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Is Your Life An Obstacle Course?

What can you do about it?

In her book Bird By Bird, the writer, teacher and political activist Anne Lamott describes a memorable incident in her childhood. Her brother, who was ten years old, was struggling with the task of completing a project on birds that he’d done nothing about for several months and was due the next day. Her father calmly advised him to approach the task this way:

‘Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.’

Following this instruction, he completed a reasonable project before he went to bed.

As a teacher of the writing process Lamott uses this remembered phrase to encourage others to keep going, one step at a time, one word at a time. One thing after the other.

It’s wise advice for writing. And it’s wise advice for living too, because life, after all, is just one moment after the other. The moment you are in is all you have to work with. Other moments may be granted you, but the only moment you really have is the one you’re in now.

But sometimes life seems like it’s stretched out before you like an endless obstacle course. All you can see is one hurdle after the other, and while you’re leaping over the one right in front of you, your mind is two or three hurdles ahead, scheming ways around them or fearing what they may demand of you.

Instead of waking up in the morning with a conscious breath and a smile, you’re either taken over by anxiety or attempting to mentally jump over moments that don’t yet exist and therefore can’t be dealt with yet.

While still under the quilt with both eyes wide open with dread, you ask yourself worrisome questions:

Will it rain today?

Should I refuel the car before or after work?

Is head office thinking of a serious reshuffle?

What’s wrong with me?

You’re defeated even before your feet touch the floor by all the ‘birds’ you have to deal with, all the hurdles you’ve imagined as lined up to catch you out. But as Lamott’s father said, you only need to deal with them one at a time, as they arise.

Moment by moment

Living in a state of moment-by-moment mindfulness is the easy way to live. Living moment by moment gives you answers when you need them.

Will it rain today? It will, or it won’t. Take an umbrella. Open it up if the sky starts falling.

Should I refuel the car before or after work? Traffic will decide that. No point locking in a plan now.

Is head office thinking of a serious reshuffle? Head office is always thinking of something. Why waste time trying to be psychic? Just do your best work.

What’s wrong with me? Probably lots of things. But there’s a lot that’s right, too, so work with both as they arise. Don’t lie there trying to analyse yourself when it’s time to get up and pop a crumpet in the toaster.

So tomorrow morning when you wake up, take a deep breath, open one eye and then the other. Move your toes. Relish the feeling of living another moment on this earth.

You may need to slot in some time during the day to make new plans or question the path you’re on because, as Socrates once said, the unexamined life is not worth living, but don’t forget to dwell in the wonder of each moment while you do so.

This day will unfold. Just take it bird by bird. Moment by moment.

Living this way takes the stress out of life. It’s no longer an endless obstacle course.

With love, Marlane

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