Mindfulness in Everyday Life – Developing a ‘To Be’ List by Liz Lord, MYRIAD School Liaison at the OMC
It always struck me, whilst working as a school teacher, that I constantly had a ‘to do’ list on the go. It seemed a infinite stream of tasks with a life of its own. It caused endless stress as it never seemed possible to complete it.
Sometimes, I seem to recall, it would include items like ‘ sort out Harry’ (a pupil!). How on earth does one do that? And yet, that was the nature of working with children and young people, especially in the area of wellbeing. Time isn’t on your side and you have little control of the influences surrounding the young people you are working with. ‘Banging my head against a brick wall’ often came to mind when dealing with my ‘to do’ list. Or to use another more northern expression – it was like plaiting fog! My task list was depleting and never ending and it ultimately robbed me of the energy and enthusiasm that those young and impressionable individuals deserved.
I attended a training event at work where staff shared their aspirations and long ‘to do’ lists. As I listened, I realised that not one person mentioned any of the personal qualities that, as we all know, can make such a difference to any situation. It was a moment of clarity for me, eureka! It shouldn’t be about a ‘to do’ list but a ‘to be’ list! How do I want to be in the world and how can this shift in emphasis bring a greater sense of achievement to my work and life? In many contexts this may actually be the only thing that we have any choice about. ‘How can I be in this situation?’
So I decided to try it out. My ‘to be’ list consisted not just of general things such as, be kind or caring or loving, but more specific things like; make time and space for people, don’t interrupt conversations, allow people the time to express themselves, listen more carefully, show kindness in small ways (with cups of tea, opening doors, smiling!), appreciate conversations, write more ‘thank you’ emails, notice things outside myself, notice things inside myself, ask about peoples’ families. This is not the exhaustive list but it gives you a flavour. All of these things were not to be ticked off a list, like obligations completed, but rather they were about spending time cultivating a sense of interest in the world and the people around me and helping myself to value a deeper sense of community. I wanted to move away from being glorifying busyness, rushing and skimming over things.
I remember a lovely passage that used to help me when pupils came to my door, especially if I was ‘busy’, had a deadline to hit or a lesson to plan. It was taken from a book I had read by Henry Nouwen, a Jesuit and the first chaplain of the L’Arche community. It had always struck a chord with me and left a lasting impression. It went something like this ‘I used to get irritated by interruptions to my day until I realised that the interruptions WERE my day’.
I loved this little saying and, how often when I just stopped and let those interruptions develop into something more meaningful, were real connections made, helping to initiate change and create new perspectives. In a sense, there are no interruptions, simply life unfolding in its own way.
Am I saying that focussing on my ‘to be’ list reduced my ‘to do’ list? I’m not sure about that but it certainly helped me to experience more ownership of the things I could change. A sense of acceptance and awareness was brought to the smaller interactions which, in turn, had an effect on me and my ability to appreciate things. I experienced a certain ‘lightness’. That seems an unusual word, but lightness is the only word I can think of to describe the sense that came from regularly appreciating the small things that were happening in my day.
Could this be measured in some way I wondered? The subtlety and the nature of the change makes it difficult to articulate let alone quantify. However, something definitely shifted as I more consciously fostered a greater sense of awareness and appreciation for whatever or whoever crossed my path. So next time you write a ‘to do’ list, just try writing a ‘to be’ list as well and see what happens…..