Walking towards optimism
I love my walking (and jogging) round. And since I move along there almost every day, I tend to notice quite a few bigger and smaller bits of rubbish. After the New Year a lot of fire works debris have been added on top. This leaves me with two alternatives: Get really annoyed about it or look past and become desensitised towards rubbish. The latter would only work on the surface anyway while still gnawing at me subconsciuosly. The former would not result in anything but a bad mood. Both do not change anything about the debris situation anyway. However this concept overlooks the fact that, as is often the case, there are really more than two options.
As a consequence, I have taken up a new hobby of picking up debris whenever I go walking. I collect rubbish for 30 minutes on each round, always cleaning up a new section until I will one day have gone through the entire four and a half kilometres. I am under no illusions that this will solve the problem for all eternity. I had to cover two sections twice each, even though I have only made it to the 2 kilometre mark so far, because in the meantime a lot of rubbish had accumulated again there. While cleaning, of course I sometimes keep berating people who throw plastic bags containing dog poo into hedges, asking myself what they believe is going to happen to these bags they can see every time they walk their dogs past. Or I wonder what motivates people to just drop cigarette butts full of heavy metals and leave them on the ground. So my meditative state of mind is a work in progress to be honest.
Reactions by other people
People walking by so far do not seem seriously inspired to join in or to reduce their littering. Neither do I expect the area outside of my cleaning project to magically be also freed from any rubbish. Still, this new activity of mine having its own name (plalking) means I am not the only one doing it. In case I come across a rubbish heap too big to stuff into my bag, there is always the possibility of ringing the authorities to make them come out for its removal.
There are some clear impacts: I am much more relaxed when seeing a new bit of debris. „I am going to get to you at some stage“ instead of „Do I see some more bits of plastic around???“ I consciously assumed responsibility for my walking round and my mental state: Between rage and despair there is confidence. I do not have to accept unpleasant or in some cases toxic debris lying around where I exercise and live. I do not have to hope for people changing their behaviour some day. Recognising that with little effort I can massively improve my well-being and be more relaxed in the face of annoyances is a big win in itself.
Not surprisingly, there are parallels in other areas of our lives. It would be unrealistic to hope to only be surrounded by people who would never do anything that might leave what I perceive as mental debris. Neither is complete withdrawal from society an attractive solution, at least not to me. Of course I would never advise staying in toxic relationships. Of course in some situations we need help dealing with situtations beyond our coping capacities. Still, I find it encouraging to know that I do not have to despair at my inability to change others. Because I am very much able to change how I deal with mental debris. And I can be responsible and remove or disarm a significant amount of it myself. What I should not do is believe that one internal cleanup is enough for the rest of my life. That would bring me right back to the start of this lesson.
What about you?
What in your life feels like an external challenge that either makes you angry or resigned? What kind of internal cleanup measures can you think of that would help? What mental debris heaps should you get help with from outside? What yould your life be like if you did not have to hope anymore for others to change but could take on the responsibility of removing a manageable amount of mental bits of debris by yourself? How much would your life have to improve for you to take on this responsibility for the foreseeable future?