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What In The Hoo-Hah is Hygge?

Today is supposed to be the last day of my sabbatical.  Usually sabbaticals are restful; then again, usually they’re also a paid period of leave.  For me, neither of these has really been the case.  Sure, I’ve earned a lot of things that money simply cannot buy–a certain sort of peace that I did not have before–but I’ve also worked myself to the point of abject exhaustion on more than one occasion, and the work on the new house (especially my office/studio) seems to be neverending (which is now stressing out the cat, in addition to me!).  So instead of this being the last day of my sabbatical, I’ve decided it’s the first day of a new sort of life: a hyggelig life.

Hygge, and by extension, its adjective form, hyggelig, is a Danish/Norwegian concept that has become more than a bit of a fad here in the U.S. over the past year.  Pronounced hoo-gah, I first stumbled upon the term when researching decorative motifs for our new home. I wanted a definite coastal vibe (in homage to Njordr, and also so that our house would feel like a permanent vacation-home), but with heavy Scandinavian motifs (so that our whole house would represent our Heathen/Pagan Faith), and a comfy, cozy Mid-Century Modern ease-of-living.  When you Google Search all of that, you’ll likely be surprised how often the word hygge comes up.  I certainly was, to the degree of thinking “where has this been all my life?“.

Like the word lovehygge has that rare distinction of being at the same time both a noun and an adjective.  Also like love, it is a feeling.  I’ve heard it argued by some that “if you treat hygge like it’s a verb, you’re doing it wrong”, but honestly, I think it has that in common with the concept of love, too: hygge really isn’t hygge until you can give it away; until you can share it with someone else who is dear to you.

So what in the hoo-hah is hygge?  It is a consciousness–a mindfulness, if you will–of being fully present in a moment of coziness, specialness, and that indescribable feeling that is home.  In its most basic form, hygge is homecoming.  I don’t mean that in the sense of you’ve actually just come back home from having been somewhere else; I mean that warm, fuzzy feeling you get when you finally arrive at a place or a moment where you deeply know this is where you belong.  You may get that feeling sitting in candlelight drinking a warm cup of tea, or you may get that feeling relaxing on the couch papercrafting.  The most important thing is that you build it into your life somewhere.  We could all use some hygge now and then….

An interesting thing about hygge: etymologically, it traces back to the term hugr. Sound familiar?  You may remember it as one of the four aspects of the Norse “soul”, which I talked about previously in this blog post.  The Hugr would best be understood by us moderns as the “inner self”: a person’s personality as reflected in their conscious thought processes; very much in line with the oft-misquoted Buddhist ideal of “what you think, you become”.  In a very real sense, hygge is food for the soul.  I made a conscious decision a long time ago that that is my business in life: the feeding of people’s souls.  But how to do that?

Since we changed the angle of this business to papercrafting and digital art a year ago, it has been no secret that I have often felt very at-sea over exactly how to keep us rolling in that direction, while still remaining passionate about both my business and my life.  When we made that change back in July 2016, our initial tagline was Remember To Whimsy.  What I didn’t know then, but have discovered over the course of this sabbatical, is that what we really meant was Infuse Your Life With Hygge.  Ultimately, that is what every product we design, every blog post we write, and every interaction we have in this business–whether creating votive art, or sharing our spirituality with others–has been designed to do.  We want to remind people to live in their most precious moments–those moments of homecoming–and be mindful of the warmth and joy they feel there. We’ve never just wanted to sell people things; we want to give people feelings, that they can come back to again and again.

Most folks are familiar with the old saying “give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish, and you can feed him for a lifetime.”  I can give you a nifty set of digital papers and elements, and keep you busy for a few hours on a Saturday afternoon, but if I can teach you to be mindful of your most treasured moments in the first place, and maybe couple that with a recipe here and there for something yummy to imbibe while you’re crafting, plus ideas for your home that make it a more enjoyable place to craft in, then I can help you find hygge for a lifetime!

Which is why I say today is not the end of my sabbatical, but instead the beginning of a new, hyggelig life.  It’s a life I intend to share with all of you, and hopefully spread the hygge as liberally as butter (or in my case, cheese!) on bread.  But before I can help you learn to infuse your lives with hygge, I’ve got to start the process of infusing my own.  That starts with the “unplugged mornings” that I promised myself when we first moved in; mornings which I was doing a great job with for the first week we lived in our new house.  After that first week, however, I fell sick, so I’ve been sleeping in most days.  On top of that, I have a rather unrealistic gaming schedule that keeps me up til 1am four nights a week–which doesn’t exactly promote getting out of bed before 9am!  Sleeping late means that by the time I finally do crawl out of bed, I’m in an urgent rush to hop online and let my Beloved know that I’m okay, which then leads to being locked online til noon.  So my real day doesn’t start until 1:30 in the afternoon! On most days, that means I have around three hours to get everything I want to get accomplished in a day actually done, which isn’t nearly enough time to do those things without feeling like a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs! Needless to say (I hope), that leaves very little room for hygge.

So I would like to invite all of you to join me for unplugged mornings.  If that means you have to get out of bed a bit earlier than you normally would, by all means, do so: it’s worth the sacrifice.  Wake up, stretch, make yourself a cup of hot tea (or coffee, if that’s more your style), and then just sit and drink.  Most importantly, remember to enjoy that moment.  Bask in it.  Depending on your work schedule and everything else, it may be one of the few such moments you get all day, but it gives you a touchstone moment that you can come back to again and again throughout the day, when things get nuts. Leave that cell phone on the counter; leave that computer in the other room; don’t turn on the TV.  There will be plenty of time for those things later.  For the length of that cuppa, just be present in the sweetness of that moment; just be you and the tea (or coffee, as the case may be).  This may seem like a trivial change in your schedule at face value, but like that famous quote from the movie The Crownothing is trivial…..

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Simplify, Simplify, Simplify

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As some of you already know, I am in the midst of a process of simplifying my life.  I figure: a sabbatical is an excellent time to take stock of where you’ve been, as well as where you hope to go, and get to the marrow of what you really want out of life.  As part of this process, one thing has become abundantly clear: I am a very complex human being.  Truth is, most of us are.  And complexity can, in many ways, be a very good thing, but not when it puts you in bondage; not when you become a slave to your own complexity.  I’ve discovered, undergoing this process, that this is most definitely the case for me. It might be the case for some of you as well, hence: this blog post.

I’m not going to sit here and tell you that I’ve got this all figured out, because lying to your audience is never a positive or good thing to do. I don’t have this all figured out yet, but what I can tell you is my process, so perhaps you can use it in your own lives, so that maybe we can all figure this out together.

It’s not exactly a state secret that when I want to figure something out, I often turn to the writings of Bruce Lee.  Master Lee spent most of the later years of his life writing about how to break free of the “classical mess”, as he called it.  Granted, at first blush, he was talking about martial arts forms when he coined that term–classical mess–but the truth is, (and he certainly realized this himself): any complexity which enslaves us is classical mess. His daughter, Shannon Lee, has begun a podcast which addresses many of the real-life (non-combat) applications of her father’s philosophy, so as I began my process of simplifying life, I naturally turned to that resource.  I spent my morning yesterday listening to one of her podcasts from back in June, on Hacking Away the Unessentials.  Over the course of this podcast, she mentions the books by Celebrity Organizer (yes, that’s a thing) Marie Kondo.  In those books, Marie Kondo introduces the Kon Mari Method: a method of home (and life) organization based on a seemingly very simple question: does this spark joy?  

I say that question only seems simple because what if you have forgotten what sparking joy feels like?  For that matter, what is your personal definition of joy? Not having the answers to these questions readily available, in my opinion, is a definite clue that you have become a slave to your own complexity.  I very quickly realized I only peripherally had the answers to these questions myself.

So let’s start with a textbook definition of sparking joy, and work our way up from there:

sparking:  setting something off with sudden force; igniting; setting off with a burst of activity; stirring to activity

joy:  an emotion of well-being, success, or good fortune; a state of happiness or bliss; a source or cause of delight

Therefore:

sparking joy:  setting off feelings of well-being, success, good fortune, happiness and bliss with sudden force; igniting a state of happiness or bliss; setting off a burst of active happiness, well-being, success, good fortune, or bliss; stirring one to actively be well, successful, fortunate, happy, or blissful.

So, sparking joy is first and foremost active.  It’s not so much a simple matter of “well this makes me happy”, or “this is pleasing”, as it is a sensation of not only being happy, but actually wanting to do something with that happiness; that joy.  Applying this to home organization: my stacks and stacks of books make me happy.  Is that enough to warrant keeping all of them? Well, frankly, no, it isn’t.  My stacks and stacks of books also make me want to do something about that happiness: they make me want to read and re-read them, and possibly share tidbits of that joy of reading with others. That is enough to warrant keeping all of them.  Now let’s take that same principle and apply it to a life situation: namely, my job; this business.  It makes me happy to sit for hours and make graphics, whether for papercrafting supplies or votive art.  Is that reason enough to keep doing that? Well, again, frankly, no it isn’t.  Making graphics for hours also makes me want to do something about that happiness: it makes me want to share that happiness by making those things available to simplify the lives of others. That is enough to warrant continuing to do that part of my job.  Make sense so far?

The marrow of what we really want out of life is that feeling of sparking joy.  That’s why we constantly buy more and more things; that’s why we get ourselves into these messes where we eventually become slaves to our own complexity in the first place.  We crave joy.  When we can’t find it inside ourselves anymore, we look outside, and when we start looking outside, we amass mountains of things which give us momentary happiness, but then wind up in piles and in boxes and cluttering our lives.  We also wind up cluttering our lives with unessential activities that actually prevent us, in the long run, from discovering and experiencing real joy.

Since the experience of real joy is too often a completely alien concept for most of us, rather than starting with a list of what actually sparks joy, we should probably begin with a list of what doesn’t.  I will give you my own list, by way of example, so that hopefully you can make one of your own:

  • Constantly worrying about being financially solvent.
  • Having to continually put things like housework and homemaking on a back burner because of that first thing on this list.
  • Feeling like I’m making my art “under the gun” because of the first thing on this list.
  • Never having time to do fun things (like play video games or craft or read or simply watch TV), once again because of the first thing on this list.
  • Feeling like I can rarely express my true opinions on things because of the misconceptions they will breed in other people.
  • Often feeling more like another dependent in the household, rather than like the “man of the house” (also heavily tied to the first thing on this list).

From that list, hopefully you can begin to see what things actually bring you real joy.  Again, by way of example, those things that bring me real joy, based out of the above list, would include:

  • Housework (I’m not kidding!)
  • Homemaking
  • Making art/being creative
  • Video games
  • Crafting
  • Reading
  • Watching TV/Movies
  • Playing with our cat
  • Birdwatching
  • Research (yes, I actually enjoy that)
  • Composing editorials (yes, I actually enjoy that, too)
  • Being the “man of the house”: being the one she can lean on, when she needs to lean on someone; being responsible for things so she has to take less responsibility and, therefore, has less stress; being dependable, instead of constantly depending.
  • Cooking

This is the point where we can apply the aforementioned Kon Mari Method, and begin to simplify our lives by getting rid of the “classical mess”: we declutter by removing complexity.  How can you get rid of the things on your first list (the list of things which patently do not spark joy), so that you can spend more time on the things in your second list (the things which do spark joy)?  The most obvious answer might be to simply curl that first list up in a neat little ball and toss it in the trash, but perhaps you have things on it (as I do) which facilitate the things in your second list (such as financial solvency)?  You wouldn’t get very far with list number two if you “throw the baby out with the bathwater”, now, would you?  Once again, let’s use me as an example. Your final list may look something like this:

  • Be actively grateful for every penny you make, and use it wisely. Replace stress with thanks.
  • Activate unplugged mornings:  get out of bed, make tea (because coffee hates me!), read for 15-20 minutes, and then check in with my Beloved to see if there is anything she needs me to immediately address in the house, and then address the house (housework/homemaking)
  • Have lunch.
  • Afternoon Pomodoro: Spend only one hour per day on writing, art, etc. that is directly business-related.
  • Live. Make time for friends and family. Make time for play (including crafting, video games, TV/movies, birding, and Kili-cat).
  • Take walks.
  • Prove dependability over dependency.
  • Cook more often.
  • Realize that schedules were made to be broken.
  • Realize that lists are simply words on paper, not chains we forge.  Don’t let them become that ever again!

As you are formulating these lists, you may find (as I did) that much of the complexity in your life is born out of clinging to habits (some of which may actually seem like very good and positive habits!).  That’s a whole other issue, bound up with things like conditioning, both outward and inward, which I will address in my next blog post (I hope!).

 

 

 

 

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Four Easy (Not Really) Lessons

I’ve officially been on sabbatical for two weeks (out of the eight weeks I’m taking), and I can already tell you that time off, while extremely important for self care (and for getting things done, like packing up this house and moving our home elsewhere), is also a valuable learning tool.  What could one possibly learn from an unpaid vacation?  Read on, Dear Friend….

Lesson #1: Prioritize Your Priorities

The primary purpose of this sabbatical is to pack, move, and then unpack and settle in.  So what does one do when one is not actively engaged in packing, moving, or unpacking? Those first few days of my “time off”, I had zero clue what to do with myself!  I even went so far as to look at sites on what to do when one retires, all of which had three things in common:

  • They all suggested taking up a hobby.
  • They all suggested taking up a sport.
  • They all suggested getting a part-time job.

Which left me wondering: if you’re so bored now that you’ve retired that you need to develop a hobby, take up a sport, and gain a part-time job, then why the hell did you retire in the first place?  This got me thinking a lot about my own priorities, and about priorities in general.  

Most people have a list somewhere in the back of their brain (or, perhaps, if they’re lucky, in the front of their brain) of the things that are the most important in their life.  Now, these may be things that are truly important–things without which life becomes bland and/or unlivable–or these may be things that are peripherally important–things that are necessary to facilitate the truly important things.  My experience of abject boredom during that first week of my sabbatical made me take a long, hard look at my own priorities, and sort through and differentiate the truly important from the peripherally important.

So what is truly important?  In the interest of not boring you to tears with the details of “my little life”, let’s answer that question in an “across the board” fashion:

  • Peace
  • Love
  • Happiness/Fulfillment

Yes, I know that might sound trite, but I have found it to be an ultimate truth.  The hippies in the 1960s got it right: so long as you have peace in your life (a life free of drama llamas, including yourself!), love in your life (whether from a beloved, or from family and friends), and you are happy and fulfilled (able to do things that make you smile and laugh, as well as feed your passions), pretty much anything could happen in “your little life”, and you’d still come out relatively unscathed on the other side of whatever happened!

Boredom, at its deepest core, is a feeling of emptiness: it’s that thing we feel when we’ve lost sight of our priorities, and forget for a moment to simply enjoy the peacefeel the love, and focus on happiness/fulfillment.

Lesson #2: Plenty Is As Plenty Does

We live in a society where the word plenty somehow automatically equates in our minds with monetary wealth, but when it’s all said and done, ultimately, money is one of those priorities which is peripherally important.  Money is a thing which may help facilitate those three things that are truly important, but it doesn’t lie at the core of any of them.  Plenty, on the other hand, often does.

Plenty is actually defined as “a large or sufficient amount or quantity; more than enough”.  

I ached over the need to take this sabbatical, because I was afraid it would interfere with my previous definition of plenty: i.e., plenty of money to pay my bills, help out around the house, and purchase the furniture and things we’re going to need in our new home.  What I have found over the course of the past two weeks is that I have exactly the same amount of that particular definition of plenty, whether I’m working my tail off every day or not.  Meanwhile, when I’m not working my tail off, the really important plenty has increased three-fold: I may not have plenty of money, but I do have plenty of peacelove, and happiness/fulfillment!

The bottom line is: plenty is as plenty does.  When you sit around focusing on money as the definition of plenty, all you ultimately wind up with is realizing precisely how poor, financially, you actually are.  In the process, you also end up killing peacepushing away love, and feeling sad/unfulfilled.  However, when you focus on the really important plenty, you find yourself doing plenty:  enjoying peace breeds more peace; recognizing love breeds more love; focusing on happiness/fulfillment breeds more happiness/fulfillment!

Lesson #3:  Don’t Complain, Explain.

To complain is to explore a situation by focusing on the most dissatisfying or annoying parts of that situation, whereas to explain is to explore that same situation by focusing on the most relevant and meaningful parts of it.  Complaining shatters peace (it is the ultimate drama llama bait!), annoys love (it pushes people away), and denies happiness/fulfillment. On the other hand, explaining can actually bring about peace, foster love (as it encourages people to listen and then attempt to meet genuine needs), and lead to happiness/fulfillment.

The entire process of selling a house, packing your belongings, finding a new home, and then moving your stuff and unpacking it into said new home sucks.  I’m not talking a little amount of suckage, like “wow, rainy days really suck”, I’m talking major, industrial vacuum cleaner level suckage, like “you stubbed your toe on the couch so hard you’re now bleeding? Man, that sucks!”  The whole thing is a bigtime complain vs. explain opportunity.

I’m not gonna lie: I spent most of the period just prior to taking this sabbatical complaining.  I complained about the lack of sleep I was getting, due to early call-times by our real estate agent for showings, as well as other issues.  I complained about the size of the yard at every home we looked at.  I complained about having to put my much-loved stuff in storage.  I complained about having to take the cat out of the house in ninety degree heat on short notice.  I complained about how the entire business of having to keep the house spotless for showings while also having to pack impacted my work schedule. I complained, and complained, and complained.  Consequently, there wasn’t a moment of peace to be had: I officially became a drama llama.  I drove my Beloved bugnuts, which had some serious ramifications in the love department.  I was constantly unhappy and unfulfilled, and pretty much on a mission to get everybody else on the unhappy/unfulfilled bandwagon.

And then something wonderful happened: I stopped complaining and started explaining.  I’m still not getting enough rest, but in two more weeks, we’ll be in our new home, and I can sleep whenever I please (between unpacking and homemaking, of course).  The yard at the new house isn’t exactly huge, but you know what? It has an actual tree, and less yard just means less to mow!  I am presently staring at blank walls and mountains of boxes, true, but all the stuff that’s already in storage is probably safer for the move than the stuff presently sitting in boxes in my office, so now I wish I had packed it all from the get-go! We may have had to take the cat out of the house on short notice, but guess what? We made new friends!  Finally, in keeping the house spotless for showings, I discovered there are more fulfilling forms of work than my work-work: making Suzanne smile is the most rewarding thing in my corner of the universe!  Guess what? Now I have peace, and I realize just how deeply I’m surrounded by love, and I’m as happy and fulfilled as the loudly purring cat who is presently asleep in my lap!

Lesson #4:  Your Stuff Should Tell A Story

I’ve spent a lot of time over the past two weeks (and the months prior) deciding which things to throw away, and which things to actually wrap lovingly in bubble wrap and put in boxes.  As a borderline hoarder (who is in love with a chronic purger), that has been a really tough process for me.  As an artist, I have a desperate need to be surrounded by pretty things. That has made putting things in boxes very tough.  I also tend to attach memories to things (more on that in a moment), so throwing things out is very hard for me.  As the boxes have mounted to fill our entire storage space, and now my office as well, I find myself wishing I had learned the previous three lessons sooner than now….

Because if I had, I would’ve realized: your stuff should tell your story.  If it doesn’t actively tell your story, or if it doesn’t help you tell that story, then you don’t actually need it in your life.  When I say it should tell your story, I don’t just mean that your stuff should somehow be symbolic of your actual autobiography. What I mean is way deeper than that: it should tell the story of what you wish and want your life to be.  It should represent a deep expression of those truly important priorities we talked about in lesson onepeacelove, and happiness/fulfillment.

This theory came into play a lot when I was cleaning out my desk.  Obviously, my desk is where I do all of my day-to-day work for Iaconagraphy.  It is also where I keep all of my important documents (like Michelle’s birth certificate), my myriad notebooks for online gaming, and all of my snack food.  Betwixt and between all of that, there are also a thousand dead lighters, a vast collection of character-shaped erasers, and various other flotsam and jetsam from my life (such as saved movie tickets and things “I might scrap one day”).  In short, apart from those important documents, there was a lot of crap in my desk!  There were legit six boxes of cookies in my snack drawer!  Six boxes!  

As I was going through all of that stuff, it occurred to me that the vast majority of it was autobiographical, but patently did not tell the story that I want or wish to tell.  It was autobiographical in that yes, I really like cookies, I smoke a lot (I have to, to maintain the necessary intake of coal tar to keep our disabling psoriasis on at least an even keel), I like quirky things, and I really enjoy scrapbooking.  But the story that all that stuff told was not the story I want or wish for: instead, it was a story of getting fat, being annoyed (because there are few things more annoying in life than a dead lighter), putting my own quirkiness in a drawer or on a shelf, and never having time to do the things I really enjoy.  So the cookies went to that great cookie graveyard in the sky, and the lighters joined them in the trash bag.  I kept the erasers as a reminder to stop putting those quirky parts of me in a drawer or on a shelf, and I resolved to actually scrap the things “I might scrap one day” as soon as we’re settled in our new home.

Everything I pack now is weighed against the question: does this tell my story as I wish or want my life to be?  I have a feeling this new lease on life is going to lead to a lot of throwing things away during my unpacking process!

So what dowish or want my life to be? What’s my story?  Once upon a time, there was a guy who had to die to learn how to live.  He loved the ocean, he loved a beautiful, brilliant woman (who loved him in return), and he also had the love of good friends and extended family.  And one day, he realized the ocean wasn’t someplace you go; it’s a feeling.  So he decided to surround himself, and the beautiful, brilliant woman he loved, with that feeling every day.  He realized the call of the gulls as you lie on the beach is really friends talking to friends, so he decided to be a seagull, and finally embraced his wings.  He discovered that cleaning and homemaking and creating beauty all around him gave him the peace he craved, so he decided to do those things all the time, instead of the things he had been doing, which made him perpetually cranky and constantly reminded him that he was financially poor, making him very, very sad.  He finally understood just how loved he was, and he basked in that, the way sunbathers bask in the sun.  And the dead man who learned how to live and his beautiful, brilliant woman, and his good friends and extended family lived happily ever after, and they were all fulfilled.

What’s your story?