Beware the list. Be it mental or written the list can become your own personal snatcher and jailor. It demands more and more of your time and attention, takes bites out of your joie de vivre and spits them out, removes you from the here and now. I am not immune but I’ve been practicing tossing the list whenever I detect its approach and when I succeed, I have more time, more joy and experience those happy accidents like looking up just in time to see the flight of a particularly lovely bird, or cloud across the moon, or the face of an old friend unseen for months.
Yes, lists can be useful, even life-saving if, for instance, you are attempting the North Col of Everest a checklist of essential equipment is a good thing. Performers’ set lists are often carefully structured so songs flow well together creating a mood and special experience for audiences; however most performers themselves use these as guidelines not rules and often spontaneously veer off in another direction that creates a delightful evening of entertainment. However to live day-by-day under the proverbial thumb of a list is to lose something of yourself.
Consider this. You have a list of stuff you’d likely do anyway list or no list, but the list itself becomes like Seymour’s Audrey II in Little Shop of Horrors. It needs consulting and tending and checking and feeding adding more and more minutiae until it consumes you. You are serving the list…maybe you are on Item 3 ‘stroke’ b.: dusting the aspidistra. There is a knock on the door. You sigh “what now?” and consider ignoring it. You open it. It is your best friend dropping by with a latte just the way you like it. Part of you is delighted and grateful. You invite him or her in, or out to the porch. For a brief moment you are happy. But wait! The part of the brain where the list lives starts to agitate for attention. Rabble-rousing begins “well there goes my items 4, 5 and 6! This is going to throw my whole day off. I’ll never catch up! I wish he’d finish his drink and leave!” So you are no longer enjoying a delightful visit with a friend. In fact you are not really there at all. Caught in a swirl of past, future, conjecture and that most dangerous land of “should”… Pause! Toss the list. Befriend yourself and BE with your friend.
Lists are not infallible. A comedian, Rondell Sheridan, tells a story of going to the grocery store with a shopping list from his wife. He returns triumphant, grocery bags in hand. He sets them down and lays the items out on the counter and spreads his arms wide ” All these things I have brought for you!” His wife scans the items “where’s the toilet paper?” His arms drop like the tail of a dog in trouble. He looks at the items. He looks at the list. Saved! “It wasn’t on the list!” he explains as he presents the list to her.
So dump the list. You’ll probably remember the toilet paper and you might get the added bonus of experiencing a particularly pleasant soft warm breeze with a hint of rosemary and pine. A rainbow. The sound of wind in the leaves. A smile from a complete stranger.