Hundreds and Thousands: #A-Z Challenge

“Hundreds and Thousands are minute candies made in England–round sweetnesses, all colours and so small that separately they are not worth eating. But …it was these tiny things that, collectively, taught me how to live. Too insignificant to have been considered individually, but like the Hundreds and Thousands lapped up and sticking to our moist tongues, the little scraps and nothingnesses of my life have made a definite pattern.”

Hundreds and Thousands, the Journals of Emily Carr

I love this image for two reasons.

Sometimes, Let’s Take the Long View

I understand the value of inhabiting the present moment, recognize that it is all we ever truly have. I try and mostly fail to “be here, now” as yogi and spiritual teacher, Ram Dass exhorts us to do.

But I confess to feeling a whoosh of kinship and relief when I read the words of perhaps the one other person on the planet who thinks that living in the present moment might not be our only worthwhile goal. Thomas Moore, of last week’s post about aging, wrote,

“It takes effort to be in the moment, and in my experience, the effort isn’t worth all the praise it gets. I’d rather live more in the past and in the future. I’d prefer to expand the time frame in which I live rather than contract it into a moment.”

There are patterns which emerge in one’s life, circling and returning anew, an endless variation of a theme.

Jacqueline Carey

Patterns are Evident in the Hundreds and Thousands

It is the patterns we discern that give our lives their meaning. Those patterns can only be found in the aggregate, the hundreds and thousands, not the present moment.

Have you kept journals at different stages of your life? If so, they’re a great source for pattern-finding. Alexandra Johnson, author of Leaving a Trace: On Keeping a Journal, writes that journals contain ten categories of life patterns:

longing fear mastery
(intentional) silences key influences hidden lessons
secret gifts challenges unfinished business
untapped potential

“Each category corresponds to a way we engage or hold back in life. To begin to see a journal through these ten organizing devices is to unknot years of tangled entries.”

If you keep a journal, or even if you don’t, consider exploring the patterns of your life by asking yourself questions. For example, “What challenges have I embraced? Which ones have I avoided?”

Are you naturally more inclined toward the present moment or the long view?

55 comments

  1. There’s some really interesting stuff in there – I’ve made a copy of the journal categories because I feel there’s a blog post in there somewhere (one day in the future – that is not the moment!) If I ever get around to writing it I’ll definitely link back to you x

    Leanne | http://www.crestingthehill.com.au
    H for Hang on to your Dreams

  2. Yes, very true. Usually only by reflecting and looking back can we discern patterns that we may want to change or adjust for the present and the future. The unexamined life is not worth living, someone smarter than me once said, or said something like that. 🙂

    Deb

    1. Hi Deb,
      I was going to say that the person wasn’t smarter than you, but then I doublechecked to see who had actually said that and it was Plato. So, um, maybe adding nothing more to this comment is the kindest thing I can do 🙂

  3. Oh, I don’t see the whining category…I think my journals are at least one quarter whining and complaining! I allow it, as I think it helps to get it out of my system first thing in the morning, so I can move on with my day in a better state of mind. I try to be “in the moment,” which is like that flow state we talked about the other day, and also to pay attention to those special souls and other things that surround me right now. Having the long view that comes with age, I know they won’t be around forever. Having said that, I think I mostly look to past and future for life’s meaning and promise.

    1. My journal too, Cindy. And it’s a good month if it’s only 1/4 whining and complaining. Or planning. That’s actually a bigger one for me. I do lots of journaling of “okay, so first I’m going to do this, then that, then the next thing.” Scintillating stuff for sure.
      But hey, if our stats mean that even half of our journals are about Alexandra Johnson’s big categories, that’s a lot of life patterns to unearth.

  4. I really like this post… I struggle “being in the moment” as so many say we are “supposed” to be. That’s not to say that I don’t love my life and enjoy the present, it’s just that my mind naturally also embraces (and hopefully, learns from) the past and I am always aware of the future and – whether it’s short-term or long-term – I try to plan well.

    1. You, me and Moore, Janis. Now I know of three people on the planet who haven’t completely bought into the present moment as the only reality. I feel I’m in good company. Thanks!

      1. You can add me to this list too.

        There are times when the moment absolutely demands our full and undivided attention – the deep nasty gash in my thumb, self-inflicted while chopping vegetables, is a good example of just one.
        … but life is so much more than just *this* moment, and we have to be investing time in understanding the good and bad about the past, and plan accordingly for the future, in order to extract as much from life as possible.

      1. I didn’t make the connection with the description “fairy bread”, but omg, yes. I remember this as a kid – but always chocolate sprinkles – on bread, with butter 🙂

  5. Google got it wrong? Oh no, my world is coming to a crashing end. Or wait – maybe I was reading too quickly and didn’t do my due diligence in researching more thoroughly.
    Either way, happy to try some fairy bread. The description I read said it’s a cheap and fast alternative to cake. Who wouldn’t love that?

  6. What a delightful metaphor for life though I’ve never tried these candies. I agree about living in the moment. It’s good once in a while and then it isn’t. It tends to bog me down and blow up my long-term goals.

    1. I’m exactly the same, Jacqui. I love the way you put it – “good once in a while and then it isn’t.” Well said! By the way, if you’ve had sprinkles you’ve pretty much tried Hundreds and Thousands. There’s not much difference between them.

  7. LOL, I just googled fairy bread too Karen, and I am in!! I checked out a YouTube video too just for kicks. Apparently, the difference between the Austrailian version and the Dutch version is the type of sprinkles. The Dutch use long chocolate (or chocolate flavoured) sprinkles and Austrailian Fairy Bread recipes use coloured round ball candy sprinkles. Either way, I am in! It all reminds me I haven’t had anything to eat yet today. Hmm, I have some Austrailian type sprinkles in my baking cupboard right now…now, where are the bread and margarine.? 😉

    As for your question – I am more naturally inclined toward the long view. I try to live in the moment but so much of my life is about planning – what videos are going up on my YouTube channel next? What am I going to make for dinner? My calendar on my iPhone is constantly binging to remind me of upcoming appointments and plans or events. I tend to favour the past as valuable too in that I can strive to not make the same mistakes again and again. The past also gives me a base to build on; where I have been and the experiences I have had lead to where I am now and what skills I have acquired.

    Great post once again, Karen informative and chock full of questions to ponder. Thanks 🙂 You are doing beautifully with this A-Z Challenge.

    1. Thanks for the compliment and encouragement, Susan. Much appreciated!
      As for the long view, I do think that the lifestyle you describe is far more common than the present moment stuff. Your description is a good reminder of why living in the present moment is pretty much restricted to times of meditation, mindfulness, or the practicing Buddha.
      As for the fairy bread, I notice your comment was written at 10:56 a.m.. Do I need to write a post about why breakfast is the most important meal of the day?

      1. LOL, no you don’t need to write a post about why breakfast is the most important meal of the day. 😉 I had a dental cleaning appointment first thing this morning and was in a rush to get out the door. I thought I would throw that bit in about not eating anything just to see if you were paying attention, and you were! 🙂 You are quite the detective and very observant I will have to take care when I post a comment from now on. Hahaha 🙂

  8. I was previously married to a very abusive man. A couple of years after our divorce, I met my husband, Before we married I decided to make a complete break with the past. That included the journals I kept during my first marriage. So, one night I read through them before disposing of them. I was amazed at the world I had lived in those turbulent years. I saw a pattern of abuse that exceeded even what I had perceived as I lived it. So many things I had forgotten about. I had pushed them out of my mind as a survival tactic. There was such a contrast between my ex-husband and the man I would marry a week later. I could see that I had changed, too. I’d become stronger and would never again tolerate being treated badly. I cried a lot as I read those journals. Then I tossed them in the trash bin. It was so healing!

    1. Hi Heather,
      In the whole debate around do you get rid of or keep old journals, you provide a great reason for doing a little bit of both – rereading them to discern the patterns and see how far you’ve come and then discarding or destroying them because you’re not that person anymore and never will be again. I can imagine it was healing. It’s also incredibly powerful. Thank you for sharing.

  9. I looked at that list of themes for journal entry multiple times now… and thought through my own journaling. While I’ve been a sporadic journaler (is that a term?)my whole life, I’ve been a regular journaler now for over 2 years. And my journalling is very much a combination of challenges (one of the themes), planning, and personal pep talks. Neither planning nor personal pep talks are themes, maybe they should be (if you blog about it!) I’m going to continue to think on those different patterns – I am a pattern seeker so will see if there are others in my journalling.

    I work on finding joy in the moment, but I still look to the past for lessons to understand current thinking/behavior patterns. (I like that Plato quote!) And the planner in me is very much future focused. So…I’m joining the long view group.

    I like the metaphor this started on also. But I would state it a bit different: The meaning of our life can be seen in the patterns found in the aggregate, the hundreds and thousands of moments. 🙂

    1. Hi Pat,
      I had the same wondering about whether the ten themes that Johnson lists are the themes that I’d find if I went through my journals. I haven’t checked yet but I intend to. For sure planning is also there. If you find others, please do let me know!
      And glad to have you in the long view group 🙂

  10. I’ve never kept a journal – never wanted to do so. Many years ago I almost died in an automobile crash and since that time I’ve pretty well accepted the days as they come – good and bad. I don’t dwell on what was, nor do I dwell on what might be; I realize it may not work for everyone, but it works for me.

    1. That kind of life changing experience would definitely have an effect on your psyche, Anna. So am I right in thinking you don’t live in either the present moment or the past and future, but rather in the present day?

  11. I’d say both. But, when I find myself spinning wheels about something or someone I tell myself to stop it and live in the present, otherwise I’d be tearing out my hair in frustration.

    1. Hello, Su-sieee, and thanks for stopping by to read and leave a comment. I see that you are involved in the A-Z blogging challenge too – about Jane Austen as an action doll? That’s a unique and interesting theme. I’ve just finished writing a long blog post for tomorrow that will be in addition to my daily post so I’m going to pack it in for tonight. But I will be sure to visit your site tomorrow.

  12. What an interesting post Karen. I’ve tried to journal but it doesn’t come naturally to me. I do like the idea of the ten different life categories though and asking myself some questions. At the moment, I’m going through some challenges in my personal life which I don’t publicize but perhaps some deeper introspection of my thoughts and feelings is in order. Another thought provoking post. Thanks!

  13. Another great post. I often struggle staying in the moment, and I’m so relieved to have permission to let myself wander! Also, I want to try those tiny candies 🙂

    1. If I’m honest, incredible difficulty staying in the present moment is definitely a part of my reason for preferring to roam freely over past, present and future. Thanks, Jenny.

  14. Hi, Karen – I’m definitely a “present-moment-kind-of-gal” (both when it’s in and out of fashion). For me, second place goes to the future. I’m not one to focus on the past….perhaps that’s why I keep making the same mistakes. 🙂

    1. Wow…it’s as if we are inhabiting different planets, Donna. I have such trouble imagining what it would be like to live fully in the present moment, but I sure wish I could do that. Is it peaceful all of the time?

  15. Your words and those quoted are perfectly true. If we are to enjoy life, I suppose that can only be done in the present. I’m not a past person. I’m amused by my husband’s nostalgia triggered by a TV show, the long story that follows. I can’t relate, since I grew up in Eastern Europe and shows from my childhood don’t come on TV. The future appeals to me, even if casting dark shadow — the unknown, the time gone. That leaves the present, so this is a long-about way to say, I’m a present person with a mind wandering all over times. 🙂 Thank you, Karen.

    1. I’d forgotten about the version of living in the past that includes long-winded stories, Silvia. Oh, I don’t like those either – with or without TV plots.
      What a great image – to be present-minded yet a frequent visitor to other times.
      Thanks, Silvia.

  16. Insightful post, Karen.

    The ten patterns of life (or of a journal, or a memoir :-)) are very interesting. My eyes keep getting drawn to “challenges”. In good and bad ways, that category can pretty much sum up my whole memoir. I like a good challenge (and many of our adventures are) and attempt to pursue it, yet, life also throws unexpected challenges at us, that we have to conquer and suffer through.

    There is always longing and unfinished business, which is – to a smaller extent – part of my book as well, but not present in my journal, where I only write about what happened or how I feel that particular day.

    I live in the present. My lifestyle doesn’t allow much planning, and, from experience, I know that anticipation and looking forward to things usually ends up in disappointment. Yeah, I know, not too positive of an outlook. That being said, thinking or talking about our possible future always excites me. 🙂

    1. It feels significant to me that you’ve identified challenge as a central theme. That’s pretty impressive to hit so quickly on one of ten possible themes. Hopefully that will be worth exploring further as you revise your memoir.
      And you’re right, I think. There is always longing and unfinished business. But those can be for the other memoirs you’ve got in you 🙂

  17. Challenge is the central theme of my life, Karen. 🙂 But, some of that is my own doing, because of the lifestyle I choose. None of the other themes could cover as much as this one in regards to my memoir. If there would be a theme called “adventure”, or “living in the moment” that could encapsulate quite a bit as well. For now, the tag line of this memoir is “a story about love, loss and living in the moment”.

    1. Nice tag line, Liesbet.
      Between your tag line, and the words ‘challenge’ and ‘adventure’, you’ve got a lot of big ideas going on. To narrow the focus of your memoir and help you delete the half that you know needs to go, would it help to really define your terms? Flesh them out, so to speak, so that you can then go searching for the stories that really are the best examples of the concept?
      For example, adventure is defined as “unusual, exciting and typically hazardous experience or event.” The element of hazard might help you to select the best stories because, while you’ve had many, many adventures, hopefully not all of them have been hazardous!
      Just a thought, Liesbet. I’ll stop now with the well-intentioned but perhaps misplaced advice 🙂

      1. I always appreciate your advice. Karen. And, I thank you for the time and knowledge doing so! I wish I had the tag line, theme, red herring, or concept for this memoir before I started it. Mark encouraged me to take that approach, but I decided to start writing regardless. And then, I read my blogs of our eight years aboard and attempted to incorporate those insights and stories as well.

        The more I wrote (or reread), the more I wanted the story to be about my relationship with Mark, and our challenging lifestyle, than about boating adventures. So, my approach now (in theory anyway), is try to cut some more in the second draft (with Mark’s help) and then really focus on “our” story, with some experiences and adventures mixed in.

        Some of the chapters I have are pretty good, I think, but most lack a compelling, intriguing and exciting voice. That’s what I’d like to work on and flesh out. 🙂 I’ve kind of always known what I want, but doing it is another story. I’m definitely taking the long route!

  18. I loved fairy bread – part of my kiwi childhood … nice to see them as symbol for a bigger world view. it is hard to define the present moment except perhaps to say that it contains all – the past and the future as well .
    it is how we look at these states- presence to me is being alive to the moment which can include embracing a hurt a wound a joy getting a lesson from the past as it can be driving a car. not being present implies that we are living in our heads in an imaginal state whereby we think of past and future in a mindless way – neither here nor there.
    I do like to look back into my journals – they are a rich vein to mine. thanks for the categories – will investigate further.

  19. I have always loved Emily Carr’s books, just as I love her paintings. Thinking about and trying to discern patterns in our lives can be enlightening, and can help in “re-storying” our lives. Re-storying involves replacing those unexamined and often damaging stories that we tell ourself about who we are and how we got that way with new, more self-accepting and growth promoting ones (as we were discussing a couple of posts ago).

    Jude

    1. Exactly. Thanks for noticing and pointing out the connections across my posts, Jude. While each post is snack-sized, I was hoping that, taken together, they’d comprise a complete meal.
      You’re living in Emily Carr land now. That must feels so amazing for you. I’m glad.

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