There is no next
'It's all in the preparation.' This is what I normally hear when talking about 'keys to successful.... ' (meals, holidays, vacations, you fill in the blank). Yes, preparation does help, but as I sat one day making my weekly grocery shopping list, thinking about meals I could prepare over the next week for dinner and what I could take to work for my lunch, I had a personal epiphany. For those of you who already know this, bear with me; I'm usually a bit slow off the mark.
I was thinking about potato dishes this day, cause we'd had a bumper crop of potatoes and needed ways to use them all up. Gnocchi seemed a good idea; potato-based and a dinner I would enjoy. As I sat wondering if gnocchi could be prepared in advanced and cooked quickly after a long day’s work, I noticed how much I use preparation in my life to ensure it runs smoothly. I plan meals via weekly shopping lists. I lay my clothes out at night to make my mornings easier and decision-free. I put the coffee pot on a timer each night so I wake up to freshly made coffee. And much of this preparation is around work. I plan all meals, including those that will be taken to work (usually in glass jars). I make mornings easier to be able to get to work more easily. It seemed to me I spent a large portion of my life either prepping for work or working.
Likely heavily influenced by all the cooking shows I watch on telvision, in this case probably Antonio Carluccio and Gennaro Contaldo’s BBC show “Two Greedy Italians”, I imagined a group of Italian women preparing pasta and gnocchi outside in the sunshine on farms in Italy. It’s one of my versions of an idyll, an idealised (and in my current circumstances, unattainable), picturesque situation that brings up feelings of happiness and peace for me. 'Well, they prepare too,' I thought. And I was struck that, though they were preparing, they weren’t necessarily preparing for work.
My mind then jumped to a couple of my walking holidays, which I look back on fondly (even though my husband would question how much I actually enjoyed these holidays in the moment). The over-riding memory of these walking holidays is that the only thing we needed to do was get up, eat and walk. That was the sum total of it. If you’re a ‘do-er’ like me (read my thoughts on this here), that may not sound like a lot, but it is significant; the only thing to do on these holidays was simply to be, to live, to survive. Much like those Italian women - in preparing a meal, they are preparing for survival in the most basic of ways. BUT, and here's the rub, in preparing the meal, they are, simply, living.
And, here was my epiphany. In following these thoughts, it occurred to me that in thinking forward when preparing for work, I may be missing an essential component of life – the living. Until that point, I had seen all this preparation as things to be ticked off my to-do list, things that moved my life forward so I could achieve what I needed to achieve. But what if life was actually the preparation? Those Italian women? Yes, they are preparing a meal. But in my reverie, they are enjoying the preparation not as something that must be done to eat or something to tick off their to-do list, but as an activity in itself to be experienced; an enjoyable experience to be lived.
This idea further hit home recently, when I saw a cartoon on Twitter. Tweeted by Everyday Mindfulness (@mindfuleveryday), it was an image created by Gahan Wilson, an American cartoonist. The image was nothing too special; two men sitting in meditation. But the caption hit me like a lightening bolt. It read, “Nothing happens next. This is it.”
All that preparation? It’s not to get me to where I need to be next. While it does make it easier to get to work, perhaps it shouldn’t be viewed solely as a task that gets me to work. It can simply be a task, an act of living, something I can enjoy in and of itself. So now, when I find myself stressing out about all those things that need to be done and when I feel that pressure to get everything done yesterday, I find it much easier to step back, take a deep breath and remind myself that there is only now. Yes, what I am doing now may have an impact on future achievements (or lack thereof). But I have shifted my focus from the glory of achieving to the glory of what is happening right now. Because I don’t know what will happen next, but I can certainly do my best to enjoy the process of getting to whatever is next. Only then, I think, will I be able to say I truly lived, was truly happy and was true to myself.
So, for now, the preparation is enough. More than enough. Not because it will help me achieve something larger, but because I am alive and am more aware that the joy of life is more in living while you prep. My life IS the preparation; it is the journey, not the destination. And though I’m sure those gnocchi will be fantastic to eat, I will also do my best to notice and enjoy the process of making them.