“Without cultivating love for ourselves, regardless of how much discipline we have, regardless of how serious we are about practice, we will still stay stuck in the subtle mercilessness of the mind, listening to the voice that tells us we are basically and fundamentally unworthy.”

—Ezra Bayda, “The Three Things We Fear Most”

I added a new item to my list the other day – ‘write newsletter’. I wondered what topic I might land upon, calling on the gods of creativity which seem to go into hiding whenever I approach the blank page (or the blank screen). I looked at my list and realised there were at least 4 items that I’d transferred from my previous list to this one, and that I’d been transferring them for a few weeks. Hmmmmm, I thought… this list just never seems to get done… it gets longer every week. And felt a moment of dejection.

Eureka, here’s my topic.

So here’s how it goes – every Monday morning I sit at my desk and write out my list for the week, transferring undone items from last week’s list onto this new week’s list. I’ve been doing this for a few years, a leftover from my busy corporate days managing a team in a highly pressured environment. It helped me back then to prioritise and keep on track when deadlines appeared.

The thing is, for the most part these days, I don’t have that kind of pressure in my life anymore. I have few deadlines. But old habits die hard, and I kind of wonder why.

What is it about a list that is so compelling?

I’ve noticed in my reading over many years, that the articles that seem to be the most compelling are the ones that give titles like “3 foods you should be eating – now!” or “5 simple ways to increase your productivity” or “10 reasons for considering France as a holiday destination”. Listicles, I’ve heard them called.

It makes sense, especially in a time-poor world, to want things laid out in clear steps. And Lists have been around for a long time – think of the 10 Commandments – there’s 10 things to do that will improve your life out of sight! In yoga, there’s the 8-fold Path – 8 steps to set your life towards its best ever expression. And Buddhism also has the 8 methods for decreasing suffering. It’s good to know, especially from these ancient and venerable traditions, that a process has been worked out so well that it can be delineated in numbered steps.

I certainly don’t mean to minimise the richness and power contained in these ancient pathways. My humble weekly list contains mundane items like ‘pick up chicken feed’ and ‘cancel subscription to x’ and ‘make Facebook post’, as well as ‘write newsletter’. It’s not lofty or unattainable, so why does it seem so taxing at times?

I realised in that little dejected moment when I considered my growing list, that somehow there’s a vague idea in the background, that if I finish my list each week, then I’ll be:

a better person
happy & fulfilled at last
maybe enlightened (is that too much to ask?)
all of the above
But what I am coming to realise is that my list is not going to get me anywhere if my attitude is that I’m somehow perpetually falling short – that inherently, I’m just not top-shelf material and never will be – unless that list is finished. It is a subtle, or maybe not-so-subtle aggression against my own good self and who I am right now in this moment, just as I am.

The drive towards continual self-improvement, which I believe is rife in our busy society full of ads and messages about how you can become ‘better’ through using/consuming/buying this product, is relentless. It does not foster love for ourselves. It makes us feel bad inside.

So, in a spirit of putting all lists into perspective, I’ve come up with a new and improved list that I refer to as regularly as I refer back to my ‘to-do’ list. This one is called a ‘to-be’ list. (You could even call this your ‘love-list’)

You’re welcome to try it out if you like, and see what happens for you:

Stop what you’re doing… just for a moment. Actually stand still.
Breath in, breath out… a few times.
Open your eyes and look around – what’s here and now?
Smile, and go back to your work/life/play with refreshed perspective.

It’s all about cultivating that love for ourselves, that space for simply being, in a few mindful moments each day… hope you enjoy your practice of this list!

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