The Wright Way

The Wright Way

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The Presence of Must

There are, in my Chambers’ Dictionary, almost six definitions of must.
These range from its use to express compulsion, necessity or obligation - right through to musk; hair powder and the verb to powder.
Of course, the latter ones are of pretty obscure usage, and yet they relate to the sense of smell, of fragrance, rather like one of the other definitions of musta smell of dampness or staleness; mustiness; mould.
Now I’ve mentioned these, in passing you might say, but the main bearing of what I want to convey here - the particular thrust of one particular must – is about the essential, the necessity, the thing that should not be missed or neglected.

Ticking Boxes

I was talking with some friends yesterday about Christmas time and we agreed that very many people go to huge amounts of effort to make it – for them, their family, friends and loved ones – as special a time as it can be.
Of course, for each and every one of us caught up in this frenzy (another kind of must as it happens), there are qualifying boxes that we have to tick. And the number that are ticked – or occasionally crossed – goes to make up our judgement of how good our Christmas is.

Now, with most of us, we tend to take whatever comes – accept things as they unfold – and yet we will all know people who are not so accepting. For them, Christmas has to be just so; Christmas has to be in line with their version for it to be deemed as good, proper or a disaster. For the extremists in this category – the zero-tolerant - any box not ticked tips the whole festive period into something equivalent to the last days of the Roman Empire, a cataclysm, a portent of doomsday.

And this is where the strong sense of MUST comes in.

At Christmas we all feel the compulsion, the need to oblige, in one or any number of the essential areas where the boxes are waiting to be ticked. Gifts, food and drink, decorations, all take pride of place; and because we all have so little time in our lives to devote to the simple things, we buy and spend to supplement that time.
Year by year this trading of time can become more and more elaborate until at some point this layering of elaboration covers over the intended simplicity. In the aftermath of the festive must, when the metaphorical falling of snow has filled in the dinted pathway of master and page, we get to judge, to sum it all up, in a January where the winter of our discontent – depending on the number of ticked or crossed boxes – can appear as stark as the great wastes of Siberia.


One of the metaphors I often use with clients is the Japanese Tea Ceremony, especially from the perspective of the tea maker. For it is in the simple, yet elaborate, devotions of the entire ceremony where the true and selfless art of the maker brings the most to both themselves and to the guests.

Preparing tea in this ceremony means pouring all one's attention into the requisite and essential predefined movements. The whole process is not about drinking tea, but is about aesthetics, preparing a bowl of tea from one's heart.

This is where MUST, in a sense, has a real presence. With the predefined movements there are boxes to be ticked indeed, and these are a must. Yet because of the very simplicity of the process, of the entire ceremony, the must, or purpose of it, is about devotion and total absorption on the one hand and acceptance and gratitude on the other. Both of these commitments pivot around the simple ingredients of leaf and water.

The simplicity of our lives, and our Christmases, could mark the footsteps of the Tea Ceremony. The people in our lives are the leaf and the time through which we all move is the water. The musts are devotion, absorption, acceptance and gratitude. There is no power – especially of one over another – there is no possession, there is no hierarchy, there is no duty, there is no subjugation or exploitation.


Although, essentially, life is about how we devote ourselves through time, we are beset – waylaid – by the pressures of MUST.

There are the musts of society, the musts of other people, the musts we adopt and make our own, the musts of the workplace, the musts of our family, and so on. Our entire lives are filled with the pervading scent – or perhaps the heavy atmosphere – of must.
Oh I agree some of these are rules, some are duties, some are the requisites of compliance, and yet there are many that we just accept.
“This is the way we run our lives – on a cold and frosty morning!”
Curiously when we take run, like that, and add I, it makes ruin.  

So, I’d invite you to take a long look at how much mustiness you have in your life – and what manifold and all pervading aromas, scents and fragrances makes up that mustiness. You’ll know the musts I mean because some will make you recoil as if they are smelling salts, whereas others will be as delicate as that of a Damask Rose.

Are you weighed down by musts; is your life heavily crammed full of musts that serve no purpose – especially those that are light years away from devotion, absorption, acceptance and gratitude?


One of the key ingredients of Christmas, as I see it, is good fellowship. It is about people, and goodwill. It is an essential part of the real message that we are all in it together. It, of course, is life – and, from mirror neurons to the collective unconscious, we are all co-dependent minds, bodies and spirits.

One of the sadnesses more noticeable at Christmas is isolation. In Scrooge’s visitations by the ghost of Jacob Marley, Dickens highlighted the poignancy and fear of isolation at a time of year when our musts should be examined and called to account. For the longer our list of musts, the more isolated we become.
This doesn’t mean to say that the lonely at Christmas are being punished for having too many musts in their lives, per se – but the point Charles Dickens wanted to make was that the devotion of Scrooge and Marley to riches, profit, wealth and exploitation without the acceptance and gratitude that should have accompanied their absorption, eventually came to haunt them in various ways.
Needs Must when the Devil drives or is it The Devil Needs when Must Drives.

The isolated and lonely at Christmas are also that at all the other times of the year, and yet although there is a degree of compliance in the withdrawal from human fellowship, it is invariably borne out of a fear of the world that their fellow humans have signed up to by their own creation.
One of the homeless men who joined the birthday breakfast celebration of Pope Francis recently was asked about whether this would change his being on the streets. He averred that it was his choice to be part of the homeless community, so that was not likely to change. They key word in his comment however was community – and that is still a fellowship.

New Year’s Resolutions

Many of us have things in our lives that we would happily change, dispel, remove and alter. The wish to live within a lighter and better functioning frame; the need to dispel the must of certain compulsions, cravings and addictions; the hope for more self-assurance and positivity in our lives – these are all amongst the leading topics of resolve as the old year folds itself away into the safe-keeping of our memory.
Interestingly, all these solutions are very familiar. Indeed, for some they are as familiar as the personas they occupy, as they endeavour to re-solve the problems they thought they had solved last year.

Real change comes from tackling all the musts we feel obliged to draw into our lives. We carry these obligations around with us wherever we go, each one with its own particular musty odour and fragrance.

Resolutions fall into two categories – Wants and Don’t Wants. There’s the Wants or Wanting more of something; and the Don’t Want any more of something (which is Wanting Less, or Wanting No More, of course). Behind these Wants are Musts. All the things we want more of, or less of, are linked to their own particular set of musts, their familiar obligations.
When the health and fitness desirants sign up to the gym they become obliged to follow certain musts, for their programme to be successful; likewise, to quit smoking requires another set of obligations; and even the 
journey to more self-assurance has its own particular musts.
However, as time goes on there is often a war campaign of perhaps many battles, between the old musts and the new ones. Why is it always so difficult a time, and a perennial conflict with ourselves?
Well, the Tea Ceremony seems to hold some of the answers, so let’s return to what I said earlier:

Because of the very simplicity of the process, of the entire ceremony, the must, or purpose of it, is about devotion and total absorption on the one hand and acceptance and gratitude on the other. Both of these commitments pivot around the simple ingredients of leaf and water.

Now remember the resolutions are a contract between ourselves and ourselves – and so we need to buy into both the Devotion and Absorption of the Maker, and also into the Acceptance and Gratitude of the Guest. Remember too that we are the leaf and time is the water.

Taking our New Year’s Resolutions seriously is not enough, until we understand what that serious entails. We need to be Devoted to and totally Absorbed in the process of change – AND – we need to fully Accept that change and show Gratitude to ourselves for making the effort in change. We also need to allow time for the process to work.

Sounds really simple doesn’t it?! – Not necessarily easy, however, but simple nonetheless. 

So, whatever petals of Damask Rose may be strewn on your road of resolution – take all the time you need to notice the fragrance of the new musts in your life.

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