Sunday, November 20, 2011

How Much Can One Person Do?

I’m sure this has happened to you. You anticipate the weekend thinking of all the things you want to do, and stressing about all the things you need to do getting in the way. This particular dilemma is causing me a considerable amount of angst these days. Typically in November I begin to play catch-up, but with the weather being unseasonably warm, it’s almost a crime not to take the motorcycles out for an afternoon. So there goes another day when little is accomplished and the chores stack up, not to mention cutting it close to the wire on the bills sitting in the queue.

It was during a typically long commute that I felt as though a melt-down was imminent, thinking I could be writing the next great novel, spending time on staying fit, or just getting some much needed R&R, when I heard again this story. Maybe you’ve heard it too. A teacher puts a jar on the desk and fills it with rocks. When the jar is full of rocks he asks the students if there is anythng more he can put in the jar. The students look at the jar and it’s obviously full, so they tell him that of course he can’t fit anything else in there. He then pulls out a container of gravel and pours it into the jar. The gravel trickles into the air pockets left by the larger stones. He asks his students again if they think the jar is now full. Amazed, they nod their heads and tell him certainly it is full now.

“Oh is it?” he says, and pulls a container of fine sand which he pours into the jar. The sand filters down and into the jar. Again he asks his students the same question, but they are on to him now.

“We don’t know what else can fit in there, but I’m sure there is something.”

The teacher grins and pulls out from under the desk a pitcher of water and pours it into the jar.

In the link above, this story asks us to consider what the “big rocks” in our life are and to make sure to put them in first. Yet, this same story has been used in moral and ethical questions and ingenious ways to manage time. It has also been used to challenge our perceptions as the teacher did with his students. What we see and believe can so often be challenged in ways that surprise us. It had me looking at a typical day in my own life. The jar full of rocks so to speak. Those rocks can seem so big and so heavy; I can’t imagine how I can ever manage the gravel, sand and water. My perception it seems is skewed.

For those of you connected to me on Facebook, you’ve noticed me talking about cleaning the house of unwanted junk that has collected over the years. I know you’ve all cleaned a closet or two in your life and know what a job that can be. It can eat up a good chunk of the day. Yet Andy and I don’t have big chunks to devote to this, but we could spare 15 minutes a day. (If you think 15 minutes can’t make a difference, think about what one drop of water a day can do to your roof over time.) So productive is our 15 minute sessions that we actually look forward to it each day. It’s not taking away from our life, we spend time together, and we learn a few funny truths. Closets are a lot like empty jars. We put the big rocks in and over time we test the theory of how full it really is.

PS: A special thanks to Lee, who always challenges my perceptions and offered up by example how to find the lost minutes of time in the hours of my days.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Observations in the Dark

Sitting in the dark for a week can offer a wealth of information to a person if they are attuned. The historic October Nor’easter here in New England, plunged us into darkness for days on end. Trees, power lines and poles all came down like dominos. Here in Wilton, not only did we lose power, we lost land line and cell reception. Ham radio operators arrived and set up at the fire station to serve as our emergency communication with the outside world.

This might sound like a nightmare to many, but there are hidden gems in being confined to the dark in the evening with nothing but your spouse for entertainment. And before your mind goes down the wrong path, let me assure you the entertainment was enjoyed fully clothed. One of the benefits I find in being in the dark is that when speaking with your spouse by candle light, without the distraction of TV, is that he looks you in the eye and actually participates in the conversation. I discovered my husband has a sense of humor. (Or he rediscovered this on his own.) We reviewed our day, or I read short passages of my favorite book by candle light after which we would chat about what we thought it meant to each of us. We assessed our current state of affairs, talked about the future, and aligned our goals in harmony with each other.

The result of our week without power also showed us just how much useless junk we have laying round. Just think a minute of everything around you that depends on electricity. Not one of these things is of any use without power. Just how much we really “need” some of these things became quite apparent. This led to a conversation about “cleaning house” of the useless things we hang onto. How much of the items we have tucked away are of any use to us? We dust around them, move them around to make room for other “stuff” and sometimes even forget something is there, only to be discovered by accident 20 years later. In the dark, looking each other in the eye, we pledged to devise a plan to clear away the clutter that holds us back from really being free to do what we wish because we are spending all our time taking care of our useless possessions.

When the lights were restored and we looked around, the pledge we made looked like a daunting task we would never accomplish. While the notion seemed to make sense in the dark, the reality of what we really faced was more frightening in the light of day. After some contemplation, I took an idea from a friend who had cleaned his whole garage by spending 15 minutes a day picking away at it. Yet I knew I needed to embellish that if I were to keep Andy focused and engaged. With that in mind, I hatched a plan that worked for both of us and hooked right onto one of our future goals.

So far the plan is working. Each evening we point to a spot in the house. Then I set the timer on my cell phone for 15 minutes. We go to the spot, and start holding up objects. When we are in doubt, or someone starts to get sentimental, we ask ourselves this question. “Do we really want to pack this when we move?” If the answer is “no” we get rid of it. We have no plan to move anytime soon, yet it’s in our long range plan. If the perfect opportunity arises, we will now be ready to take advantage of it in a New York minute.

The temperature this morning is 24 degrees, yet forecasted to rise into the 50’s. When the mercury reaches that point, we are off on the bikes to enjoy a ride, possibly for the last time this season. Another benefit comes to mind as I wait for the sun to warm things up. The less stuff I have to be responsible for, the more time I have to really enjoy life.