Friday, April 20, 2018

The smallest dog barks the loudest

I'm moving in the summer and I realise I've got too many books.  Quite literally I have hundreds - and I've decided it's time for a good sort out.  I have challenged myself to find one or more book every day that I can take into school and put them on a shelf in the lunchroom so that other people can read them.  But there is a problem with that - sometimes while I'm adding a book to the shelf, I see a book that I want to take away and read.  That happened today.

Every year at ASB we have a summer read.  In fact we have several books that we can choose from, and quite often some of these books find their way onto the shelf later on in the year.  Last year one of the books was called The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson.  To be honest the title itself put me off so it wasn't a book I chose, but today I saw it on the shelf and thought I'd give it a go.  I'm spending a lot of time right now feeling sad about leaving India, and I thought that perhaps this book might give me a different perspective.

I've also been walking a lot, and sometimes I walk with colleagues in the evening around a place called Joggers' Park.  Sometimes we walk, sometimes we walk fast if we have a lot of "energy" to get out, and sometimes we talk as we walk.  Earlier this week I was with a colleague who was talking about the "always positive" cheerleading atmosphere at school where genuine grievances are not really listened to.  Certainly there have been times over the past few months when I've felt less than positive about moving, and yet in an atmosphere where people are constantly asking "How are you today?" it feels a bit churlish to reply saying "Well, actually I feel like shit."  People don't want to hear that, they just want the positive.  And yet, as The Subtle Art points out, the focus on the positive simply reminds us over and over again of what we are not, of what we lack, of what we should have been but failed to be.  I read the expression "the smallest dog barks the loudest", which is a great metaphor for people, organisations etc who are actually quite mediocre feeling the necessity to prove over an over again that they are good.  Big dogs actually don't need to bark at all.

Actually I've felt sad about leaving places before - it comes with the turf of being an international school teacher.  I was very sad to leave The Netherlands, where I spent 17 happy years.  I was sad to leave Thailand and Switzerland too.  Now it's India's turn.  Of course there are some things that I'm looking forward to missing (air pollution, the heat, dirt etc) and other things that I will miss terribly (the people, the colours).  Every place that I've left, I've also left a little piece of my heart - special memories - even though mostly I've been moving on to something better.  So today I was really happy to read that everything in life is won through surmounting the associated negative experience.  Any attempt to escape the negative, to avoid it or silence it, only backfires.  "The avoidance of suffering is a form of suffering.  The avoidance of struggle is a struggle.  The denial of failure is a failure.  Hiding what is shameful is itself a form of shame."

So although this was a book that I initially rejected, now I'm quite looking forward to reading it.  The book is about moving lightly despite your heavy burdens, resting easier with your greatest fears, laughing at your tears as you cry them.  There are a lot of these right now.  When I talked to my brother last month about being terrified (yes, that's the word I used) about moving back to England he thought I was crazy.  He pointed out that I grew up in England.  But somehow I'm not British any more - I've changed while everyone else hasn't.  Going "home" is going to be the hardest move I've ever made.

So this is what the book promises, and what I'm hoping for:  to take an inventory of your life and scrub out all but the most important items.  I'm doing this as I pack up or chuck out "stuff" that I've had for years, that has been transported from one country to another as I've moved from one school to the next.  But can I really do this with my feelings, with the sense of loss of my life in India, knowing that I'm moving to the UK to spend time with my mother only to face another loss, as daily she forgets more and more of our shared life?  Let's see.  I'll keep you posted.

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