Want to know what matters? Doing nothing.
Friday was not a good day. Not because of anything that’s happened to me – I’m just fine. But because of the information I’ve received via friends, television, the internet. An assault on a friend’s partner, unprovoked and vicious. Bad management and communication at an allegedly well-organised and professional organisation. A piece in the Guardian about the damage that increasing privatisation is doing to London and the UK. A series of videos by Banksy, made in Gaza. Endless cruel, sarcastic remarks about Madonna falling over on stage at the Brits. A thoughtful article on the difficulty and embarrassment young, not-white children are having in choosing what character to be for World Book Day, because there are so few heroic fictional characters of colour. The chance to catch up with the second, superb episode of the BBC’s adaptation of The Casual Vacancy, in which various people are horrendously awful to others. Oh, and then as I channel hopped afterwards, a succession of brain-meltingly terrible adverts busily telling women everywhere that unless they use five forms of wrinkle cream and invest in a tiny paintbrush and pot of ‘serum’, their skin and hair will never look good again. Which they’ll need, obviously, for when they have to stack the dishwasher in that other advert, and discover that without the power of Fairy, they can’t even clean their pyrex dishes properly.
These things variously make me tired, or upset, or angry, or a combination of all three. Seeing people in pain makes me upset. Seeing people being treated unfairly makes me angry. Seeing gleeful and deliberate attacks or prompts about things which DO NOT MATTER (e.g. wrinkle cream, hair dye, the second-by-second video of poor Madonna falling over as if it’s some kind of scientific experiment to be analysed in minute detail) makes me very, very tired. If you find any of these things genuinely interesting, you should probably stop reading this now and go and try to figure out what colour that stupid dress is.
But on Tuesday? On Tuesday morning, something nice happened. It is the inspiration for this post. Here it is:
This is Pusserl. Early on Tuesday morning, as I slumped on the sofa trying to find the werewithal to get moving and head to the train, he decided that I was the most comfortable thing ever. So comfortable, that I should be colonised immediately. And so he stomped onto my lap, dug his claws in a few times to check… whatever it is cats feel the need to check whilst drawing blood… and lay down. And then he turned and looked at me, and purred.
As I staggered to the station ten minutes later, I though back to Pusserl and his excellent life philosophy. He sleeps a lot. He eats quite a bit. He occasionally ventures outside. He likes to join in dinnertime conversation and is an obliging bowl-cleaner if pressed. He also spends a reasonable amount of time just sitting. Sitting and looking. Let’s be generous and say sitting and thinking.
What does a very happy cat have to do with world crises and Madonna? I’ll tell you. Sitting still. Something that cats have the opportunity to do for hours, because they don’t have to stand squeezed into a commuter train and check Twitter 15 times on the way to work and answer 100 pointless emails before lunch and run to Pret and get back to the office for a meeting about budgets for next year’s paperclip supply and reboard the train and feel bad about that advert so buy that wrinkle cream and cook dinner and wonder whether it’s time yet to replace the telly… and so on. The cat has time to sit and think. I am certainly not the first person to suggest that this is something we are bad at doing – sitting and thinking. Because actually, although recent research suggests that we have far more leisure time than the constant call of ‘I’m so busy!’ would suggest, we seem to be monumentally bad at actually being at leisure. Sitting still is brilliant. Staring out of train windows is also pretty great. Lying on the grass. Being quiet. How easy it is – yet we have been utterly manipulated into thinking think that we should be doing something all the time, and that we are worthless if we are not. Even if it’s ‘just’ checking Facebook or ‘just’ listening to music or ‘just’ catching up with something on Netflix. No. Turn it off. Dare to be confronted by silence, and the present, and yourself.
If people sat still more, they might allow their minds to wander. They might start considering why they don’t do this more often. How their lives work. Whether they’re happy with that. Whether that thing they said to Jane at the office on Monday was really quite mean, and perhaps they should buy her a coffee when they next see her to say sorry. Or they might think about people who have no one to keep them company, and have to sit still all the time, and consider running a coffee morning or giving a donation to those charities aiming to help. As they get better and better at the peace and quiet of sitting still, they might find that the prospect of doing it for, say, 50 minutes, perhaps at a local church whilst someone gives a lunchtime concert, could be fun. They will, I guarantee you, start thinking about their surroundings. And maybe even how they interact with the people and places around them.
If we all sat still a little longer, and learned to be a little quieter, I reckon a number of the things that made me so miserable on Friday wouldn’t be so much of a problem. We’d feel sorry for Madonna, acknowledge that falling over sucks, and move on with our lives. We’d perhaps think harder about how our behaviour affects other people and change it as a result. We might read more, and question what we read rather than just racing to the end to say we’ve read all the books on the X-prize shortlist. We may come to think deeply about stereotypes and their usefulness, and start having conversations about why they have to change, and how diversity is a rich and positive thing. We might learn, through being quiet, to listen to others.
Am I a cock-eyed optimist? Of course I am. Of course there’s more to it than cloud-watching for half an hour and Thinking Deep Thoughts. But I can tell you that the people I know who are the most aware – of themselves and the situations around them – are not the people who are just so busy all the time. They are the people who switch their phones to silent, lean back in their chairs, and are still. They have mastered the art of being quiet, and they are content. Pusserl would be proud. And after all… even the internet is obsessed with cats, right?