personal manifesto: modal living

disciplines - ML

Modal living: being intentionally present

We started living and working from our caravan about the same time as I started working week on, week off, in Port Moresby. That meant I was spending large amounts of time in three places; at home, where the focus was family and work; in the caravan where everyday meant swimming in salt water alongside working remotely; and in Port Moresby which was hotel living and office based work.

This stark variety prompted me to behave differently, to develop patterns of living that were customised to each environment. The kinds of clothes I wore, the way I related to people, the pace of life, my diet, work rhythms, were pretty much unrecognisable between contexts despite the reality that I was doing similar work and for the most part maintained relationships with the same people.

What emerged over the year was a conscious effort to acknowledge the particular environment I was in, and adapt my living style to it; I called it modal living.

Being intentional about my inner world and physical habits helps me be fully present. Who am I here for? What do they require of me? What do I need for myself in this space? … are all questions that arise from modal living.

It is immensely frustrating that I only have one go at life. How good would it be to know what it would be like to be a court judge and a hermit? An implication of the discipline to unclutter though, is that I make peace with a focus, to be the best at being myself. Knowing what gives me pleasure and investing in infusing my living with associated experiences. Knowing what I am good at and taking every opportunity to become better and to pursue mastery. And being in touch with what matters most and prioritising my own efforts to contributing to a better future in relation to it. Which is about taking this one life and making peace with all the things I can’t do.

Kind of. There are two ways I can live multiple lives while maintaining the disciplines of contentment (see next week’s post) and uncluttered living.

The first way we can cheat the ‘one life’ shackle is to get and stay unstuck. Who says I can’t do something completely different for a season?

Secondly, I recognise that I live multiple lives within this one life. I have a work life, a home life and some kind of social life. For the purposes of this discussion, let’s call them modes of living.

A well lived life is to be fully present within the spheres that make up my living. A common tendency is what I could call vanilla living. Rather than contextualise my attitudes and behaviours to the environment in which I find myself, I impose my undisciplined or that’s-just-who-I-am state on the environment. What I am aiming for here is not about being a conforming chameleon, unsure of my true identity. The discipline of modal living identifies the different roles or contexts that define my living. For each of those modes, I then determine the inner world attitudes and the outer world realities that optimise pleasure, betterness and meaning in those environments.

For example, at work I need to be switched on, organised, agile and confident. While some of these things might come naturally to me, on any given day, they may not. Modal living will mean I determine the things within my control that enable me to be at my best. Interestingly, apparently superficial things make a big difference; the clothes I wear, the radio station I listen to over breakfast, and the speed at which I intentionally walk.

At home on the weekend, wearing different clothes, putting my work bag out of sight, grinding my own coffee to slow me down … all these things help me adopt a fundamentally different demeanour.

Of course, some of this comes naturally. Environments have extraordinary power over me so I involuntarily conform. But simply going with the flow of what the environment imposes on me is not what a well lived life looks like. I am talking here about being precise about what the people and environment needs from me, and determining ways to get my head and heart in the right space.

Variety is the so-called spice of life. By appreciating the different roles I play and being intentional about being at my particular best in those spaces, I can ensure my life is less vanilla. One life, yes, but multiple expressions within it.

One of my hindrances to doing this well is my inability to leave things behind. I take my work home, or I take my holiday fantasies to work. So within the discipline there is an opportunity to apply the discipline of being uncluttered. What does this look like?

In each mode I figure out what is essential. In order to deal with what is not (essential), I must use or create systems, tools or processes that enable me to manage other things in my life with the absolute minimum expenditure of time and energy. This might mean allocating time every early Saturday morning or late Sunday evening to capture the distractions from work. It might mean a regular lunchtime message to Maria as a container to check in on important family matters. Typically, it will involve routines and practices that manage those things not essential to my current mode. They enable me to be fully present, without the constant distraction of ‘the rest of life’.

Modal living is not about sitting at my desk dreaming about the next holiday. It is about committing to booking it on the weekend, and getting back to work. Modal living is not about snapping at the kids when I walk in the door, it is about taking the five minute walk from the tram stop to figuratively stuff the worries of the office into my satchel and throwing it behind the bedroom door on the way to the kitchen. It is about being full alive to the possibilities for pleasure, betterness and meaning in my current environment and making sure my mind and body is primed to grab them.

Questions that help me stay intentionally present

1.Identify my main modes of living. (Think about the different places I am in regularly, the groups of people with whom I live etc)

2.What does each role require of me?

3. How will I manage the other ‘distractions / inclinations / temptations that distract me from the main game in each mode?