On purpose

Other people’s words about … meaning

Some people … believe they have to find their purpose to live fully … [But] it is perfectly fine — and in fact recommended — to simply live each of your moments fully and marvel at it all. What if that is your purpose?

From ‘The Energy Guide
by Dr Libby Weaver

I am not much one for self-help books, these days, especially ones that focus on how to find happiness or health. I don’t think — as I did when I was younger, as young people so often do — that health and happiness are things you can seek out or earn, or that they are things you can, or should, feel entitled to.

But I do like Libby Weaver’s words here, even though her book falls squarely into that category of books I’ve just derided. I like her words because what else does it make sense to do other than to simply live each of your moments fully, no matter what each of those moments is like, or what is happening during it? What better thing can we do as we live out our days than marvel at it all?

Weaver goes on to say:

Consider that the real purpose of anyone’s life is to be fully involved in living. Be present for the journey. Act on what you care about.

You could call the attitude Weaver is advocating mindful, if you so chose. Or you could call it sensible. Or humble. Or grateful. Whatever you call it, I think it’s an attitude worth cultivating.

Winter sunrise: be present.

Because unlike health and happiness, unlike riches and freedom, unlike love and success, unlike youth and beauty, unlike wisdom and intelligence, being fully involved in living is achievable. It’s not always easy, but it’s possible.

And that, I think, is a good place to start.

Snatched phrases about … sleep

‘His sleep is so light it’s some smallness of sleep,
some rumour of sleep.’

From ‘Fourth of July Creek’
by Smith Henderson

You know the kind of night Henderson describes above? We all do, right? Nights like that can leave you feeling very fragile.

I don’t have any solutions, except to remember that sometimes the only thing you can do when you’re feeling fragile yourself is to seek solace in the fragile things all about you:

Snatched phrases on … sweet air

‘The air was sweet and clear: it went in like good wine.’

From ‘The Essex Serpent’
by Sarah Perry

I’m kind of obsessed with fresh air at the moment, for reasons I’ve mentioned before.

So here, without more ado …

… are some photos from a recent weekend down at our beach shack in Aldinga …

… as I wandered out and about …

… breathing in, like the animals all about me …

… the sweet and clean air.

You are not special

Other people’s words about … transformation

I looked out the window at the station. I had the sense that something in my life had ended [since my diagnosis], my image of myself as a whole or normal person maybe. I realised my life would be full of mundane physical suffering, and that there was nothing special about it. Suffering wouldn’t make me special, and pretending not to suffer wouldn’t make me special. Talking about it, or even writing about it, would not transform the suffering into something useful. Nothing would. I thanked my mother for the lift to the station and got out of the car.

From ‘Conversations with Friends’
by Sally Rooney

I’ve written before about sickness and my own experiences of it (here, for example). What I like about Rooney’s words are the way she addresses what I believe is our culture’s pernicious need to make sense of our physical suffering and of our ills.

There are many, many ways we may try to do this. Some of us, for example, tell ourselves there must be a reason for our pain or our illness. Some of us tell ourselves that our condition makes us special, or different, or somehow better than we might otherwise have been if we hadn’t experienced it. Some of us try to see our condition as character-building. And some of us believe that if we talk about it, or write about it, we can make something useful of the suffering that it causes us, and of our lives.

But I think Rooney is right. There is no reason for illness and pain and suffering — not really. These things are, as she calls them, a mundane fact of our existence.

I don’t think this is a depressing realisation — or, at least, I don’t think it has to be — and I wish I had figured it out for myself a long time ago. The important thing, I think, is to accept the truth of your situation, however far away it is from the one you would prefer, and then to get on with the business of living your life — however you choose, however you can, however it happens to you.

Because the light will always filter through, if you look for it hard enough …

The air that you breathe

Other people’s words about … air quality

It was terribly hot that summer. Mr Robertson left town, and for a long while the river seemed dead. Just a dead brown snake of a thing lying flat through the centre of town, dirty yellow foam collecting at its edge. Strangers driving by on the turnpike rolled up their windows at the gagging, sulphurous smell and wondered how anyone could live with that stench coming from the river and the mill. But the people who lived in Shirley Falls were used to it, and even in the awful heat it was only noticeable when you first woke up; no, they didn’t particularly mind the smell.

from ‘Amy & Isabelle
by Elizabeth Strout

Recently, after several members of staff in one of my workplaces became sick over the course of consecutive shifts, the part of the building in which we work was shut down, due to what has been deemed an ongoing air quality issue.

That particular office is on the upper floor of a fully air-conditioned building: one of those buildings where you can’t open a window even if you want to. I have always struggled with this: I believe, right down to my core, that breathing temperature-controlled, recycled air will never, ever be equal to breathing air that drifts in through an open window. I continue to believe this even though the air outside the windows in that building is itself compromised by petrol, diesel and exhaust fumes from the nearby main road.

To me, the most pernicious aspect of all of this is the habituation. Like the residents of Shirley Falls in the quote above, when my colleagues and I first walk into work at the beginning of a shift, we notice things in the air that we stop noticing after we’ve been at work for a while. Like them, we don’t particularly mind the smell of our workplace. Or not consciously, anyway.

Luckily for me, I have a place to escape to, and I did so the first weekend after our workplace was shut down, going on another of my strolls through the Scrub, another of my wanders out and about. I took the photos accompanying this post (of vanilla lilies, grass trees, acacias and boobiallas all newly in bloom) on that very walk.

In the Scrub, at least, the air I breathe always seems sweet.

How to live well

Other people’s words about … health and wellbeing

My Top 10 Tips for Health and Wellbeing

  • Listen to your body
  • Keep moving
  • Get plenty of sleep
  • Read the small print
  • Eat out less; cook at home more
  • Reconnect with nature
  • Reduce your stress
  • Appreciate the simple things
  • Share the love
  • Be grateful

from ‘Feel Good Good
by Valli Little

I am fascinated by other people’s tips for living well. I like Valli Little’s suggestions above, which are simple and practical, and come from years of experience.

My own strategies for living well vary, depending on my mood, but here are my current top ten:

1. Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables. And some cake.

2. Move — however you can, whatever your physical limitations.

3. Step outside.

4. Read books.

5. Spend time with people you love. Let them know you love them.

6. Know that happiness and sadness are like the clouds and the wind. They blow in. They blow out.

7. Practise gratitude for how things are. Don’t fret about how they could be.

8. Enjoy solitude. Know that you can survive loneliness.

9. Cultivate humility.

10. Find things …

… that make your heart sing.

A bitter pill to swallow

Other people’s words about … cures

We feel sick even if we are physically well. We are organically diseased by lack or excess. Most of our healers — mainstream and alternative — now act and are treated like shopkeepers, and have become entrepreneurs (or the pawns of entrepreneurs). If they don’t give us the goods — the diagnosis and pill — we’ll shop elsewhere. We seek passive means of attaining health and longevity, which is what medicine (both conventional and alternative) promotes. We want diagnoses. We want solutions we can browse, buy and swallow, be they pharmaceuticals, tinctures or vitamins. It’s convenient for politicians, suits industry very nicely. Pills are our tiny white black holes: absorbing all our hope, agency and energy. They divert attention from prevention, population health and inequity; they promote consumption.

from ‘Too many pills?
by Karen Hitchcock
in The Monthly magazine (September 2015)

I like Hitchcock’s thinking. A doctor who works on the acute medical ward of a big city hospital, she pulls no punches when it comes to discussing health in our society.

Health, she says, is more than just a physical issue. It is an issue of combined mental, physical, environmental, interpersonal, social and political factors.

Too many pills?
Too many pills?

I can’t do justice to her argument here. It is complex and passionate, encompassing the need for both personal action (at the individual level) and social action (at the socio-political level). And it is about considering the idea of a cure not as something we can buy but rather as something we should do.

And, oh, these are words well worth reading.