Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Celebrating The Ordinary Life

I wasn't sure what to expect from the inaugural Life Lessons Conference in London. With no previous year's reviews to go on, but with a stellar line up of speakers - I was intrigued by the scale and diversity of the event. Bill Bryson was rubbing shoulders with Marie Forleo, and comedians, brain surgeons, politicians and psychotherapists joined panels and platforms to teach us everything we needed to know about LIFE.

Alain De Botton, founder of The School of Life kicked off the event and I could have spent the entire weekend listening to him alone. One of the wisest, driest, most interesting humans I've had the pleasure of sharing a room with.

He spoke of celebrating The Ordinary Life. Of taking lessons from the stoics - understanding how brief our moment of life really is, and how luck not just effort is a huge factor in how our lives unfold.

With so much noise these days around performance life coaches and motivational speakers like Tony Robbins, it was interesting to hear a voice pushing back on that path. Our Instagram feeds are overflowing with quotes on positivity and motivational inspiration, but maybe we don't need to be go-getting them all the time. Maybe sometimes we need to accept that luck and not just personal achievement are at work in the world. If everyone who is successful 'deserves' it because of their own personal efforts, does it mean that people who are not successful or who are desperately unhappy deserve their fate too? Sometimes, maybe. But it's worth pondering on. Sometimes it's just the way the cards fall. This all fits perfectly with my year of 'Slow' so I'll be following that trail a little further.

He also talked about childhood, and how similar we are to that child of 5 or 7 or 10 we once were. If you're happy-go-lucky, or eager to please, or you want to be a journalist, or live in the sea - then many of those feelings will still be with you when you're 27 or 87.

Finally he covered the importance of processing our thoughts and feelings. While meditation is about clearing and cleaning he mind, we need more than that. We need time to stare out windows and go for long walks without podcasts playing in our brain. We need silence and space.

It stuck with me as I had been pondering the same things in relation to my kids. Remember when we all spent hours staring out from the back of the car on long road trips as blurring fields and grey walls sped past?  I do. I'd think about all the places I wanted to go, I'd imagine what the farmer's children were doing that day, I'd imagine myself buying the tumble down cottage we just passed and delight in the possibilities, I'd wonder why our family had such terrible cars when Dad had such a good job, and I'd plan conversations with friends and think about that thing I had said that I probably shouldn't have. My mind would be awash with thoughts and feelings and I'd have the time to let it all play in my head like a movie reel.

Kids in cars with screens don't have that time. Kids on sofas with screens don't have that time. Kids in bed with screens don't have that time.
The only time my kids are sure not to have access to distractions is in the bath, and one of them has already told me he doesn't like taking baths because they make him sad. I suddenly realised that it was the only time he is forced to confront his feelings. The rest of the time he can avoid them with a variety of distractions - friends, tv, school, sports - always something to fill the dreaded vacuum.

But it's not just kids. If you're suffering from insomnia and waking up at 3am in a panic, it may well be because you haven't carved out the mental space your mind needs during the day. One to think about (if you have the time...).

The other thing I love about Alain and The School of Life is the concept. Teaching us things that every human should be taught. How to deal with heartbreak, How to find a career we love, How to be confident, How to fail, How to forgive and so much more. The more years I spend looking at my children in the depths of our educational system the more I despair. If only they could be learning life lessons like this instead of oxbow lakes and pythagoras's theorem. Surely a better use of their precious childhood?

There is no ordinary life. We are all extraordinary. A jumbled mess of emotions and crazy thoughts that we generally keep to ourselves. No one is normal. Which is what makes us human.

The sooner we learn this lesson in life the better.

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