Shouting at plastic & the healing power of fried eggs…

Have you ever found yourself shouting at plastic objects? Or more precisely, shouting at a new printer you’re trying to assemble?

If so, you’ll understand why last Thursday saw me doing just that. I never shout at people, knowing that it rarely improves a situation, and usually leaves people feeling worse. But shouting is particularly ridiculous when the recipient is a collection of plastic printer parts. Despite being one of the calmest people I know, (thanks to practising mindfulness stuff for decades) I’m still a massively imperfect human being and not skilled at setting up technology.

Understatement.

After 3 hours it still stubbornly refused to print anything; instead swallowing pristine snowy sheets only to crumple and shred them like a Banksy at auction. Every possible light was flashing, to demonstrate how unhappy this machine was; affronted at the notion of printing a simple document on a single A4.

Brokering a peace treaty, where both sides agree to take a break, I escaped to the kitchen. The simple comforting pleasure of a golden sun in an opaque cloud gently sizzling in a pan, with a flatbread into the toaster. Add a squirt of tomato & chilli sauce, a freckle dusting of coarse black pepper and behold the magnificence of the ultimate healing concoction. A fried egg sandwich.

After devouring the messy remedy and washing up, things seemed a little better. I could laugh at how absurd this printer drama was. I wasn’t shouting at the printer, but myself, frustrated by my own technical ineptitude. Us humans are highly skilled at reminding ourselves of our many past failures, and projecting this into the future as proof that we’ve never been any good with certain things and never will be.

Not helpful though, to wallow like this. Letting go of the past stories of how rubbish I am with computers, just for a moment, enabled me to stay in the present and find some optimism. Instead of being frustrated, I could marvel at the technological advances of the world since my first printer encounter at work 30 years ago.

There was now something on the table that might… one day… allow me to print at home. And not just in black & white, but in colour. Imagine the photos and cards to send to family and friends, and the bespoke scripts for my work as a Celebrant. Weddings, Handfastings, Vow Renewals and Baby namings; Memorials and Funerals; services that sum up all encompassing loves and lifetimes. Things even more magnificent than the fried egg sandwich.

And it will print plans, ideas and running orders for Mindfulness sessions- the thought of which makes me giggle. The printer can be a wonderful teacher and reminder of all things Mindfulness related. How to accept the world calmly as it really is at any given moment, and make peace with it. Things aren’t always as we’d wish them to be, especially in 2020, but by staying present with reality in this moment, we can find our way forwards one tiny bit at a time. Or one flashing light at a time, as I approached the printer again.

With a few simple breathing techniques to remain calm, this time I work with the printer. Instead of shouting at it, I decide to ask it politely if we can work together and patiently resolve each problem in turn. Diagnosing each strange flashing light and attempting the individual solution in turn finally reaps rewards. Printer inks removed and reinserted. Paper tray removed and replaced. Several times. Switched on and off. Several times. Log-in reattempted and Set-up repeated. Several times. Finally the swirling lights that echo the Northern Lights in their awe and wonder, as the printer finally emits hopeful spluttering sounds. A single A4 splutters out of the printer, anointed by ink on both sides.

Hallelujah!

‘Thank you, and sorry for shouting earlier’, I whisper to the printer. Hoping this is the last time we’ll experience this hiccup in our long and happy relationship that lies ahead. If we do hit a bump in the road, I’ll remember to signal Time Out for a fried egg sandwich.

*If you don’t eat eggs, I can recommend scrambled tofu, with turmeric to keep that golden glow, and a splurge of chilli sauce of course.

Still water…

I once wrote a poem called ‘Still Water’. Don’t worry, I’ve forgotten most of it – so you’re spared. But there was a line about ‘not being able to see yourself in running water, only still.’ As we’re still in semi-locked-down, land-locked Midlands , not much chance of seeing a home cut fringe reflected in any water bigger than our Aldi birdbath.

It’s as if we’ve all stumbled into ‘The Reflection’, don’t worry, it’s not another poem, you can relax. Nor an introspective Escape Room. The Reflection is an important time in many ceremonies and rituals you’ll have been present at. Probably dressed in your finest outfit, surrounded by relatives you only see at functions like weddings, baby naming or end of life occasions.

Times when we all press the ‘pause’ button on our hectic schedules, stop looking at our phones and all focus our attention on the stuff that really matters in this world. You know, that love thing. Yes, Love. Steadfast, soppy, romantic, frustrating, enduring, evolving, the thing they write songs about, sonnets about… don’t worry, no poems here, I promised. If pilates helps exercise your core muscles, ceremonies remind us to focus on what’s at the core of our worlds. Love.

Having trained in 2019 to be a Civil Celebrant, with the phenomenal people at FOIC, I learned about the importance of building a ‘reflection time’ into a service. A way of uniting those present, perhaps to reflect on how each of us can help nurture and guide the baby at a naming ceremony. Or witnessing a wedding, the power of seeing two individuals pledge their love to each other, and taking time to treasure those we live our lives alongside. Or at the end of a life, as we say goodbye to someone we’ve loved. A chance to remember good times shared, giving thanks that we knew them, and vowing to live life in honour of their memory. Three months reflecting like this would be bliss…

But this virus had us dressed not in our finest wedding outfits, but in comfy t-shirts & pyjama bottoms, working from home and juggling home schooling. This virus shut shops, cafes, gyms, cinemas, theatres and pubs.  But the hardest to bear – worse than any home haircut – this virus banned gatherings of families and friends for months. Having to keep our distance from loved ones has been the toughest thing to endure. Dropping shopping off on the doorstep, and not being able to hug our favourite people in the universe (including Jason Momoa) has just felt wrong. We’ve had three months of the ‘pause’ button pressed on our normal day to day life, without feeling the benefit of a tranquil reflection.

The virus didn’t guide us gently through the rituals we know and trust in a good ceremony. The calendar didn’t give us several months notice, and reminders to get the suit from the dry cleaners. We didn’t gradually take our seats at appointed times, chatting quietly amongst the rows gathering before the music nudged us into readiness. Nobody took charge welcoming us with warmth, humour and family stories, as we united in our sacred purpose. Celebrating love is the role of the Celebrant, and we’ve been unable to serve, with weddings and baby naming cancelled, and funerals curtailed.

But as some restrictions are lifting, and we nudge our way tentatively into the new world of Summer 2020, there has been an evolution. However subtle. We’ve united in our isolation, and connected online more than ever before. Shopping for neighbours, Zooming family quizzes and checking in on single friends. We all know ‘how fragile we are’, as the song by Sting reminded us. And we all know that Love is all everything pop songs, films and greetings cards told us, and so much more.

People are the thing we’ve missed more than hairdressers and clothes shopping. As we ‘bubble up’ and venture into gardens to share picnics and laughter, we truly know how much we care about each other. Maybe the stillness of the outside world meant that under the surface, beneath the worry and fear, amidst home schooling & home office-ing, we did get a chance to reflect. We are emerging differently, focusing our attention on what really matters, or I should say, on those that really matter.

Now it’s up to us, to nurture those connections more than ever, and celebrate those we love. It doesn’t need to be champagne in fancy crystal flutes, just a cuppa and a jam tart will do. But next time you’re able to sit 2 metres from someone you’ve missed for months, propose a toast and create a ritual of your own. Tell the other one what they mean to you, how much you love and cherish them, and enjoy a moment of reflection together. Before the tea goes cold. Cheers!