Cathedral or Cave II

Whew, I’ve been hard at it recently. And as so often: intractable problems, helping people who are struggling and taking on more than I should; all of which have taken their toll.

But also – as increasingly often these last ten years – I’ve caught myself just in time…

Flagging, tired and increasingly irascible, I had the good sense to book this Friday off and as I texted to a great friend, here’s what I did with it:

For my part I walked the hound and then slept from 9.30am to 11.40am with the dog by my side, and then again from 2.30pm to 5.50pm similarly. I feel a deep basin of fatigue has been considerably drained. My biggest problem in life has always been that I need more sleep than most people.

I also coughed the other truth about myself last weekend – I like people; but they tire me out. And very very helpfully, I have been excused some social outings subsequently.

Which reminded me of this – written eight years ago…

I’m more cave than cathedral I increasingly think. I need more sleep and more time alone than most people:

Cathedral or Cave?

I imagine Aristotle, like the Acropolis, as more Cathedral. The reclusive poet Emily Dickinson would be more cave. Montaigne, perhaps old Paris; earthy rumbustious streets and deep reflective catacombs. 

I’ve been toying with Nietzsche’s idea that our ‘will to power’ is either expressed in the real world or forcibly turned in.

For him, we create a complex inner life in proportion to the scale of our drive we cannot express externally. It’s an interesting thought.

Complex interesting people tend to have a good deal of both – rich inner lives and fulfilling outer ones. But not always. Nietzsche credits civilisation with curbing the capacity to express our animal instincts externally – driving them inwards. This unexpressed energy drives our inner lives – our conscience, guilt and creativity.

I think regularly about the balance of inner and external. I don’t feel I have the ‘will to power’ for a full ‘Cathedral’ in the external world. Too much competition, conflict, one-upmanship and strife in seeking grandeur. I fear I’d lose my health, precious time with my family and my happiness if I allowed a ‘grand projet’ or personal aggrandisement to consume me. 

Talking to a friend – who is a decade older than me – this week, I felt a bit guilty. He has real fire in his belly for systemic reform, transformational change and the great debates of public policy. I said I’m just not attracted to any of that right now. 

We talked about using our talents and our responsibility to improve the lot of others…

He started his career as a lone residential social worker – on a tough housing estate. Beer bottles bounced off the cage that surrounded his outpost all night.

That’s where his fire still comes from. It drives him to want to improve the scaffolding and superstructure of the nation’s health and social care system.

I don’t have that. I’m more a family chapel with a good sized intellectual cellar. My projects are more local and small scale – my family, the people around me.

But never say never. The world is an unpredictable place. Gaudi started with lamp posts and squat schoolhouses, so I suppose you never really know what you might build one brick at a time.

Smile, surf, sleep

Smile

Talking to my daughter about her friendship angst this morning, I advocated she try a welcoming smile. 

I told her about the nice lady at work who told me about the cold snap in Romania and how it’s threatening the cherry trees; people are tending fires to gently waft smoke through the branches to protect the cherries. We both wished them well.

This lovely encounter grew from simply smiling, on three occasions as she made me a latte; and the smile developed into an exchange and then a conversation. 

Let’s see how my eldest gets on – I suspect it might take me than a smile with this ‘friend’.

Surf

I’m reading a rather terrific book about letting go of anxiety and fear and tapping into your own energy. 

More of this anon, but one of the many useful reminders is nearly everything that happens to us, in truth, is outside of our control. This means there are only two options, try to resist, control or avoid life – or roll with it. 

This week (like so many) looked on Tuesday morning (after an enjoyable but tiring bank holiday) like wave after wave of bother, problems, egos, unreasonable demands, risks and stressors; culminating in large forum event – at which I would have to orchestrate, perform and keep the whole show together. 

So it was; but by (largely) surfing along on the top of it all and not fighting it (and myself) I got through it just fine. By saving the energy on worry, avoidance and fear – I got it all done quite happily. 

As King Canute amply showed, there’s little point trying to stop the waves; may as well get up on your board and ride ’em.


Sleep

My old friend sleep. I need it so much, I never get enough of it and I never do enough to make sure I do. But I have improved in a few areas… to earplugs I’ve added eyepatches and from last week a booze curfew at 9pm. 

All the book and all the sage advice in them can’t help me when I’m tired. Without my sleep I’m hopeless; with it I’m smiling and surfing along.

What a ‘To Do’

img_1936Looking for something else, I stumbled across a couple of ‘To Do’ lists I wrote back in November 2010.

Here’s a summary of how my life was going back then…

“A tiny bit more self discipline will translate some excellent progress and achievement into real happiness.”

“The fundamentals are very sound; small details however are costing me the all important emergent wellbeing.”

Nothing if not earnest eh!

Still looking at what I wrote as the actions arising, not much has changed:

  • Get home earlier
  • Get to bed earlier
  • Find some breathing spaces during the day
  • Get to work earlier and use it well
  • Eat less for dinner
  • Keep up appearances and look the part at work
  • Take pride in myself and my achievements and continue to step forward at work
  • Spend more time with the family
  • Make modest improvements in the state of our home

It is as it was. There’s almost nothing on that list that wouldn’t continue to be on a similar list today.

And that’s the thing with to do lists – it’s one thing to write them; a whole other thing to do them.

Still, I’m not doing so bad on the other 127 things on my current ‘To Do’ list!

Sleep

I was talking to a good friend on Friday about fatigue. One thing you don’t get with small children is any rest. On Saturday we had a day out, buses, boats, trains, ice creams and by the time we got home we were all shattered. A good day though.

I had the same experience with slightly bigger kids at work all last week. Meetings, conversations, communiques and some adult variant tears and tantrums. It all got done and objectively it was a very good and effective week. But…

What’s true of both is I ran my batteries on ‘drain’. A combination of complex emotions at work and simpler but no less demanding ones at home means I’m dog tired.

I have an excuse for a bad night’s sleep on Saturday – next door had a house party. But there’s no excuse for last night. After the clocks going back and two hours of ‘trick or treating’ an early night was what I really needed. But distractions and ‘jobs’ got in the way.

It’s 100% my own fault. I had the diagnosis, I ignored the medicine. Periodic rest and consistent good sleep are the key to happiness, contentment and any sustained attempt at eudaemonia. Note to self, get some.