• Ian McClellan

Week 20: I will love my new routine.

Updated: Jul 28, 2020

This morning in the garden, I apologised to a tree, but it is not what you think.

I was not apologising on behalf of anyone, it was just for myself. I was not apologising for any mistreatment, because the tree has a pretty good life. It is a strong tree, in a quiet part of the garden. It has grown in a fortunate position, as every morning it gets to see the sun rise, and every evening the sun sets through its branches. When the wind whips up, it is sheltered from the worst of the battering by either a pine or a spruce. I'm not exactly sure which as we call it Big Pigeon Tree, on account of the enormous wood pigeon that likes to perch way up on the top when its windy and sway a metre or so each way in the breeze. Maybe that is a pigeon extreme sport, who knows.

For most of the year, it is also quite an ordinary tree. It's spindly in nature, about ten feet tall, and because it is tucked away, you can easily walk past it without noticing. I have walked past this particular tree, twice a day for six years, and I have to admit that for most of the year I do not notice it.

There are probably many trees like this in all of our lives. They might be in our gardens, or lining the streets on the way to our local convenience store, or perhaps somewhere tucked away on our favourite walks. The trees of our lives, can be ones that we notice every day because of their permanent prominence or splendour, or can be those that or sit anonymously and forgotten for the majority of the year, just in the periphery of our vision.

For the particular tree in question in our garden, around this time of year, something wonderful happens, and is happening to trees everywhere. For a brief moment in the year, this particular tree stands out from the rest, and there is no way that you can walk past it without your head turning, and without making you smile. It is happening to the trees of our lives, up and down the streets, and the gardens, and the hedgerows. A moment of splendour that reminds me why I love this particular tree. This is because the tree in question, is a victoria plum tree, and in our garden it is always the first to burst into blossom. The blossoms seem to appear by magic, after just a few days of warm sunshine around this time of year, and perhaps this tree is first because of the shelter and the relative warmth give it a head start on the other trees. It blooms with beautiful, delicate, white blossoms, that stay for what seems like a moment, and then disappear whilst the tree gets back to the hard work of producing fruit.

I had to apologise to the tree, just because I didn't notice it for a long time, or appreciate it. I have been stuck in a routine, that means I didn't have the chance to appreciate it during the winter, because I was always in a hurry. It was a routine of necessity, maybe like a lot of us. I knew I had seven minutes spare in the morning to complete my routine in the garden and around the house, before grabbing my bag, heading for the car, and heading for the daily commute with millions of others. I know it is seven minutes, because one morning I timed it. A groove that you tend to get into, that is both mundane and pleasant, monotonous and comfortable. A grind yet an anchor.

That was until a few weeks ago, when the anchor was yanked up, and almost overnight many of our routines went completely out of the window.

Much has been written about this already. In a quick poll on my social media feed, of the first ten posts that are not sponsored, you can see a reflection of the various moods of the world. I have three posts of kindness or love, two screenshots of online parties or meetings, one post expressing frustration or unfairness on a coronavirus related topic, two of celebrities performing spontaneous music sessions, and two that are either related to new ways of procuring a product or taking a school lesson. This is a good cross-section of what we are feeling, and how we are dealing with it, and our new routines, at least for now. Love, connection, frustration, creative expression, necessity. Problem and solution orientation. When we are under pressure, we all find an outlet, a coping mechanism, a way of relieving the pressure, and the feeling that we have a routine ia a big part of that.

We are also in a period, where many of us are vulnerable. We are living imperfect lives, for an uncontrollable reason. Everything in our perfectly groomed previous lives is going wrong. We put on a shirt for conference calls, because we have lost the anchor of identity that our office routine gave us. We drink wine with friends in fancy dress over Zoom, because we need the connection that the party and the therapy that the conversation used to give us. Perhaps we are even kind to strangers, because right now it is hard to be kind to those we love but cannot see. We are all projecting to an extent, the feelings that we have ourselves, about ourselves. Even an increase in arguments is self-created, because as Alain de Botton would say - a content person has no reason to hurt others. People are bad, because they are in difficulty. And when we are in difficulty and isolated, we lash out at those closest to us, who are the ones we love.

When I read social media posts about new routines, I probably have the same reactions that many of us do, and that many people who are reading this might have about me. I identify with how some approach this pressure, I do not with others. I certainly agree with those who are being positive as they deal with change, and I would encourage those who are being negative to reflect on what it is inside themselves that is making them lash out at others.

In some ways, keeping a diary such as this one is a way of keeping a routine, and something I would recommend, even if you just take two minutes to scribble how you feel each day, to look back on. When I look back at this entry, maybe in month, or a year or more, I hope it will fill me with a sense of pride in the resilience and togetherness that we achieved to help each other stay safe and healthy. That we stayed indoors, and that we supported with love, all those who are putting themselves in the way of coronavirus in the service of others, and we will remember those have lost with love. That we recognised the vulnerability in each other, good or bad, and responded with love. That the rainbow, the heart, and even the round of applause, will have an additional layer of meaning.

It is with spirit that I am writing this week's entry, and with this hope. I am taking this inspiration for this week's planetwise change. This week, I am going to find new ways to love my routine. I am going to do things that create love for myself, and love in those around me. I am going to wake up every morning, tell myself that today is going to be a great day, and hope this will rub off a little bit on the world.

Everyone can be different about how we do this, but what I have noticed, is that we have some common ground, and the main common ground we have is time itself.

We might think that we don't have as much time, and sometimes when our family tries to fit two full time jobs into the day, plus a full day of childcare, it certainly does not feel like that to us either. For some, perhaps who are key workers, there is not time, and so for us that can we must make an extra effort to respect our connection to those who cannot.

But in the gaps of the day, there is time, there are moments we can use to learn new ways to love our new routine. If it takes 66 days to learn a new routine, which is what I have read, then with will power and the help of each other, we can find 66 moments over the course of these weeks and months, to make love part of our routine.

This occurred to me when I was practising the new art of micro-working. I don't know if this is a thing, but it certainly is in our house. Micro-working is in many ways the pure art of coping with necessity. It is the art of reading emails in the twenty seconds we have whilst our little boy is going to the toilet, or whilst his back is turned in the garden filling up a toy watering can. It is answering questions in one hand, whilst trying prepare tea with the other. It is solving problems with one side of the brain, whilst the other is trying to zone out Ninjago: Master of Spinjitsu. It is anything we can, to keep the business smooth, to try and stay in control of the day, and to keep the household just on the right side of chaos.

It therefore occurred to me, that if we can do this, we can do other things for ourselves and each other. If we can find gaps to work, then we can find gaps to find moments for ourselves and others.

For example, in the morning, you have perhaps three minutes whilst the kettles boils. Instead of staring at our tiny screens, we can spend three minutes looking out of the window, at the clouds, or something interesting in the garden or the rooftops outside. I can vouch for the joy in this moment, as earlier in the week, I spent the time it takes for the coffee machine to pour my morning coffee, to really look at the tree outside out kitchen window. Really, really look. I'm not sure if I have done this before. Really looked, and really enjoyed the knobbles and cracks on the trunk, and the way the branches sway like tickling fingers. I counted some of the branches, then lost count because I got distracted by a goldfinch, hopping around and showing flashes of colour on the grey sky. Really noticed the buds on that particular tree, almost bursting out.

Take this further, and perhaps deflecting from the thought that I seem to have a small obsession with trees - we can spend a portion of our usual commuting time just standing outside, learning a new routine of taking in the fresh air, or taking a walk around whatever outside space we have. We can touch our toes, salute the sun, or just stand with our eyes closed and enjoy the air and enjoy our own breath, before we retreat to our cave or our classroom to try to be normal. We can spend the first moments of the day thinking of something fun that might our partner or our children laugh, or we can spend the time cuddling whatever animal companion we might have. Our topsy turvy, regular life can wait for these few moments, and it might bring love to others.

We can spend the first moments of the day, texting a family member or friend, to tell them we are thinking of them. Emma, does this every morning she can to her family. She was also the true inspiration for this entry, when instead of rolling her eyes at a spontaneous frost angel I created a few weeks back, she encouraged it and said that every day we should do something that just makes us smile, or makes us happy. Lying on the ground and seeing the at the window, is a moment that I will use to remind me if this habit slips, because if I could think of something every day that made our little boy giggle like he did that morning, I would do it in a heartbeat, forever.

We can spend five minutes each evening whilst we are cleaning our teeth or washing our face, thinking about people in our universe of life that might be finding things hard. There are people who cannot work, people who are isolated, people who are trying new ways to be normal or to make rent or pay the mortgage. We can think of them, and embrace what they are doing with love. We might be tired, and might not want to make that call to a friend or relative. We might have spent the day dealing with our own hassles, and so don't want to take the extra moments to take an online class, or help out a local business who has popped up in our social media feed or in a group chat. But if we do, then we are creating connections of love, and positive connections that will help to create love in our new routine.

We can hold those near to us a little tighter, even when we don't want to. If you wake up feeling irritable, maybe the person next to you, or the furry friend at the end of the bed might be feeling that too. So instead of both of you turning away, if you become the one who turns towards that person, or the animal that you love, and you become the one who gets there first and gives them a squeeze even if you don't want to, then there is a good chance that you'll both have a better day. Negativity in our minds cannot endure when learn to face it with love and positivity. Understanding also that it is something in ourselves, that is making us irritable with others, has been a big revelation to me. It helps me with myself as well as others, and it is very hard to feel irritable twice, if after the first time you can rationalise yourself, or respond to others with love. It is disarming and powerful.

It is perhaps not a planetwise change for the environment, but finding love in the moments of the day, and in our new routines is certainly a planetwise change for the people in our world.

Finally, my overwhelming reflection on the new routine is also that it is OK to feel vulnerable, and that we have to understand that in each other more than ever. It is OK to feel imperfect, or that you are failing on a particular day, or that you are lonely, that you are anxious about a family member, or that you have dreams of running away. Or that you miss having a hand-pulled Guinness, and watch it gloriously settle on the bar in front of you. Or that you are scared, or frustrated. And it is OK to face a feeling of vulnerability, and a feeling of being out of control, by doing things that are out of character, or that in normal circumstances would result in mockery. And it is definitely OK to find positive things to do every day, like this, and to tell people about them.

Anything that helps us keep our responsibilities to each other, and helps us keep this awful virus from taking more people we love, is OK with me. Anything that helps us feel a bit more in control, a bit happier, and a bit less vulnerable, and a bit more together - is also OK with me - because it reminds us that we are not alone and that we can help each other, and we can connect with each other in ways that before we didn't know we could.

And if we can't think of something straight away, then we just wake up every morning, at at some point use whatever technology we have handy to put a favourite song on, turn up the volume and just dance.

We can all spend three minutes just dancing - dancing by ourselves, dancing with someone or something else. Dancing with our shoulders, our fingers or just dancing inside our heads. I can't dance and don't particularly like to, but - thanks to Emma once more - we have a four year old in the house that has found love in dancing, and without our help has found love in R&B and 1960s Californian rock and roll. And when he shouts at Alexa to play Alicia Keys or the Beach Boys at volume 8, and then does his frog dance or his crazy arms, then there is no way not to love this new routine, and remember that some of it doesn't ever need to change back.

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