The Great To Do List Conspiracy

I was doing some gardening the other day.   Have you noticed that most of gardening is actually weeding?  So I was doing the weeding and hating it because, no matter how much weeding you do, the weeding is never actually done.

And even when you’re doing actual gardening, planting and dividing and planting some more, there’s always a not-done quality to it.   The plants go in small and pathetic with lots and lots of space around them, so they’ll have room to grow.  After a solid day’s effort, I often stand back, look at the results and say, “Well.  Huh….”  Compared to, say, decorating, the finished result is often a bit of a let down.

When you decorate your living room, you never have to wait six years for the sofa to grow to its mature size.  Nor do you wake up some morning to find that your two end tables have sprouted ten more.  No.  You do it and it’s done.  Which is why I’ve always been better at decorating than gardening.

But somewhere in that train of thought and all the reasons why I hate gardening, the plants that grow too fast or mysteriously up and die, the weeds that rage out of control, the fact that things never look the same from one day to the next, it finally dawned on me:   I’ve been looking at this gardening gig all wrong.  I wanted it to be something that you do and it’s done and you can cross it off your list.  When, it fact, it is never done.

Instead of being a cross-off, like doing up the living room, gardening is a practice, like yoga, or prayer.

And as I relaxed into that realization, I started to wonder:  how many other parts of my life am I treating as cross-offs when they’re actually practices?  Because getting them confused leads to so much frustration as the practices need doing over and over and over again and I thought we were done with that and why is it back demanding my attention AGAIN?

It’s not the fault of the activity, it’s just a faulty way of looking at it.

So, what are practices, what are cross-offs?

In my life, things like gardening, family and friendship are all practices.  Learning is a life-long practice.  The rituals of food, sex.

The cross-offs are meetings and projects.  But I also, and I think a lot of people do this, break my sacred practices down into disconnected pieces and impose an order on them arbitrarily so I can fool myself that they aren’t ongoing and inherently chaotic, just waiting till my back is turned to sprout weeds and fresh ideas.

Does this make sense to you?  Can you think of practices that you’ve been treating as cross-offs?   Would realizing that they are practices help you?

I’ve been away from this blog for a long time.  Sorry about that.  It started with a case of blogger’s block.  Then there was a trip, a giant volcanic ash cloud.   A new job that is now over.  And the endless, endless weeding.  I’m back now, though, and very happy to be here.  Thanks to all of you who asked!  I hope we can pick the conversation up where we left off back in the spring.

Stay tuned – I have much more to say about to do lists….

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9 Responses to The Great To Do List Conspiracy

  1. Mary says:

    Welcome back. I missed you.
    I redid the front garden this summer so I appreciate your attitude. I found out a bit more about myself – or rather confirmed what I already knew- mostly how impatient I am. But now that the garden is about 2 months old I am beginning to see the results of my labours ( and Matt’s, Nik’s, and Katie’s, who helped.
    I am about to take another round of photos for my Front Garden Album and hope it encourages me to be patient in other areas of my lifeThe other thing I learned was never turn your back on the weeds in your life, even for a short time.

    • Barb McMahon says:

      I love the lessons that we can carry from one part of our lives to another. Gardens, especially, have so much to teach.

  2. Deb says:

    Definitely not a cross-off: Happy Simple. More of a print-off.
    This is one I will be thinking of again and again.
    So glad you’re back.

  3. Beverley says:

    I’ve loved your return to blogging!

    One thing – what does the comment ‘a new job that’s now over’ mean? I’m reading Facebook daily – have I missed something?

    I’m looking forward to the continuation of the kitchen one, and love your imagination and approach!

  4. Barb McMahon says:

    I didn’t want to make a big deal about it, but I did post it. It’s easy to miss things on Facebook, though.

    Thanks for the welcome back!

  5. heidi says:

    I guess I should read your blogs in order to see the development of your ideas, but I just started browsing everywhere and commenting randomly!! I really enjoy reading, Barb!

    I think you’re onto something here and I recognize that, in my own life, the things I get angry about are the things that need doing over and over and over…and often involve my kids! “When you eat cereal, clean it up. Put the dishes in the dishwasher. If you brush your teeth, put the toothpaste away.”

    I think it’s the discipline of the practice that starts to grate on my nerves. Whether it’s me practising a particular discipline or teaching it to my kids, it’s where I lose my patience after the ‘umpteenth’ time. And yet…that’s where the growing happens! Does it make sense to be bugged by that. So now what?

    It appears I’ll be looking at my approach to practising discipline…. 🙂

  6. Pingback: The Great To Do List Conspiracy – part 2 | Happy Simple

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