Years ago I dated a burly tradesman who committed himself daily to living by Eleanor Roosevelt’s mantra, “Do something every day that scares you”. He had it scrawled on a piece of Foolscap Feint, Blu-Tacked above the cistern of his toilet. And would use it to motivate himself to leave jobs when they became toxic and to introduce himself to strangers in the laundry at parties. Mostly just to see what happened next.
I jotted down this piece of toot inspiration at the time and I’ve been meaning – unsuccessfully – to live it ever since, in the same way I’ve been meaning to clean the venetians in a bathtub of vinegar since reading it in Spotless and make chicken stock with those damn bones in the freezer.
But on this Sunday in June I’m finally taking the plunge. Every week, on this page, I’ll be trying out new ideas that challenge me and you to make the 85-odd years allotted to us on this planet matter more…and to see what happens next.
You could call it a modern spiritual journey (although, gosh, that reads naffly), one that’s geared at sifting through the more tedious motivational books, sidestepping the charlatans in fisherman pants who quote The Secret like it’s not marketing spin, and that seeks depth without losing a squelchy footing in the quagmire of reality. A form guide, if you will, for the life-bettering curious.
If I were a guest on Oprah I’d be forced to say it all started with an Aha! moment. A little while back my life collapsed like an over-coaxed soufflé. That I only have xx words remaining precludes a full fleshing of the details. For now: it started with an endocrinal health complication that dominoed through every aspect of my life. I couldn’t work, nor at times, walk. The dreary unfurling was sometimes comical. When I made a premature attempt to return to my old highly connected, always frantically “doing”, never resting ways, for instance, my computer imploded, my mobile died and the phone lines went down in my street (and only my street). All in the same day. When I impatiently tried it a second time, my car was stolen. Of course, it was.
The universe, as people on spiritual journeys are want of saying, was teaching me a lesson. I’m still hazy on the details, but I know it had something to do with stopping and regrouping.
I’m your classic Pavlovian “do-er”. So being forced to “un-do” like this was painful. But eventually I threw in the tea towel on every half-baked idea about existence I’d previously emulsified myself to and started rewriting the recipe*.
Which was how I came to notice The Yearning. I became open to a broad ache for more meaning going on out there, and I noticed it everywhere. I met people who used to wake before sunrise to do burpies en masse in silly military t-shirts. Now they meditated in the park instead. Ranked in the top ten most popular blogs in the world were life-enhancing sites such as Zen Habits and Unclutterer, which provide tips on how to clear out crap, existential and otherwise.
Everyone I knew had spent the summer reading Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert and, whatever their opinion of Gilbert’s particularly Gen X brand of whinge, were inspired by the story of a mid-30s woman who threw in her job and marriage in pursuit of answers to the age-old question, what’s it all about? And suddenly even football commentators and the guy at the post office were saying Buddhist-lite ontologisms like, “it is what it is” and “oh, I’ll just manifest it”.
Since humanity clambered from the primordial soup onto land in search of better smelling experiences we’ve wanted to make life better. It’s why we’re no longer tadpoles… and tadpoles are. We are at the top of the food chain precisely because we yearn.
The comforting thing is we mostly yearn the same things: a bit of stillness, a visceral reminder of whatever it is that goes through kids’ heads when they beam at you for no reason and a chance to tentatively step off the conveyorbelt… and just see what happens next.
As Oprah would say, here we go.
* The food punning is intentional and a segue for the mention of my being the host of MasterChef Australia on Network Ten.