In the dark months of February when I found myself going crazy at all the balls I had in the air– teaching, writing, managing the demands of my darling Tennessee Skye– and fitting in the daily business of living (pumping up the tyres on my bike, picking up my contact lenses, hovering the carpet…), my dear friend and writing buddy, Helen Dahlke, introduced me the ‘Jar of Stones’ philosophy. I’ve been thinking of it ever since.
It goes like this: your life’s an empty jar. Every day, you fill it with water and sand and the dust and leaves of life. And then you try and squeeze in the things that really matter, the big stones. For me these are writing, spending time with Hugh and Tennessee, reading, walking, eating food that is kind to my body and to the world, and being a good teacher. The problem is, the jar’s so full that those big stones won’t fit. And this makes you feel sad and stressed and disappointed. What’s the point of this beautiful life, you ask yourself, if you don’t have space for the things that really matter?
So here’s another way to fill that jar. Start with the big stones. The stuff that makes you feel alive, that gives your days meaning. And then pour in the water and the sand, the dust and the leaves of life. And you know what? They’ll fit – they’ll trickle down around the big stones, they’ll find the nooks and cranies of space that you don’t think are there. And you’ll reach the end of the day, knowing that you’ve done what matters to you and that, somehow, the other things have slotted into place too. And even if there are some days when the water flows over and more sand gets in your eyes than in the jar, you can still go to sleep knowing that you’ve prioritised, that this day mattered because you did what you loved.
In the end, I suppose it’s just good, old-fashioned prioritising, but we sometimes need a helpful story or image to jolt us into remembering those life-enhancing truths.
So, when you wake up tomorrow, think about what your big stones are, and make sure you put them in the jar first.
Here are the stones are picked up on my walk this morning – the jar’s sitting on my writing desk as a reminder.