RHYMES&REASONS

Observations, Thoughts and Reflections on 21st Century Life

Category: Health

One Marshmallow or Two? The Lost Art of Delayed Gratification

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A desire indulged spontaneously offers little more than momentary, fleeting pleasure – a treat, whose value is briefly inflated before it melts with a small sigh across our memory.

That which has been anticipated, struggled over and procrastinated against carries within it our best efforts in the shape of an earned understanding.  The resulting fulfillment is part of us, radiating a deep and lasting satisfaction that the sugary goosebumps of a treat can never hope to imitate.

It is more than 5o years since Walter Mischel’s social experiment with four year olds, in which they could enjoy the instant pleasure of eating a single marshmallow or wait twenty minutes and have two. Each child was left alone to make the choice. It was a battle between desire and self-control; gratification and delay.  A seemingly simple tussle and yet the ability to resist impulse is a fundamental emotional skill, the foundation stone of self-control.  The children who managed to wait did so by distracting themselves, demonstrating perseverance towards fulfillment of a future goal.  Follow up studies showed that those who managed to resist temptation went on to lead happier and more successful lives than those who gave into it.

Our capacity to resist is under threat.  Modern life teases, tempts and torments, seducing us into believing that not only must we have the latest phone, the most exotic holiday or the best job, we need to be the first.  We expect to achieve with limited effort on our part – because we deserve it, don’t we?  We have conformed to – and now embrace – an era of instant gratification and our ability to satiate our constant demands has become the currency by which we value ourselves and judge others, the scale by which we perceive our success.  It is the market by which our economy thrives or dives, the treadmill updated from industrial 20th to digital 21st century. Gone are the days when saving up for, or working towards the object of our desire was not only necessary but character building, strengthening resolve, patience and the ability to endure discomfort and disappointment.

 Patience is a word out of sync with our modern society.  We are so used to our desires being  instantly met, that a certain complacency sets in and we struggle to endure the discordant sensations of wanting and lack.  Waiting feels an unreasonable request, we expect it not of ourselves but of others;  so we complain and demand like a two year old whose needs are not attended to.  The planning and  anticipation of fulfillment has become the new addiction, the skin deep ‘high’ satisfying little more than a momentary whim before we’re seeking the next fix.  Lasting satisfaction comes from striving, embedding our heart and soul within our endeavours, elevating the pleasure and value way beyond the instantaneous.

The art of balancing treat and toil is fast disappearing. Let’s refuse to settle for indulgent underachievement and strive for the infinitely more satisfying depths of delayed gratification.

And then enjoy a treat!  One marshmallow or two . . . .

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Stove Top Coffee Pot – routinely served and savoured

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  Each morning I now delight in making coffee in my stove top coffee pot, an unexpected gift which has delivered into my life not just fresh coffee but a fresh routine.  In an age where immediate gratification is demanded and not only the coffee is instant, routine has become an unwelcome word, something to be endured which consumes our precious time and keeps us from more engaging activity.

We associate routine with the ordinary, the familiar and commonplace.  We often perceive and experience it as boring and tedious and try to complete such tasks as quickly as possible.  And in busy lives there is a necessity to undertake them speedily, routine is essential for simple survival.  But through the mundane nature of our toils we may discover something of ourselves.  Routine is the practice of a skill which had to be courted and apprenticed, the harvest of which is the application of confident ability that enables our lives to operate like a well oiled machine.  We undertake our task in the hope that it will take us to a place, some anticipated horizon, where our endeavours may be witnessed, acknowledged and the fruit of our labours enjoyed.

But there is another more intrinsic value to routine.  It supports our emotional well being, our need for a reliable framework on which to hang our daily life.  In times of stress we turn to an activity like ‘putting the kettle on’, the familiar routine distracts, comforts and soothes.  When all around is chaos, routine provides us with a sense of control.  Even those lucky enough to be released from the quotidian of formal work will establish new routines, the joy of freedom soon gives way to the need for an habitual guide to stabilize our life.  The polarities of the routine and the extraordinary support each other and both are necessary to balance the scales of well-being.

The next time routine fatigue sets in, remember that it serves us well – it certainly serves exceedingly good coffee!

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. . . . and a peaceful New Year . . . .

Peace . . . is something we rarely experience.

Our daily lives don’t provide for peace.  We are surrounded by sound, from piped musak in shops and cafes, to advertisements which blare from screens large and small, to the discordant shrill of a lawn mower and toys which create more noise than the children who play.  An undeclared competition for our attention, it is a background stress we barely notice –  until we remove ourselves from it.  So accustomed are we that the mere thought of silence has become quiet dis-arming.

   Silence separates us from our daily lives and all with which we are familiar; it confronts and challenges us with the uncertain, allowing in thoughts and conversations with ourselves which we have previously conspired to keep at bay.  Quietness is the gateway to the unknown, initially a fearful place to be and just as an addict craves a fix, we look and long for distraction.  Our defense mechanism is to drown out the external commotion by immersing ourselves in a cacophony of our own choosing, a personal aural diet selected from an i-menu of endless options and drip fed through earphones barely visible.

Faced with exchanging sonance for silence even for an hour, many will experience the alarm of impending detoxification.  But as the edge of our discomfort starts to dissolve and abate, so we begin to allow ourselves to enjoy the settling quietness and embrace a sense of relief from the incessant clatter of everyday life.  To be silent is not to become still but to go about our tasks in full awareness and re-discover forgotten pleasures as other senses come alive and we begin to notice details previously shouted down.  Quietness is where we can hide: it is not the tortuous prison many fear but rather a release from a world where our sense of self is constantly diluted and homogenized.

To seek out peace once in a while from an exhaustive world, is to nurture and experience the joy of renewal and growth.  It is an act of independence, a bid for personal freedom and a place of privacy to be cherished and treasured .

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A Sense of Un-Belonging

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Singapore 1966

Am I to be forever on the outside looking in? It has become a place – a feeling – so familiar, that I now fear the very thing I seek.  I carry it with me and yet it doesn’t have form, this nebulous  thing;  I cannot grasp it, and yet I can feel it’s elusiveness.  I have looked for it in my home, work, relationships and among my things.  I have few items from my family home –  they should evoke a warmth of feeling, a welcome symbol of my belonging somewhere but I find none, only a physical ache for something lost – no for something I’m yet to experience: an ongoing penance for daring to be here at all.  It’s not my destiny, it is and always has been my reality, the outsider as one country became another and I learned to count the number of schools in different languages.  Letters sent to best friends who’d formed new allegiances before the postmark had dried.

For a moment, I felt I belonged to something or someone, I wasn’t sure.  It was a feeling unfamiliar despite my one score year and ten. It was only later with divorce papers in hand that I realised I hadn’t belonged at all, I’d wanted it so much that I believed for a while only to discover I’d found something different, an identity that didn’t even begin to fill the void.  I’m trapped in this waiting game, on the outside while everyone else is within, strangely similar to my childhood punishment of being left out in the hallway while the rest of the family were in the sitting room with the door firmly closed.

And so I find myself on the outer edge of others’ comfort zones, kept in some kind of friendly exile as they perceive my differences.  Or perhaps it is I who perceive them, me that does not know how to fit in.  The roots of belonging are established in childhood and strengthen as we mature.  If for some reason this fails to happen, I have come to accept, at least for me, that it will never do so.  A sapling starved of essential nourishment, continuously uprooted and replanted in new territory every few years will struggle to thrive,  it’s energy channelled into mere survival, unable to blossom or reach it’s full potential as a mature tree.  It will never have the stability of it’s contemporaries, it’s roots exhausted by constant disturbance have little strength to weather the next storm.

Unlike the tree, I can choose my environment and find shelter from stormy weather and in the calm of my simple life I can thrive and flourish, untethered by my un-belonging, abiding by society’s rules but unbound by it’s conventions. There is a freedom to this existence from which I can emerge at my choosing.  In this existence I can create my own place unrestrained by outside expectation and dictates.  I’ve ceased to seek this thing called belonging – the need, the void is still there but I have learned to carry it not as a burden but like a warm coat.  There is now a comfort in not belonging, a familiarity I would miss.  I can finally embrace being on the outside looking in, not in judgement but with a welcome sense of reflective clarity that is borne by detachment as a gift.  These are the desired nutrients for the flourishing of creativity and unfettered freedom to blossom.

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Acrylic on Canvas 2014 Rebecca Pells

Autumn

 

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Autumn is a time for letting go of that which we can no longer hold onto.

Preparation for a bare winter when little appears to change and all seems lost as we mourn the sweetness of a summer past.

Long days of darkness hang upon us but we know that given time, eventually the light will return once more, gently breaking through our sadness, lightening our mood. The groundwork of autumn has cleared away the spent and decayed in preparation for the sweet shoots of new life and possibilities.

And we know that we will move forward once again unburdened by what has been.

Why a Decade of Debris is Good for Your Spirits

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For the last three years I have observed my garden bench as it morphed from an often used, aesthetically pleasing addition to my garden into a drab collection of wooden slats, in danger of being claimed by a snaking wild bramble. By last summer I utilised it rarely, due in some part to the dismal weather but largely because my once favoured place had become a neglected corner,  visited only by local cats to sit for a quick wash after which even they declined to linger more than a few minutes before departing in search of a more comfortable spot.

Purchased some fifteen years ago, the wood had long since lost it’s natural beauty, fading gradually from a rich cedar tone to a silvery hue quite charming and delightful, before subsiding to a dull dark brown, stained by time and nature.  After the first few years I failed to cover it in the autumn but still expected it to to flourish with welcoming comfort the following spring.  With the first appearance of cracks I gave the bench the attention it was calling for in the form of  linseed oil applied with an old rag, which it consumed like a hungry child giving it a healthy glow once more, the affect of which lasted but a few months and provided little sustenance to see it through the cold, wet winter.  Tree branches overhung the seat providing welcome shade from occasional burst of strong sun but were also a favourite with the birds.  It soon became a chore to clean the bench before it was habitable and gradually I didn’t bother and somehow this previously cherished place in my garden had become an eyesore and it in turn stared resentfully back at me.

Finally, I have taken notice.  And what a journey we have been on: half a dozen sheets of coarse sandpaper to remove a decade of debris, along with several hours of elbow grease.  No electric sander for me! If this effort was rewarded as the colour and grain of the wood revealed itself once more, it was surely the gentler application of fine sanding that helped it glow with life.  The benefit of this transformative action was not for the bench alone; for me the physical effort blended with the creative activity – taking one thing and through a series of processes discovering  another – is one that cannot be matched for pleasure, satisfaction and achievement.  It distracts from the ever present background ‘noise’ of the mind, taking you deep into the present moment where worries about what has been or what might be, do not exist.  It’s the reason art therapy is offered as an alternative to drugs for those who are strugglimg with anxiey and depression and I was witness to it’s gentle transformative effect when I worked in a centre which used anthroposophical therapies, including art, for people with long term health conditions.  The reason it works has little to do with the end result but much more the process it takes us through, allowing the mind to gently find a way free of the unhealthy groove it habitually remains stuck in.

I do wonder, if we engaged with activities which have an underlying creative experience on a regular basis, whether it would promote a healthier, more satisfying life experience. So much of modern life is stripped of the opportunity to strive, experiment, experience and feel, make mistakes, get it wrong and spend time finding a solution.  From mass produced goods, where imperfections result in a ‘return for our money back’ attitude rather than seeing irregularity as the signature of the craftsman; from the preference for uniform supermarket produce  over  the knarled vegetables which, freshly dug from your garden and sweet smelling are proudly presented on your plate.  The digitally produced music to which our ear has become accustomed but fails to quite move us in the same way as the old vinyl and the photographer who enhances the image in order to please the constant demand for perfection, belying the truth he witnessed and perhaps too his own sense of satisfaction.  In this manipulated and ‘perfect’ world how can we hope to be truly connected to the reality of life – are we not by default always one step removed? Could this be the reason for the modern ‘dis-ease’ of vague disatisfaction that so many of us experience yet can’t quite put our finger on why? It is as if much of modern life has been stripped bare of the very things which nourish the soul and maintain a healthy equilibrium.

I could have ditched my bench in favour of a new one, the buying of which may have provided a moments pleasure.  But I figured that one tree had already given it’s life for me to have a comfortable place to sit in my garden and with a little work and attention it would provide me with a good few more years. After some deliberation I decided to paint the bench in the hope of protecting it a little longer.  A once mass produced item has now become something personal, complete with imperfections and nuances and a history all of it’s own with which I am now uniquely and intimately bound.

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