‘A succession of little things’…

With just over two weeks to go before we set off for the north and the start of the April workshop, things are getting a bit weird. On the one hand, everything is pretty much written, prepared, thought out and sorted. On the other, there is the worry of waiting for last minute props and the little odds and ends to be delivered, thought of, made or bought. It feels as if we have entered quiet waters at last and as if life has become suddenly rather manic, all at the same time.

We are over the main hurdle; the workbook that has been in the works for three years is ready… ideas, reading, research and writing have all come together. But that, though it is by far the most important task, is only the beginning.

I have a love-hate relationship with this point of the year. The excitement is mounting and so is the adrenalin; there is everything still to do and yet all the major things are already in place and can no longer be altered. The workbooks are not only written but printed, the roles attributed…’all’ we have to do now is get there with everything we need…and hope everyone else does too!

My biggest concern at the moment is a plant pot. Not just any plant pot… it is the headdress of a Sumerian god. I have tried so many different ways of creating the right effect, and failed miserably. Until now, at almost the last minute, when a child’s toy seems to have provided the solution.

I did offer to provide the gods with handbags too, but the gentlemen declined for some strange reason.

It is not as if I was joking… the Sumerian gods, kings and priests all seem to have carried them. Although, it must be said, they were probably not intended as functional items of fashionable apparel. The most likely interpretation, like many of the apparently mundane items we are packing, is rather more symbolic. The handle represents the arc of the heavens, or the rainbow, while the square ‘bag’ represents the earth…and together they symbolise the unity of the Cosmos.


I have barely started packing. I have yet to start rummaging beneath the bed and in the ‘walk in wardrobe’; both are stuffed with bags and boxes, holding the remnants of previous workshops. But the packing list is done… at least, it would be, if I didn’t keep adding to it. There are growing piles of boxes in my bedroom…and yet most of what they contain are very small items.

“The great doesn’t happen through impulse alone, and is a succession of little things that are brought together,” wrote Vincent van Gogh to his brother. A pair of scissors… a pack of drawing pins… a hair tie that won’t be used for hair… It is the little things that can change everything…and those are the easiest things to overlook.

The devil is not in the details… it is in forgetting and overlooking them. From sticky-paper dots to safety pins, our representation of an ancient work of literature will rest on such humble foundations. But is that not always the way?

No matter what we try to achieve, unless we get the simplest, most basic things in place at the beginning, we will hit problems. They may not be insurmountable, but a little attention at the start will make any task easier and more likely to succeed.

Sleeping with a mosquito

Image by Alvesgaspar
Image by Alvesgaspar

I have never made a secret of the fact I have an intense dislike for mosquitoes. Mainly, I have to admit, because they seem to like me. I react badly to having uninvited guests for dinner when I am the only thing on the menu. My ears may have lost the capacity to hear bats in the darkness, but even with them stuffed full of duvet I can still hear the incessant whine of a mosquito on the hunt for supper. There is an absolute and focussed awareness about these moments it is impossible to sleep through.

Of course, I have asked myself none too politely, what purpose the little buggers can possibly serve, feeling (usually as I itch and swell) that they must have been placed on this world for the sole purpose of being annoying. Yet I know they are more than that. They are themselves a huge food resource for other species, pollinators of countless plants and hold the balance of power in many ecosystems. For our own species, as well as others, they are a vector for disease and parasites and thus an effective means of population control. Not a particularly pleasant curriculum vitae, but an impressive one. They are such tiny creatures, so fragile and ephemeral, yet their cumulative effect on the world is incalculable.

“If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito ”~ the Dalai Lama.

You can see the potential in this subject already, can’t you? From the ecological point of view of energy conservation, recycling etc. Or the socio-political implications… But I’ll leave that for others better qualified. We all know what we ought to be doing and there is enough information out there without me adding my mite.

Though that word brings to mind another story about how much small things count. The parable of the widow’s mite tells of a woman who gave two small copper coins while others gave vast sums. The small coins represented all she had, giving her gift more value than the larger gifts of others who offered just a tiny percentage of what they owned. You can’t really tell the value of what is given freely without knowing the story behind it.

Little things matter. Being hobbit sized, no doubt my sons would argue that is a predictable statement coming from me.

But seriously, just think about it for a moment. What makes your day? Most of the time it is little things. We don’t win the lottery, get a wonderful new job or the car of our dreams every day. But there is the potential for a seemingly mundane morning to bring almost unreasonable amounts of joy. It might be opening your eyes to a lover’s touch, a dog waiting motionless except for the end of a furiously wagging tail, a smile, a shaft of sunlight, a word or the first flower of spring…. We find happiness waiting in the smallest of things if we are open to it. Every moment may bring such a gift of joy.

I don’t think it is ever possible to ‘make’ someone happy. Happiness is a state of being we find within; our own response to life. What we can do, though, is create conditions in which others may find their own moment of joy. And usually, these are made up of the small things. The little acts of kindness, of fun and shared laughter or the small gesture that shows you have actually thought, have been aware enough to notice and care. Oddly, the more you give in this way, it seems, the greater your own access to happiness becomes. It can be as simple as a smile to a stranger in the street. Yes, in these disconnected days you may get looked at as if you are strange yourself, but does that matter? You are the one who is smiling already. And there is comfort in that.

Then again, sometimes comfort is what we chiefly need and here too it can be the smallest things that make all the difference. Just a word or a hug. Sometimes even a thought.

When there are areas of our lives that really hurt we can feel isolated. Perhaps we feel we cannot share or burden others with our words or worries. Or we’ll share the surface story, hiding the deeper and true cause of the pain. Help can be a difficult thing to ask for, and it is sometimes just as difficult to accept when it is offered. But a small gesture that shows you are aware, that you care enough to see beyond the smile to the person and the pain it may hide, that can make all the difference.

We are constantly surrounded by people, emotions, noise and images. Between bustling streets and a multimedia assault of information it is no surprise that we retreat into our own little worlds in a kind of self-defence. It takes the unusual to attract our attention and switch on our awareness. Like the buzzing of a mosquito in a silent room, we suddenly focus and are awake on every level. The quiet gift of your attention may be all it takes to make a difference to that heightened awareness in someone who is hurting, just as an unexpected smile can start a day with joy. Like the widow’s mite, we cannot know how much these things mean both to the giver and the gifted. But I think there is a magic in that awareness that blesses both and is its own gift.

Originally published 2013