I find setting goals and being present to be mutually exclusive. Which is why I've had such an issue with New Years and all the wash of deadlines and stress that come with it. I recently listened to a Ted Talk about slowing down and it talked about how we have glamorized and prioritized productivity over creativity so much so that our minds are never really in the task of the moment. We're always on "next step mode". I don't want to be like that. I've written a lot here about setting intentions rather than rigid goals. One that helped me so much before was "be where you are". This was like a little whisper in my ear, reminding me that every step and stage has its purpose, even when you can't see it clearly at that point in time. Especially, when shit is hitting the fan and you begin to question the validity and purpose of your existence on this planet and the concept of your feelings or decisions having any real effect on the world around you. Dramatic and yet more common place feelings then you'd think. The whisper kept me on track, kept me sane and most importantly, reminded me to be thankful.
Focusing on being where I was, in that exact moment, realizing that there would never be a moment like it again, forced me at first and later lovingly coaxed me into a head space where I became extremely aware of the haphazard and flippant nature of people, environments and activities. It pointed out to me how important it was not to let the little things bother me but also to focus on every task as if it was important in and of itself. I learnt that I love to wash dishes by hand; taking a kitchen of dirty, neglected dishes and lovingly cleaning them, rinsing off the suds and letting them drip dry in a careful order. I paid attention to what I was doing when I made a visitor a cup of tea and let myself fall into a flow as I cooked. Don't get me wrong. I didn't stay mindful every single day. It was difficult most of the time to stay present, especially when someone I cared about was sick or there was a traffic jam or a stressful day at work or a myriad of other minor and major issues.
According to my Only Goals List of 2017, I was going to run cookery classes, permaculture workshops, go back to college part time, save to go to New Zealand at the end of the year, host weekend retreats, run a series of runs that would lead up to 10 miles, volunteer on the farm, with Clean Coasts and Tidy Towns, run community events, start writing a cookbook and start a Sustainable Festival in Clare. In a year. Did I mention that I also wanted all of these to work out fantastically? I think the word I'm looking for here is perfect. Everything had to be perfect. 2017 would be the year that my personality, my skills, talents and my life would be perfect. Because that's what perfectionists do. Self destructive perfectionists like me set themselves up to fail because not only is it impossible to achieve all of these goals in one single year, perfectionism simply doesn't exist. At almost thirty one years of age, I finally took note.
I realise that goals and dreams are vitally important. We all need something to strive towards but Brain Pickings had incredible insights into the role of creativity and perfectionism that has me hooked since. The first point she made about success really hit home. As usual, once someone translates a concept through the metaphor of a natural process, I instantly understand. I would never expect the plants in my garden to succeed, produce and prevail simply because I ordered it necessary within a time frame. The blossoming of an idea, an opinion, a project or a flower, no matter how big or small; that's where the real magic is.
“Expect anything worthwhile to take a long time.” This is borrowed from the wise and wonderful Debbie Millman, for it’s hard to better capture something so fundamental yet so impatiently overlooked in our culture of immediacy. The myth of the overnight success is just that — a myth — as well as a reminder that our present definition of success needs serious retuning. As I’ve reflected elsewhere, the flower doesn’t go from bud to blossom in one spritely burst and yet, as a culture, we’re disinterested in the tedium of the blossoming. But that’s where all the real magic unfolds in the making of one’s character and destiny.
It's the second quote that really challenged that inner perfectionist in me. The one that kicked this whole blog post off. There is a dark, sinister, manipulative and cruel Industrial voice in my head when I stop for a moment and let my mind wander and think about what I'm doing with my life, how I'm measuring up, what I've achieved or accomplished and what other people think of me. It tells me that I'm inferior, a flake, wasted talent and above all a goal-setting perfectionist who hasn't achieved anything worthwhile because it probably won't work out. It won't be perfect. On good days, I love that I am good at a number of things. Sometimes, just sometimes, I wish I was only every astute at one, solitary task and then it would always be done, perfectly. Then the voice would go away and what I did with my time, what I completed, how I did it and who I was as a result would be good enough. It's sad to think I have wasted so much time assuming the dreams and goals I had wouldn't amount to anything or there wasn't much point in trying. It's sad to think I listened to that Draconian voice deeming it all to be unworthy. Then I read this.
Don’t just resist cynicism — fight it actively. Fight it in yourself, for this ungainly beast lays dormant in each of us, and counter it in those you love and engage with, by modeling its opposite... it is a contracting force...it is inherently uncreative, unconstructive, and spiritually corrosive....Like all forms of destruction, cynicism is infinitely easier and lazier than construction. There is nothing more difficult yet more gratifying in our society than living with sincerity and acting from a place of largehearted, constructive, rational faith in the human spirit, continually bending toward growth and betterment.
All good things take time. Life and our dreams and aspirations are worth the effort and time and cynicism from others but especially within ourselves serves no purpose and is the opposite of growth. At my friend M's house the other day, at the height of my confusion, she told me joyfully how eight years ago when she first bought her house, she thought about a living soil wall skirting the front of her house and vibrant green moss smoothing it over, shaped in elegant curves as a welcome to her family home. She achieved that this winter and is happier now, knowing the length of time it took to complete with all its little imperfections and surprises than had it been perfectly done the year they moved in. M always has these pockets of lighthearted wisdom. She sees time as an aid and experience and tripping up along the way as part of the ride. She sees this act of blossoming and change and growth in everything all the time. So far, I only see it when I surf or when I'm on the land or in the garden but I'm getting there. Friends like M, websites with insights like those on Brain Pickings and taking a step back to realise what the true story is behind the ego and innuendo are all teaching me, slowly and in stages, what my goals really are.
In light of these learnings, I've made steps to organize a series of healthy cooking demonstrations nearby and am pouring buckets of love into them for people to enjoy and learn and grow. I'll do my best and my best will be good enough. I'm planning the mindfulness and healthy eating retreats for this year because they will never be great until I start them and there will never be a better time to start than now. The rest? I'll simply ask myself, "What makes you happy? What makes you calm? How can you help others? How can you help yourself? How can you be present?" The answers will lead to creativity rather than productivity for its own sake. I won't be living in a world of doubt and expectation but of learning and exploration and fun. It won't really matter anymore what the task is as long as it leads to that change.
In the spirit of creativity removed from perfectionism, I am posting a simple winter juicing recipe with unedited photographs from my smart phone. Ever since my camera got stolen, I've told myself the photos I have are useless compared to how they were and every other blog I follow. Now I'm telling myself that photos are still beautiful visuals and that you will forgive me. It seems like everyone around me is sick with chest infections and Tom Waits' coughs and I still haven't been sick. I put it down drinking this regularly. A healthy boost of sunshine orange vitamin C with an immune boosting and gut promoting chunk of ginger, it has kept me healthy and energized post Christmas. Here's wishing it does the same for you too.
5 small carrots
1 big chunk of ginger (the bigger the better immunity wise)
Wash all the fruit and veg. Peel the carrots if they are very mucky, otherwise leave the skin on. As a juicing rule, most of the pulp and fibre goes into a separate compartment from the juice anyway and so much of the nutrients are contained in the peel of fruit and veg so aim to leave it on.
Anyway...slice them all so that they fit into the juicer funnel. Juice away! I usually leave the apple until last to 'clean' out all the other juices that came before it. Don't refrigerate. Simple drink and smile with the realisation that you've looked after yourself, taken that simple step to care for your body and your health and you're not going to be sick like everybody else!