Useless Advice

I am watching a pair of violet-green swallows trying to get to their nest, which happens to be in the powder room vent of my house. Swallows have nested there every summer I’ve been here, though it means a sudden sharp flying turn up into the narrow vent in the deck ceiling. But they manage it with aplomb. It must be a new pair this summer, because they’re worried about me, sitting on the deck in the sun about 10m away; the past occupants learned I was safe and came to ignore me. So they take turns diving at me, squawking away in their tiny raspy voices. But when I just chirp back to them, they try a different tack: one dives at me to distract me while the other hurries, flying even faster to the opening to the nest. The distractor’s agility is amazing — s/he whirrs in front of me almost like a hummingbird, alternately almost coming to a stop and then whizzing off again. It’s a pleasant distraction. After a few trips, the swallow diving at me perches on the deck roof above me and squawks down. I natter back. After half an hour I’m deemed safe: both birds now race warily back and forth to the nest.


We can’t change who we are, and we have no free will or choice over what we do each moment, or what we believe. So this advice serves no purpose except, perhaps, to reassure those who already have a propensity for it. Mostly, this is just a reminder list for my poor, long- and needlessly-suffering self:

  1. Trust your instincts. They are wiser, more ancient and less susceptible to manipulation than anything you think you know.
  2. Eat well. Gradually move towards the diet our claw-less, fang-less bodies evolved to consume: a variety of whole, unprocessed, unadulterated plant-based foods.
  3. Avoid vexatious distractions. To heal from the damage this terrible industrial world has inflicted on us, we need respite and escape from the upsets of the moment, but the healthiest distractions calm us rather than ‘righteously’ stirring us up. They let love, not anger or fear, incite us to action. For this, swallows are better than screens.
  4. Move. Work up to 40 minutes of strenuous or 90 minutes of moderate exercise a day. If you can, work standing up. And get up, stretch and flex often.
  5. Be with nurturers not narcissists. Don’t hide away, but spend your social time with people who can help you, mutually, joyously, discover and be who you are.
  6. Learn something new every day. Something useful, that helps you be more independent, braver and more helpful to others. Not newspaper or social media crap.
  7. Catch yourself, but don’t self-censor. Self-awareness is something of an oxymoron, since your ‘self’ isn’t real. What is possible is to notice and consider what’s going on in your head and heart, rather than just automatically following their dictates.
  8. Challenge everything. Everything that you’re told, and everything you believe. Especially if there’s a “should” in it — all “shoulds” are lies.
  9. Pay attention. Inwards, but mostly outwards. Don’t make meaning — just observe, listen, sense with your whole body — to the light, shade, softness, scent, tang, colour, tone, harmony. The stuff beneath meaning.
  10. Be kind. To others, but to yourself first. We’re all doing our best, however incompetently, and blame is corrosive.
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2 Responses to Useless Advice

  1. Jean says:

    I ‘should’ have read these ‘useless advice’ seventy years ago… Thanks, Dave.

  2. Liz says:

    Great reminders – I did find this post useful and heart-warming. I haven’t read all your posts over the years, but have read enough to observe that you have really gone through a transformation of perspective/outlook! Perhaps even realized a place of more peace/acceptance/joy. Meditation and awareness/compassion practice has helped me also to come to something of a similar perspective – though I have observed that the more we meditate, the more modicum of agency we seem to have to respond/choose rather than react in the moment – at least those moments in which we have some real awareness.

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