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
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!)
- Making art/being creative
- Video games
- Watching TV/Movies
- Playing with our cat
- 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.
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!).