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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?

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Iaconagraphy Sabbatical: July 26, 2017-September 21, 2017

Most people who take a sabbatical at this time of year (end of summer) do so to go on vacation–to go to the seashore and perhaps go swimming, or go to the mountains for an extended hike, or what have you–but for some of us, such rests are necessary so that we can actually get things done.  That is the case for me.  This time away is nothing so glamorous as a trip to the beach, although hopefully the end result of it will be a home where we can live constantly reminded that the Ocean, and Her Gods and Goddesses (Njordr, Freyja-Mardoll, Ran, Aegir, the Nine Waves, and Nehalennia), are never very far away from us. 

Most of you are aware that we’ve spent the entire summer embroiled in the real estate “shenanigans” of selling our house and procuring a new one.  Well, we are now at that crucial point of packing up our lives and moving them (and their “souvenirs”) to a new home.  That is going to require quite a bit of work on my part, so I will be taking time off from this business from today (July 26, 2017) through September 21, 2017, so that I can take care of the business of getting us packed, moved in, and unpacked in a timely fashion.

Njordr has been a primary and guiding force for me, through this entire “debacle”.  I never really realized how much selling one house to move to another has in common with fishing until I was deep in the heart of this situation.  When a fisherman casts a line or a net, he doesn’t wiggle or worry that line or net; he waits patiently.  Sure, he puts in all of the hard work of baiting the line and reeling in the catch at the end, or of setting the net and hauling it back in, but during that in between portion, he simply waits. Patiently.  Patience is not one of my better virtues, I’ll be honest.  But I’ve learned a lot about the hope and faith that patience actually requires through undergoing and enduring this process.

So it is with that same hope and faith that I beg your patience, while I am away for the next couple of months.  I may occasionally, as time permits, still post art and musings both here and at Facebook , so please, don’t give up on me!  I’ve cast this net, and I would very much appreciate coming back to find it still full of Wonderful Peeps!