Most of what I learnt before the age of 8, was learnt in the form of stories told to me. This is one of them.
There once was a boy called Peter; he was a very impatient boy. He often daydreamed – wishing that he was somewhere else other than where he was. One day as he was resting, napping on the grass meadows outside his house, he heard someone calling his name. He opened his eyes and was greeted by a striking old lady standing in front of him. She had snow white hair and a twinkle in her eyes. In her hand she held a silver ball, from which dangled a silken golden thread. She offered the silver ball to Peter saying, ‘You can have this ball if you wish, but be careful with the magic thread. This is your life thread. Time will pass normally if you don’t touch the thread. But if you want time to pass more quickly, you only have to pull the thread a little way and hours will pass by in a second. But be careful — once the thread has been pulled out, it cannot be pushed back in again.’ Peter took the magic ball from her happily; it was exactly what he wanted. The next day at school, when the teacher was scolding him for not listening, Peter gave the thread a little pull and suddenly class was over! How happy life was going to be. Soon he not only wanted class to be over, but he wanted school to be over, so he could marry Liese, his sweetheart. A little pull – and soon he had finished school and was apprenticing as a carpenter. Soon he grew accustomed to pulling the thread to by-pass the unpleasantness of life (or of waiting). A little pull, to finish military service, a little pull so his baby would be well, a little pull to be out of jail…….however, not long after, Peter’s mother fell ill. He refused to pull the magic thread as that would only hasten her death. Suddenly time seemed to pass by so quickly, even though Peter was no longer pulling the thread.
(Full story available here).
This story used to scare me because even at a young age, I realised that Peter was me. And when you don’t learn the lesson the first time, life has a way of throwing the same lesson at you again and again – until you get it. When I was in primary school, I wanted to be in high school so that I could stay up late (past the eight year old kind of bedtime). When I was in high school, I wanted to be in Uni already (preferably in the course of my choice) because studying was just too time consuming as determined by my teenage mind. When I was in Uni, I wanted to be working already so that I would have more disposable income to buy the things that I wanted. Now, I’m working……and my friend summed up my sentiments precisely the other day when she made an observation in relation to her eight year old daughter, Lily. ‘I would love to be Lily and live her life, you know? Even just for a day. She gets up, goes to school (where she paints and reads books) and when she comes home she watches horrible histories on tele and eats a punnet of strawberries! What’s not to like about that?’ It’s ironic how when we reach where we want to be, we nostalgically think back to what we consider to be happier times, even though when we were living through them, they were anything but happy.
Although I still haven’t quite learnt this lesson fully, here are some strategies which have helped me to overcome my ‘Peter-syndrome’.
1. Respect Each Moment
I deliberately picked the word respect, being to ‘have regard to’. So what does it mean to have regard to each moment? I’m a big fan of the mindfulness concept and practicing mindfulness has helped me to have regard for each moment. To me being ‘mindful’ means living consciously – being fully present moment-to-moment. A more articulate description of this concept (from a much better qualified person than me!) is reproduced below:
The key to mindfulness is an appreciation for the present moment and the cultivation of an intimate relationship with it through a continual attending to it with care and discernment. It is the direct opposite of taking life for granted. The habit of ignoring our present moments in favour of others yet to come leads directly to a pervasive lack of awareness of the web of life in which we are embedded. This includes a lack of awareness and understanding of our own mind and how it influences our perceptions and our actions. By investigating inwardly our own nature as beings and, particularly, the nature of our minds through careful and systematic self-observation, we may be able to lives of greater satisfaction, harmony and wisdom (Kabat-Zinn, 1994).
2. Respect Each Season
I have learnt that not only is it important to have regard to each moment, but also to have regard to each season. Each season of life offers up different opportunities and different limitations. Often I’m impatiently hanging out for the next season of life, when the trick is to look for opportunities in the current season and to maximise it before the next season rolls in! I had been single for awhile before I met my hubby. I ‘dated’ (word dated used loosely) one or two people during my high school and uni days, but for the vast majority of my teenage years and early twenties, I was single. Regretfully, I spent a lot of my time during those days wishing I was dating (sigh, yet another twenty-first where I’m going by myself and driving myself. Sigh, yet another wedding where I turn up on my own). Looking back, I wish I made more of my time then. Whilst I love, love, love being married – there are definitely things that you can do more freely as a single person than as a couple. My married friends at the time tried to tell me this, but at the time I wasn’t ready to listen. It was kind of ,’of course you’d say that cause you’re happily married.’ Whilst the lesson sunk in a bit more as time went by (right before I met Mister T), I still felt like I wasted a lot of hours wishing for the next season of my life to come by more quickly.
3. Identify How it is That You Want to Feel
This third point is a fairly new realisation for me. I realised that sometimes I wished for the next season of life to roll in, not because I wanted to be in that season, but because I wanted to avoid something in my current season of my life. Let me tease this out a bit. For example, when I was in Uni, I wished fervently that I was settled at a job and working. This desire didn’t stem from a desire to work at all, rather this desire stemmed from the fact that I wanted to avoid doing exams. (5 years of it was quite draining) When I realised this (and finally became honest with myself), I picked Uni subjects with essays only and no exams, ahha! I realised that it was much better to address the thing which I was trying to avoid, rather than wishing that I was at the next stage of my life – because:
“If you don’t address the thing that you are trying to avoid in your current season of life, they will inevitably turn up (maybe in another form….) in the next season of your life.”