Etchings in the Sand…

Thoughts and Photos from the Desert…

Category Archives: Wisdom

Waiting for Godot…

Mother used to tell me that anticipation is always greater than realization. I thought she was nuts at the time, but as so often is the case, the wisdom of mothers grows with age and absence.

This holds true right across the board. Amy and Oliver are not so sure of that, but they’re dogs. What do dogs know?


This Is What You Shall Do…

“This is what you shall do”

by Walt Whitman

This is what you shall do.

Love the earth and sun and the animals,

despise riches,

give alms to every one that asks,

stand up for the stupid and crazy,

devote your income and labor to others,

hate tyrants,

argue not concerning God,

have patience and indulgence toward the people,

take off your hat to nothing known or unknown

or to any man or number of men,

go freely with powerful uneducated persons

and with the young and with the mothers of families,

read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life,

re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book,

dismiss whatever insults your own soul,

and your very flesh shall be a great poem

and have the richest fluency not only in its words

but in the silent lines of its lips and face

and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body.”

“This is what you shall do…” by Walt Whitman, from the preface of Leaves of Grass. Public domain. (And thanks to Garrison Keillor for calling Whitman to my attention.)

Leonard Cohen…

We watched “Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man” tonight. A cross between a reverent tribute and a documentary. There’s something about him that touches both of us at the deepest possible level. I f you have Netflix or some other passageway to films, this is for you, I think. I hope. Perhaps.

Listen. Hear. Grow.

Aha! At last a kindred spirit…

I’ve been hungry for a quote like this one for years. It says it all. At least in my humble opinion. Apply it to anything: religion, politics, eduction, family life – whatever. Life is basicly a mattter of creative insecurity.

OK. Here it is – for your “thought for the day” collection:

“Some People Are More Certain of Everything Than I Am Of Anything.”
by Susan Cain

Yes, yes, yes.

Do You Play Nice With Yourself?

Many of us don’t. Listen to the conversations around you next time you’re in a group. Bitch. Bitch. Bitch. “My life is just too inadequate. Kind of stupid generally, but true. Ever think about giving yourself a break?

Well, if so, give this blog a look. I got a terrific kick out of it.

Welcome to the nineteenth issue of Getting Your Important Work Done. The microMag is emailed every two weeks (or thereabouts!) and each issue is a gentle reminder encouraging you to get on with your Important Work, offering advice on how to remain sustainably creative in the face of life’s demands.

Learning to be compassionate with ourselves to get our Important Work done

Over on Sustainably Creative I’ve been writing a short series of posts looking at the tools I use to help me stay sustainably creative.

There’s one tool that I haven’t included, not because I don’t think it’s important but because I’m still learning how to use it and don’t feel confident to write about it in such a public forum. That tool is compassion and I wanted to discuss it a little here.

A little secret

I’ll let you all into a little secret. For the last few months I’ve been working with a life coach. That’s not something I ever thought I’d do; it doesn’t feel very “British”–not at all stiff upper lip and tea drinking. Of course whilst I’m an Olympic tea drinker, my upper lip isn’t very stiff and so maybe I’m more open to life coaching and other forms of therapy than some of my fellow countrymen and women might be.

Nonetheless, deciding to embark on a series of sessions was still a bit of a leap for me. It’s scary to open oneself up to a stranger and to talk about the things in our lives that aren’t as we like them to be. I took what I though was a very clearheaded approach to my sessions at the outset. Laying down clear goals for the things I wanted to achieve, things to do with money, health and relationships. I set myself long and short term goals and decided on a series of “next-step” actions to take.

Things went well to start with. I felt very in control of the process and was pleased with the results (and the possibilities of even more and better results), but I began to feel that something was missing. I began to see that I was “working” at this process, not enjoying it.

A realisation

Increasingly as I’ve got older, I’ve realised that “working” at things is something I do all the time. I remember when I first got sick I used to “work” at getting better (and one of the devastating things about ME/CFS is that pushing oneself just makes things worse) and whilst illness showed up the futility of working and pushing at some things, I’ve never really cured myself of the habit!

There’s been something about the life coaching process that’s changed things just a little though. It’s to do with how much it has made me practice being aware.

Non-judgemental awareness

Learning to be aware of ourselves isn’t just about watching ourselves, it’s about watching ourselves without judging ourselves. It means we are able to see ourselves with a clear vision, one not clouded by our views of how things “should” be and how we “want” them to be. Basically it about being compassionate towards ourselves.

Letting in a little compassion

An interesting thing has happened since I’ve been letting in a little compassion for myself. I’ve been working less at things, not pushing myself to following my timetables (I’ve even had timetables for resting and napping!). Over the last month or so I’ve been watching myself be far more willing to let myself off the hook about things and even when I haven’t I’ve have been able to not give myself a hard time about it.

The result is I’m feeling a lot more rested than I have in a VERY long time, and somehow, in little fits and starts I’ve still managed to get my Important Work done.

Fledgling steps

I’m not going to pretend that I’m an expert at this compassion thing yet. I suspect it is going to take a very long time to undo old habits of pushing myself (I’m not even sure it’s possible), but just opening the door at little to the possibility of being kinder to myself is making a big difference.

Some days just making the decision to sit down with a cup of tea instead of pushing myself to get something finished (or even started) opens up some space in which a lovely thing starts to happen. Suddenly there feels like there’s time for things to develop at their natural pace, the pressure begins to lift and I feel myself relax.

Making room for our quiet wise voice

In this relaxed state I have a much clearer view of my needs and can start hear that quiet and wise little voice that we all have. A voice that if we let it whisper in our ear can tell us what our next best step is.

I’ve found that it becomes possible to adopt a rhythm of work and rest that means I don’t feel as though I am always at the edge of what I can manage, but rather that I’m working well within my means.

Why learning to be more compassionate with ourselves can help us get our Important Work done

Being compassionate with ourselves creates a sense of space in which we can discover our own natural working rhythms.
Compassion will help not push ourselves beyond what we can comfortable do (and so make it more likely that we can work consistently).
The more compassionate we are with ourselves the more we learn to hear (and trust) in the wise voice that can help keep us on creative track.
Compassion helps us develop a “good enough” attitude to our life and work; instead of cajoling ourselves along with the rod of perfectionism, we can encourage ourselves with the carrot of “this is the best I can do today, and it is enough”.
Being compassionate with ourselves makes more room for life to be fun (and life should be fun!).

Three books to help instill a sense of compassion

Take That Nap
by Lisa Baldwin

I interviewed Lisa over on Sustainably Creative a few months ago and found out just how wise she is about the importance of treating ourselves compassionately as we get on with our Important Work.

Lisa has a very inspiring pricing policy for her book . There’s a suggested price of $15 but you can choose how much you want to pay. What a lovely idea (and one I think I’m going to adopt).

The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating
by Elizabeth Tova Bailey

Recommended to me by a fellow ME/CFS sufferer, this beautiful little book shows us how to accept that some things are just the way they are but that there is still much joy to be found if we allow ourselves to see it.

How to be Sick
by Toni Bernhard

I’ve mentioned Toni Bernhard’s book before. We can all learn a lot from her gentle approach to living a with a chronic illness (whether we’re ill ourselves or not) and could do a lot worse than mimicking her compassionate self-care.

Toni recently recorded this inspiring talk explaining a little about how she came to write the book.

If you’d like to explore compassion more deeply these podcast could be a good start

Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike will find a lot of gentle wisdom over on the Audio Dharma site .

There’s a huge archive of podcast on the site and this selection explores the concept of compassion.

About the Author

Michael Nobbs is a full-time artist, blogger and tea drinker (not necessarily in that order). He regularly publishes The Beany , an illustrated journal of his life, and writes , tweets and podcasts about drawing and trying to keep things simple.

In the late 1990s he was diagnosed with ME/CFS and, over the last decade, have learnt a lot about sustaining a creative career with limited energy.

Regarding Daughters…

As is so often the case, Garrison Keillor has some interesting poetic insights into the strange world of bringing up daughters. If this triggers a response, read on…

Prayer for Our Daughters
by Mark Jarman
May they never be lonely at parties

Or wait for mail from people they haven’t written

Or still in middle age ask God for favors

Or forbid their children things they were never forbidden.

May hatred be like a habit they never developed

And can’t see the point of, like gambling or heavy drinking.

If they forget themselves, may it be in music

Or the kind of prayer that makes a garden of thinking.

May they enter the coming century

Like swans under a bridge into enchantment

And take with them enough of this century

To assure their grandchildren it really happened.

May they find a place to love, without nostalgia

For some place else that they can never go back to.

And may they find themselves, as we have found them,

Complete at each stage of their lives, each part they add to.

May they be themselves, long after we’ve stopped watching.

May they return from every kind of suffering

(Except the last, which doesn’t bear repeating)

And be themselves again, both blessed and blessing.


“Prayer for Our Daughters” by Mark Jarman, from Bone Fires: New and Selected Poems. © Sarabande Books, 2011. Reprinted with permission.


There’s so much here that bears serious reflection – and perhaps a few salty tears. So much wisdom, unanticipated but appreciated and stretching at the same time.