How to Organize a Life: The Three Pots Perspective
The three pots approach offers a road to sanity when life becomes insane.
Posted Nov 16, 2018
So often we can be overwhelmed by the demands of simply living a life. Balance can be precarious, as we sway to the requirements of the moment, downgrading the priority of our promises and disarming our dreams. The unexpected challenges of daily life interrupt our intentions.
Suddenly, the printer announces, “incompatible cartridge,” even though the authentic HP61XL has worked for weeks without a hitch. The program scheduled for an hour runs more than two and plans for the rest of the day need rearranging. The supermarket has no chestnuts and your options are to revise the menu on the fly or search for them in adjacent towns. A sudden snowstorm makes parking on the street at the yoga studio impossible and you face walking four blocks without boots or returning home to your exercise bike. On the way, a pothole blows a tire. The check you sent to pay the plumber was stolen from the mailbox, the car in front cuts you off yet again, and that innocuous looking spot on your face requires that you schedule Mohs surgery.
Life is redirected in ways small and large. An opportunity to watch a grandchild play ball is canceled due to rain; the movie you hoped to see is sold out; the shirt you planned to wear is not in the closet because it has been two weeks since you have done the ironing.
When balance gets really bad, illness strikes, slowing everything and everyone down to accommodate, to provide the necessary time and attention required by the sick one and those who fill in for or care for them.
How to do life? One way is to think of three pots and keep an eye on each of them as they simmer on the stove.
The first pot is filled with maintenance chores. Without ongoing tending, everything breaks down eventually, the only true predictability being impermanence. Dishes need washing, cars need oil changes and tire checks, and the button that fell off must be sewn back on before you can wear the shirt. Your body needs nails trimmed, hair washed, enough sleep and exercise, and healthy nutrition. Medical conditions require monitoring, attendance at doctors’ appointments, trips to the pharmacy.
Relationships require attention too and, if neglected, fall into a negative cycle of escalating conflict as we strive to maintain energetic contact with each other. How many tantrums are testimonials to feelings of neglect rather than the result of some purported cause? This applies to grown-ups as well as to two-year-olds.
Your heating system, aging electronics, even eyeglass prescriptions need repairs or revisions from time to time, and they may require coordination with others who are more expert than you are in a particular field. Maintenance can take all day long if you let it. How much is enough? How good is good enough? How much frustration and unfinished business can you tolerate as you try to take care of daily life?
The second pot holds our commitments. What have you agreed to do and what among those agreements can be modified when you are overwhelmed? There is a hierarchy. The only way to stay sane is to realize that commitments have an order — whether because one task must precede another or because some are more critical to your sense of honor or importance.
The agreement to take a walk after dinner is more easily adjusted than giving up an evening you had planned that involves other people, tickets, and transportation. Trading take-out for the new recipe you meant to try but had not yet begun to prepare is still feeding your family. But submitting your work project by deadline, showing up for an important date or meeting, making it to the annual parent-teacher conference, getting to your annual check-up, those commitments may weigh more heavily.
They are unfinished business, always present until a commitment is fulfilled or the time has passed and it is now too late and the task is irrelevant. Guilt and anxiety accompany unfinished business. When too many commitments fall by the wayside, we lose our anchors. When too many accrue, our grasp on our moments erodes as we bounce between the Scylla of disconnection and the Charybdis of suffocation and lose our present entirely.
The third pot is the sweet one that holds the treasures that feed the soul. Time, attention, energy directed to creativity, beauty, spontaneity, to tuning into a reality greater than the self. Being immersed in what is, rather than what you wanted it to be; what comes from within, rather than what is demanded by others or by the world itself. Allow this third pot to boil dry at your peril.