• Nadya Booyse

If you saw Atlas, the giant who holds the world on his shoulders, if you saw that he stood, blood running down his chest, his knees buckling, his arms trembling but still trying to hold the world aloft with the last of his strength, and the greater his effort the heavier the world bore down upon his shoulders - What would you tell him?

I…don't know. What…could he do? What would you tell him?

To shrug.

― Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged

This idea that the world can go on without us, that Atlas doesn't need to carry the world, but has been convinced that it will fall if he doesn't, plays out in many ways in our daily lives. We convince ourselves that we have to check our emails now, or we have to keep on working to just finish this or that, and somehow we get wrapped up in doing, desiring and understanding cognitively that we need to take care of ourselves too, but somehow never getting there.

Today though, I am thinking about my life before COVID. (Aren't we all? Isn't it every conversation topic, even when it isn't?). I would like to think that something so big, something that throws out the whole world, doesn't just happen without having something to show us, something about our lives, the way we live, and what we prioritise. As much as I like to think that, all around me is the evidence of people scrambling to get back to the level of safety (as in comfort zone) pre-COVID, many without changing or learning or observing or being aware of anything. Survival-mode. Our sense of lack, that there isn't enough for everyone, is the root of so many of our problems. In addition to our resistance to change. We will fight tooth and nail to keep what is, even if what is isn't really working out.

The middle class way of life is perhaps the greatest showcase for this sense of lack: we are so scared of being left behind, of our kids missing out on the one great opportunity that could be their talent, of having less than the Jones's, of being thought of as mediocre (middle-class). We're not fighting to survive every day, but we are also not part of The Elite. We want more, and once we have more, we need more in order to protect the more that we just got. And every more is just an invitation to another more. Because if we don't have more, how do we keep ourselves safe?; how do we ensure our future?; how do we ensure that of our kids?

And we forget so many things, but mostly the things that speak to us and remind us that we are, essentially, safe. We forget to listen and feel, because we are always afraid, and running around trying to alleviate that fear.

My pre-COVID life was filled to the brim. Not necessarily out of fear, but because there were things I needed to keep safe, and a purpose that needed to be built, and kids that had to do x, y, and z in order to have a chance in this world. A chance to do what exactly? To become a part of the race that binds them and slowly kills them? To take them away from the ones they love and the life they are actually intent on building for most of their waking hours?

Like all things that I talk about, there is always a balance to things. There are people who love their careers and there is benefit that comes out of trying new things and finding out what you like. Not getting any chances or education or idea of what you are good at is just as bad as over working yourself.

But we're not talking about balance right now.

We're talking about one side of the spectrum.

In the midst of COVID, everything that I was fighting so hard to build was broken down, and everything that my kids were doing was cancelled. Our slate was cleaned. We had such a desperate need for that. We released a breath that we didn't even realise we were holding until we did.

There was a shrug (not a voluntary one but nonetheless) and the world got dropped.

Would it surprise you to know that we we're ok? Probably not, because everyone essentially was.

Would it surprise you that we are actually better off? Perhaps. Everyone has been so panicky about what has been lost, that no one has really paid attention to what has been gained.

The biggest thing I learned was to not take this gift for granted. We have been looking at our life, looking at what we intended to build, and making use of the time that has been given to us to both heal what was broken, and build what was envisioned.

It is so much simpler than before, and we have been asking ourselves the really hard questions, like what we really need, what we really want, and what benefit anything truly adds when we add it to our lives. And we have become much better at setting boundaries and canceling anything that doesn't fit comfortably; we've become better at taking care of the things that really matter to us, which is ourselves, our relationships, and the experiences we share.

This has not been the journey for everyone, although some people made it harder than it needed to be. For us, we have shuffled and shifted, and come out the other side with a better understanding of ourselves, what works, and how to add one brick at a time.

  • Nadya Booyse

You don't need to slay the beast or scale the entire mountain. That's not how it is done. You only need to move through today. Focus on your strengths. Let each new step remind you of your freedom. Let every breath you take remind you of your power. This road has been walked before. Dance life's dance, just a few steps at a time.

I have no idea who wrote this, and my search has turned up empty. I wrote it down in a journal one day, but not where I found it or who had said it. It vibrated in relevance though, so after putting off using it until I could find where it came from, it finally insisted on being written.

In our comfortable and disconcerting rat-race, we wrap ourselves up in should's and should nots; we create lists of goals and end results as if that is what it is really all about. Life, I mean, as if it is what life is really all about.

Of course there is value in the long-term goals, like finishing a degree, running a marathon, or finishing a cake. But we seem to have turned all of life into goals: goals that take away from pleasure; goals that HAVE TO be done daily; goals that make us feel like we accomplishing things; goals that take over life, instead of adding to it.

None of these things are necessarily wrong, but we've turned these things into something to be obtained instead of enjoyed, and we do this to nearly everything that was once done because it brought joy into our life: journaling, meditation, yoga, reading, posting on social media, being with our kids, being with our partner... It's as if we have no more space to do the things that make us feel good, or no more natural space at least, so we have to book it out in our diary. A chore, something to get a tick once done (which gets a dopamine release too, you know).

Although not wrong, when not done with enthusiasm, a natural desire to do them and even prioritise them, they just don't really add to the core value of life, they just feel like something more to get to.

In my experience, our best moments, the moments where we feel truly connected and content, come from those moments when we do what the moment asks of us, rather than ticking of a chore for the day or adding more goals to our already filled up list:

It comes from prioritising the things that shape us;

It comes from creating meaning rather than trying to crowbar meaning into our lives;

It comes from the meandering on the path instead of trying to fill that step count;

It comes from playing with the kids, chatting with our partner every day, rather than careening off on the hundredth extra mural activity or counting the minutes we have to spend with them;

It comes from paying off debt and never from creating it (usually to keep up with the Jones's);

It comes from listening to our bodies and loving them deeply;

It really comes from knowing what is most important to us, and shaping our world around that, rather than letting our priorities be shaped around the world.

And yes, we may want to get to the healthier weight state, or to the promotion, or to the whatever goal we have in mind, but

a) we cannot exclude the wondrous journey of getting there; we can leave at any moment and no one will remember what we didn't accomplish and what is left undone will be left undone, but how did we connect with ourselves, our tribe, along the way; and

b) we often get so wrapped up in the goal that when we miss a day or miss the goal, we feel like a failure and we throw it all away; when we turn goals into step by step processes, or we accept that we may have been thrown off for a moment and step right back into the dance when we are able to, then we turn our goals into journeys and our journeys into life; and

c) although there is amazing benefit in structure, there is also amazing benefit in flow, and life works best when we balance these two within the meaning that we are creating; and, lastly

d) the things that mean the most in our lives, do best when they are (mostly) organically connected with.

I suppose at its core it is about dancing, rather than slaying, and about wandering rather than scaling. It doesn't mean you'll never have to scale or slay; it just means that it is not the only thing that life is about.

  • Nadya Booyse

Even if it's not your fault, it's your responsibility. - Terry Pratchett, A Hat Full of Sky

We live in an age where everyone is trying to side step responsibility and find someone else to blame for the problems we face. Perhaps it has always been so and our social media platforms have just made these things more visible and given many a bit of a podium to whine from. And yes, sometimes there is someone specific to blame, but more often than not, the bigger problems in our world don't start with the last person we point our fingers at. The bulk of our problems are due to events that cascade down through years, decades, and sometimes generations, to reach us in the present.

Just take our rape culture, for example, and the pinnacle it has reached. How long ago did this start? It doesn't mean the rapist is not to blame, but it also doesn't mean that we don't have a collective job to do if we want to fix this problem.

Global Warming - Plastic Pollution - Racism - Sexism - and yes, our current pandemic...

We love pointing fingers, and we are so good at justifying and denying or simply ignoring our part in the problem, and why we do or don't do something.

We blame. We whine. We get angry. And then we wait for someone to save us or someone to fix the problem or someone to tell us what to do. Which usually only leads us to more problems in the future, and to which we never connect the dots.

It's visible in micro-examples in our daily lives:

Everyone waits for someone else to pick up the trash / clean up our mess and take it where we can't see it or the effect of it, and then we all gasp and shout at the plastic in the ocean (but we'll happily go shopping the next day and never once connect our excessive mindsets with the problem);

Everyone keeps on buying more and more stuff to fill up their houses and then we whine because things are mass-produced and not made to last;

Everyone deplores the state of our earth, and yet no one is willing to adjust their lifestyle.

- Just look at the horrible state of our ocean! Someone has got to do something about that! - isn't it funny how the caveat 'and that someone is me' is never added to those sentences...?

We have to stop pointing fingers and waiting on others to tell us what to do and how to live. We already know what is required from us, we're just so addicted to our lifestyles and so resistant to change!

This doesn't mean we can't have nice things. It simply means we have to rethink our excess (whether food, clothing, shoes, books, etc.) and our desire to have multitudes of things in all colours produced with no concern for the environment or people and which we usually discard before it is even used up. It means we have to rethink the way we package and market things. It means we have to rethink the ways in which we demand to have everything we want right now. It means we have to rethink the toxicity of our culture that has many people working for next to nothing, many more crippled by debt, and none of them considered to matter when it comes to the bottom line.

It means we need to start thinking about our part in all of the above.

It means we need to start thinking.

If we are going to change our world radically, then we are going to have to take radical responsibility and commit to being accountable for the way we show up and the effect we have on the world and those around us; it means that we begin to understand that it is not just me doing these things, but that there are 7billion people in the world, and if everyone did what I do, what does that look like?

It looks a lot like the mess we are in, I suppose.

I know this sounds like a lot of work and changes; it sounds like more than any one of us would want to take on alone, but the truth is it starts small, and you wouldn't do it alone. There are others. There will be more.

You don't need to go out and build houses or feed the poor, unless of course you can and want to; you can simply start looking around you for the things you can do every day.

It starts with chopping wood and fetching water, picking up trash, making less of it, and setting true examples of the world we would like to live in.

It starts with being honest with ourselves and awareness of the example we carry into the world.

It starts with creating meaning for yourself instead of asking others to create it for you: how do you want to feel?; how do you want your choices to ripple out?; what are your values? - and then living the answers to these questions.

If we really want change, we have to be willing to make the choices that we are waiting on everyone else to make.

Leaders go first.

Somebody has to do something.

Someone has to start.

It might as well be you/me.