I should get a dog. I know. I know. It’s not practical. Vet’s bills. Food. Second-floor flat. Middle of a city. Out too much. And what about holidays? They’re such a tie. Dogs I mean. Not holidays. I know all the rational arguments. But let’s face it. Anyone who’d force me to go for a long walk twice a day can’t be all bad.
This is not some kind of crazy health kick I’m on. Much though I ought to be. It’s just that walking’s so good for the writing process. It doesn’t have be wandering-through-a-host-of-golden-daffodils walking either. Plain putting-one-foot-in-front-of-the-other will do. A section of my regular journey to the supermarket runs (or walks) along a pavement too narrow for two people to pass without one of them stepping off. Busy road one side. High wall on the other. There’s usually a grimy tanker labelled ‘extreme recycling’ parked by the only gate. And a wisp of noxious gas above it. Wordsworth country it is not.
I was stumbling along this very stretch the other day. Bag of shopping in each hand. Shoulders aching. Fingers purple. I found myself thinking of Tom. I miss Tom. Tom was the kind of guy who always had a bee in his bonnet. Often several. His bonnet was more a hive than a piece of headgear. I was chatting to him over after-church coffee one Sunday a few years ago.
“God’s been talking to me,” he said.
“He asked me to think about which tree I’m eating from.”
Don’t worry. It didn’t make sense to me either. At least not at first.
I’m not a fan of self-help books. Their didactic tone and veiled suggestion that I could be as wonderful as the author if only [insert behaviour change here] is usually enough to send me screaming for cover. But every now and then, one gets in under the radar. The Artist’s Way for example. It came recommended by a friend whose personal journey leaves me breathless with awe. That’s the only reason I gave it house room. The author, Julia Cameron, talks about synchronicity. Loosely speaking, the way the universe sometimes flows along with our creative decisions. Leap, and the net will appear, she says. Although that should probably come with a government health warning. Don’t try this at home.
Be that as it may. I started to think about Tom’s trees, and whether I could work them into the blog. I was well into the idea by the time I got home. Fingers throbbing. Ice cream melting. In urgent need of tea. And the loo. I dumped the shopping. And checked in to Facebook on my phone. Yes. I really am that hooked. A friend had posted a Russell Brand video. I’m a big fan of Russell Brand. Ever since his incredibly honest documentary about his addiction. My friend had also tagged me in a comment. About wu-wei. Effortless action. In case you’re as uninformed as I was up to that moment.
According to Edward Slingerland ‘wu-wei is very much like the feeling of being ‘in the zone’ that athletes describe’. It’s that place where everything seems to flow. Without grit-toothed blood, sweat and tears. The idea runs so counter to everything we’re taught to believe. I was fascinated. But I’m a well-trained domestic goddess. I put the shopping away. Sorted out dinner. Sat down and turned on the laptop. That was last Thursday.
Last Thursday was the night of the Great Virus Software Crisis. The laptop went nuts. Any idea of synchronicity went out of the window. And wu-wei. The universe was flowing against me. Action was in no way effortless. Even the internet hated me. My laptop was riddled with viruses. I’d have to stop writing. For ever. What kind of idiot was I to imagine I could be a writer anyway? I couldn’t even manage 125 measly days without something going horribly wrong. I was going down the garden to eat worms. I should have stuck to Supersize vs Superskinny.
Five days on from the tantrum now. I’m definitely older and possibly wiser. Synchronicity is a bit more than everything-going-exactly-the-way-I-want. After all, last Thursday I didn’t know I was going to have an amazing experience of wu-wei on Sunday. While talking about knights on white chargers. Superman. And donkeys. In church.
So what does this have to do with trees? Tom’s trees are the ones Adam and Eve faced in the Garden of Eden. The tree of life. And the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. To cut a longish story short, they chose the second tree. Against the best possible advice. Tom took this as an allegory for the choice we all make minute-by-minute. Life. Or judgement. Love. Or condemnation. Flow. Or effort. Synchronicity. Or struggle. I like his analysis.
We tend to choose the second tree. It’s familiar. Safe. You know where you are with it. Some kind of morality is at the core of everything we do. Black-and-white. Right. And wrong. Not that we’re always in agreement about what ‘morality’ means of course. Wars are fought over the issue. Schoolgirls are shot. Men and women are denied basic human rights. Because they don’t agree with us. Closer to home, David Cameron considers himself on a moral mission to cut welfare benefits. The Archbishop of Westminster considers his mission anything but moral. I know which side of the dispute I’d come down on. But who am I to judge?
Here in the western world we like hard work. We cling to the protestant work ethic. Regardless of its impact on the human psyche. Not to mention the planet. It seems we’re all anxious to buy a piece of heaven. Personalised. Designer label. Red-carpeted with hard work. Effort. Doing our bit. Not rocking the boat. And definitely not asking questions about the point of it all.
We have just the one life. Unless you happen to believe in reincarnation. This isn’t a rehearsal. So why is it a good idea to spend so much time being so miserable? I’m not much given to envy. I’ll wash my mouth out with soap and water when I’ve finished … But I do get the odd twinge when I meet people who’ve found their metier. A way of making a living by doing something they actually love. It’s a gift so many of us miss in the daily grind of paying bills. Making money for people who already have more than we do.
Wu-wei. Synchronicity. Eating from the tree of life. Living outside the box. They go against the grain. Run outside the rut. They bring the beautiful. The spiritual. The life-enhancing. Crashing into the workaday world. Dancing. Laughing. Wait a minute. Wouldn’t we all be happier like this? But we’ve lost any sense that the world ever was. Ever could be other than as it is. We’ve even forgotten there was once a world without iPads. For goodness’ sake. We get scared. Envious. Judgemental. Cover our eyes and hope it will go away. But you know what? I think it’s time a few of us started eating from a different tree. I don’t know about you, but I’m with Tom on this one. Bees. Bonnet. And all.
I’m writing this blog to raise funds for a charity close to my heart. I’ve given up NOT being a writer for 125 days in support of One25’s work with vulnerable women in Bristol. You can find out more about them by visiting their website at http://www.one25.org.uk/. You can also support them by visiting my fund raising page at http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/fundraiser-web/fundraiser/showFundraiserProfilePage.action?userUrl=JeanMutch where you can make a donation and suggest an idea for a short story or a post on the blog. Thank you.