Loving Life as It Is

Driving home yesterday after an especially productive day in the office, I noticed (as I often do) the fine weather and beautiful scenery in my hometown of Frederick.  I was excited to see my family and hear about their day.  I planned out dinner in my head and thought about the week’s schedule.  I listened to an audiobook, downloaded from the library.  I thought about my recent workouts and my plan for fitness for the week.  I felt calm and peaceful and connected with my life, exactly as it is.

I have not always felt this way.

For much of my teen and adult life, I felt compelled to leave whatever life I was living for something better.  I think I was trying to escape myself.  While I remain interested in self-improvement, I believe that my most profound progress has come through diving deeply inside my existence as it is–in seeking contentment, not distraction.

Yesterday was a moment where I felt that connection deeply.  I will keep working to seek those moments.  The habits I am developing (I cleaned out my car as part of my December Declutter project and focus on acceptance as part of my meditation) are part of allowing me to feel that content more often.

Declutter December Challenge: 31 days, 496 things

I have written before about my interest in minimalism and some of my challenges in undertaking the project of decluttering in a meaningful, significant way.  One of the earlier blogs I followed when I was learning about minimalism was Becoming Minimalist.  I always enjoyed Joshua Becker’s patient, invitational, caring voice in his writing about minimalism.  While he is a convert who sings the praises and the promise of minimalism, he never feels as judgmental or extreme in his zeal as some other bloggers who write on the same topics.  However, now that I have a family, I have begun to appreciate Becker’s advice in a whole new light.

I just finished reading his book The More of Less.  I am feeling inspired by his words and his call to action.  I have been making excuses not to get started because I am afraid of realizing just how disconnected I have become from my own desire to own less and enjoy the things I value more.  However, through my meditation, I am becoming more accepting of who I am.  This is giving me permission to examine the parts of myself I believe do not relate to what I value and who I really want to be (not who I aspire to be–which is not who I am).

The combination of these ideas has made me commit to ridding my house of things I do not need, want, use, or enjoy in December.  I’d like to get rid of one item on December 1, two items on December 2, and so on until December 31.  This way, I can start small, but build momentum.  At the end of the month, I will have rid my house of 496 items.  I feel that this exercise pairs nicely with the old song “On the first day of Christmas…”

I will give myself the gift of freedom this holiday season.  Anyone care to join me?

Struggling

This month has been a struggle for me to write.  I had planned to update more frequently and work on a novel for NaNoWriMo, but that has not panned out.  I believe there are many reasons for my stuggle, but rather than focus on those reasons, I want to talk about  what I’m doing to overcome the challenges.

I noticed, through my meditation and mindfulness practice, that I am using Facebook and phone games as a way to avoid feelings.  However, I end up feeling more mentally busy and cluttered when I finish these avoidance tasks.  I am also craving alcohol for reasons other than enjoyment of the experience.  For these reasons, I have decided to abstain from these things through the end of the year.  I feel more present after just one day away from mindless Facebook scrolling, and the relief of just knowing that alcohol is not an option for me is less stressful. Just like my shopping ban is letting me just throw sales announcements and coupons for Black Friday in the trash without giving any mental energy to considering whether or not to purchase anything.

I think an amazing amount of energy goes into “managing” unhealthy habits.  Saying “no” feels a lot like decluttering physical possessions.

Here I am, world.  Thanks for having me back.  I may continue to struggle, but at least I’m writing again.

Beginning a Meditation Practice

As I dig deeper into my work on minimalism and health, I have found the appeal of meditation as a path into greater mindfulness is growing.  While I’ve been practicing yoga on and off since I was 18 years old, I’ve never actively practiced meditation.  I didn’t know a lot about the subject, so I’m giving myself a month to work towards establishing the habit and seeing where it leads.

I checked out Meditation for Dummies from the library to give myself a general overview of the topic and some basic first steps.  The book is a good guide for beginners who want to know more about different styles and types of meditation.  I took a yoga class with a 15 minute meditation at my gym.  I’ve decided to keep a meditation journal for this month as I try to give over five or more minutes each day to establishing a practice.

I am noticing that it is easier for me to observe something about myself (a lack of flexibility in one hip, being hungry during preparation for a medical procedure, etc.), and not immediately jump to correct it.  The letting go of internal judgments has been very good for my productivity at work and home.

Although I have set my intention for my meditation practice to seek contentedness, I believe that it will help me move from a mindset of “self-improvement” to a mindset of “self-acceptance.”  There is great irony in seeking to improve yourself by no longer seeking to improve, but instead to accept and appreciate.  I acknowledge this complexity.

Challenges to Minimalism

I have written before about my attraction to minimalism.  I’ve followed and read about it for years without being able to just go full-on Marie Kondo.

I grew up in a family that consumes resources in ways inconsistent with my core values.  Many frugal people and fiscally responsible people say they learned those practices at home; I did not.  While my father was quite “cheap” in some ways that I inherited (wearing clothes until well past their functionality), my family was constantly in debt and worried about the financial future, even though both of my parents worked as highly paid professionals in the sciences.  I remember my parents discussing how the checks they wrote at the grocery store would “clear” after their paychecks hit–hopefully–but we always had extravagant Christmases and went on huge back-to-school shopping splurges.

My mother likes to tell the story of my second Christmas that she thinks is “cute,” but I think is rather telling of how different I am than my family with regards to consumerism.  We had traveled to Florida to spend Christmas with my father’s parents.  Mom had carefully chosen and wrapped tons of presents because this was the first Christmas I would remember, and I was the first child and what child doesn’t love unwrapping mounds of shiny, new toys?  Well, I opened the first present–a Fisher Price doll house–and played with it contentedly for about an hour.  Mom urged me to open the other gifts.  I responded, “No, thanks.  This is enough for today.”

Needless to say, the adults began the pressure of consumerism rather than accepting that answer.  I am actively working to reject it through my shopping ban and fast food fast.  Overriding your childhood programming is more challenging than it seems to be.

I also have a tendency towards being a packrat and a mean “cheap” streak that stockpiles free stuff (mostly from family members “upgrading” their own things) that might one day be useful.

My frugality urges me to conserve still usable resources for the time I will eventually need to use them because my current versions will wear out or need replacing.

The minimalist response to this tends to be to trust that the universe will provide.  I find this challenging, but I’m working on it.

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