I’ve driven a lot of miles lately - many of them spent crawling along behind tractors.
It’s harvest time. The fields are shorn, stacks of straw bales stand sentry where the corn grew tall, and those who help to put food on our tables are busy from dawn to dusk, bringing it all home.
As we snake along country roads, splinters of chaff hitting my windscreen like golden insects, I can’t help noticing those who are not content to crawl. Their red faces speak of their frustration, and when, finally, the way ahead opens up enough for them to risk overtaking, they push down on the accelerator a little too hard, as if in reproach to anyone who dares keep them from getting on with their lives.
Except their lives are happening in the moments of delay every bit as much as they will happen when they get to the appointment, or the date, or dinner at home, or sometimes just the next junction where they’ll encounter a combine harvester from the neighbouring farm.
We’ve made such a habit of hurrying. In the last two days I have pushed myself to keep up with the cashier speed-scanning this week’s groceries (why?), rushed to close the phone call from a friend in order to resume what I was doing (surely the call was more important?), tried to hurry other people along by walking ever faster a few metres ahead of them (ignoring the fact that ‘going for a walk’ was the whole point), broken the speed limit trying to arrive on time for a breakfast meeting (would the world have ended if I’d stuck to the limit and arrived a whole two minutes later?); and raced through the To Do list, even though I know the only thing that happens when I get to the end of any list is that there is another one around the corner.
The truth is, there are few things any of us are dashing to which are as important to our health, well-being and ultimately survival as those farmers bringing the harvest home.
Nor are there many sights as lovely and calming as the countryside in all its moods, colours and shapes, endlessly repeating the cycle of spring growth, summer fullness, autumn bounty and winter rest.
I’m grateful to those impatient drivers - and the tractor drivers - for reminding me that I notice infinitely more, and get in touch with what matters most, when I allow myself to slow down.
My challenge to you - and me - this week, is to choose an activity that you usually do almost unconsciously and do it slowly - watering the plants, cooking a meal from scratch, reading a book, taking a shower, or just possibly getting stuck behind the slowest car on the road.
Just see what peace and richness you can harvest from a temporary go-slow….Posted by Jane Matthews on 08/21 at 03:27 PM
“This is going to cost you an absolute fortune.” The man’s face snarled in fury as he rushed towards me.
A moment earlier, I had oh-so-carefully opened the door of the car I was travelling in, conscious of him glaring hawk-eyed to check I did not come within a whisker of his red sports car. Inexplicably, we both heard the sickening click of my door making contact with his paintwork.
All hell broke loose.
He yelled and threatened and insisted that the bill he would send would break me because this was a PORSCHE, and making good the tiny nick would involve going to the main dealer for a respray in order not to invalidate the insurance.
Then his wife appeared, demanding to know why we were all squared up to each other in the car park. “She’s damaged the car.”
She rounded on me, face rigid with venom. “YOU IDIOT!”
I was sorry, and I had been saying so ever since I got out of the car to inspect the chaos my small mistake had wrought.
I had also made it clear that of course I would pay for the repair.
Not sorry enough
But what was I really sorry about? If I’m really honest, in the face of this fury, blame and aggression, it wasn’t the damage but the fact I’d given this unpleasant pair any reason at all to be in my life and to have some claim on me. There we were, my sister politely asking whether either of them had ever made a mistake, me keeping my temper and trying to talk to them rationally, but inside….?
Inside I actually hated them, considered them some of the most horrible people I’d encountered. The childish part of me thought the Porsche driver had brought it on himself - his fear I was about to hurt his precious car somehow MADE me do it. If I could have found the words to cut them as they were hurting me then I’d have spoken them. Instead I was somehow proud of my restraint; of being the one who was behaving better.
Hours after we’d parted acrimoniously the whole episode was like a hard lump of gristle in my stomach. Wholly indigestible. I believe in the inherent good in everyone, and I also believe in connection - in choosing to focus on our common humanity. Why was it I could find nothing redeeming in these two people who I really knew nothing about?
All day and most of the night I played the whole thing over on a reel trying to work out what I might have done differently.
It was my friend Susie who reminded me I wouldn’t get to any kind of answer until I’d discharged the emotion. I was furious - with them and with myself - but truthfully I was also carrying a truckload of other angers about stuff I’d not dealt with. So in the privacy of my bedroom I did some yelling and pillow beating and felt the gristle dislodge. It was a mistake to try and swallow my feelings and shortcut to ‘working it out’.
Then I affirmed that all would be well. There would be no massive bill. I was safe.
So it proved. When the email arrived from Mr Porsche it felt conciliatory. His car was a labour of love. It was rarely risked out of the garage. He was sure I felt his reaction was over the top but this was no rich man’s toy but a lifetime project. The dealership had advised it could be dealt with by a mobile repair outfit and the bill would be less than £100.
Since then we have exchanged polite but gentle emails. He has thanked me for handling it all reasonably and hopes there is no ‘ill will’. I have said I’m sure they are good people caught up in the stress of the situation and now the bill is settled wished them, through a gift of wine and chocs, many years of happy motoring.
But what could I have done differently? That lightbulb moment came this morning when I was reading in The Art of Possibility about the power of ‘WE’ rather than ‘I’.
Authors Rosamund and Benjamin Zander write: “More often than not history is a record of conflict between an Us and a Them.We see this pattern expressed across a broad spectrum: nation to nation, among political parties, between labor and management, and in the most intimate realms of our lives.”
How can shift from this position of opposition? They say it is by coming from a ‘we’: our essential togetherness. “By telling the We story an individual becomes a conduit for this new inclusive entity, wearing its eyes and ears, feeling its heart, thinking its thoughts, inquiring into what is best for US.”
Instead of making people the enemy they suggest we stand together against the real villians: ‘revenge, pride, greed, fear and self-righteousness’.
While Mr Porsche stood in revenge, I met him in self-righteousness. I might have been apologising and assuring him I would pay for the damage but the words weighed light against the disdain turning to hatred in my heart.
My apology could never have worked unless I had meant it wholeheartedly. And allowed the unspoken language of my body, my whole self, to tell him I was hurting for him too, since the strength of his reaction showed me this was no mere scratch but something deep felt.
And then, what I might have done is cross the gulf between us and said “Genuinely, I am so very sorry, not only for the damage to the car but for upsetting you so much. I feel really upset too. I wonder if we could sit down and talk about how WE can sort this this out.”
Nudging the world forward, one tiny better choice at a time…Posted by Jane Matthews on 08/11 at 07:03 AM
There’s such an art to writing film scores – using music to guide us emotionally through the drama on screen.
This morning I spent a few moments tuning into my own most-played soundtrack: what three thoughts do I think most often?
There’s the thought about all the things I need to get done – the to do list; its close relative, how can I possibly fit it all in – the not enough time thought. And there’s also the what-should-happen-when thought: given the list and lack of time, how do I organise myself – the timetabling thought.
If my life was a film I can see that the usual soundtrack would be something like the Sorcerer’s Apprentice scene in Disney’s Fantasia.
And just like sitting in the cinema watching a film, the more I tune into it, the more wound-up I feel. Feelings are thoughts in motion.
As I think those thoughts I can actually feel my shoulders drop and the smile start on my face.
I wonder what soundtrack you’ll choose to live today to? And tomorrow…
Thoughts that make you feel like you’re in a Hammer Horror film, where you can’t even see what it is you’re supposed to be scared of but your insides are jelly anyway.
Posted by Jane Matthews on 08/06 at 07:10 AM
The arrival of the first Chinese restaurant in Bletchley in 1970 was a source of huge excitement in our family. Up until then, birthday celebrations involved lamb, mash and gravy at the restaurant in Luton Airport (I kid you not - it was Dad’s favourite eatery and as he was paying he got to choose).
But now there was a new taste in town, and it was nothing like the rehydrated chow mein dinners that Vesta first served us in the 60s.
Still, dad was worried. One birthday, as we tucked into Proper(ish) Chinese, he paused mid-fork. “I’m worried that with all this foreign food coming in by the time you’re my age you’ll have tasted everything there is to taste”.
I laughed at him then. After all, there was a whole world of flavours to try.
But now I’m considerably older than he was then I realise he may have had a point. I’ve eaten croc in Fremantle and witchetygrubs in Kisangani; and without going anywhere I’ve eaten my way around most of the US, Europe and the Far East thanks to Marks & Spencer.
So for today’s best year activity I’m on a mission to taste something I’ve never eaten before: whether I find it in the supermarket, the Polish cash and carry, or at the bottom of the garden.
Join me?Posted by Jane Matthews on 08/06 at 07:05 AM
Recently I asked friends to share their miracles: the synchronicities, serendipities - or, as the inspiring Patricia Crane puts it, the moments when the Cosmic Kitchen delivers what you ordered!
Which set me thinking about the many times that ‘miracles’ have happened in my life, some as magnificent as the ‘random’ phone calls asking me to write a book or deliver workshops on a Greek island; others more apparently mundane, and yet equally powerful evidence of the mind’s power to move mountains.
And since I was doing this musing in bed - the world’s most comfortable bed, I’ll have you know - the story that came first to mind was how I came to be lying in it at all.
I’ve known and loved Heather and Wayne for more than 30 years, since we travelled overland together in Africa; they’re the kind of friends I see only once or twice a year, and often less, but when we do meet slip straight back into comfortable familiarity and trust.
On one of these occasions they’d invited the group of overlanding friends along to a reunion-come-housewarming, and naturally the evening included a tour of their cosy and characterful new home.
“You gotta try out the bed,” Wayne enthused like a kid with a new toy. “She (he always calls Heather ‘she’) had to have it.Best night’s sleep I’ve ever had.”
How right he was. The moment I lay on it and felt the bed’s embrace, like a great big mattressy hug, I’d have happily skipped the party and spent the evening on this new love affair. I decided there and then that one day I’d have a bed like this too, undeterred by the eye-watering price tag Heather mentioned. When enough of my books sold, when I won the lottery, when I felt wealthy enough, THEN I would splash out on bedded bliss.
It was another year before Heather and I decided we must Do Lunch and why didn’t I come to her first so we could also fit in a visit to our favourite mind, body, spirit bookstore, a few streets from her?
“It’s been ages. When was the last time we saw each other?”, a beaming Heather hugged me at the door.
There were many things I could have said at that moment: ‘at your housewarming’, ‘the reunion party’. But to my surprise what actually came out of my mouth was ‘just after you got your new bed’.
Heather drew back from our hug with a deep sigh. “Oh God. The bed.” Then her eyes widened: “You don’t want it do you?”
The Cosmic Kitchen in the bedroom
Over coffee Heather told me how uncomfortable the bed had become for her back. After months of bad nights she’d admitted there was nothing for it but to divorce the bed, despite the thousands it had cost. No-one she’d mentioned it to wanted it so the previous week she’d asked Wayne to put a small ad in the Oxford Mail, offering the bed free to anyone happy to take it away.
The newspaper messed up and instead of appearing in the free-to-a-good-home furniture section the advert somehow became buried in Gardening - between patios and petunias. Naturally, they hadn’t had a single call and later that day Heather intended to phone the paper and get them to put things right.
Reader, you hardly need ask my reaction to her question. Did I want it? Yes; unequivocally yes.
Wayne had a job over our way the following week. Would I like him to drop the bed off for me? Well yes please…
I love the bed. I love going to bed and I love waking in it.
But what I also love is that this story reminds me miracles comes in all shapes and sizes. That many of them are happening all around us every day - breathing without having to think about, gifts of love and friendship, the five fluffy cygnets I watched on the canal this morning - and just because we don’t always notice them or call them miracles doesn’t mean they’re not still happening.
Most of all, it reminds me that it never was about winning the lottery, selling enough books, or any other of those ways in which I believed it was down to me to make this happen.
The Universe is infinitely more creative than me….Posted by Jane Matthews on 07/31 at 08:33 AM
As if spending visiting a hospital A&E department isn’t ordeal enough, finding there are no seats, the coffee machine is dead, the cold drinks cabinet only contains bottles of something purple and sticky, plus there’s a minimum four hour wait, is enough to make anyone sick.
It happened to me recently as I’ve already blogged.
So this afternoon, as I finished my Sainsbury shop, I suddenly decided to throw a few boxes of ice lollies into the trolley.
Then I sped down to Milton Keynes A&E with my loot to offer it to the waiting hordes.
I think this qualifies as a best year activity on two counts: firstly, it was great to bring a smile to the faces of a few frazzled parents, grateful for anything that might distract them and their bored children (I have been there so many times myself).
And secondly, if I’m honest, it took me outside my comfort zone . Quite apart from worrying that I would look foolish, that some people might suspect me of selling something, trying to poison them, or just being a bit eccentric, there was the dithering in front of the freezer cabinet wondering how many ice creams I’d actually need. I didn’t mind having too many - ice cream doesn’t last long in our house - but I didn’t want to run out while there were still frustrated, hot, tired people rammed together on the rows of plastic seats.
I can report that some people did indeed seem to think me strange (or at least guilty of un-British behaviour) but that there were many more smiles and thank yous - including from those who didn’t take an ice cream but appreciated the gesture.
I can also report that I caught myself just in time to avoid offering one to a woman clutching one of those paper sick bowls to her chin.
And that the most grateful recipients of all were the two elderly men who were there in A&E by themselves. I suspect that for all the pleasure they showed at being offered ice cream, a few minutes’ conversation might have tasted even sweeter.
But that will have to be another story…
Posted by Jane Matthews on 07/29 at 05:34 PM
Below you will find previous blog posts that have been archived and categorised to help you.