Order, order!

Newsletter: January 2024

Greetings again, web friend, and I’d like to write about order, if that’s OK?

I’m aware it probably isn’t OK, and that most will be leaving the page now. ‘We want fun, inspiration, embarrassing confessions, thrills, heartache, a good weepy, a good laugh, the new, the bright and the brilliant! What we don’t want is dull-as-ditchwater order. Get a life!’

So, farewell, if you must leave, and I do understand. But for the few of us who remain, gather closer round the fire and at least feign polite interest, for, like every human soul, I do have my reasons.

The fact is, I have an increasing attachment to order, and not just because the present ‘world order’ – an ever more ghostly phrase in Ukraine, Gaza, Somalia, Iowa and the Red Sea – creaks and splinters like a broken boat in a storm.

No, I’m thinking more about order in our personal lives, the way we structure them. One of the many striking things about the UK non-government over the past few years is how it is always reacting, but never guiding. It is full of headline-grabbing initiatives, but with no obvious strategy or coherence. Initiatives need to be part of something bigger; they cannot survive alone.

And it’s my experience that in our personal lives, people often prefer initiatives to strategy, especially at the start of the year when everyone suddenly feels they must change:

‘I must be a new person! I’ll buy a bike!’

But such shame-driven initiatives rarely last, killed off by old patterns reasserting themselves. Like, er, shame, for instance:

‘Why did I ever think the bike would solve anything? I’m hopeless! Just something else I’ve failed at.’

Order is taking our intentions and putting them into the structure of our day, because that’s where they must be. And when this is so, we are considerably strengthened, for phrases such as ‘I don’t feel like it’, or ‘the weather’s a bit cold’ no longer hold sway. We do it.

You might, for instance, add exercise to your day, whether you feel like it or not. Or before sleep, one moment of self-examination on your attitudes and motives. Or get up half an hour earlier for piano practice. Or parenting with awareness at least once every day. Or stare at the clouds every lunch time. Or adding reading, rest and relaxation to the day. A daily check of my finances? Or once a day, listen to someone as opposed to hearing them. Or one act of kindness. A daily walk without a phone. Or aim for at least one helpful/connecting/honest conversation with a business colleague. Or cold water swimming. Or lighting a candle with a particular intention in mind. Or other things your personal or professional life needs, introduced into your daily routine.

And this is not self-punishment but self-kindness. I know someone who never replies to emails because they don’t wish to offend people by saying something wrong and also wish to avoid decisions. In the same vein, they don’t reply to friends when they try to make social plans, ‘because that means more decisions. I prefer to go to sleep – literally!’

Here is avoidant drift. The fear of causing offence and the wish to avoid difficulty becomes a pattern of (insulting) non-reply. It is meant to protect them from harm, but in fact makes their life a hundred times more difficult, causing more offence than anything they could ever write or say.

The good news is that they are bringing order to things now; stopping the drift. They reply to everyone within 36 hours, whether they want to or not. It’s a good order. It’s self-parenting, easing them away from the power of old fears which damage their life and relationships daily.

The opposite of order is not chaos, but drift. Left to ourselves, we drift into avoidant routines, which follow the least line of resistance. We are each diminished by drift, living the half-life of a comfort zone, which becomes more claustrophobic and alienating by the day.

So what we’re doing here is taking our brief lives seriously and baking good habits into our routine. Whether we happen to feel like it or not makes no difference; whether it piques our interest makes no difference. It’s part of our day. We’re doing it.

We may, of course, be angry at such talk. We may have an issue with order and for good reasons. Perhaps in our past, we have had bad experiences of other people’s order being imposed on us. Now we just want to be free! ‘No more order for me! No more restraint! Restraint is my worst nightmare!’

But the order I speak of is different. It is not someone else’s order, it is your order, an act of self-parenting. It is order which heals, order which protects us from destructive patterns that can damage our lives, whether it’s in emails or something else.

And if you hear this as an assault on your creativity, we note that few pieces of writing are more ordered than Shakespeare’s sonnets, both in meter and rhyme scheme. In music, the same might be said for the maths in a Bach composition. Yet their creativity is a miracle. There’s a lot of order in art; and your life is art.

You will decide whether any of this makes any sense to you. And certainly you’ll know what you need much better than me. Our stories are different. So over to you.

But in the meantime, I have blogged two pieces this year: one on beginnings, which I suppose we’ve been considering already; and the other asking how helpful is the pressure on us to be special or extraordinary? And why is ‘ordinary’ an insult?

I’ve had positive responses to them, so I dare mention them to you:

In praise of ordinary

And one last mention for a two-day Vincent Van Gogh course (residential or day) which I’m leading in early May 2024 at Sarum College in Salisbury. It promises to be interesting, and the details are here:

Vincent Van Gogh: A stranger on this earth – Sarum College

This arrives with warm greetings, my friend, however it finds you. And breaking news: I now ‘plank’ for two minutes every day (I really, really don’t wish to, so it has to be a routine) and I have increased my daily piano practice by 10 minutes. They are now part of my daily practice, my new world order.

What’s yours? It’s probably perfect already, of course…

Simon x