Could You Give Most of It Away?

I just started reading Goodbye, Things: The New Japanese Minimalism by Fumio Sasaki.

 

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Maria Kondo struck a nerve in America with her runaway hit The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.  I, however, need to do more than just tidy up.  I need to purge.  Do you know what I mean?

I’ve lived in my house for 19 years.  That’s a long time to live in a singular space, and, while I make it a point to donate gently used items quarterly (or we would have nowhere to hang our hats), it’s nowhere near enough.  I have four daughters.  Children seem to amass large quantities of things.  People give them things.  They collect things.  They want to keep them forever.  I understand that.  I feel sentimental about certain things.  Children, however, seem to feel sentimental about almost everything–even that used napkin from last Tuesday when their friend came over and used it to wipe dirt off the floor.  It’s actually a testament to their wonder, I think, and capacity to be 100% present.

And if you have a basement?! God have mercy on you.

Another round of donating is not what I’m about to embark on.  In ten months, I am moving house.  Three years ago, I announced on this blog that my marriage was ending after years of back-and-forthing and writing about domestic violence and emotional abuse and, “Is it really that bad?” A year-and-half ago, I went back to graduate school, and next summer three of my daughters and I are headed West–to the Bay Area.  To live in a very small space no doubt.  It’s the beginning of another new adventure.

So, I have to examine every single thing I own and decide: Do I need this or not? And, I wasn’t sure how to go about doing that.  That’s why I picked up Sasaki’s book.  I figured, hey, there must be some good advice in here.  At a minimum, maybe I’ll feel inspired or  mentored.  Sasaki, thusly, defines minimalism as:

“Minimalism is a lifestyle in which you reduce your possessions to the absolute minimum you need. Living as a minimalist with the bare essentials has not only provided superficial benefits like the pleasure of a tidy room or the simple ease of cleaning, it has also led to a more fundamental shift. It’s given me a chance to think about what it really means to be happy.” (pp. 20-25).

Here is an example of a minimalist bedroom:

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I actually like the clean lines and flow, but it feels sterile–like a room in a high-end treatment facility.

A minimalist kitchen:

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This looks more attainable than some of the other online examples.

A minimalist bathroom:

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I see this and think, “Where is the trash bin?! Does an immortal live here?”

A minimalist living room:

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This has that lovely aesthetic appeal that one sees in catalogs, but it also looks remarkably un-comfortable.  

I have noticed that all of these images are super posh, and, in my opinion, this should be more accessible.  What does a middle-of-the-road minimalistic apartment or house look like? You know, where ordinary people reside.  Of note, this is not a movement aimed at people living in poverty.  First-world countries are heavily affected by consumerism and capitalistic expenditures, and the USA tops that list with China and Japan featuring second and third.  Americans are awash in stuff:

The USA features the highest levels of per household disposable income and expenditure. High income levels boost the capacity for discretionary spending of US households, although the country’s income gap remains large and continues to rise. (Euromonitor International)

I wonder what sort of impact those of us with too much stuff would have on our communities if we donated the items we truly don’t need and seldom if ever used and stopped using our income to acquire more goods, thusly, changing how we “consume”? Furthermore, what sort of impact would this have on our time–an invaluable resource? I imagine that owning less means having more time, too, because we have to dedicate time to caring for our stuff.  How might we spend our resources if we moved in a minimalistic direction with intention? Over the next 10 months, I intend to find this out.  I can tell you right now what my two biggest problems are going to be–whittling down the book collection, my kitchen implements because I am a cook, and tea accoutrements.  I have an unusually large number of really beautiful teacups most of which were gifted to me, and I can’t take them all with me.

Perhaps I ought to do a giveaway! One teacup a week…

Anyone like teacups? English teacups? And then there are the Yixing teapots

Oy vey…

God have mercy indeed (I’m actually sort of excited to see how this experiment turns out).

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“I’m doing it for a good reason, I’m doing it for a good reason, I’m doing it for a really good reason…”

 

Further Reading:

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Living with Intention

I receive many emails asking how to fix a loved one.  It might be a mother with a personality disorder or a partner or family member with alexithymia.  In both cases, I have been that self-same person on the search for solutions.  I have asked the same questions: What can I do to fix this? Is it me? Can I fix myself so that they will love me? Can I fix them by giving them books to read or directing them to resources? Maybe they had bad modeling as children and just need to be loved better, and I’m the one to do it!

I have loved someone with a disordered personality that kept them out of reach, distant from me, isolating me on a loveless and lonely island.  For years, I dove into the treacherous sea of uncertainty and swam to distant coastlines in an attempt to rescue my own mother from her mental illness.  I came bearing recommendations and suggestions that I swore would help her.  I only roused her inner demons and exacerbated her illness causing her to throw me back into the black waters which promptly washed me back onto the rocky shores of my tiny island.

I loved another person who seemed to thrive on isolation and personal inertia.  From the moment we returned from the weekend in a hotel we called our honeymoon, he holed up in a room and rarely ventured forth into the outside world.  He preferred fantasy over reality.  He disdained my presence and cultivated an impoverished sense of love and relationships while also developing a deluded and grandiose sense of self.  It did not matter how hard I tried to enter into his personal poverty or what riches I offered him.  He rejected everything.  He preferred his own distorted interpretation of the world.  He chose himself even over his children.  Whether he lacked the capacity or the will, it did not matter for he simply did not act.  He remained as he ever was.

What then? The heart wants what it wants and loves whom it loves, but then what? When the truth becomes apparent, and when will it become apparent? When you ask for it.  When you want it. And, what is this truth? It is not your job to change people.  It is not your job to fix people.

It is your job to change and heal yourself.  

It is our job to develop our personalities and our character so that we are continually becoming the kind of people with whom we would like to partner either platonically or romantically.  This is no small task.  It is so much easier and, honestly, far more fun to look at other people and pick them apart.  It’s vastly entertaining to scrutinize and judge our acquaintances and even our partners.  That smug feeling we experience when we climb onto our high horses is like taking a hit of heroine.  It’s addictive.  Why? Here is an interesting take on judgment:

“At some point in our life, usually in childhood, some external event causes us to separate from that true nature. That separation from love creates in us feelings of specialness or inadequacy, leading to loneliness and as a result, fear. So we project it outward in the form of judgment.

We know we are loving, interconnected beings, but in our separation we live in a dream state, shutting off our connection to our loving truth. This separation establishes the ego’s perception of a false self based on judgment. We grow to believe deeply in the false perception of ourselves in order to feel safe in the world of separation.

Deep down, and without realizing it, we judge ourselves for separating from our truth, leading us to feel ashamed and guilty. That unconscious guilt is so painful that we have no choice but project it outward in an effort to end our suffering. By projecting judgment onto others, we deny and repress our feelings of guilt. Subconsciously, this makes us feel even more guilty because we know this judgment is not who we really are. The guilt we feel from judging others is then projected right back onto ourselves, and the vicious cycle beings again. This the judgment cycle.

I cannot overstate this: Judgement is the number one reason we feel blocked, sad and alone. Our popular culture and media place enormous value on social status, looks, racial and religious separation, and material wealth. We are made to feel less than, separate, and not good enough, so we use judgment to insulate ourselves from the pain of feeling inadequate, insecure, or unworthy. It’s easier to make fun of, write off, or judge someone for a perceived weakness of theirs than it is to examine our own sense of lack.

 

Judgment is an addictive pattern.

 

Judgement is an addiction response to deep-rooted trauma. The first trauma is the separation from love. From a spiritual perspective, choosing fear and separation over love dissociates us from our truth. We become fragmented in this state of separation and lose our connection to our inner being. In this disconnected state, we inadvertently turn our back on our inner being and become obsessed with an outward projection of who we think we are. Feelings of guilt and sadness wash over us, because deep down, we know we’ve turned our back on love. But we can’t fully understand our guilt, so we do whatever we can to avoid feeling it. This is how the cycle of judgment becomes and addictive pattern.

When we avoid our guilt and suffering by projecting it onto others, it’s a way of numbing out. Like any good drug, judgment will anesthetize our pain and redirect our focus. It can even get us high. Gossip is a great example. Whenever you get together with friends to talk about another person in a judgmental way, you’re avoiding your own core wounds. You’re using judgment as a drug to numb your own pain and get high on someone else’s. Gossip is especially nasty because it gives us the illusion that we’re bonding with others, when instead we’re just banding together to heap all our pain onto another person.

Gossiping can give us a buzz because it provides temporary relief from self-judgment and attack. We repeat a self-judgmental story on a loop all day long: I’m not good enough. Why did I make that mistake? I’m ugly. I’m not smart enough. And so on. All these self-inflicted behaviors are just another form of addiction. We unconsciously choose to judge rather than feel the pain beneath our wounds.

But notice I said that our self-judgmental story is played on a loop. That’s because it leads nowhere! Getting on the path to healing requires us to feel the discomfort—but we’re way too scared to go there, so instead we gossip or judge ourselves as the victim feels safer than facing our wounds. This I show self-judgment becomes an addiction.

The addictive pattern is further fueled by our denial. We long to feel better but deny that judgement is the problem. In fact, we see judgment as the solution, as a way of protecting ourselves. Our unconscious belief system keeps us stuck in the judgment cycle because we’re terrified of facing our own pain and suffering. We use judgment to protect ourselves from exposing our deepest wounds.

The repetition of judgment is habit-forming. If you repeat a behavior over and over, you strengthen your neural pathways. In time that behavior becomes second nature. The more you repeat the pattern of judgment, the more you believe in it. You create your reality with the thoughts you repeat and the beliefs that you align with. When judgment is your belief system, you’ll always feel unsafe, under attack and defensive. If you’re going to change the habit of judgment you need to change your core belief system. Our aim is to find our way back home—to find our way back to love.” (From Judgment Detox by Gabrielle Bernstein)

Stopping any self-destructive cycle and engaging in a truly honest personal inventory with the intention of self-betterment is difficult but virtuous.  Asking the question: What do I really want from a friend and partner and then committing to developing those very qualities in oneself is, in my experience, the path to actually ending destructive relationships and beginning healthy ones.

Why? Well, as you begin to grow into healthy behaviors and ways of relating to yourself and other people, you will organically grow out of unhealthy patterns of behavior.  Self-destructive behaviors will ebb, and the people in your life who were attracted to those qualities in you will migrate away from you because you will naturally also move away from them.  Simply put, your orbits will change.  This kind of growth is a process, and processes take time.  It is not something that happens immediately, but it does happen when you commit to your own process of improvement and growth.  After a time, you will see that destructive people have left your life.  You may also be forced to make difficult decisions like ending relationships that were always bad for you or have become so over a period of time, but this is part of growing up and into living life with intention.

When you live your life with intention, you discover that you cannot make another person meet your needs; you cannot force another person to stop hurting you.  You can only move away from them and choose to live your life among different people who share your values.  And, this is essentially what people are emailing me about: How can I make my loved one share my values? How can I make the person I love stop valuing neglect or gaslighting or exploitation or selfishness or their own personal inertia? How can I make them see that what I value is better? You can’t.  If you don’t share the same values now, then you likely never will.  Take the temporary hit, gather your momentum, and keep going.  You will find other people in the world who do share your values and will love you, and you will love them, too.  You really will.

I don’t say any of this flippantly or without compassion.  I have done everything that I’m suggesting, and I know all too well just how hard it is.  I also know what life looks like “on the other side”.  It is worth it.

Keep going…

 

Reframing Suffering

It is a rainy, autumnal day here, and I like it.  It’s conducive to contemplation.

I fear sounding like a meme here, but I woke up contemplating gratitude.  I know, I know.  It’s practically a cliché, but I don’t think it should be.  Gratitude is a big deal.

I’ll begin with yesterday.

I have a mast cell disorder.  Don’t be surprised if you don’t know what that is.  Most doctors don’t know what that is unless they are allergists out of the Mayo Clinic or Boston or immunologists.  It’s not a new blood disorder.  It’s just a newly discovered and newly named blood disorder.  Would it surprise you to know that celiac disease is mast cell mediated? Endometriosis is mast cell mediated.  Chronic migraine disease can be mast cell mediated.  Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome is related to disordered mast cells.  The list goes on and on.  Chronic anaphylaxis is definitely related to disordered mast cells, and that’s my most immediate problem.  The wind can change direction, and I’ll experience an anaphylactic reaction.  For no good reason.  I didn’t even know that was possible until last June when I saw an allergist after having taken yet another trip by ambulance to the ER for a stupid allergic reaction.  I thought I was just a really allergic person.  My list of food allergies is long and grows even longer every year–or every month now.  Foods I’ve eaten my whole life I suddenly become deadly allergic to without warning.  It is a very stressful way to live–not knowing if I might potentially die that day.  My kids are fearful.  My close friends are worried.  I just have to live with a bit of a Wild West attitude all the time–feeling invincible.  It’s the only way to survive severe anaphylaxis–you have to relax into it and believe that you are immortal.  For some reason, it helps me stay calm and collected in the face of either my blood pressure bottoming out or my blood pressure hitting the ceiling after the epinephrine injection.

What is this about? Why does this matter?

Few people understand what this is like.  Parents of kids with allergies like this get it.  A parent with a child who will die in ten minutes after eating a peanut? Oh yeah, they understand because that’s me with a walnut or avocado or banana or kiwi or chestnut or buckwheat or peach…or…or…

You can hear the quiet desperation mixed with angry frustration in their voice when they say, “No one gets it! No one understands that my child will literally die if s/he is exposed to ________!” No.  It’s hard to comprehend death by food.  Furthermore, every reaction can be potentially worse than the last leaving you with less time to get help the next time.  This is true for me now.  Two weeks ago as I sat in the ER, a doctor asked me if I’d ever been intubated and suggested that I’d be staying overnight.  Ode to joy.  What a thrill.

It’s in moments like those that you really want to feel understood because you don’t want to feel afraid.  And, honestly, you don’t want to die feeling alone.  That compounds the fear.  You really want someone else to help you carry that burden.  Dying isn’t on my agenda or, at least, being taken out by a tree nut, but pragmatism suggests that you plan for it in this case.

And, as with most of our life experiences, few people truly understand it, or, rather, most people are too caught up in their personal narratives to step outside of them and into ours.  This is my general observation about the flow of life.  So, when you really need support and validation, you can’t find it because the weight of your life–even if it’s crushing you–is simply inconsequential to those around you.  Others can’t imagine your story.  It doesn’t hook into theirs.  Or, other people think that what you are experiencing is very similar to their experiences when, in fact, they are world’s apart.  Consequently, your experiences are minimized and dismissed leading to feelings of alienation and ontological isolation.

What is a relatable example of this?

I had the privilege of being in California a few weeks ago and meeting new people.  We all dined out together.  This really should be my order:

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I am now the high maintenance customer which I hate: “What kind of flour is in your gluten-free bread? Are you using buckwheat? Are there walnuts in that salad? Walnut oil in the dressing? Is there honeydew melon in your fresh fruit salad or kiwi or peaches? Hell, I’ll just have coffee.”

One of the women in our group immediately asked me about my gluten-free diet and why I was asking about the flours in the gluten-free bagels.  I explained that I had allergies.  I have to ask.  It’s important.  “Oh, I’m so sensitive, too.  I get headaches if I eat certain foods and my skin breaks out from something I eat.  Dairy, I think.  So, I try to avoid it, but sometimes I eat ice cream.  I totally get it.”

No.  That isn’t it at all.  I’ll die.  She will live with a bad complexion and a headache.  She is trying to make a connection which is very good, but her attempt and over-identification minimizes the reality of my situation, but, admirably, she was trying.  Nonetheless, one feels something weirdly frustrating set in with an interaction like this.

So, what about this gratitude?

Yesterday, I went to the hospital’s infusion center for immunotherapy. One of my friends went with me, and it was actually a good time.  It was a good time because she was there.  We chatted and joked around for two hours while the nurses observed me.  The drug I was receiving has the potential to turn my immune system around and prevent anaphylaxis! That would be a miracle for me.  I could literally get my life back.  The drug causes anaphylaxis in about 12% of patients who receive it which makes me a high-risk patient.

I was really grateful for her company.  She went with me to my subsequent doctor’s appointment, and then we went out for lunch.  It was a really pleasant day.  In my mind, she stepped into my life and experienced it with me.  The double injections, the touch-and-go first half-hour in which no one was sure if it was side effects or anaphylaxis.  It was just shared experiences.  She showed up.

And, the conclusion that I’ve come to in all this is that showing up for other people is the fastest way to step out of your own overwhelming narrative.  It gives you a break from yourself, your crazymaking thoughts about yourself, your problems, your anxiety about your future and what might or might not happen, and it restores perspective.  When I step out of my own swirling maelstrom of pain and stress and step into someone else’s personal pain I experience a huge shift in perspective.  It is in this that I often find my own strength again because I get to exercise my strength and sufficiency.  How often do we feel sufficient and adequate in our own lives? Conversely, how often do we feel insufficient and deficient?

When we connect our narrative to someone else’s we recharge our personal sense of sufficiency because we get to feel successful in places that we have often overlooked and this leads to gratitude.  Here are some suggestions.  Not all may apply to you:

  • “I’m not housebound and on disability.  I am healthier than I realized.”
  • “I have a stable job and am healthy enough to work.  This is a good thing.”
  • “My children are all healthy.  We are not reliant on social services for help, and neither I (nor my partner– if you have one) has had to quit working to stay home and manage care.  This is a blessing.”
  • “My partner loves me and does not abuse me.  I have a loving relationship.  I feel loved and supported.  I am grateful for this.”
  • “My home has not been affected or destroyed by drastic weather events.  I have shelter, electricity, access to potable water, and food.  I have not lost everything.  Perhaps I ought to connect to organizations serving devastated populations.”
  • “I have the resiliency to overcome victimization and access to support organizations that will help me continue to do this.  I know people who do not.  I am grateful for this.”
  • “My home is warm when it is cold outside and cool when it is hot.  I have a bed to sleep in.  I have food to eat.  I received an adequate education and am literate and capable of finding employment.  This is amazing considering that in some countries the literacy rate is around 27%.”
  • “Where I am ill, there is potential for me to become well.  Where I am alone, there is potential for me to connect.  Where I am ignorant, there is potential for me to learn.  This is worth a lot.”
  • “I am not living in a war-torn country.  Others are.  Perhaps I can express my gratitude for this by donating money in whatever sum to organizations that support refugees and the victims of ethnic cleansing and war.”

I go through this list when I feel overwhelmed and misunderstood.  Sometimes I feel really overwhelmed particularly after I’ve been loaded up with epinephrine, IV steroids, multiple doses of multiple types of antihistamines, and antiemetics followed up with extra doses of anticonvulsants.  No one has an easy life.  We all fight to survive something, but I find that gratitude lubricates the engine so to speak.

There will always be people who minimize our experiences most often unknowingly.  We will feel tempted to feel alone or belittled.  Or, we can sink into a softer place.  A kinder place.  I get to come home to my own space and comfy bed when I leave the ER.  That’s something, isn’t it? Consider this:

“In order to be happy we must first possess inner contentment; and inner contentment doesn’t come from having all we want; but rather from wanting and being grateful for all we have.”  The Dalai Lama

For some, the first reaction might be, “How am I supposed to be grateful for losing my house to a hurricane?” or, in my case, “How am I supposed to be grateful for a blood disorder?” That seems legitimate.

Well, we are not grateful for suffering, but we are grateful for what is produced in us when we engage in our lives intentionally.

“Our enemies provide us with the precious opportunity to practice patience and love.  We should have gratitude toward them.” The Dalai Lama

In some cases, people present to us as enemies, but sometimes circumstances and events are enemies.  Our stance towards them will determine how we emerge out of that stage of our lives.  If we are judgmental, entitled, easily offended, and vindictive, ruthless in our demands about how we think they ought to behave towards us, then we are no different.  We are simply the flip side of the coin.  If we are intentional about how we engage with other people, refusing to let their behavior dictate our responses, then we have the opportunity to practice being the kind of people we want to see in the world–good, kind, compassionate, and effective.  Circumstances are very similar.  We cannot change people.  Oftentimes, we cannot change circumstances either, but sometimes when we decide to change how we engage with both people and circumstances, both change.

So it is in this that we practice gratitude.  We are grateful because every moment of our days provides us with opportunities to become better.  To upgrade.  We can self-determine in this way.  This is the one area in life where we truly get to have all the control, and that is a strange thought to me.  To exercise that kind of intention in yourself and in your surroundings changes everything.  And this is what the previous two quotes mean.  We experience gratitude because it is possible to be changed, for the better, by everything that comes our way.  And, I don’t say this flippantly.  I’ve had some extraordinarily bad experiences from experiencing human trafficking to domestic violence.  I would never want to do either again, but I can experience gratitude for the sense of empathy and justice I have today because of both experiences.  I have a very wide resiliency spectrum because of past experiences, and, in some ways, this has made me the perfect candidate for a mast cell disorder.  Almost dying once a month doesn’t stress me out too much.  I bounce back very quickly emotionally.  Physically? That takes longer.

So, I leave you with this.  Gratitude.  Not for suffering.  But, for the opportunity to show up in your own life and in the lives of other people with intention.  The intention to be or do what?

That, dear reader, is entirely up to you.

My last word? Whatever it is…be sure to think big.