We Can Easily Abdicate Personal Responsibility For the Basics

There’s a lesson here, I’m sure…

Nasruddin was working as a laborer, and each day he ate lunch in the company of his fellow workers.

“Nothing but bread and cheese,” Nasruddin would say each day as he looked longingly at the food the other men had for their lunch. He saw dolmas, kebabs, tabbouleh, yogurt, pilaf, all kinds of food.

“You complain like this every day,” one of the men said to Nasruddin. “You should tell your wife to make you something different for lunch.”

“I’m not married,” said Nasruddin.

“Who makes your lunch then?”

“I do,” Nasruddin admitted, staring sadly at his bread and cheese.

I found this story on a free-use Creative Commons site and for any of you who are interested, please click here. It was #189 and posted by Laura Gibbs.

For my regular readers, you know that I enjoy the incredible Mulla Nasruddin – an ancient Sufi mystic known for his crazy wisdom. This simple little story makes me chuckle, yet, it also points to the trap of how easily we can slip into wishing things were different while waiting for someone else to make it happen. In some ways, we can easily abdicate responsibility for the basics. Let’s take lunch as an example.

When I was working full-time, I often ignored lunch. I knew better. I had all the information I needed to instruct others on the importance of taking a break. Attention, productivity, creativity, and decision-making all improve when we take time to sleep, eat and move our bodies.  Not to mention, cheerfulness, patience, and kindness both at work and at home.  I was on my soapbox about these things but I rarely did it because I was always busy. This is embarrassing, to say the least.

As Oliver Burkeman, reminds us, we will never get it all done.

When we think about it, to neglect the basics over a continuous period of time, is to abdicate personal responsibility for our life.  And, I agree, there are always exceptions. When a new baby arrives home; we sell our house; a family member is ill; we take a new job;  go back to school… (so many things) many of the basics get neglected for a time.

The problem is when neglect becomes the norm. Our body/mind/heart/ will let us know that it needs our help unless we have neglected our bodies for so long that we no longer hear or see or feel the feedback.

This is not easy to take responsibility for. We live in a culture of more. There is pride and reward for ignoring everything except the grindstone. And, there is also the fact that for some of us we also loved, loved, loved our work and it was good work and there was no end to it. A physician friend told me the best advice he was ever given from his mentor was this:

Take a lunch break and a walk every day. Make that your rule, not the exception. “You will never have time to do this so you need to take the time anyway.  Do not kill yourself trying to save your patients.” 

We can apply this to caregiving and every kind of responsibility we take on.  Sustainability is the key. We can always do short bursts of the “all nighter” so to speak. However, to sustain productive and creative work we need to be cautious of the arrogance that allows us to ignore our mortality.  We are not invincible and furthermore  the world will not stop if we take regular planned breaks.

It’s worth a try to create the conditions for rest and restoration so we are able to faithfully take care of ourselves and our obligations.

Generally speaking as wonderfully creative humans, anything we read we can immediately think of someone else to whom this applies. The best advice I received was to take a different tact. I was told when I read something that caught my attention or that was a common sense reminder I should ask only one question.

How does this apply to me?

Then I have something to work with since all of our other favourite humans aren’t controllable by us.

In the spring and fall, I remind myself of the basics. Whether we are healthy, ill, troubled, lonely, overwhelmed, afraid, or uncertain…it can be helpful to reassess where we are at. I had a recent health scare because I had inadvertently neglected to drink enough water. This is a common problem especially as we live longer, or have certain medical conditions. It’s easy to neglect, and it has consequences. In my case, I remedied the situation and my body went into full cooperation mode. I now consciously ensure, and I have a system so that my minimum water intake is  1 and 1/2 litres a day. That seems to work for me, and I feel lucky that such a simple solution fixed a problem.

The Basics

When we take care of the basics, it is the best self-care we can do. Maybe one or more of these items could use a little tune-up in your life. This is not a formula – so you can modify or create your own.

  1. Spending time even 20 minutes in Nature every day
  2. Sleep (there is so much info on sleep hygiene available – see a link in the notes but consistency and a dark room seem to count)
  3. Water – drink
  4. Taking time to eat good food ( we all have the information we need; it’s important who you chew with;  use your good dishes; moderation is a reasonable approach along with extra veggies and vitamin CH (chocolate))
  5. Moving our bodies especially outdoors  (the best exercise is the one you will do) (hard to beat walking)
  6. The company of others (learning, laughing, enjoying, confiding, planning)
  7. Doing something that you especially love to do each day (the sum of small joys add up to a meaningful life)


1:) The banner photo is a Ginkgo Tree – a symbol of longevity in Japan, and a display of beauty, here in Ottawa. I took this photo last Saturday morning while strolling with a friend. Interesting facts: the tree can live for a thousand years; even more, four ginkgo’s survived the blast at Hiroshima and are still growing today. I am charmed by the fan-like shape of their leaves.

2:) My grandson created his own stress reducer this year in the midst of rowing (the season ends this weekend with a regatta in Sarasota Springs NY) and a heavy load at school. He is using the piano for breaks. Works away for half an hour or so and plays the piano for 5-10 minutes and goes back to the books.  I see that this works great for him. This is an example of fitting in a small joy, a few times a day, for the love of it.

3:)Info on sleep Click here

4:) A short lovely poem from Gratefulness.org


Essential Gratitude – by Andrea Potos  (on Gratefulness.org site)

Sometimes it just stuns you
like an arrow flung from some angel’s wing.
Sometimes it hastily scribbles
a list in the air: black coffee,
thick new books,
your pillow’s cool underside,
the quirky family you married into.

It is content with so little really;
even the ink of your pen along
the watery lines of your dime store notebook
could be a swiftly moving prayer.

5:) I am happy you stopped by; grateful too. I wish you a lovely last October weekend. We have been beautifully spoiled in Ottawa with spectacular weather. Warmest wishes, Trudy






11 replies
  1. Diane
    Diane says:

    I have all the time in the world to take care of the basics, yet I still don’t so some simple things that would greatly help improve my quality of life.
    Call it stubbornness, old habits, fatigue, or just plain laziness… it’s simply up to me to do what needs to be done. This reminds me of David K. Reynold’s Constructive Living.
    Thank you for this post … and for Nasruddin’s charming and illuminating story.

    • T Boyle
      T Boyle says:

      Thank you for your thoughtful note Diane. However, no name calling to explain your humanness. Ok. We start where we are if we want to try something new, or something old. And then we forget. And we start again. It’s all ok. I write about things I am needing to
      remind myself about. Glad you like my Sufi pal. Warmly, Trudy

  2. Janice+Falls
    Janice+Falls says:

    Thank you Trudy for the ‘swiftly moving prayer’ of your wisdom.
    ps our ginkgo is brilliantly gold today, will probably drop tomorrow after the frost – such impermanent beauty. xoxoo

  3. Kathryn Louise
    Kathryn Louise says:

    I started sitting with the Sufi’s and sharing presence together through zoom in January.
    That led me to the Quakers at pendle hill ,coming out of Wallingford, PA. Now I sit with them every morning but they call it worship.
    Thank you for a lovely post wishing you a wonderful weekend

    • T Boyle
      T Boyle says:

      Hi Kathryn: it sounds like a beautiful morning routine. You probably have discovered Parker Palmer through the Quakers. If not, I am confident you would fine his thinking and writing rich and inspiring. Thank you for your note. Warmly, trudy


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