There is book written decades ago called 'don't sweat the small stuff'. That title has crept into our language, but I want to challenge it here.
It's all about the small stuff. That's the difference between failure and success. Health and disease. Living a happy or unhappy life. It comes down to the detail.
Now it's 6:30 am as I start this blog, which was prompted by my having to move the rug downstairs just a bit, so that it lines up with the edge of the kitchen counter, as I waited for my coffee to brew. It looks better that way. Balances out the room.
Some may regard this sort of thing as neurotic. OCD. Even anal. And that's really no fault of mine. The truth is that it's a mere 6cm lean inwards that permits the Parthenon to appear perfect. A one twelfth tilt on the tops of the Roman columns of Doric buildings allows them to appear vertical. These small details create big results.
My previous blog on consistency highlights athletes who spend years improving their running time by mere seconds in order to win world titles.
The current fastest man in the world, Christian Coleman, recently completed the 60 metre dash in 6.37 seconds. He beat the two time Olympic gold, and five time world champion Maurice Green's time of 6.39, by just .02 seconds! The difference between title and no title is just .02 seconds. Fractions of a second, people! That's small detail.
There are nations known for their accuracy like the Swiss, or their industriousness like the Germans. Although it's the Belgians who currently rate as the most productive nation on earth. Interestingly, they are also the nation who works the least number of hours – an average of 29 per week.
This proves some of my favourite maxims : 'there's nothing that takes five hours to do that you cannot do in one' and : 'there's nothing five people can do which one person cannot do better'. But I digress. -ish.
Back to the detail....It's the Japanese who I believe are the masters of that. That's how they create such delicate harmony and balance. Through detail and awareness.
You have to admire a nation who are so perceptive as to take forest baths, watch blossoms, and pen haiku before they eviscerate themselves.
Then there's sushi. What attention to detail that requires! Five years it takes before an apprentice can start dealing with the rice. Ten years in total to become a sushi chef. (It take only six to become a doctor in Japan). Priorities are important.
Jiro Ono, aged ninety two, is considered by most, the greatest sushi master in the world. (There is a fascinating movie on him 'Jiro dreams of sushi' which is available on video and as a free download).
Ono spends one hour hand massaging octopus before using it. That's attention to detail. He is also up at 4am every day to ensure he gets the freshest catch. He wants to die while making sushi, he says. For making sushi is his ikigai.
Ikigai is my most recent obsession. The Japanese idea of life purpose. Though that's a rather narrow definition of the word. There is an awesome book by Ken Mogi on the subject. In it you will find a plethora of really cool and interesting facts as well as an in depth explanation of Ikigai.
You can find your ikigai in a lifelong quest for perfect sushi, or bow twirling (performed at the end of sumo wrestling) or trying to re-create the almost mythical Chinese star bowls.
You can also find your ikigai in simple day to day things like watching the sun set, or having a cup of coffee with a friend. Central to ikigai is living in the moment. Being aware of the little detail in that. And that's the point of the small stuff.
We aspire towards the big, 'important' events of our lives. Graduation, marriage, retirement, holidays, enlightenment, even death. Yet the masters of transcendence tell us that here, now, in this very small moment, we can experience our enlightenment. We can find our purpose and our joy.
It's in the small day to day detail, if we pay attention to it, that we can create a symphony of harmony and balance. A state of upliftment and contentment which will ricochet out, affecting everyone and everything around us. Mindfully executing the mundane, elevates the mundane to the sacred.
It's the mundane that we live with day by day. It's the small stuff that our lives are made of.
Every day we wake up, have breakfast, go to work, come home, eat supper and go to bed. We may also do some sport, keep fit, or take part in entertainment. We wash dishes, or pack the dishwasher. We make the bed. We cook. We rinse out the shower. We water our plants and feed the cat.
Small stuff. There's lots of it. Our lives are full of the small stuff. Which we should really sweat about and get right. Because if we can ace that, then the big things will take care of themselves.
How do we chose to wake up, for example? In a shock of jangling alarm? The very word should indicate that those clocks are not what you want to start your day with.
The longlived Japanese people of Okinawa, the Sardinians, and other people in the blue (long lived) zones of the world all share the habit of awakening early. Sans alarm. Then, they tend to their gardens. Or take a walk. They watch the sun rise. Then they have breakfast.
What is the point of earning big sums of money and rushing around at the beck and call of innumerable apps and social media across as many different devices, if we cannot take the time to watch the sun rise every day? To chill and have a leisurely breakfast. On beautiful pottery. In exquisite porcelain cups. Laid out like a work of art. While breathing deeply.
Mainstream movies demonstrate the ideal family having the ideal breakfast. They sit around the kitchen table or kitchen counter. Always facing inwards. Perhaps that's for filming ease, I'm not sure. Never do you see them facing out towards the garden or the sunrise or the sea. Let alone sitting on a verandah or terrace or courtyard. Not unless you're in an art nouveau movie. And then, you wouldn't be in a family scene but a love scene. In Paris or Rome.
In the mainstream movie or soapie though, there is always a rush and a flurry as the mother hurries out the door without breakfast, or the father gulps some coffee before grabbing his suitcase, or the children, after their mouthful, have to run away also. Perhaps a good idea for them to run away from that sugary cereal or pancakes with honey and bacon that most movie breakfasts are made of.
So off they run. In a rush. Flustered. Late. (Where's those alarm clocks when you need them?) Anyway.
Point is there is no leisurely, mindful, contained, harmonious element to these breakfasts. Which presumably take place every day. Of every week. Of every month. Of every year.
Certainly would not rate as someone's ikigai. And if we are to make the most of the small details of our lives, if we are to infuse each of those moments with enough presence and beauty as to make them a part, if not the part of our purpose, then we need to start by paying attention to those small moments.
Not only being aware of the small stuff, but paying attention to it. Refining it. Heightening it to the level of art. A single tulip in a long vase. The duvet cover beautifully draped so that your eye can skate across its surface without impediment. A perfect bowl of steaming noodles resting on a clean shiny kitchen counter. A harmoniously printed report presented in a simple folder. A well sharpened pencil. The scent of fresh soap in the bathroom.
Sweat the small stuff – because yes, it's all small stuff. And that's where we can find our bliss.