which we live are equally turbulent in their way, and people are looking for ways to cope with this.

In modern style, the chapters are short enough that they could be made into a series of podcasts, but the author stresses that this would only be an introduction, as it takes a lifetime to study philosophy, and is best done by living the philosophy itself.  Podcasts and online learning might take a person from novice to beginner, but for expertise and mastery, the fellowship of risk-taking and trust is required.

Pythagoras is covered, who searched for meaning and found it in mathematics.  Sappho, whose love poetry embodies attention to detail and imagery.  Plato, who developed the device of the dialogue, a conversational style in which ideas are discussed.

Diogenes the Cynic was the man who lived very simply on the streets, with a barrel for shelter.  Diogenes message seems to be that fame is ephemeral and deceptive, while the best way to get a message across is to devote your life to it, which then attracts attention and makes the message newsworthy.

Epicurus was the man famous for his “less is more” philosophy.  Epicurus believed, after Democritus, in the atomic model of matter.  They reasoned that if matter is infinitely divisible, you would be able to divide and divide until you were left with nothing.  Since this is clearly impossible, there must be tiny indivisible units, which they called atoms.  They were far ahead of their time, and their ideas were not popular.  This reductionist way of thinking led Epicurus to consider what is fundamental for life to exist, and to try to live the simplest way possible.  He asked, what is natural and necessary; natural and unnecessary; and what is both unnatural and unnecessary?  Worth considering in our modern times!

The psychology of shopping is touched upon, and hedonism, which is found to be a rather shallow philosophy.  Other philosophers thought that pleasures should be appreciated and enjoyed, but allowed to pass without yearning.

Cleanthus (the water-carrier) had a clear message for us today: don’t work so hard that you miss what you want.

The final chapter is about Socrates and his ideas about accepting the inevitability of death.  Aristotle was keen on logic, and recognised that all humans are mortal.  If we can contemplate life as if we are near death, it highlights the present, but also makes death seem less daunting, apparently.  It is the truth that sets you free.  Socrates talked of separating the soul from the body, which he hoped for in death, and practiced this by contemplating the body while keeping still.  In today’s language it sounds very like transcendental meditation.  His message was to choose a philosophy and practice it, in order to come to terms with death.  Because the contemplation of death leads to life, in the here and now, and the hereafter can take care of itself.  Which also sounds like meditative practice.

Altogether, a fascinating introduction to philosophy, which made me want to read more, and I hope I will.  Who would have thought that the ancients would have a message for our times?  But then, nothing in this world really changes, does it?

Mindfulness – an early Spring walk

The sun was shining today so I achieved something I’ve been failing miserably at since Christmas.  I went for a walk. A whole hour in the sun and the fresh air!

The first thing I noticed as I went up the hill was my aching legs.  Obviously my laziness has not gone unnoticed by my calf and thigh muscles.  But I pressed on.

Next thing was the snowdrops.  They are at that perfect stage just now – almost open but not quite.  Hundreds, maybe thousands of them, glowing against the mud and the dead stuff and the dirty brown of the hedges.  I found myself wishing that I’d brought my camera, but hard on the heels of that thought came an insight that I’ve had once or twice before.  Let me explain.  I have photos on my computer, in folders with names such as Spring 09, Winter 08/09 and so on.  The photos are of sunsets, spring flowers, ferns opening, bare branches against January skies, lambs in fields, Autumn leaves, etc etc.  Things that you can see every year.  Things that can never be captured adequately on film.  Things that are always immeasurably better if you see them for real.  And finally, things that never lose their freshness and always make you glad to be alive.

So let’s save the camera for times that aren’t going to come again, like young children playing, birthdays and anniversaries, holidays and special occasions. And let’s get out there as often as possible and renew ourselves daily, weekly, season by season.

After that it was just one thing after another.  Tight catkins waiting for the warmth of spring.  Pennywort and Hart’s Tongue ferns and fluffy moss contrasting beautifully against the brown, dead leaves and ferns and the tightly cropped hedgerows.  Young lambs skipping in the fields.  Water rushing in the gully beside the lane, and pouring out of the hedge after the recent heavy rain.  (Hey, that rhymes – maybe I’ll try poetry one day).  And the sun was warm (in places!)

By the time I got home my mood was more positive than it had been for days.  It would be silly to claim that I’d forgotten all those wonderful things were out there on my doorstep; but it certainly did me a lot of good to be reminded.

Of course it’s raining again now, but I know that Spring is coming and I plan to looking out for it.

When I got home I cut some twigs from the garden like we used to do as children.  Sticky buds from the Horse Chestnut, and some green and red stems from Cornus, in a glass on the kitchen windowsill.  It might be a bit early for them to come into leaf, but we’ll see.

I think this could be counted as an hour of Mindfulness.  I’d like to do it more often.


Haven’t been swimming for several weeks, till today.

Back in the summer I joined a local fitness club, after much deliberation and soul searching. It is expensive, oh yes, even the “off peak” membership, which means I can only go during the week between 8:30am and 5pm. Comparing it with other public swimming pools, I need to go at least 3 times a week to make it worthwhile.

There is a gym and various classes on offer such as Circuit Training, Cycle Fit and Body Balance, but so far I have only been swimming. Never fancied using a gym – it seems so boring, as well as sweaty and exhausting. Swimming is different. Tiring, yes, but it feels so much nicer. I like the way it slows all your movements down, and you don’t feel hot and sticky. If you concentrate on the water and the light and the reflections, or the feeling of the water against your skin, or the movements of your limbs in the water, it’s almost like meditation.

To me, swimming in the morning is nicest. Before getting involved in my daily routine. This means on my days off. It is possible to get there before 5 on work days, but somehow I don’t feel like it so much when I’ve been working. I should try harder, just one afternoon a week, I should be able to manage that.

I would also like to try some of the other things on offer, like Body Balance, Cycle Fit, maybe Pilates. Not having anyone to go with, I find myself reluctant to start. Which is harder, to learn to do these things alone, or to find someone to share it with?

Anyway, today I did 40 lengths in about 50 minutes. Which is the most I’ve ever done.

Question: is it better to build up to swimming a greater distance, or to work at doing the same distance in a shorter time?

Whichever it is, and I suspect that both have their merits, at least I have an activity that I can enjoy in all weathers to keep up my health and fitness levels – one of my main goals to enable me to enjoy the rest of my life in to old age.