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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?

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I’m a Gifted Pig, and You Can Be, Too!

This is going to sound incredibly lala, but your life really can be as light or as dark as you choose to make it.  I used to absolutely abhor people who fed me the line of “just stay positive; it’s the law of attraction: if you stay positive, you’ll only attract the positive into your life.” I thought they were lala idiots who needed the world to always be puppies and sunshine and roses in order to cope.  I would literally roll my eyes at them–not a terribly positive reaction.  But over time–and through a lot of life that has decidedly not been full of puppies and sunshine and roses–I have slowly come to realize that these people are not lala after all (okay, maybe some of them are, but that’s not the point): they’re onto something!

Imagine a pig, wallowing in mud.  No, seriously: visualize it completely in your mind’s eye.  There’s a whole lotta mud, and there’s a whole lotta pig, and that little joker is wiggling and wallowing all around in it. The more he wallows and wiggles, the more covered in mud he is, until you can barely see anymore pink pigginess; now he’s a brown pig.  That’s what happens to us when we wallow in our own misery; when we wiggle around in dark, depressing thoughts. Eventually, all of our “pink pigginess” is gone, and we’re just brown all over, inside and out.  The big difference between most of us when we do that and the pig? The pig actually enjoys the mud!  Truth is, so do some people.  Some people actually enjoy being miserable. They bask in misery the way a pig basks in mud, and when they don’t have enough of it in their life, they’ll actively work to engineer it.  Many of us can instantly recognize these people for what they are: drama llamas.  Most of them don’t recognize it in themselves, however, even when the rest of us, so desperately trying to escape their mud, try to tell them about it.

So how do we reclaim our “pink pigginess”, avoid becoming a drama llama, and not turn this new puppies/sunshine/roses perspective into a façade that’s just another coping mechanism as well?  This is the point where a lot of writers would turn to that old saying about the glass that’s either half empty or half full, depending on your point of view, but I’m going to go one step further: the point of that old allegory isn’t the level of the water, it’s that there is a glass in the first place!

Every single human being on the face of this planet is a glass: a glass that can either be filled, or emptied.  But the bottom line is: you are a glass. You’re here; you’re up, walking (or rolling, if you’re in a wheelchair) and talking and breathing and making and doing and washing dishes and doing laundry and eating and pooping.  You exist.  Take a moment to ponder that: you are.  You could just as easily not.  At any moment, there could come that tragic point where you shatter, and you aren’t anymore.  Well, not exactly, but we’ll get to that later (maybe not in this particular post, but in some future post or writing)….my point is, as namby pamby as it may sound, being alive is a blessing. It’s an opportunity, every single second, to be filled or to be emptied, and we are the ones with the power to constantly make that choice. So it’s very important that we make the right choices.

Let’s say you’re working on something creative, and suddenly someone bursts in and engages you in conversation. They might have just burst into the quiet little creative oasis you’ve created for yourself and started talking to you, or maybe they buzzed you unknowingly on Facebook, which you have running in the background while you work. Either way, your little creative bubble has just been shattered, and you’re now off-track and spinning.  You have the choice before you now of how you’re going to react: are you going to bluster at this person, informing them that they have just shattered your creative bubble, or are you going to listen to what they have to say and perhaps let that statement birth a brand new bubble for you?  There was a time not too long ago (okay, to be honest, it was five minutes ago), when my kneejerk reaction was to bluster.  Someone–my kid, my friend, my spouse, my neighbor, my cat, my dog, my fill-in-the-blank–would come bursting into my creative oasis and just “start with me”, and I would lose my shit. I would spin in my chair like I was Dr. Evil from Austin Powers, and I would immediately respond with an icy glare before I even knew what it was they were about to do or say, or I would very curtly excuse people on Facebook (which I almost always have running in the background while I work).  What did I learn from this? Isolating yourself in a creative oasis is still just that: isolation.  So, don’t go wondering why your kids, your friends, your spouse, your neighbor, your cat, your dog, or your fill-in-the-blank suddenly stops seeking to interact with you when you repeatedly respond to them in this fashion!  Instead, pause, breathe, and just be thankful that whoever has interrupted you wants to talk to you in the first place! These interactions are a gift; every moment is a gift, and if we’d just recognize the giftiness of it all, we wouldn’t go through life constantly so pissed off!

We don’t just live in a constantly giving universe, we live in a constantly gifting universe.  Take a minute and let that sink in fully.  Something that merely gives can mean something that collapses; that implodes.  But a thing that gifts is actually growing; filling, and even more importantly, fulfilling.  Now, I’m not requiring you to believe in God or a god or goddess to buy this concept (although, if you do, good for you!), I’m instead asking you to take a look around you in the seemingly very mundane world, and watch this concept in action.  Every morning, the sun rises. That is a simple scientific fact of the world we live upon.  And what happens when the sun rises? There is warmth, right? Trees can actually digest their food because there is sunlight (it’s called photosynthesis; look it up).  Birds rise in a morning chorus because the sun is their alarm clock; it lets them know that it’s time to wake up and see who gets the first worm this morning.  Photosynthesis happens in the oceans, so that the tiny fish can eat the algae, and a bigger fish can eat them, and an even bigger fish can eat that one, all the way up to the food chain to sharks and whales and us.  Every single one of those things is growth–nothing is collapsing or imploding; things are growing, filling and fulfilling.  Therefore, the universe is gifting, not just giving. A Higher Power doesn’t have to enter that spectrum unless you want or need it to; these are just the facts of existence on our planet.

The moment we actually come to accept those facts of existence, we learn to recognize the gifts in every moment, instead of the give in every moment; we live in growth, not entropy.  For those unfamiliar with that term–entropy–it comes from the field of thermodynamics, and it is the theory that everything in the universe eventually moves from order to disorder. Entropy is the measurement of that change. In short, things fall apart; the center cannot hold (thank you, W. B. Yeats).  In order to maintain our “pink piginess” we’ve got to move from an entropy perspective on life, to a gifting perspective on life.    We’ve got to move from the viewpoints we’ve been fed by the media, the politicians, and maybe the religious structure or even our own family and friends, towards a perspective that embraces the simple facts of existence: that we live in a gifting universe. And then we’ve got to start accepting those gifts!

Life really can be as light or as dark as you choose to make it, based on whether or not you choose to accept the facts of existence, and, therefore, accept the Gift. There is absolutely nothing lala about that.   Every single moment of your life is an opportunity.  How you choose to react to those opportunities is ultimately up to you and only you!  A couple of years ago, I spent most of my life wallowing in the mud. Honestly, I was happy there–happy as a pig.  The mud that covered me kept the world from seeing the real me, and I was perfectly happy with that, because the less the world saw of the real me, the less I had to worry about the people out in that world judging me, bullying me, and/or otherwise maligning me.  Because of my disabling psoriasis, I also have extreme depression. Even though I’ve never been formally diagnosed, I know it’s there, and so does everyone else who has known me for more than half a second–the two conditions go hand in hand.  I retreated further and further and further into that world–into that mud and into my shell–until one day I met someone who completely changed my life.  She saw my “pink pigginess” underneath all of that mud, and she actually rather liked my “pink pigginess”.  This woman, without realizing she did so, lived every single moment of every single day and every single interaction with the good people in her life according to the aforementioned principles of the simple facts of existence: in short, she was gifty, and she made me realize, whether I wanted to or not, that the universe is gifty, too. Now, that’s not to say there weren’t other people in my life who also saw my “pink pigginess” and actually liked it, because there were other people like that in my life.  The difference with this woman was that she tenaciously gifted my “inner pig” until I couldn’t wallow in the mud anymore. Instead, I had to wallow in the gifts!

You may not be so lucky as to have a woman like her in your life, so this is me, volunteering to wake you up, the way she woke me up.  Life is a gift.  The fact that you are up and around and eating and sleeping and breathing and pooping is a giftAccept it!  The sun rose this morning, and it will more than likely rise again tomorrow, and the day after that. Bask in that. Yes, it’s a very simple thing, but when you compare that to the rain that might be falling in your own life right now, suddenly, that rain seems very small by comparison, doesn’t it?  Sometimes the wind is going to blow through your life and turn everything as topsy turvy as if you were made of umbrellas, and sometimes the thunder is going to roll, but storms never last; the sun always comes back.  And in the wake of such storms, the grass is always a little greener, and so are the leaves.  That thing that seemed like a curse is suddenly just another blessing in disguise, right?  So let yourself be a gifted pig, like me.  Count your blessings, not your struggles!  I promise you: there will be more of them than you think there will be!

Dragon Rain