Sensory overload, information overload, news overload, work overload, people overload. What about, ‘thinking overload’? What about those same old, tired thoughts that, if you are anything like me, are heavy to lift and wearing to carry around? I’m going away from the weekend and I have to pack within a 10-kilo weight limit. Easy for most, but I’m bringing some gifts, and I like dressing up; enough said. Having assessed what I wanted to bring versus what I needed to bring, I gradually lightened the load. Still, something didn’t feel quite right. I worked it out: I needed to unpack myself, give myself a break from overloaded thoughts, packed in tight like a secret journal at the bottom of the sock drawer. I think about how I can ditch them, so that an emptier me can fly to Dublin in the morning. Solution: I’m going to get a big black bin liner, tip into it all of the detritus that’s rattling about in my head, tie it in a double knot, and hurl it into one of the collective dumpsters that sit on Edinburgh’s street corners. Then I’m going to stop myself from throwing the same old rubbish back into my head, at least for the weekend.
I met A. for a coffee this morning and told her about my black bin-liner. She’s a wise woman and didn’t dissuade me, but told me a story about a very specific morning – she could recall the birdsong, the quality of the light, the colour of the trees – when all the weight was lifted from her and in its place was decanted a rare and delicious draft of contentment. This precious moment wasn’t hunted down, she had not pursued it with relentless determination through gritted teeth – instead she was quietly graced with it, unbidden. A.’s face softened in the recounting of that day, she appeared to tap into a well of ease, salving the present through memory. She had managed to tell me to, “go easy on yourself and stop trying so hard,” in a less blunt, more meaningful way.
This same message has been coming at me from disconnected sources lately: a sign to take notice. Last night, there was a quickly stolen chat with G. between tunes, for some reason we got onto the theme of fruitless efforts. What is it, we asked each other, about us humans who so try and strive and seek? We keep pushing until we eventually shrug our shoulders in resignation, let go of what it is we so fervently wish for, only to find that in the giving up, something is given to us. “I used to hitch-hike as a young man,”he told me, “I would stand for hours willing the drivers to stop and, most often, at the point of relinquishing hope, a car would pull in.”
Earlier in the week, an email from R. asked questions, made statements, and inadvertently guided me. She wrote, “How come being human is so fraught with difficulty? But then the joys are enormous too. It’s all the weather of life.” Then she quoted from a Mary Oliver poem, Wild Geese: “Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine. Meanwhile the world goes on.”
An email, a pub, a coffee shop – wisdom is found in our everyday lives. I think all three of them were telling me the same thing: lay off with the pressure. Jeremy Hardy was an English comedian and satirist who died earlier this week. One widely quoted line of his appeals to me because of it mixes dark, funny and truthful, and it gives those of us with a tendency towards introspection (who sir, me sir?) a little ‘wise-up’ shake. He said, “Why don’t people just accept that life is sad and cheer up. After all, it’s not going to last forever.”
I’ll finish my packing tonight. I’ve ditched Major-General and his barking orders about shoving my thoughts into a bin liner and I’m taking my flawed self with me to experience the weather of life.
Humankind, by Kerry Hardie
We carry the trust.
It was not imposed on us,
nor are we heedless.
Sometimes the stillness stands in the woods
and lies on the lake. We move like drowned beings
through clouded waters.
Sometimes we wake to spent leaves
blowing about in the yard. A door bangs.
A woman – vigorous – shakes a rug into the wind.
The red dog shudders and rises and listens.
Uncertain light shines the grasses
Wealth sits in inner rooms, shining.
These are our days.