(Originally published 14th December 2015.)
Did you get up this morning with a sense of purpose? Do you know what you need to achieve in this day? Are these things that are genuinely important to you? Or are you obligated to go through the motions of Monday morning without buying in to the activities of the day?
For the Ingalls family the purpose was survival. Little House in the Big Woods opens at the beginning of winter with the house stuffed full of food, ready for the cold and dark of the short days and long nights. Ma and Pa had not bought most of this food – they had worked through the year to provide it for their own survival. Now Pa butchers a pig and banks the house against chill winds. Ma keeps the fire burning with the wood he has chopped while the girls snuggle under home-made quilts. The little house is snug and safe. The family will eat the fruits of their labour as the year turns.
The book takes us on a journey through the year as we see a garden planted, game hunted and the oats harvested. Once again, the little house and its family are ready for winter. And so the year turns.
For a long time, my purpose was pleasure. I had a good job and worked hard Monday to Friday in order to party at the weekends. On Mondays, I’d wake up feeling dreadful and drag myself through another week of meaningless activity so I could get drunk again on Friday night. When I realised that this was neither pleasurable nor truly living I lost what sense of purpose I had. I looked for it in hours of overtime, snatching sleep where I could but was not satisfied. I looked for it in things, amassing more and more clutter around me with the money I brought home. But I was not satisfied. My life was meaningless.
Eventually, having chased one promotion too many, I became very ill and had to give up work. Oh, the relief! But what now? I slept. I slept for days, weeks, months and years. If I was unhappy, I slept. Bored, I slept. Angry, I slept. And when I couldn’t sleep any more, I stuffed myself full of processed food so that my body slept in self-defence. Sleeping isn’t living. It’s living without any purpose at all.
One day I sowed some seeds. And then I watered them. I had to get up every day to water my seeds. Would they grow? Tiny green shoots appeared. Now I had to get up every day to water my plants. And, amazingly, they grew. I ate salad that autumn and cooked with home-grown coriander. Getting up and going outside every day wasn’t easy but, as my collection of container plants grew, I found purpose and peace. I kept a diary, noting down the work I planned for each day, work that would provide me with food. One day I cooked a meal made entirely of home-grown ingredients.
My gardening outgrew my parent’s little greenhouse and back garden (and probably also their patience!) and I moved to an allotment. That first year, I filled my freezer with food for the winter and thought about life and the little house. By my work, I had provided for myself what I needed to survive. And that is my sense of purpose.
If you’re drifting through your days or can’t find meaning in your life plant some seeds and watch them grow. It’s magical!