Being Gentle With Ourselves During the Hustle and Bustle
I broke down crying. I was standing in the store after an upsetting day, looking at ornaments and overwhelmed by the choices. I had to leave and collect myself. And ya know what? It’s okay. It was a little embarrassing. I caught some looks. I’ll live.
Last weekend I had the wonderful opportunity of listening to a semi-retired therapist – Bonnie Gramlich- speak about the challenge of the holiday season. I’ll tell you what she talked about, my history with grief, and what I’ve been doing differently this year. Continue reading “It’s OK to Not Be Jolly | Weekend Wishes”
Wherein I discuss putting mindfulness and minimalism back in their places.
Minimalism and mindfulness have their own places on the shelf of life. Sometimes we need to put them back in their places. Maybe your experiences are different but I’m going to share mine.
Minimalism. The oft praised design concept that conjures up fresh tiny houses, Scandinavian designs, Japanese zen gardens, and futuristic serenity come to mind. Jane Cumberbatch’s Pure Style Livinghas maintained a treasured spot on my bookshelf for over a decade with its praise of white, sterile, industrial inspired function. #goals
In contrast I have a maximalist house. It’s overly large (we’re planning on expanding our family). It’s overly cluttered (I’m working on that). My life is anything but sterile. It’s functionally chaotic.
An article I read talked about the mental stress that clutter causes. I had a hard time explaining it to my husband before reading the article, but this really helped. Clutter causes anxiety for me because it represents endless to-do lists and embarrassment. I want the house to look like a magazine cover, but it’s a mess. I don’t think I could ever have someone help me clean up either – I’m too particular, and it would make me very uncomfortable. When I first brought the baby home, a few close friends or family offered to help, but I had to turn them down. Having anyone else clean up my mess would rack me with guilt.
In the spirit of reducing and destressing, I tackled the closets, the bookcases, and some keepsakes. The Marie Kondo method really has helped me trim down my closet to clothes I enjoy wearing.
Why own clothes that don’t make me feel good? Why keep books or keepsakes that are just collecting dust? If I don’t treasure them, then why not give them a happier home with someone else?
Like The Decemberist’s song, “[A]nd if you don’t love me, let me go”.
Marie Kondo’s method of folding socks and t-shirts has transformed my drawers. The idea of treating my belongings with respect has truly increased value for objects I otherwise disregarded.
Someone who has read Kondo’s book was telling me that there’s an idea expressed that if your house is cluttered it’s because you’re choosing chaos, and that if you’re choosing chaos in your most intimate of physical environments it’s to distract you from the disarray in your own mind. Again, I have yet to read it, so I can’t speak to the quote and tone.
That idea, however, been bothering me for a few days. Am I choosing chaos in my home to avoid chaos in my mind?
I’ve been trying to get as much done as I can, but I seem to consistently fail. I definitely relate to having chaos within, and I’m doing my best to tame the chaos around me.
Someone else told me that they choose to view chaos in their physical environment instead of as the result a choice (blaming oneself) as merely a case of insufficient resources. They view it not as a personal failing but as a symptom of too little time/energy.
This brings me back to mindfulness.
Studies upon studies tout the line that mindfulness meditation has health benefits, improves mental health, etc.
What if you can’t get into it, though?
I’ve had to deal with some intense physical pain during my life. Sitting and focusing on what I’m experiencing in the moment isn’t always goodfor my mental health personally.
Mindfulness sometimes employs labeling: naming experiences, condensing actions into an idea to limit internal monologue to allow more time to focus on the present.
An example of labeling might go something like this:
It brings acute awareness to physical sensations. For me that sensation tended to be pain.
My mindfulness labeling went something like this:
Inhale. Hurting. Exhale. Hurting. Inhale. Hurting. Exhale. Still Hurting.
It sucked. I don’t want to just sit and think about how much pain I’m in. I can’t negate that being the most poignant part of my experience in those moments. Mindfulness that focused on labeling the present was not for me.
Does it helpothers? Yes. More power to them.
For me meditation that focuses on controlling thoughts is more helpful: mantras, focused breathing (especially square breathing).
Sometimes this sad vending machine is a pretty accurate depiction of me.
Minimalism, for all its beauty, isn’t working for me. I’m trying to tackle the clutter one type at a time and trying to become better organized. That’s one tool that I’ll have to shelve for now.
There are cleaning guides I’ve looked at as well. They seem to over-simplify cleaning. Focusing on a single room a day sounds like a great approach, but it hasn’t worked for me. I can’t do just one load of laundry a day or one load of dishes either. I mentioned this to a friend who said they think this only works if your house is clean to begin with and you’re just doing maintenance cleaning instead of nitty gritty cleaning and you live by yourself. With a baby and pets, laundry and cleaning are constant. I also have to decide – do I want to treasure this moment with my child (who will only be this size right now), or do I want a perfectly clean house? Cleaning can wait.
The same goes for meditation: mindfulness isn’t my cup of tea. With so many types of meditation, I’m lucky I’ve found other ways of quieting my mind.
My go-to meditations besides square breathing are simply counting one on the inhale and two on the exhale and trying to free my mind of any thoughts; and a singing meditation:
When I breathe out, I breathe out peace. When I breathe in, I breathe in love.
My goal right now is to shelve those thoughts deriding myself for perceived failures in organizing my physical and headspace and to just accept that sometimes I have insufficient resources. I don’t think the Serenity Prayer was meant to be applied this way, but I definitely need “the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference”.
What are your favorite ways of creating order in your headspace and/or physical space?
Ernest Hemingway said, “Write hard and clear about what hurts”.
Why? Writing is hard enough. It’s hard not to have a fear of judgement when writing in general, why open oneself up and share one’s darkest moments? Isn’t it good enough to just craft a good story, follow a decent outline of some sort, and just write?
One of my favorite words is chiaroscuro. It means simply the contrast between dark and light. It in particular applies to oil paintings, but I like to think it has anagogical applications. In honor of the season I’ll include a picture that has excellent chiaroscuro:
Including painful moments or negative emotions gives depth and character to your work — just as the painting would not be the same without the dark.
In Threads of Fate I included dark moments from my life fictionalized. It was hard to write about my life at first. I’m a private, introverted person and I don’t share my innermost thoughts usually. Why should I fictionalize them? I suggested recently that one of my friends start a blog and he said that sharing his life on Facebook (which he does) was the most he felt comfortable doing. Was writing Threads of Fate cathartic? Not exactly. It caused me some anxiety due to the personal nature of a few of the scenes when I sent out the rewrites and started receiving feedback from beta readers, especially since I actually do know some of my beta readers and interact with them on occasion socially. Then I got over it for the most part.
Why Else? Some of you don’t write fiction. You don’t want to twist fictions to fit any worlds floating through your heads. I challenge you that it can be as cathartic as you want it to be, and you also don’t have to share it with anyone. Sometimes writing a page and then shredding it can be relieving.
If your writing is only for yourself, then it can still be helpful. I know someone who is going through a rough time right now and writing is helping them — letter writing. This isn’t quite Collateral Beauty level letter writing, but the letters are a safe release of what’s filling the writer’s heart.
It can be cleansing. Once I had a recurring nightmare that I would be strangled in bed — someone was standing over me in my sleep and I would wake up with an unknown attacker. I fictionalized this into a short story about a young woman who is attacked by a random stranger in her car. I stopped having the dream after writing the story. How? The adage if it bleeds it leads is probably familiar to most of us. As is curiosity killed the cat. We can’t look away from the darkness. It’s an affirmation of life. I would suggest focusing on a negative event or emotion in your life and exploring it for all it’s worth. How would this event happen in your characters’ lives? This negative event or emotion does not have to be the central conflict of the story, it can rather be an internal conflict that moves the story along.
Also an emotion can have repercussions that last — in the TV show Benched Nina has to deal with the aftermath of having a very angry moment seemingly ruin her career.
Take what has happened in your life and condense it down to the basics. Once you have limited it to the simplest facts, you can then transport those facts into the confines of your universe.
A writer’s personal psychological history is a hidden treasure, because the creative imagination can take any experience and develop it into a unique story… Any emotional state that you have uncovered can be woven into your work with a twofold consequence–you’ll be purged of unresolved feelings and you’ll create an original piece of writing.
I don’t believe that we can truly be original, but at the very least we can be authentic. I’ll explain my stance on originality in a future post.
We need to be able to name where the hurts are; to be able to name our sorrows and fears; to not be afraid of anger. So often in Buddhist communities, anger is considered bad, but anger is a part of the weather systems that move through our psyches. We have to make room for these emotions, and there are wise ways to do that.
Tara’s article has nothing to do with writing, but as soon as I read those words I wanted to share them with my readers. I felt that they had practical implications. I hope you find wise ways to balance the weather system that is your psyche.