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Towards Simplicity.

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“All is flux, not one thing remains.” – Heraclitus of Ephesus

All is flux. Nothing remains in stasis for long. While all is change, that is not to say that there is one singular type of change. To my mind, in fact, there are two; intentional and unintentional. Chances are, and if I were a gambling man I would bet on this, you have encountered one of these in the past week.

However, for all the change we experience, are we growing in a positive, meaningful, curated way, or are we more like a rambling rose? There’s growth alright, rapid and sprawling, but without order and discipline our lives become increasingly entangled and harder to manage. Like last years Christmas lights we almost invariably end up a mess of knots. Quite chaotic, but worst of all we become stuck. Are we growing by design, or by default? What would life be life if it was live in a less chaotic, but more curated way?

Business and hurry are essentially forms of violence enacted against our most precious resource: time itself. Often our default is to dash madly around playing at spinning plates. There may be movement alright, and lots of it, but rarely is momentum perpetuated beyond a single effort.

What if there were less plates, with a greater focus and intentionality levelled at the care of each one? What if it was possible to approach each plate with greater clarity and sense of its purpose within your life? What if instead of being discontented by business we found contentment in effectiveness in the areas of our life that matter to us most and that we find most meaning in? How would your life be different if you pursued simplicity over ease?

Over the past month I have begun stripping out the superfluous in my own life in favour of simpler practices, gentler rhythms, and greater meaning attached to each of those things that still remain. You may not agree with all you read, but that’s okay! I had become discontented with the ‘noise’ I felt my life was making and the ease with which I was living.

But where did this begin? Like many of the best things, it started with two simple questions:

  1. Does ‘this’ belong here?
  2. Does ‘this’ give evidence to what I say I believe?

These two questions have since been joined by a myriad of other questions that now act as the filters through which I now make many of my daily decisions, from how I order my week and prioritise my time, to how I choose to spend my money. You might well say that this all sounds incredibly complicated, but what I am finding is that simplicity can often be quite a complex thing. After all, simplicity and ease are not common bedfellows. These are explorations Towards Simplicity.

 

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Once more into the breach: an open letter on the eve of war

“Once more into the breach dear friends, once more;
Or close the wall up with our English dead.
In peace there’s nothing so becomes a man
As modest stillness and humility:
but when the blast of war blows in our ears,

Teach them how to war. And you good Yeoman,
Whose limbs were made in England, show us here
The mettle of your pasture; let us swear
That you are worth your breeding; which I doubt not;
For there is none of you so mean and base,
That hath not noble lustre in your eyes.
I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips,
Straining upon the start. The game’s afoot:
Follow your spirit, and upon this charge
Cry ‘God for Harry, England, and Saint George!’

William Shakespeare, Henry V

I woke this morning, like many of you, to the news that the U.S., U.K., and French allied forces have engaged in a targeted bombing campaign against chemical weapons depots in Syria. It appears, dear friends, that we are heading into the breach again.

While we have been involved in a number of bombing campaigns in the region recently, this one ‘feels’ differently to me. This rhetoric, by now, is well worn and familiar to many of us. I remember watching, in awe and wonder, the ‘shock and awe’ campaign of Operation: Enduring Freedom (so named in homage to the allied involvements in Afghanistan in the 80’s) in early 2003. As the bombs fell liberty and freedom was declared for the Iraqi population. It was heralded by many in the West as good news. And yet. And yet the vacuum Operation Iraqi Freedom created across the region of the gulf, the violence and horror that filled such a vacuum can hardly be declared ‘Gospel’.

And so it appears again. While this bombing campaign is a ‘one-time shot’, according to officials at the Pentagon; and while French Defence Minister Florence Parly says that ‘We are not looking for confrontation and refuse and logic of escalation’, it is hard to imagine the events of coming days not being escalatory in nature.

And so I find myself troubled and conflicted within myself this morning. On the one hand, the thought of chemical weapons (or actually, weapons or violent means of any kind) being used against any other human beings is foul. Yet to respond to violence with yet more violence is something worthy of true lament in equal measure. A targeted bombing campaign in never good news.

‘To Iran and to Russia, I ask’, said President Trump, ‘What kind of nation wants to be associated with the mass murder of innocent men, women and children?’ Whilst Trump’s question isn’t wrong, I am reminded of the West’s own history and involvement in so-called ‘foreign defence’ – our hands have as much blood on them as anyone. It was the British, after all, who pioneered the use of concentration camps during the Boer War; in which conditions were so poor that over 22,000 children died of starvation and disease. The U.S. occupation of Native American territory, both historically as part of the ‘British Colonies’, and as recently as the disputed Dakota Pipeline in 2017, are less than clean (to put it mildly). While no lives were lost in the Dakota protests, over 300 people were injured and some 26 admitted to hospital with a collection of hypothermia, fractures, internal bleeding and one case of blindness. Injuries sustained by water cannons, tear gas, rubber bullets and other ‘less-than-lethal’ forms of violence.

The irony of using the speech from Henry V to open these thoughts is deliberate. Such a speech that inspired fidelity to king and country now reads slightly soured in light of recent history, a recognition of global citizenship, and in the era of supposed ‘universal’ human rights. Equally ironic, in this instance, is the cry of ‘God for Harry, England, and Saint George.’ Firstly, Any appeal to the God who is revealed most thoroughly in the brutality of the Roman Cross for a blessing to exact violence against another is troublesome to me. Secondly, Saint George was born in the region of Roman Syria, and while the boundaries and borders have been drawn and redrawn the irony of appealing to a ‘British’ patron from the same part of the world we now seem intent on keeping at arms length, or at least the distance of a long-range missile, is equally troubling. The recent rhetoric of keeping these immigrants out in the name of Saint George is painfully dripping with irony.

I am instead reminded of the Middle-Eastern God that I serve and follow. The God who grew up in Palestine, under occupation of a murderous puppet king. The God who grew to become a would-be king before being killed as an enemy of the state, in the interest of ‘public safety’. The God whose execution was heralded as good news. The God who wrapped himself in skin and walked among us to show us his nature; who taught us to treat our enemies with love, to offer forgiveness even in death, to restore limbs that had been removed in the name of freedom (like the ear of a slave belonging to a guard in the garden), a God who chooses reconciliation and restoration over violence every day of the week.

I confess myself troubled,

Daniel Skuce

Always, we begin again


If you’ve been following my writings for a short while now you will undoubtedly have heard me use either this phrase or ones just like it: Always, we begin again. We like to pretend (or, often, genuinely believe) that life is just one long ever-increasing upward curve of brand new first-time experiences all the way to death; which is literally the only true ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ experiences.

The phrase itself is not original to me, but is in fact a paraphrase from the Rule of St. Benedict. Benedict was an Italian monk born in the late 5th century. During his life he developed a monastic community that sought to order its day around prayer and service – at the heart of which was a structure to pray through the Psalms and it is on the subject of prayerfully considering and reading the Psalms that Benedict declared that ‘always, we must begin again.’

Like many of us, and like those early Benedictine monks, I too have found great value in ordering my days; whether my work schedule, or my days off. But there is no time that I have found more value in bringing structure to more than the morning, and in particular the first few hours of my day. This isn’t something that is inflexible; no durable structure is completely inflexible (it would be incredibly brittle if this were the case), but instead is something that takes on a life of its own; what I’d like to do today is take you through some of what makes up my morning routine and why it is important to me.

Mid-week I rise at around 5:50am, get dressed (vaguely speaking… I mean, come on! It is before 6am) as quietly as I can so as not to disturb Elaina too much, and head down stairs. I usually make myself a cup of black coffee (though not every morning) and fill a tall glass of water. For the first half hour or so I tend to just drink the water; it has the added benefit of beginning to flush out my digestive system before putting anything else into it.

I then spend 5-10 minutes meditating – for those of you who are Christians, and are now worried about my faith there is no need (but thank you for your concern!). Meditation is a biblical principle; the key difference, according to Richard Foster, between Eastern Meditation and Christian Meditation is that Eastern is designed primarily to empty your thoughts and to clear your mind; while there is an overlap in this emptying process in Christian meditation the primary focus is to then fill your mind with scripture, gratitude at the things the Lord has done, or simply to practice filling your headspace with Christ. The emptying process of meditation leads naturally into a space for prayer and reflection upon scripture.

For the past year I have been following through a shorthand version of Common Prayer; the daily, weekly, and yearly book of worship from the Anglican tradition. Though myself am part of a tradition found at the more pentecostal/evangelical spectrum (for better or worse), I have developed a great appreciation of the structure that some of the more ‘formal’ (don’t read ‘boring’ here) patterns of prayer far older than my own traditions. What I like about the shorthand edition is that it provides only a lose structure that simply guides my prayers. These set or written prayers are usually seasonally themed (they guide you through the Christian year, from Advent through to the season of All Saints over the autumn period), and are dovetailed with Psalms and small portions of scripture that link thematically and change from day to day – but stay the same seasonally week to week. I find these prayers, more than almost anything else, guide my reflections and thoughts throughout the year; they are a way of grounding me in the celebration of the seasons of God, rather than simply being guided by the weeks and months of the year.

From there I spend some time in scripture. To mark the beginning of this section I pray the words of Psalm 119:17-18; ‘Be good to your servant that I may live and obey your word. Open my eyes, that I might see wonderful truths in your law.’ At present I am working through a Bible in a Year program; there’s nothing magic about these at all, and after I have completed it I will probably change it for something else. Nor am I particularly stressing about completing it in a year; it’s more a way for me to ensure (at this time) that my reading of scripture is consistent, both in terms of daily practice, but also to ensure that I don’t miss anything! After this I usually spend a few minutes in silence thinking about what I’ve just read, perhaps writing or jotting thoughts down about anything that has particularly struck me in my reading of scripture.

After this I usually pick up a bracelet that Elaina bought me for an anniversary a few years ago; I don’t own many sentimental things, but this bracelet means a great deal to me. It has 13 beads on it and one small pendant on the middle bead. It’s not a set of ‘prayer beads’ in any formal sense of the word, simply some beads I use to help guide me. I begin at one end and pray through some scriptures and some of my faiths oldest prayers; the creed from the early centuries of the Church, and the Shema, a Jewish prayer far older than my Christian tradition though I finish it they way Jesus did in the Gospels, ‘and love your neighbour as yourself’. Both of these remind me of the nature of God and the character of his Church, before praying through John 15:13, Philippians 2:5-8; Galatians 2:20; and 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. All of these focus on the type of Love I believe we are called to as Christians and the recital of these verses helps (I hope) to ground my practices throughout the day; nothing magic, just reminding myself.

After this I pray the Prayer of St. Francis – while he probably didn’t actually write it; It is a stunning prayer that again helps to remind me of my own conduct, helping me to be more conscious and aware throughout my day. I end by praying for Elaina, my family, and my church, before turning my attention to any other matters that might be on my mind, and close with the Lords Prayer.

All of this, if i’m conscious of my own workings takes about an hour. I usually then take a cup of tea up to Elaina and just chat for a bit; not for long because I know she has her own morning routines that she’ll likely be in the middle of. I then return downstairs to begin thinking about the day ahead, loosely allocating time, reminding myself of the things that matter most to me and making sure I’m giving them my attention throughout the day. For this I use something called the ‘Greatness Journal’ (something Elaina and I both bought at Christmas last year). Again, there’s nothing magic about it, I just find that it helps me be intentional with my day. It begins each quarter year, week, and day with a few short questions to help focus your thoughts and orientate your life and time around what matters to you, it then ends each day with a few questions to help guide your reflection and self-awareness.

These things, for me, stay the same most days; though at times I’ll only use my beads and read from scripture if i’m out of routine. While not as ideal, I’m a big believer in consistency over intensity and the 15-20 minutes of prayer and reading I do is better than the 60-90 minutes I don’t do for whatever reason.

All this helps to set my day up, they are also some things that matter a great deal to me and so have the tendency to launch me into the rest of my day with a sense of ease and accomplishment before I’ve done anything else. It means that before I’ve done anything, I have a greater, more grounded, sense of who I am and why I am here, what matters to me and what I want to give myself to. A great morning routine, a sense of that always beginning again, has really helped me over the past year or so, but increasingly in recent weeks. Why not take some time today to think about what matters most to you, and how you can better structure your morning to orientate yourself around these things. You don’t have to get it right every day, because ‘Always, we begin again.’

Making Room for Mystery


The first time many of us encounter mystery in its true form is usually at a child’s birthday party or family event where there is a great (or not so great) magician performing. These performers are schooled in the art of mystery; pulling flags and scarves from all manner of places and rabbits from hats, these early encounters with mystery cause us to rethink things that we had been certain of up until that point (like the nature of hats and rabbits, scarves, and ears that discpense coins).

Because this is what mystery is in its true form. Pastor and theologian Stanley Hauerwas in his 2005 reflections on the words of Jesus on the cross, The Cross-Shattered Christ, says this; 

“‘Mystery’ does not name a puzzle that cannot be solved. Rather, ‘Mystery’ names that which we know, but the more we know, the more we are forced to rethink everything we think we know.” – Stanley Hauerwas, The Cross Shattered Christ

Mystery is not the name of the unknown, but the name of that thing that forces us to rethink the nature of rabbits, of hats, of the world itself. 

In much of the western church (huge generalisation, but I am speaking as someone at the pentecostal/evangelical end of the Protestant spectrum – this, in many ways is my bias), we had reduced discipleship – that ancient art of following Jesus – to a series of things that must be known, or more likely believed. In fact, in a study spanning a mere 2000 churches over a 15+ year period, REVEAL for Church (underwritten initially by Willow Creek Church, Chicago), discovered that the formation of a set of doctrinal beliefs was an early catalyst for spiritual growth in the life of a Christian. 

In some moments I wonder whether, in our pursuit of a doctrinal norm and adherence to statements of faith, having we replaced mystery with certainty and knowledge, and in doing so have we undermined something of what it means to be a disciple? Must we make room for mystery within the life of discipleship once more?

This week I have been reading Being Disciples by Rowan Williams, the previous Archbishop of Canterbury. In his opening chapter Williams reflects on the nature of a disciple as less an ‘intermittent state of being’, but an ongoing relationship of discovery. 

“The disciple is not there to jot down ideas and then go away and think about them. The disciple is where he or she is in order to be changed; so that the way in which he or she sees and experiences the whole world changes.” – Rowan Williams, Being Disciples

Is discipleship, then, the commitment to live in and explore the mystery of the world as it is being rewritten around the person of Jesus? To live, to a certain degree, in a state of unknowing (or perhaps re-knowing). Is discipleship less about the formation of belief, or adherence to statements of faith, and more a faithful comitment to seeing and experiencing the world through new eyes. 

Perhaps this explains why the early disciples of Jesus that we find in the gospels are portrayed as being somewhat clueless. Frequently throughout Mark’s gospel we find Jesus seemingly at his wits end, ‘Do you still not understand?’; ‘How many times must I…’; ‘oh you of small faith’. 

Could it be, that what I need in my own discipleship, my own adherence to the following of Jesus, is less certainty, and instead a little more making room for mystery; for the experiencing of that which causes us to rethink the nature of rabbits and of hats. 

Making Room For More

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As I write, I have just returned from a local charity shop having taken a car load of stuff that I no longer need, use, or find value in possessing. It’s not necessarily how I would choose to spend a bank holiday weekend, but I know that in the long term minimising my belongings will enable me to spend less time curating, organising, or cleaning that which I own. Essentially, I am moving more towards a lifestyle where I own my belongings rather than my belongings owning me.

I’ve gradually been decluttering and minimising much of my possessions (and those shared with my wife Elaina), commitments and expectations over the past 9 months. Initially, when I set out exploring how my life might be better with less ‘stuff’ in all its forms in it, I suppose I thought that because I had made the decision to minimise and refocus around an increasing pursuit of simplicity that my life would almost instantaneously become simpler. In some ways I suppose it did, or at least some things did, and other things I am still transitioning towards.

One of the most common responses I’ve had when talking to other people about minimising (and minimalism more generally), my possessions in particular, is; ‘Ah, that’s great! Making room for more.’ Which in the sense it is usually intended is not only inaccurate, but would be a counterproductive, self-defeating cycle! I’m not simply clearing out in order to consume more, to acquire more, to gather, store, and collect more, and to re-fill my increasingly clean and clear life with replacement stuff. More, more, more.

But in another sense, I absolutely am making room for more. More of what’s important, more of what i’m passionate about, more of what I want to dedicate my time and my life to. Which isn’t material gain or possessions. I’m not against consumption of goods,  but the compulsory, unconscious consumption of ‘stuff’.

So here is to the next 6 months! To less stuff, less compulsion, less time spent organising, tidying and cleaning, and to making room for more of what matters most. I am choosing to ask myself some simple questions again at the moment, questions I began asking before the beginning; does this belong here? Does this (object, action, or habit) prove what I say I believe about something? How might my life be improved by a commitment to less rather than more? Why not ask yourselves the same questions this Bank Holiday and make a move towards making room for more of what matters most.


For more of why I set out to minimise my belongings, commitments, and expectations click here, and here. For more of where I began, click here, or here. For any of my other writings on Minimalish-ism, click here.

I am not my wife’s world


I am not my wife’s world (and that is okay!).

Whether it’s the multitude of Disney films we consume as we grow, or the pressure and expectation subconsciously levied upon us and our partners through varying forms of media, it can be incredibly easy to become pressured into feeling as though I must be or become the all-sufficient entity in the life of another.

With phrases like; ‘you are my world’; ‘you are my everything’; ‘this is everything I need, right here’; we heap burdens upon those we love to be more than they are. The pressure, particularly on men (though I am aware that this is probably my own bias playing into my writing at this point), can be huge. To be a best friend, a husband, a provider, a protector and defender, to be a lover, a confidant, an informer (at times), a helper, a servant (in the best sense), a play-mate, a goofy-side kick, a comedian, an open book, and a councillor all before the sun goes down is no mean feat.

That’s not to say that at different times I may not slot into a variety of roles that fall loosely under the title of ‘husband’, but I have come to realise that I cannot be Elaina’s everything. And equally, she does not need me to be.

For me to become her everything, she would (for example) presumably have to limit or cut contact with her mum (I can’t imagine that conversation going overly well for me!), or with some of her closest friends. What an isolating, limiting experience being ‘everything’ would be for both myself and her.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I am still a large part of my wife’s life and support network, but I am just that: a part. A large part, an important part for her, but certainly not a solo act in the world of Elaina.

So why is it that we keep using the language of ‘world’ and ‘everything’, and why is it that we perpetuate the pressure of untenable and unattainable Disney films and other forms of media of the same ilk. Curious, isn’t it?

Why not join me today in reminding yourself that you are not the sole inhabitant of anyone else’s world, that the entire success of someone else’s life is not in your hands (for good reason); recognise that you do have a role to play (and a vital one), but that ultimately you are not your partners world – and that that is more than fine!


If you’ve appreciated this piece of writing, why not give it a like, follow my blog for more thoughts, and give it a share on social media if you’ve found it to add value to your life.

If you’re interested in gaining a little more insight into mine and Elaina’s relationship (for whatever reason) why not read Why I don’t help out my wife with the housework.

De-Cluttering and Beginning Again

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We’ve all been there, haven’t we? We’ve spent ages tidying, organising, sorting through, ensuring everything is in it’s proper place. All is calm, peaceful, and tranquil. Clear spaces are aiding a clear mind. Then you blink, and it’s back! You’re not entirely certain where it all came from or how it crept back in. But clutter spreads, doesn’t it?

For us it’s the kitchen! Partly because we have such a small galley kitchen that anything more than a plate out of place and it begins to feel cluttered. But equally, because of it’s size, when we are entertaining (which happens a fair amount) its the place we put things that don’t have a place of their own; that miscellaneous hair tie, that post I was meant to deal with a week ago and still sits opened but untouched, stuff that technically belongs in a communal room but that we lack the proper space for. All of this adds up and contributes to the clutter.

But clutter breads clutter; physical clutter often (for me) leads to mental clutter. I love a clear work station, but find it difficult when I am busy to keep spaces clear. Upon reflection, not everything we own seems to have a place – some of it because we do not need nor desire it and yet they are things we have kept hold of, others because we still find it difficult to let go of some things. Letting go is often hard, but we must be willing to let go of the good that we have in order to pursue the better we desire.

For the past 5 and a half months Elaina and I have had a houseguest in the form of a 17-turned-18 year old. She came for a 10-day emergency placement with us (We’re respite foster carers, among other things) and 5 and a half months later I can honestly say it’s been the longest 10 days of my life! She moved out over this past weekend and I’m now faced with the combined build up of clutter (physical and mental) that has accumulated over the past 20-something weeks. As i’ve begun clearing the wreckage I’ve been reflecting upon the importance of priorities; the reality for us has been that regardless of how much we love clear surfaces and open spaces, spending time together with just the two of us as we have slumped into recovery mode in the evenings has been more important to us (whether consciously or unconsciously – and in truth it’s probably a mixture of both) than tidying and de-cluttering.

But now that we are firmly transitioning out of that season, it’s time to reprioritise (or more properly to ensure that our daily actions reflect our longer term aspirations and priorities). It’s been over six months since we last had a good sort out (uncharacteristically of both of us) and we’ve had Christmas and a birthday since then and with all the best intentions in the world we are both still in a place where stuff just collects. Admittedly, less stuff than it used to and we are quicker to let go of things that are no longer fit for purpose or that we no longer take pleasure in, but still more than I would like it to.

And so, at the turning of the seasons we begin again.

Plant-based diet and food awareness

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Those of you who, like myself, are based in the United Kingdom will undoubtedly have seen or heard reports over the past week or so that are advocating what is being called ‘calorie awareness’. Those favouring such a health drive do so because of the rise in levels of obesity in parallel to the increase in standard portion sizes; one example from the BBC being that a ‘portion’ of Katsu Chicken Curry was in fact 1.5 times the size of the recommended portion for a lunchtime meal. On the other hand, those who are sceptical of such an approach almost instantly seem to equate calorie awareness with calorie counting, and swiftly condemn the whole practice as controlling as if it were some base form of eating disorder.  For the short BBC video (which is largely unhelpful and doesn’t particularly add anything meaningful to the debate – but does highlight the common misunderstanding of the calorie content of certain foods, click here).

On a personal note this topic interests me as I myself have infact been calorie counting again for the past three months (most days) for the very good reason that I struggle to gain weight, drop it incredibly quickly, and was becoming lazy with my eating habits; the combination of which lead me to my lightest weight as an adult. While to some of you this will, undoubtedly, sound like a success story I was borderline dangerously low for my age and height. I am now keeping the habit of calorie counting whilst on a predominantly plant-based diet to ensure healthy gains in weight over a reasonable length of time (approximately 3.5kg/7.7lbs in the past three months – for those of you who are interested).

Whilst I agree that a greater awareness of what enters our body can only be a good thing – or at least the beginning of a good thing – I do not agree that simply becoming more aware of calories is a sufficient approach to health and nutrition; not just for athletes or models, but for everyone. Interestingly, this has been one of the many ‘unexpected wins’ of eating a predominantly plant-based diet. Throughout my entire life I was raised to believe that a meal consisted of two main components: meat; and everything else. The biggest dietary decision to make was to come to some agreement about what, from the vast quantity of ‘everything else’, would best accompany the type of meat that had been lovingly selected from the local supermarket. (*Disclaimer: i’m sure more thought when into meal planning as a kid, but this was my understanding). The question never seem to be what would best feed my health and wellbeing, or what was I maybe lacking nutritionally over the course of a day, but what would best accompany chicken/beef/pork etc.

Having cut meat entirely from my diet, and eggs and dairy for the most part (I don’t eat either of these things on their own now – aside from the very occasional piece of cheese – though I do still consume them in certain food stuffs from time to time), It has forced me to almost entirely rethink the way in which I approach a meal. Even if one type of vegetable is the ‘centrepiece’ of a meal the question is rarely, ‘what would go best with cauliflower?’ but instead is what is this meal lacking in terms of fuel; is there enough protein, fibre, carbohydrates, and natural fats in this bowl? If I eat a whole bowl of leafy greens, for example, this is entirely plant based and incredibly low calorie (a win for most amateur ‘dietitians’, but will it fuel my body for longer than five minutes? Probably not.

I suppose in all of this, then, what I am saying is that merely being aware of what calories pass your lips is not enough; unless you begin to understand what it is that makes up the calories that pass your lips, learning to listen to your body and your energy levels, and begin to approach food from a mindset ‘the thing that fuels me’ over and above ‘the thing I do three times a day because it tastes good’, I am unconvinced true health will ever be achieved. I am not saying that going Vegan or plant-based is the only way to become more aware of what makes up our calories, but it has been an unexpected win of my journey into a simpler way of eating.


For more on why I went plant-based (or am transitioning towards it as a lifestyle) see the following posts:

 

Above the Noise

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A number of years ago, before my wife and I were married, but shortly after we got engaged, we were in a particularly difficult season of our lives. Now, let me pre-empt your question; yes, it is possible to be absolutely ecstatic about having recently gotten engaged, and yet still be journeying through some very murky waters.

I won’t divulge the information of those days to you here, but suffice it to say that they days were long and emotionally draining. At the time we were living in the South Yorkshire area of the UK. Elaina had grown up there, and I had been living in the area for around a year. It seemed at points as though everything was just noisy. Life had become cluttered, and not through our own doing. It seemed at times as though the noise that was being generated by the circumstances of our lives was so great that focusing on anything else was impossible.

During such times we were in the habit of travelling about an hour away by car to spend quality time together; we’d retreated within ourselves to varying degrees, and sought time together. It’s not that we didn’t like where we lived, but there was so much emotion wrapped up in the physical location at that time that we craved to spend time elsewhere (friends of ours drove for about an hour once just to get a drive-thru coffee!). On one such trip we headed out into the Peak District National Park; a beautiful part of the UK, and something I very much miss having on my doorstep!

We parked the car and headed out of town. The path winds round and we head through an old farm following the single track. The path is dotted with trees of inconsequential varieties, but they are beginning to bud in the early phases of Spring. The path rises, and twists and turns, and rises again. With each step we gain altitude.

Before long we both become aware that the only noise either of us could hear was the sound of our own laboured breathing. Without realising it we had ascended above the noise. We could no longer hear the road or the business of town, it was midweek and the schools were in session, middle of the working day and there were no other walkers around.

Since those days I have increasingly come to measure my life in terms of ‘noise’. Am I making too much noise with my life? Are the circumstances of my life generating levels of noise too great for me to bear long term? Is the noise being generated, and the activities that generate it, pleasant and calming or anxiety inducing. And while audible noise is certainly one way of looking at this, it is not the only way in which the term ‘noise’ can be understood.

Within photography you can add, or I suppose subtract, ‘noise’ to an image digitally. In doing so the image becomes increasingly ‘grainy’ or appears as though there was a layer of dust over the lens. A little noise isn’t a bad thing, and in fact can enhance clarity – but too much noise and the focus can become distorted.

The same is true with our lives; a little ‘noise’ can be good; intensity is required for a great many things in order to accomplish specific things; but high energy, noise generating activity that continues beyond its point of usefulness will begin to detract from that which we value.  I write this more as a reminder to myself at what is (hopefully) the last leg of a particular ‘noisy’ period of our lives. A short season, to be sure, but a noisy one certainly. A little noise can add to your clarity, but too much for too long will distort the sound your life makes. And when that happens, that which is important to us, that which we value most (which indecently often help to reduce noise, and yet to we do not always recognise their calming effect until they are removed) is crowded out by that which merely generates the most noise.

For me, regular writing is one such activity; I find it useful to me, it helps calm me at times, and (I hope) improves my general communication day-to-day – and yet during ‘noisy’ periods are some of the times I feel least inspired, least compelled, to write.

Perhaps you, like me, can identify a moment where you realised that you had travelled above the noise and experienced the calm as if by accident; what might you be able to do in your life at the moment to rebuild moments of ‘noiselessness’, moments to refocus around what is important to you, not simply to what generates the most noise?

The Shape of Time

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What shape is time?

‘What shape?’ I hear you say, ‘how is it that Time can have a shape?’

But stop and think for just a moment, just pause and ask yourself these additional questions;

What are my expectations over time?
Have I found myself repeating experiences?
Why is it that I am disappointed when things don’t progress positively in time?
Is time not just a continuous progression?

The challenge of time is age. Progressively growing in age fools us into thinking that Time itself is shaped in a linear fashion; it has a beginning and an end – at least for us. This leads us to measure not only our ages, but the years we live through in an ascending order – a neat, linear progression of things.

And yet.

And yet we also know that much of time is not just – not only, not simply – linear. For example; there aren’t an infinite number of ever increasing days in the week. There are 7. Equally, there are 12 months in a year – which is why they are named, not numbered (imagine having to up with a new name for the month… every month!).

While these are all human constructs – ways to measure the passing of time – it is also found in nature that much of life is not in fact linear, but cyclical. Time runs not as some giant infinity loop and yet in a circular, repetitive fashion.

With the dawning of a new year I am reminded that much of life is repeated, the days roll on, but the dates repeat. The sun rises and falls, the days turn into weeks, which turns to months and those to a year before beginning again.

“Always, we must begin again.” – St. Benedict

My hope for 2018, as I continue to journey ever increasingly towards simplicity is that I might learn to understand time differently. To understand that progress is not always found in a linear, unending, incline curve that could be neatly plotted onto the type of graph that my maths and science teachers were so fond of, but to recognise that much growth is in the repetitive cycle of the seasons.

Practice doesn’t make perfect. But perfect practice does. To rehearse the imperfect is to reinforce imperfection. This is not to say that perfection in all things is the ‘goal’, but more to say that growth, sustained growth, is not always found in constant newness and innovation but in repetition and in rehearsal.

I could spend this year trying 12 different activities for a month each, and at the end of the year I would have experienced new things, but would I have grown in ability in any of them? Barely. Instead I am choosing to dedicate my time to that which I am gifted in, that which I am excited by, and ultimately that which is important.

Choose to forsake the superfluous in favour of that which brings satisfaction repeatedly. Choose not to be disheartened by repetition. And then do it again. Always, we must begin again.

The Lie of ‘Unlimited’

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How many of you have ordered a ‘bottomless’ or ‘unlimted’ soft drink at a restaurant? It sounds like living the dream, right? As much as you want! Of course, these things are really unlimited… there are still constraints such as opening hours, or stomach capacity to consider. I get the idea – that we can consume or use as much as we can of one thing or another, but supposed ‘unlimted’ consumption does not mean that there is not, in fact, limited capacity.

Equally, we’ve all experienced moments of staring out to sea – at the seemingly endless, limitless expanse, and yet we often make this observation from high above, perched upon some cliff or beach… the boundaries of such a limitless expanse.

For most of my life I’ve been told that ‘I can do anything I want’, in terms of life aspirations (rather than general behaviour). I don’t believe my experience in this is a unique one, in fact much of my generation appears to have been weaned on the same truth.

On the one hand, I suppose, that this statement is helpful and has probably resulted in the rise in entrepreneurs and start-ups that have boomed more recently. People, a great many of them, who have ridden the wave of the technological revolution and set about to genuinely bring about change, many of them in ways that were previously inconceivable. Because, it seems, that we can do anything we set our minds to, and often we are the biggest barriers to progression and advancement.

I am convinced that there are more options on offer for people of my generation, and the generations below us. There is certainly greater choice, and less time to wait in an almost instant market. The world is our oyster, we can do anything, and there are less constraints in many ways upon people to conform to traditional pursuits.

As much as I am convinced by this, I am equally convinced that, while essentially true, it is also limited in its truthfulness. It is an incomplete truth. I am less convinced that we are likely to achieve anything of lasting worth, or really contribute in a meaningful way beyond ourselves, if we pursue every flight of fancy. While we can do anything we set ourselves to, we cannot do it all at once (if at all).

Wisdom tells us that it makes a mere 10,000 hours of dedicated pursuit to master a craft. Whether that be a language, a technical ability or a more artisan craft. Presuming, for a moment, that you are also employed for 40 hours a week to pursue this one thing (which is unlikely), it would take nearly 5 years of 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year in order to achieve such mastery of what is a relatively ‘small’ pursuit.

In reality, most of us have a number of things that we are passionate about, or are working towards. Equally, most of us are employed doing a mixture of some things we really love and other things that we have to do in order to do the ‘other stuff’.

In all honesty, we can’t do it all. Or let me put it another way, if we try to do it all we will struggle to achieve anything of significance, of value, of worth in any given area. Our time, energy, and resources are mostly finite. They replenish, but we do not have unlimited resources, least of all Time. So by saying ‘Yes’ to one pursuit we are invariably saying ‘No’ to another.

In his first letter to the church in Corinth St. Paul writes;

You say that, “I have the right to do anything!”, and yet not everything is beneficial… not everything is constructive.

Here’s the point: whilst there are a great many things that we might tend to on any given day, are they of benefit? Are thy constructive? Do the things we pursue lead us – and others – into greater fulfilment or into a depleated sense of worth and value?

What are you saying Yes to today, that you should really say No to? Are you saying yes to things that act as numbing agents – whether excessive alcohol, or even excessive social media or binge watching of Netflix? You say that your health is important to you, but do the things we say yes to on a weekly basis attest to that fact, or are your actions in contradiction to your values? Sure, we can fill our hours and our days with any number of combinations of things, but is it beneficial, is it constructive, to you or to another?


  • A brilliant book that has added great value to my own life (though I have my bias’ towards the author) on a similar subject is ‘The Freedom of Limitation’, by Dr. John Andrews, available here.