Month: November 2014

Finding Happiness by Pressing into Change

I think a lot on the topic of happiness.  I used to sit on my sofa at the end of a long day teaching other people’s children and in tears, I would tell my husband, “I just want to be happy.  Why can’t I just be happy?”  Last week, I found myself on the same sofa, saying to the same man, “I’m happy.  So very happy!”  So what changed?  The only possibility is me.

I have spent a great deal of time trying to better myself.  Growing up, I was a child predisposed to ‘perfectionism,’ which still plagues me at times.  The beginning of my road to happiness was being able to let go of much of this thinking; recognizing that it holds me in places that are non-productive.  Also, clinging to my mind’s own fabricated ideals about what I needed say or do has robbed me of so much joy in my life.  I have had to learn how to let go of what other people think of me.

How can I propose to know so much about what is happening in someone else’s head anyway?  Frankly, it’s none of my business what they think of me!  Besides, they are on their own journey, on an ocean just as deep as mine.  I always wanted someone to come along and rescue my clutching self from the floating buoy in the middle of it all, but no one came.   It was I who rescued myself.  It is in this loneliness of learning who I truly am that I am beginning to build the creativity and self-confidence that will save my life.

I have also come to recognize my emotions as a gift of being human.  It is when I am experiencing emotion that I have the opportunity to press into it and invite my own innate wisdom.  My best growth yields have come from tuning in to my emotions.  We are encouraged too much in our culture to maintain stoic exteriors.  For too long, I have pushed my emotions aside, claiming on some level that I didn’t have time for them.  But over time, I have learned that I feel the most centred when I find the right balance between thinking and feeling.  Although there can be such large emotional waves of highs and the lows these are natural to what it means to be alive.  Moreover, if it weren’t for the negative emotions, how would I even know what ‘good’ felt like?  It is just not possible to be happy all the time.  Growth happens in seasons.  Seasons of decay are what feed our seasons of abundance.  It is when we rise up out of the decay that we burst into new life.

I am trying to experience my life not by what I am doing, but rather what I am being.  Life IS change.

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The Blessing of Being

I heard recently that the site where the events of Chernobyl’s nuclear meltdown unfolded were predicted to remain barren for a long time.  But with the absence of people’s influence, the site has regenerated itself despite the radiation.  Scientists are astounded at the amount of wildlife and plant growth on the site.  As a result of the resurgence of life, the radiation levels have decreased significantly as well.  A sure sign that mother nature knows what she’s doing!

Nature is full of gifts.  It is a gift giving system, delivering presents in the form of life.  How blessed we are to be part of this.  Our lack of understanding of natural systems has allowed humans grow the belief that we are more important than the rest of nature.  To the extent that we believe we can control it.  When I stop to think about how insignificant we are in the scope of the universe my heart begins to ache.  We are on one planet, which happens to be placed in space at the perfect distance from our sun to allow life to flourish.  It floats in one galaxy of which there are billions.  Add to that, that our universe is continuing to expand, and it seems silly to think of ourselves with any importance at all.  Somehow we have become ignorant to the fact that our species is at stake in the face of our global environmental situation.  Our human existence is but a tiny blip on the timeline of the universe.

Mother Earth repairs herself.  It is beginning to become clear that she is aching to heal herself from human inflicted damage. Earth will continue without us.  Life will continue without our presence.  In fact, Earth would probably would do better without us, like at Chernobyl.

So on this day where so many are giving thanks…I wish to offer thanks for being.

Healthy Grooming

About ten years ago, I did a complete overhaul of our beauty products and bathroom cupboards. At that time, I had just learned about the carcinogens in most beauty products, and found a great website to research everything that was in my cupboard.  Needless to say most of what we had went.  I reduced our household to the following products:

  1. Dr. Bronner’s Castile Soap (used for hand soap in a foaming dispenser and shampoo)
  2. Kiss My Face Olive Oil Soap
  3. Aveeno Active Naturals Body Wash (used for shave gel)
  4. Aveeno Intense Relief Hand Cream
  5. Kiss My Face Upper Management Styling Gel
  6. Got2b Glued Blasting Freeze Spray (not the best rating, but it works and I use hairspray rarely)

It was so liberating to only have to purchase the above mentioned items.  No more trips to the drug store coming home with things I didn’t need…no more trips to the drug store, period!  All that I need is available at the grocery store.  Our cupboards are more bare and life has become simpler.

Just over a month ago, I decided to push this idea further and stop washing my hair.  I had been growing the time between washes for a while and had stretched myself to a good week, and sometimes even pushed it to a week and a half.  I used Castile Soap instead of shampoo.  Over the course of the last several years, I had heard from multiple sources that giving up suds was the best thing for my hair.  I loved the idea…but had never had the gumption to try it.  Finally, out of what I feel is laziness, I gave it a go.  As a mom of three, I don’t get tonnes of time to myself and to be honest, a shower doesn’t make the top of my priority list when I have free time!  Also, I got thinking about how nature doesn’t make waste.  My head is its own natural system, so why would my body be producing oils that it did not need?  The answer seemed clear to me when I considered it this way; I have been told to think I need to wash my hair with shampoo.  This consumerist thinking pattern is starting to become easier for me to recognize.  Once I do, I usually look for an alternative.  Poo-less it is!

Over the past month, I had been taking showers and just rinsing and styling my hair as usual.  The oils seemed to be building up in my hair, without being rinsed away.  I figured after over a month without washing that my body had regulated oil production, but why was I still so grimy?  As Rob and I discussed it over dishes one evening, I said off the cuff, “It’s probably something that could be fixed with baking soda and vinegar.”  He agreed, thinking it was likely a Ph imbalance.  So this morning I did two rinses in the shower.  First, I took a couple of tablespoons of baking soda and mixed it with water.  I scrubbed it in and left if for a minute while I washed.  Then I rinsed it out and poured a few tablespoons of apple cider vinegar in my hair, scrubbed it and left it for another minute or so.  I rinsed and got out.  After styling my hair, I’m so pleasantly surprised with how lovely and shiny my hair looks!  I did have a bit of a ‘chip shop’ smell for an hour or so after showering, but it’s now gone.

I want to be able to apply this radical simplification to many facets of our life, but I must work through each of them, one at a time…

More is Less

Because almost all of our non-food shopping is done at thrift stores, it is so tempting to buy more than I need.  I find that I easily fall into overconsumption because I’m privileged enough to not have to worry about price.  Perhaps to my detriment, I read once in a book about home organization that it saves you time and money to buy certain items when you see them used, and squirrel them away for a time when you need them.  I have been using this approach for buying clothing for my children and gifts for others.  This tip has been my way of life for the past several years and has created a bit of a stockpiling situation in my house.

I have a double tiered clothing rack in the basement with clothes  neatly hung in size order that are still too big for my 4 year old.  I can honestly say that when my oldest was edging into size 5 clothing, it was a relief to head to the basement and wash up what was already there for him: good quality clothes in styles I like.  The unfortunate thing is that I have more clothing in his new size than I really need.  Not only that, but some of the sizes I have already hung on the downstairs rack are ridiculous – up to an 10!  Sadly, I’m sure it will come faster than I’d like, and perhaps I’ll thank myself for my earnest preparations.  In the meantime, I am stockpiling.

I remain concerned about my participation in our culture’s urge to overbuy.  Since my son’s dresser has started to bulge with his larger sized clothing, I have been making an effort to make wiser decisions. I want to show my children that just because you can buy something, doesn’t mean you should.  Our family is frugal by choice, but I want our frugality to extend beyond how much money something costs, into how much an item really costs.  By supporting the ‘business as usual’ ideal of more is better I am causing more damage than I realize for generations to come.  There are countless reasons why more is most certainly not better!  Shall I count (some of) the ways?

  1. Unnecessary extraction and exploitation of earth’s resources
  2. Large carbon footprint – consumption creates pollution in so many ways (packaging, transportation, retail environments, etc.)
  3. Inadvertent support of societal ideals which are not sustainable (the ‘business as usual’ growth mentality)
  4. The cost to ‘simple living’ – it’s stressful to have too much stuff!
  5. Once it’s in, it’s hard to get it out again (see my previous thoughts on this)
  6. It’s procrastination, from the deep work we need to do as a species to be happy with ourselves

I recently read that 80%of what is donated to thrift stores never makes it to the sales floor.  There is just too much coming in.  The volume of clothing is unmanageable, but also the quality of the clothing coming in is not good.  As consumer demand increases for cheap throwaway products there is a relative decrease in quality. We truly are a disposable society.  DISPOSABLE.  I wonder how deeply this idea has become engrained in our culture.  Is it so deep that we will end up disposing of our species due to our addiction to overconsumption?

 

Mothering Presence

I have been trying to nurture my own sense of gratitude for a while now, attempting to have it in the scope of my vision at all times.  What I have come to know is that moments are all we have.  I used to rush through some of the more arduous tasks with the children, like diaper changes, potty trips, and dressing feeling like I needed to get through these in order to get to the good stuff.  I would not take the time to engage in my child’s silliness while we went through these motions together.  But when I stopped to consider how much of our togetherness I was missing out on, and began to approach routine with the presence of gratitude, I began to realize that a diaper change offers a stolen moment where I get to be alone with one of my children.   Now that I have three, I find it is difficult to have time to indulge fully with each of them, particularly with my baby girl.

It is in the fleeting moments where I get her all to myself, without the distraction of her older brothers verbal capacities which often punctuate our time together.  I capture her tiny hands in mine, give her a tickle, or gently kiss her soft round cheek.  Now that I have begun to be present for these moments, I wish there were more of them.  I have begun to carve out more little joys in our daily routines.  It is amazing how much difference a little mind shift can make.  This small mental shift to be present for my children during routine tasks has taken away much of the drudgery of motherhood.  When I can view these moments as the very things that bring me joy and connection with my children, I am reminded that it is the slow and quiet things that repeat that will grow my children into the people I want them to be.  From my own childhood, I don’t remember the fights, the bedtime battles, what I remember is the tone and emotional feel of my household, the way my parents met me with love.  I want to create as many comforts for my children as I can, for beyond the walls of this home the world can be a difficult place to be.  I feel I am making our home a better place to be by taking time for gratitude in each small moment I can.  These moments are all I have…these are my life.  The more I can capture the joy of what is, the more beautiful my life has become.  I have stopped wishing for more, and instead have begun to appreciate what is.

“Life is all memory, except for the one present moment that goes by you so quickly you hardly catch it going.”

~Tennessee Williams

Careful-ing

I caught myself saying to my eldest son yesterday as he stood on a chair, “Be careful, you might fall.”  I clenched inside as I heard the words come out of my mouth.  I have been trying not to utter the words ‘be careful’ to my children.  I want them to learn their own limits, I want them to learn to trust themselves and their own judgement.  I also want them to have autonomy in their  choices where possible, knowing that I trust in their decisions too.  I know for myself that I would prefer to listen advice but ultimately I learn best by experience.  Also the lessons I have learned by doing are the ones that stick with me, the ones that I cannot forget for the very reason that they are experiential.

Rather than uttering the words ‘be careful’ to my children, I am trying to replace them with factual statements or questions to promote thinking.  I’m not suggesting that I am letting my children participate in unsafe action, rather I am trying to teach them to bring awareness to themselves.  If they build their ability to make mindful decisions, they will be more prepared for the many times when I’m not around to protect them.  When I say ‘be careful,’ it is really a statement about me, as the statement lends itself well to the projections of potential outcomes that my adult mind conjures up.  Those mental images could come true, but very likely they will not.  And even if they did, even if my son fell from the chair, he likely would not get seriously hurt, and most certainly he would not stand on it again until he was sure he had the skill to do so.

Last week, my younger son was the one atop a chair.  In a moment of clarity I said, “While you’re on the chair be mindful of where the edges of the seat are.  If your foot goes over the edge, you may lose your balance.”   He decided to stay standing, but held on to the table to steady himself.  In this case we were both satisfied with the outcome.  I could have also asked him, “Do you feel safe standing on that chair?” to bring his awareness to his actions.  I usually save the questions for activities that I don’t feel as anxious about though.

Trying to keep my advice to the facts has been allowing me to express concerns based on my own experience, yet my children are able to observe and interact with the world around and make their own decisions based on feedback from their environment.  This approach has been working very well for us…when I remember to do it!  I still catch myself ‘careful-ing’ many times a day.

Having ≠ Being

Recently I donated one of my sculptures to a silent auction to raise money for someone in my life seeking alternative medical therapy.  I was so happy to be able to help in a way which was meaningful to me.  It felt good to give a piece of my artwork, a piece of myself to help the cause.  I attended the auction, and had lovely feedback about my work.  Within me, anxiety began to bubble up.  I could not identify its source at the time, as it felt like a regret for letting a piece of my art go.

I have had an interesting relationship with art over my lifetime.  I have always been encouraged to be practical, and think of how I will pay the bills.  As a result, my art has morphed over the years to become more ‘craft’ than art.  How did I digress?  When I was getting married,  I couldn’t find a headpiece that I liked that wasn’t imported from China and made of poor quality materials.  I decided to make my own.  I turned this artful ‘craft’ into a business when friends and family began commissioning their own bridal jewelry.  My venturing toward ‘craft’ grew again when I was asked to attend a local craft show and sell my wares, at which time I had nothing but bridal jewelry.  I started making sculptural pendants and painting porcelain.  I did a number of craft shows over the years, and began my career as a teacher.   Then my first son was born.  No longer did I want to sit all day on a Saturday selling my crafts while my baby was at home with my husband.  Not only that, but what I had intended as a way for me to apply my artistic skills in a practical way to earn money became hypocritical to who I’ve become.  I was painting on white porcelain dishes, inevitably imported from far off lands.  The wire and beads came from asia as well.  Who was I kidding when I pretended to be ‘crafting things’ myself?  I was merely slapping together products from around the world to call them my own.  Somewhere along the way, I lost my art.

When I came home from the silent auction event and reflected on my feelings of loss and regret, I was stricken by the truth…that it was not the sculpture I was mourning, but the act of creating authentic art.  As I pondered this idea, I came to realize that the idea behind that sculpture was what I was sad to lose.  Somehow that object represented what once was for me, the ability to sit down and create from nothing but a lump of clay.  I miss that.  It’s silly to think of how strongly I was attaching my sense of self to an object, especially one I didn’t pay much mind to in recent years.  The sculpture represented what I want to be doing.  I have had this revelation before, where an object represents an action I wish I were doing, when in reality owning or accumulating things is only distracting me from actually just doing the thing itself.    Having the sculpture sitting in a box in my basement made me no more a sculptor than I am without it.  Out of the auction, I have four pending commissions to sculpt.  What I need now is a lump of clay!