Friday, December 30, 2011
A counselor once told me that I have "an overdeveloped sense of responsibility". In short, he was suggesting that I worry too much. Me? Really? Nah! Well, there are, of course, those nights when I wake up and fail at falling back to sleep because I'm considering what I need to do during the coming day. And there are those moments when I'm not paying 100% attention to a conversation partner because I'm stewing over some trifling error I made earlier in the day. But (for those readers who'd remember Alfred E Newman), "What, ME worry?"
The counselor was right, of course. And he was also right in suggesting that there are some up-sides to the "problem" (for example, I pay attention to details). On the other hand, such an attitude can lead to a very bleak outlook on life, a habit of living out of scarcity (i.e., "I've never done enough!"). Or, as a friend put it, "Perfection is the enemy of the good" (alluding, to a sentiment attributed to Voltaire).
We're at that time of year when we are bombarded with lists of the "fill-in-the-blank" stories/photos/movies/shows of the year past. In all of those lists I've seen, I've never seen the "Ten Most Empowering Stories of 2011", or the "Ten Most Inspiring Stories" or so on. (And if YOU have, please send them to me!) Even the lists of the "bests" often have to put in a little negative bit: "This movie was SO great, but it would have been better if actor so-an-so was less smarmy."
We're also at the time of year when many folks make New Year's Resolutions -- usually along the lines of making up for some deficiency or error in their days past. "I'm going to study more diligently" (implication: "I was lazy last year"). "I'm going to lose weight" (implication, "I overate last year"). "I'm going to drive more carefully" (implication: "Five speeding tickets last year was too many!"). And so on. My "overdeveloped sense of responsibility" points me straight towards those kinds of resolutions!
So when my cousin Patty posted the photo/poster above to her Facebook page earlier this week, I had to comment that "This is fabulous!" What a paradigm shift! It is along the lines of listing all those things for which I'm grateful -- a very helpful practice for anyone, any time. Hmmm. What WERE the strong, fabulous, enriching things in my life from 2011? How can I take them to the next level in 2012? Or, of course, in a more minor way, when I next wake up in the middle of the night, what WERE the great things about the day that was past?
A different kind of resolution.
Happy New Year!
Friday, December 23, 2011
Likewise, earlier this week, Jews around the world began celebrating Hanukah, the Festival of Lights -- a centuries-old observance of another miracle. During the Maccabean revolt against their Roman overlords, one day's worth of lamp-oil miraculously kept the Jerusalem temple lamp lit for eight days.
And, in a few days, as they have for centuries, Christians will celebrate Christmas, miraculous in at least a couple of ways, Christians believe: (1) God assumed human form, as well as, (2) a virgin conceived and bore a son.
Miracles rewrite the dominant stories. Clearly, steadily decreasing light grows dimmer and dimmer until it is gone. One day's worth of oil lasts one day. Virgins don't conceive. These were the stories that held sway . . . until something perceived as miraculous occurred.
This line of thinking wormed its way into my head earlier this week as I read somewhere that we are at a time between stories. The subject of the piece had to do with the seeming decline of the preeminence of the "story" of scientific materialism in the face of new discoveries. From biology to physics to neuroscience, the material "facts" are being challenged by non-physical realities of the mind and heart. The "old" story is not final, it would seem. And so, I would argue, that is ever the case.
There are major dominant stories aplenty in our world. Shifting them MAY take a miracle. But not every story requires a major miracle to change it; scientific discovery, poetic inspiration, or even a walk in the snowy woods, equally may bring about a new plot line. Sometimes simply asking a question will bring about something new, something amazing, something . . . miraculous.
Every so often I find myself mindlessly living in an out-dated story of my life. Those are the times I know it's time to find a miracle-worker: a friend, family-member or counselor. Someone I can trust to ask just the right question that will serve to alter the course of the plot and create a new chapter.
Students, lawyers, employees, lovers, parents, scientists, managers, politicians, athletes, clergy, doctors, mechanics, accountants -- THIS is the season of miracles. A time calling for new stories to be written and lived. May we be inspired to "take up the pen"!
Monday, December 19, 2011
When I was growing up, one of our neighborhood traditions was the annual caroling extravaganza. Members of our family (immediate, and perhaps augmented by a cousin or two) would leave the house for our next door neighbors. We would sing a carol or two, collect those neighbors, move the next house and repeat. On and on, around the neighborhood. By the end of the evening, we would have grown from four or five to several dozen. And we would return to our house for cookies (my mother would have been baking like mad for weeks!) and wassail.
I must admit, I can't remember hearing carolers outside my house since I left home. On the other hand, I can attest to the magic of caroling -- or simply of singing together. It might be magical because many of us do it so rarely. Think! When do we sing together in large groups? It may occur in worship settings for some (but not all) religious traditions. For many folks, it only happens at sporting events IF folks actually sing the national anthem or the team's fight song (or "Take Me Out To The Ballgame" at baseball games).
Sociologist Robert Putnam wrote, several years ago now, in his book Bowling Alone, of the phenomenon of a decreasing participation in league bowling (another fond memory of my childhood!). He used that as an example of our increasing disconnectedness from one another in our society -- not only from our neighbors, but also from our democratic structures. I don't intend to draw the same conclusions from the absence of carolers outside my home; there can be MANY reasons for that.
I have seen, however, over the last couple of day at the University of Denver, the joy of folks gathering together to sing songs of the season. Whether it was "I Have A Little Dreydl" or "Silent Night" or "Jingle Bells", the smiles and sense of camaraderie were extraordinary. No-one was asking about political or religious differences; we were bound by something simple, something joyful: singing together.
Caroling alone? I hope not. Find someone to sing with over the next few weeks. It doesn't make ANY difference whether you're good at it. [I was at an staff function earlier this week where we WERE bowling! Few of us were any good--boy, have I forgotten a lot!--but we had a great time!] Recapture the joy of song. And if you need a reason, just say "I think it will do us all some good!"
Friday, December 9, 2011
Friday, December 2, 2011
What IS it about knowing the future? If it is "fixed", then knowing about it wouldn't change anything anyway! Any changes we might make in our life or habits would simply be a factor in what would happen anyway; it wouldn't change! If the future is fixed, we can't run from it; it will be what it will be. If the future isn't fixed, then how can one know it? [The "Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come" in Dickens' A Christmas Carol is a different critter -- a ghost of a possible Christmas to come -- as Scrooge CAN, and does, make a change that affects that future.] Indeed, knowing the future may even have bizarre effects on our behavior: "Well, the world's going to end, regardless of what I do, in 2012, just like the Mayans said! So I can behave any old way I want! What's the point in saving money, or saving the whales?"
So I've never been one who has been that interested in the future. When will the world end? I don't know, and I probably can't do a lot to accelerate or delay it anyway. I think it's much more important, and within my grasp, to attempt to forge, to create, a future that is worth inhabiting. Gandhi, in his development of his theory of satyagraha, or "truth-force", in the context of an argument over whether or not the end justifies the means, wrote of the inseparability of means and ends: "They say, 'means are, after all means'. I would say, 'means are, after all, everything'. As the means so the end . . . There is no wall of separation between the means and the end. Indeed, the Creator has given us control (and that, too, very limited) over means, none over the end."*
I would hope that the "end", the future I would hope to see, is the product of the means I employ to reach it. Right means -- that's enough to worry about! Is the end near? "So what . . . now?" seems the primary and appropriate question.
*R. K. Prabhu & U. R. Rao, editors; from section “The Gospel Of Sarvodaya, of the book The Mind of Mahatma Gandhi, Ahemadabad, India, Revised Edition, 1967.
Friday, November 18, 2011
When I first started going, my main role was to fill orders from the clients in the pantry. I would be given a shopping list and I would fill it -- given the available items and my creativity ("Hmm, would they rather have spaghetti noodles or macaroni as 'pasta'?"). In mid-October, however, Metro CareRing went to a "client choice" set-up. Now my role is as a "personal shopper;" I accompany the clients through the pantry, helping them negotiate the aisles, letting them know how many of certain items they may take, picking up heavy items, and so on. The difference between this latter system and the former is amazing. I actually get to interact with the clients, and they with me.
Today was my monthly opportunity to be a "personal shopper." As I anticipated, many of the clients were looking forward to Thanksgiving. And they were all overjoyed to receive a turkey in addition to everything else. I don't think I've ever heard the words "Thanks" or "Thank you so much" that many times in a few hours. And I heard it not only from the clients, but from the staff -- both TO the clients, and to each other and the volunteers.
There was no sense of entitlement anywhere apparent. All that was clear was gratitude. Smiles and laughter were abundant. The sense that "all is a gift" overwhelmed me.
I began wondering, even before my time at Metro CareRing today, whether the "Thanks" on Thanksgiving are due only to God (and the cooks), or whether we might take the day a bit further. Last week my office gave folks crossing the "Bridge" at DU the opportunity to write a Thank-You to ANYONE, and we'd deliver it. Cards went to faculty and family, staff-members and sorority-sisters. The avenues of grace are all around!
So, next Thursday, somewhere between the hors d'oeuvres, the football games, the pumpkin pie (and inevitable subsequent naps), in addition to the thanks we render to the Giver of all gifts, maybe we can make some time to say "thanks" to the people who surround us, near and far, and who give us the everyday gifts that bring smiles and laughter to our lives. That word can be a gift that never spoils or wears out.
Friday, November 11, 2011
I remembered this last Sunday when I hear the Most Rev. Katherine Jefferts-Shori (the head of the Episcopal Church in the United States) answer questions after presiding at the morning worship at St. John's Cathedral. In her answer to one question, she made a comment something to the effect of "don't confuse the gift with the package." The context (if I recall) had to do with traditional religious expressions in a contemporary context. The general point was that God has given the world multiple gifts. We end up putting them in boxes. And, voila, the gift and the box become, for all intents and purposes, one and the same.
A similar phenomenon was characterized by Max Weber in his classic studies of the sociology of religion as the "routinization of charisma". A leader/reformer arises whose (usually anti-traditional) message, as well as his/her passionate, effective presentation of that message, attracts a LOT of attention and followers. When the leader dies (or even during his/her lifetime), the initial momentum invariably wanes, and a structure is created to keep the movement viable. Over the course of time, the initial message becomes a bit lost in the doctrines and practices that arise with the structure. In short, the "charisma" becomes "routinized"; the extraordinary becomes ordinary, routine, perhaps mundane. It indeed may happen that the evolved structure becomes almost antithetical to the original, captivating, vision of the founder.
Weber argues that this process is practically inevitable. Just as is our tendency to confuse the contents of the box with the box itself. Reformers of all stripes realize this, agitate for change . . . and the process begins again!
I took Bishop Katherine's challenge to us to be: "Look closely at your sets of fondly-held beliefs." Do we hold more tightly to the gift or the box? Can we distinguish between the two? Even if we hold tightly to the container, is it the ONLY container that can hold the contents? Or might new containers -- larger, or smaller, or differently shaped -- cradle the gift equally well?
And I thought, "You can't trust the box!"
Friday, November 4, 2011
A student recently recounted to me an interaction she'd had with a fellow student in her Latin class. She noticed that he was wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with the name of the heavy-metal band "Bullets For My Valentine". She remarked to the young man that she liked the group's music. His response: "Wow, you don't fit the stereotype" (i.e., of the people who like their music). The implication, of course, that one has to "look a certain way" to appreciate various kinds of music. (Let's not even get into the issue of heavy-metal devotees taking Latin!)
It was a coincidence, to be sure, that, yesterday, as I was driving to a conference I'm attending, that the drive-time morning show folks were talking about stereotypes that were "problematic". They had callers phone in who didn't fit (let alone appreciate) certain stereotypes associated with their professions. Those who called in included: a petite, well-dressed, female long-haul truck driver; a CPA with a sense of humor; a nurse who didn't wear high heels or show her cleavage. Whether or not any of us accept these as stereotypes, the callers certainly had experienced them that way - - and didn't like them!
And it was certainly another coincidence that, at my conference, I found myself paired with a woman who works for large agency within the federal government who, herself, didn't think she could ever be a "government worker" because they were all like . . . . "that" (fill in the "that" with YOUR stereotype of government workers). She found, to her amazement, that she was an in "an amazing work environment" with people who were incredibly dedicated to making a difference. In the course of her and my conversations, MY stereotypes of "government workers" (probably mirroring her initial suspicions) were destroyed.
The key to the change, of course, was personal experience and conversation. In our case, over the last few days, those of us at the conference have been given the opportunity to be pretty open with each other (and the rest of the conference attendees). We've had the chance to talk about our strengths and fears, successes and failures. In short, to "overturn our own pots", leaving nothing back. The outcome and effect, of course, was deeper understanding and acceptance. Those things that might have artificially divided us -- and stereotypes, in my mind, are artificial constructs that divide us -- were obliterated.
We all want to be understood. Our world demands that we strive to understand one another (almost all media messages to the contrary). Yet we acquiesce to stereotypes; we perpetuate them. So it's an incredibly generous gift to another person to engage them, to walk together past the stereotypes, to find understanding.
Overturning our pot is the necessity of our time. In doing so, we might find that we can complement each other to make our world better.
Hold nothing back!
*The "Jataka tales" are accounts and stories of the prior incarnations of Siddartha Gautama, the Buddha. They are part of the sacred Buddhist scriptures.
Friday, October 28, 2011
"It is better if you jump together," Katie said. So Kelly and I jumped together, our bodies slowly adjusting to each other's weight. Then Katie joined us. We had only a few more minutes left, so Kelly, Katie, and I threw our bodies in the air and we fell into an unspoken rhythm, each of us using our weight to throw the other one up a little higher than we could ever go simply on our own.**
I was struck by the image and had to put the book down for a few minutes to let it soak in. What an amazing metaphor for cooperation and encouragement.
I think what struck me so much is how little we hear about encouragement (maybe that's just my perception). Certainly I hear it among members of athletic teams; they recognize that their own individual and team success depends on the success of all on the team. But when I considered this in a broader context, I couldn't come up with a lot of other examples. Indeed, the counter-examples are pretty apparent, from political debates to international relations to some inter-family relations. The scarcity model reigns: "If YOU succeed, then, in all likelihood, you'll have gotten the laurels, and there are none for me. So why encourage YOU?"
What Katie realized, and what Mooney and Kelly learned, was that despite their differences in abilities, weight, trampoline experience, whatever, if they used what they individually brought TO that trampoline to serve the others, they could all achieve more. The language Mooney used suggests that there was no agenda on any of their parts, only to jump together on the trampoline. And then they "fell into an unspoken rhythm" that produced the elevated results.
* New York: Holt Paperbacks, 2007.
** p. 200.
Friday, October 21, 2011
And, immediately, as I realized what I was doing, I recalled an article I had read just a day or so earlier. The article came to my via the social network site "LinkedIn" -- a medium for professionals to make connections -- a very work-oriented social network. And the article itself came from the magazine "Fast Company", described on their website:
Fast Company is the world's leading progressive business media brand, with a unique editorial focus on innovation in technology, ethonomics (ethical economics), leadership, and design. Written for, by, and about the most progressive business leaders, Fast Company and FastCompany.com inspire readers and users to think beyond traditional boundaries, lead conversations and create the future of business.
The article's title? "What Happened to Downtime? The Extinction of Deep Thinking and Sacred Space".
In it, the author (listed as "The 99 Percent") begins by stating that "interruption-free space is sacred. Yet in the digital era we live in, we are losing hold of the few sacred spaces that remain untouched by email, the Internet, people, and other forms of distraction." The author goes on to argue that this loss of "sacred space" is partly due to our fear of what that space affords: "To escape this chasm of self-doubt and unanswered questions, you tune into all of the activity and data for reassurance." So, in the midst of beautiful music (following on the train of thought in the article), I feared being unproductive and turned to that security blanket: my Android smartphone!
The article also suggests, however, that in moments of un-connectedness (such as in the shower), we often have those "ah-ha" moments. We are not "fully engaged in a creative activity" and another form of creativity is able to break through. A walk through the fall leaves? Sitting quietly in a church/temple/mosque? Listening to beautiful music (without an accompanying video)? Space for inspiration?
I remember that I hesitated getting my first cell phone because I didn't want to be constantly available. Things changed, and it became a necessary accompaniment to my life (mostly work-related). And then the worm turned, and that phone began to control me, to demand that I attend to it--even when no one was calling or texting me. And empty time became busy time.
A break from busy time? Have we turned time into such a precious commodity that it has to be used judiciously, efficiently, intentionally, constantly? Might occasionally "wasting" time be its best use? Ironically it was "Fast Company" that encouraged me to consider slowing down.
Tempus fugit. So what!?
Friday, October 14, 2011
A "Pale", according to Wiktionary, is "a jurisdiction under a given authority; often held by one nation in another country, hence suggesting that anything outside their control was uncivilised. It was in use by the mid-17th century. The phrase may be a reference to the general sense of boundary, but is often understood to refer to the English Pale in Ireland. In the nominally English territory of Ireland, only the pale fell genuinely under the authority of English law, hence the terms 'within the Pale' and 'beyond the pale'."** Colloquially, we often hear about certain kinds of behavior that they're "beyond the pale", that is, that they may be unacceptable in polite society.
The problem with pales is that they are designed by people in (supposed) power/authority to define who's "in" and who's "out". Given the administrative nature of their origins, that's understandable. The colloquial use, however, reveals something else: our need to define ourselves over against something, or someone, else . . . . and to preserve our privilege. "Protection" may be nothing more than protection against unwelcome opinions or ideas. In other words, those folks "over there" disagree with us; they MUST be "outside the pale" . . . and therefore we can dismiss them, OR fight them.
Well, it seems to me that, in the colloquial sense, the pales keep shrinking. Nations/states define their borders to define who is "in" or "out". The USA has certainly done that -- and, in recent years, hardened those definitions with walls in the south and requirements-for-passports in the north. We have done a lot to create smaller and smaller pales within these borders. We define them by color, by religion, by language. "You're either in, or you're beyond the pale!" And we have seen in the very recent months and years, the "pale" defined by ideology, or sectarian differences with religion. The comments about Mormonism by Baptist pastor Robert Jeffress is a case in point (in my opinion). Calling something a "cult" is an easy way in our culture to dismiss it, imply it's wrong (as everyone should know) -- in other words, cast it and its adherents "beyond the pale."
Mr. Jeffress is not certainly alone in this, and it is not just a contemporary problem. I was in college at a time when LOTS of religious groups that the mainstream didn't understand were labeled "cults". And, now, we see it happening from both the right and the left -- the religious, as well as political, right and left. And it is true within many different religious traditions; I can certainly think of examples in Christianity, Judaism and Isalm. Cast someone outside of the pale, and they don't have to be heard from. And, of course, we don't have to listen, because we are RIGHT!
Well, I disagree! And I ask that others join me in raging against the shrinking of the pale.
For the sake OF the pale-of whatever size, we need to engage all those within it in constructive, respectful, conversation. And, then, expand the conversation, include more voices, increase our capacity for compassion, and enlarge the pale.
*With apologies to Dylan Thomas, and his poem "Do not go gentle into that dark night"!
**It also refers to a portion of Imperial Russia where Jews were allowed to live -- but, outside of which, they couldn't live permanently.
Friday, October 7, 2011
That sense of forward-looking seems to characterize much of the commentaries and tributes that have filled the airwaves since the death of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs. The stories -- both those that have found their way to the mainstream media (and blog sites) as well as the little anecdotes I read in Facebook updates -- focus on how Jobs kept looking for ways to innovate . . . and to delight. The concern for the future of Apple without its visionary leader has certainly been raised. Analysts, however, seem to think that a culture of looking to the future has become so ingrained in the company that folks need not worry.
I was captivated by the stories told me by that member of the faculty, as well as by those about Steve Jobs. Captivated because there is something hopeful in them. So different than most of the news, or stories, we hear almost all of the rest of the time. Hearing stories about "the best" or "peak experiences" energizes most of us. Yet we are surrounded by stories about what's deficient, or needs fixing.
I did not ask my coffee-partner about what needed to be corrected at DU; I asked him about the university at its best. And we both went away up-beat and hopeful (at least I certainly did). And while the death of Steve Jobs has hit many around the world hard, his legacy -- the way he lived his life, and died his death, as well as his spirit of innovation -- gives hope. I didn't have to ask about them; they just seemed to roll out of their own accord.
I am reminded that Moses, as he looked into the Promised Land, knowing that he was not to enter it, charged the Israelites to look forward, to be faithful to the covenant that they had established with the God they believed had delivered them. He warned them against turning astray; things would not go well if they did. He summed it all up by saying: "Choose life so that you and your descendants may live . . . " (Deuteronomy 30.19). The faculty person with whom I shared coffee could not see all of DU's future, but based on decades of experience, he believed it was bright. Steve Jobs had known for years that he had cancer; it did not deter him from building on the best experiences Apple had known and looking ahead.
And so I wonder, what might we learn if we spent more time asking people to tell stories about their best experiences? There are different threads, and different trajectories, found in stories that focus on the best. I think that's one of the reasons we like inspirational, positive, movies . . . and why we're so tired of the current negative discourse that fills our airwaves. What is suggested by the "problematic" keeps us mired in the past, a past about which we can do nothing. What is suggested to us, however, by the "best" can lead us to a hopeful future.
So, share stories about your BEST experiences about . . . Share stories about when you were MOST FULLY engaged in . . . Dream about a future based on the best. And then act into that reality
Friday, September 30, 2011
Adams reported that he would often walk down a street or sidewalk, simply observing his surroundings. If something struck him as photo-worthy, he'd snap it (the photo above was the product of that kind of meandering in Colorado Springs). He wasn't looking for anything in particular, perhaps only contrasts or lighting anomalies. He may only have taken a couple of dozen photos a day.* Yet amazing photos resulted.
What is counted as "redemption" will differ from person to person (and I'm not just speaking in "religious" terms, although the statement is probably true in that regard as well). The idea that one might find it "nowhere in particular" made me wonder, however, how much I might miss that is "redemptive" simply because I didn't imagine it could be there. With a different set of eyes, what might I see?
I was, of course, listening to this interview while bike-commuting, and I looked down at the very cracked (and repaired) road surface. What was redemptive there? And the cracks spoke to me of the power of that natural world to undo a lot of what we make. As we know, without the constant work of road crews, our streets would quickly become pitted, pot-holed, and barely passable. Nature strikes back -- redeeming work. Hopeful, in some respects! I'd never thought I'd find redemption in the bumpy surface of Iliff Avenue.
Maybe it's not just "finding redemption in nowhere in particular" but, with eyes-and intention-to see, finding it, potentially, everywhere. That would be looking through the eyes of blessing rather than cursing. Of salvation rather than damnation. Of hope rather than despair. Imagine what might change if we could train ourselves to do that.
* This is in stark contrast to National Geographic photographer Dewitt Jones, who would snap hundreds of photos, trying to be at the right place at the right time-like dawn or dusk-trusting that one out of those myriad snaps would be great.
Friday, September 23, 2011
Friday, September 16, 2011
Friday, September 9, 2011
Sunday, September 4, 2011
Friday, August 19, 2011
Friday, August 5, 2011
Thursday, July 21, 2011
Friday, July 8, 2011
Friday, June 24, 2011
For those of you who live in a slightly less "snow-threatened" area, your Bike-to-Work day was last month -- sometime in May. Colorado has moved it to a more weather-predictable day; this year it was last Wednesday, June 22. For those of us who are pretty regular bike-commuters, it was easy to tell that something different was going on. There were certainly MANY more cyclists on the road during both the morning and evening commute. And I was asked a bike-route question at a reception that afternoon by someone who didn't find an easy way to cross a freeway. And, gosh, it'd be great if there were breakfast stations EVERY day!
A friend in my spin-class often talks about bike-commuting. When I saw him in the gym on Tuesday, he asked where the breakfast stations were situated. He was planning on trying it out (he only lives about a mile from his office). So, when I saw him on Wednesday, I asked if he DID bike commute. "No," he replied. He hadn't made the right preparations in logistical thinking the evening before and fell back on the normal mode of transport: car. Lesson one: change in patterns isn't easy!
While on my commute that morning, I was headed down a slight hill. Coming up the other side of the road was a young woman, walking her bike. Apparently she was someone who had decided to take the "bike-to-work" plunge and found that the "hill" that isn't noticeable in a car can be a bit of a lung-burner on bike. Lesson two: a change in perspective brings new appreciation for one's environment. I don't like that "hill" either, but I have learned that it gets easier with practice. I wanted to shout encouragement, but traffic prevented it. Regardless, I mentally applauded her for getting out of her car and attempting the ride (she WOULD have a downhill commute on the way home!). Lesson three: every journey begins with a single step (pardon the cliché).
One of the rationales behind Bike-to-Work day is to encourage people to try something new -- a different way of commuting. It is, in a way, a call to repentance, a call to make a change. For some the draw may be to pollute less; for others it may be to get more exercise. For most of us, making the decision to follow a different path was not easy; there are all sorts of "good reasons" why we can't make changes. On the other hand, when the lure is attractive enough, the benefits of making a change can certainly be worth the effort.
I often ask myself "where am I being challenged to change?" There are always many more answers/challenges than I have energy to address. And maintaining inertia is my usual response. So the lessons of this week's Bike-to-Work challenge are good reminders.
I hope the young woman I saw at the corner of Dahlia and Hampden keeps it up! She certainly inspired me to work through the difficulties of making a change. Best wishes to others in the same situation!
* With apologies, and homage, to Shunryu Suzuki's Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind (1970).
Sunday, June 12, 2011
In her brilliant (in my opinion) book, Purity and Danger, anthropologist Mary Douglas discusses "dirt". In different contexts, dirt means different things. In the garden, it's "soil" and it's good! On the white carpet, it's "dirt" and it's bad! Bodily fluids within the body, good! Bodily fluids coming out of the body, bad! Same stuff, different contexts. "Dirt," Douglas argues, "is simply matter out of place," and different cultures and religions calculate the "matter" and the "place" differently.
So do individuals (again in my opinion). I tend to see folks in one of two ways with regard to dirt: "clutter" people and "grime" people. I used to ask students who wanted to live in a residence I once managed how they would clean a kitchen. Some wanted bleach and scrub brushes; others were satisfied with a counter-brush and broom. The former were "grime" people; the latter "clutter". Having both on the same floor was, in my opinion, a good idea.
I don't want to place these folks in any hierarchical ranking. I freely confess that I'm a "clutter person"; my wife (thankfully) is a "grime person". When we set out to clean the kitchen, we know our specialties. There's no right or wrong (well, there isn't when we're in good moods, and not hurried!); there's simply a difference of perspective.
I've been thinking about this this week as I've been cleaning my office. Due to some construction elsewhere in the building, my furniture has been moved around quite a bit, and I've taken advantage of the upheaval to re-arrange my office. But what that means is that things I'd kept out-of-sight are now visible. And that means the whole office (finally) has to be straightened up. And, even though I'm a "clutter", the increase of debris and detritus over the last several years has NOT been dealt with adequately. Now's the time.
The end result will be wonderful, I'm sure! The process of de-cluttering is therapeutic . . . but, I'm finding, also very taxing. I'm realizing that, while I'm a "clutter person", I'm also a bit of a pack-rat; I'll save things "just in case". Talk about two contradictory personality traits! But the clutter has to go! And I find myself asking the question, "Why do/did I save THIS?" or "Do I need multiple copies of this brochure?"
Karen Kingston, in her book Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui** (yes, I'll go to almost any end to deal with clutter!), suggests that there are several reasons for why people keep clutter. Most of them have some sort of spiritual counterpart; I'll leave you to figure out which apply to you (IF you're a clutter collector like me):
- Keeping things "just in case" - indicates a lack of trust in the future (37)
- Identity - the things help us feel secure in who we are, while also leading to the trap of being locked in the past (39)
- Status - bolsters a low self-esteem (40)
- Security - despite advertising, one will never have enough stuff to feel secure (41)
- Territorialism - the ego striving to acquire and control things (42)
- Inherited clutteritis - learned patterns from our parents (43)
- A belief that more is better - how many kitchen knives DO we need? (44)
- "Scroogeness" - have I gotten my money's worth? (45)
- Using clutter to suppress emotions - filling empty space with stuff to avoid emptiness (45)
*Subtitled: An Analysis of Concepts of Pollution and Taboo (first published in 1966, and revised, re-issued several times).
**New York: Broadway Books, 1999