About what matters

Writing about what really matters

Category: In the home

Always buy yourself a birthday present

Billie full size

This is, to my mind, a small but important secret to a happy life. You should get yourself a Christmas present too–or one for any and every holiday you believe should be accompanied by a gift you really like.

This way, no matter how many boring gift certificates you get, or flowers that are already wilting, or chocolate that’s bloomed, or clothing in a size from 10 years ago or a size you have never yet worn, you can smile pleasantly and think of the really satisfactory present you’ve already gotten. From you.

This was mine this year–posted per Hannah’s request to see the frame. (You can also see that the world did not lose a great photographer when I decided to write.) I was in San Jose on business around my birthday, and after dinner I wandered into the Bruni Gallery. This print of a Billie Holliday portrait–after a famous photograph–spoke to me. For awhile anyway, despite a difficult and painful life, she raised her voice and used it to call attention to injustice (which seems a weak word for lynching), singing the haunting “Strange Fruit” to cap every Café Society performance.

I see her doing just that every time I walk in my front door–a reminder to raise my voice in service of justice, and everything else that’s truly important.

Billie frame closeup

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Forty-eight things I’ve learned along the way

Leo cropped

Nora Ephron famously felt bad about her neck (though hopefully she no longer does). I do not, despite having the sort of neck not found on any swan, the sort of neck not flattered by a flaw-concealing turtleneck.

In those moments when I could be feeling bad about my neck, I instead choose to feel good about the head sitting on top of it–specifically the many contents that were missing in the days when the neck beneath was flawless.

In honor of my birthday, a list of 48 random things I’ve learned thus far. (Links are mostly to previous blog posts.)

  1. How to choose my battles. It’s amazing when I think about it now, how many (unimportant) things I was once willing to pitch battle for.
  2. Being able to recognize my ego’s involvement has really made all the difference. At least 99% of the time, that’s what the battle was really about.
  3. Compassion is a great thing to have on hand when your own or someone else’s ego flares up.
  4. Kindness is also pretty important. Even when you need to draw a boundary firmly, it’s generally possible to do it with kindness.
  5. How to forgive continually.
  6. And how to release bitterness–also key.
  7. I used to think being smart was a lot more important than it really is. It’s nice, sure, but far from the most important thing.
  8. Love–that would be the most important thing.
  9. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear …” (I John 4:18, KJV). When fear comes up in one of its many guises, love is the antidote.
  10. Learning to meditatelife-changing for sure.
  11. I learned I was an artist–and I bet you are too. I’d love to see everyone find a really good way to access their right brains.
  12. I grew up laboring in a huge organic vegetable garden, but only as an adult did I discover the joy of working hand-in-hand with Mother Nature to unleash plants’ amazing desire to grow and thrive.
  13. I still remember reading the magazine article that taught me to recognize a narcissist. Based on my early experience, I was choosing narcissists as friends. (Word to the wise: they don’t make very good ones.) I’ve finally learned to stop doing that. Woohoo!
  14. I’ve also learned to allow others to be exactly who they are. If people in my life are behaving badly, I generally do say a few words about it–and leave it at that. People have to change, if that’s what they’re going to do, at their own pace. I hope that if they’re not ready to hear now, they will be later.
  15. But just because I must allow people to be exactly who they are doesn’t mean I have to allow everyone into my inner circle, regardless of their behavior.
  16. Much if not most of what I was taught as a child simply isn’t true.
  17. It’s OK to be uncertain. Embracing a model that offers a complete set of answers about how the world works is certainly tempting, but it’s also a pretty good way to be wrong.
  18. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter a great deal what people believe, if anything. What really matters is how we treat others. Living a good life isn’t dependent on a particular worldview.
  19. Therefore, beliefs are generally not worth fighting for–but a value might be. Justice is worth fighting for.
  20. Karma is real–a universal law to which there are no exceptions.
  21. At the same time, if you’re a graduate student in the school of life, expectations are higher for you than for someone at the elementary-school level–and that’s fair.
  22. I no longer believe you only live once. I find this comforting, because it means there’s no need to try to accomplish everything, see everything, do everything, in this one lifetime. Accordingly, I don’t have a bucket list–or if I do, it’s a short one.
  23. It’s OK to relax. In fact, it’s a really good idea.
  24. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with being an introvert. Oh, I am an introvert. (I was quite sure for awhile that I was right and Myers-Briggs was all wrong.)
  25. Models are really helpful, but there’s still a lot they don’t reveal.
  26. Life is not a competition.
  27. Cooperation is really enjoyable.
  28. Sarcasm is best in small doses, and is probably not one of the world’s great art forms.
  29. Participation in social media is not a measure of the validity of my life. And Facebook friends are not the same as real friends.
  30. Complaining isn’t a tool for making anything better, though feedback might be.
  31. Having companion animals is totally worth the trouble and mess. And just think of all the money I’ve saved by eliminating carpet and rugs from my life!
  32. An old house is worth the trouble too. But it’s best to have an excellent plumber, electrician, carpenter, and painter on speed dial.
  33. I am the very best person, bar none, to define what my life should look like.
  34. A good, hot bath can cure what ails you.
  35. A good cup of hot tea (my favorite: acai green tea) is also a pretty good idea. I leave my desk for at least one cup of tea every day I work.
  36. Whether or not you should listen to your mother depends entirely on what your mother has to say.
  37. The leaders of my country may or may not be wise. If they are not, I should notice and take an active role in electing those who are.
  38. Self-help is ultimately the only help there is.
  39. But we could all use a hand up.
  40. No one asked me to judge.
  41. The less I judge, the happier I am.
  42. This is what a feminist looks like.
  43. I should decide what is and isn’t BS on the basis of how well it works, not what other people say about it or what it looks like on the surface.
  44. But when in doubt, follow your gut.
  45. It’s a good idea not to abdicate control, but it’s a mistake to think that every aspect of my life can and should be within my complete control. Forces of nature came by their name honestly.
  46. I am responsible for making the world a better place–and so are you.
  47. I’m not perfect, and neither is anyone I know. Discovering anyone’s imperfection should not be surprising. We’re all human.
  48. The best is yet to come.

What have you learned along the way?

This post is illustrated with my SoulCollage® card Personal power + Leo.

SoulCollage cards are for personal use, and are not for sale, barter, or trade.

Six reasons to meditate

Meditation

Every so often, I’ll be listening to a recitation of problems and I’ll say, “You know, I think meditation could really help with that.” And then I’ll get a list of reasons why the person I’m talking to can’t possibly meditate. (These are all real reasons.)

  • Their dog has dementia and wants to go outside every five minutes. (A five-minute meditation practice is perfectly valid.)
  • The apartment’s too noisy–someone’s car alarm is always going off. (It’s completely possible to meditate no matter the background noise–leaf blowers, fireworks, a thunderstorm. I do try to choose a quieter time if I can. No doubt every apartment complex, dorm, or other communal living space has its quieter times.)
  • Physical issues make sitting in the ‘proper’ position too painful. (My view is that the proper position is the one that allows you to meditate comfortably for the amount of time that yields the benefit you’re looking for. Insight meditation also recommends being comfortable. I once attended a day-long meditation retreat, and found that the grouchy monk running the retreat and I had different views on this. As I made myself comfortable, he shot me looks, and finally explained how wrong it was to do so–that if a fly, for example, lands on your nose while you’re meditating, you should simply allow it to sit there for as long as it likes. I was very comfortable with never returning to that meditation center. I believe a real spiritual leader won’t judge you, and neither should you judge yourself, if you decide that being comfortable while you meditate is right for you.)
  • They’ve tried it, but clearly have no talent for meditation, as they just can’t stop thinking no matter how hard they try. (There are a lucky few who have a natural talent for meditation–the rest of us get to get good at it the hard way, which starts off in exactly this way. As someone to whom a few things have come easily, I think it’s a salutary experience to keep working at something worthwhile despite no immediate signs of genius. I have read–and I believe this–that meditating with your mind running 100 miles an hour is still practice.)

So there are the excuses. If you haven’t yet committed to a meditation practice, here are a few reasons to meditate based on my own experience, that I hope will speak to you.

  1. Meditation is great for releasing what’s bothering you. When I’m feeling upset, I often try to make time to meditate ahead of schedule (typically after breakfast and before my shower in the morning, and before bed at night). Inevitably anything I’m upset or excited about will cross my mind as I meditate. When it does, I visualize packing several symbols of whatever it is into a helium balloon, and cutting the string.
  2. Meditation is also great practice for releasing judgment of yourself and the need to be perfect. It soon becomes apparent that thoughts enter your mind, that’s what they do, and it’s OK. Perfection, whatever that might be, isn’t possible, but awareness and recognition of what’s happening is. You simply recognize the thoughts, release them, and move on–nothing else is necessary. This works in real life, too–you notice something has gone off the rails a bit, take corrective action, and just keep moving.
  3. Once you’ve meditated for awhile, not only does ‘monkey mind’ rarely happen during meditation, but my experience has been that it fades considerably all the rest of the time too. I used to actually try to drum up thoughts in quiet moments, asking myself, ‘OK, what’s next?’ I don’t do that anymore, and there are nice quiet spaces in my mind pretty much all the time. Peace, in other words. Calm. Serenity.
  4. I find that meditating before bed generally puts me in the perfect frame of mind for sleep. Good sleep is pretty much impossible to overvalue.
  5. When I meditate, I’ve found that I’m much more patient and tolerant. It’s not unusual now for people to thank me for my patience. I’m not sure that happened even once in all the years I didn’t meditate.
  6. Studies have shown that violent crime decreases in the surrounding area when people meditate regularly. I love that a practice intended to benefit me and my own life, in combination with the practice of others I both know and don’t know, raises the vibration of our neighborhoods and cities such that harmful violence is prevented, and lives that could have been painfully disrupted or even ended, never are. Together, we can bring that about.

If you meditate, what benefits have you experienced?

This post is illustrated with the SoulCollage card I made today, Meditation.

SoulCollage® cards are for personal use, and are not for sale, barter, or trade.

Have you made an Earth Day resolution?

Earth Day OK, maybe they’re not quite as famous as the resolutions made at New Year’s–it’s even possible they’re something I completely made up–but nonetheless, I think Earth Day resolutions are much more useful. Think of it as a Mother’s Day card for Mother Earth, who’s done so much for you. This year, my Earth Day resolution is to choose my next car for its eco-friendliness rather than its personality. My current car is a sub-compact, but I could still get double the mileage from a Toyota Prius. One of my prior Earth Day resolutions was to lower my highway cruise control speed. I’ve considered doing this again, but I’m a bit afraid of getting run over! Getting a significantly more efficient car will be much more effective. Perhaps you already have something you know you should do in the back of your mind, but here are 10 Earth Day resolution ideas to get you started …

  1. Resolve that each time you buy something, you’ll choose carefully (no “starter” items, temporary solutions, or stop-gap measures), maintain it, and use it till it wears out.
  2. Resolve to eliminate disposables from your life whenever possible. Use rags instead of paper towels. Instead of using Styrofoam, plastic, or paper at work, keep a mug, glass, plate, fork, and spoon (or whatever you need) at your desk. I keep a sponge and Mrs. Meyers dishwashing liquid in the kitchen at work.
  3. Resolve to limit your clothing purchases. (I guess this is a gender-related thing–I don’t know any men with overflowing closets.) I buy a maximum of 10 good quality items a year (not including scarves, loungewear, etc.). Shoes go to the cobbler and clothes to the tailor when they need repairs, and I get rid of things only when they can be worn no more. This, it turns out, is more than enough.
  4. Resolve to buy some items vintage or antique rather than new. This works for furniture, art, rugs, china, glassware, and much more. Options range from Thrift Town to Sotheby’s. Quality is likely to be better, and since the item has already lasted for some time, it’s likely to keep right on doing so.
  5. Resolve to support an organization that’s making a difference for the environment (such as the Natural Resources Defense Council) with a donation, or even regular support.
  6. Resolve to recycle everything that can be recycled–not just the items picked up from your curb, but the items you have to make an effort to recycle, like light bulbs and batteries. And not just when a recycling bin is convenient, but when you have to carry the item for awhile to get to one. Resolve that if you acquire or use something, you’ll dispose of it properly.
  7. Resolve to close the recycling loop by buying recycled paper, plastic, or glass products–or all three. I resisted giving up conventional paper products for awhile, but I finally realized that I am plenty pampered enough–I don’t need to blow my nose on the paper equivalent of silk.
  8. Resolve to switch to 100% wind electricity.
  9. Resolve that every new appliance purchase will be energy efficient. (In the US, just look for the Energy Star label.)
  10. Resolve to eliminate conventional cotton, perhaps the dirtiest crop on earth, whenever possible. Buy linen, bamboo, or organic cotton instead. Try bamboo towels, and you’ll never go back to plain cotton. Their silky texture and ability to stay fresh (due to bamboo’s natural anti-bacterial properties) are unmatched. Linen sheets and slipcovers are also lovely.

If you’re making an Earth Day resolution this year, I’d love to hear about it in the comments below! This post is illustrated with my SoulCollage® card We have the wisdom.

SoulCollage cards are for personal use, and are not for sale, barter, or trade.

Creating something new

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This weekend’s dark of the moon–when this month’s unusually powerful New Moon sheds little to no illumination on the night sky–is the perfect time to reiterate your intentions for 2015, to reinforce all that you intend to create but have not yet fully brought forth.

As I do this myself, I’m reminded of the two SoulCollage® cards I made at the New Year to represent what I believed the year would bring. This year, my cards (below) were about mastery and a leap forward in my professional life, and heart expansion in the personal realm.

Thoroughbred     Heart 2

I’m seeing clear and very hopeful indications of both coming to fruition, and this weekend, I’m taking the opportunity to reiterate my intentions in both areas, as well as setting down in my journal new intentions for both, specific to the unfolding that’s going on right now.

It seems to me that right now is an amazing time for the fulfillment of dreams, so I hope you’ll join me in taking some time to bring focus to what you want to bring forth next!

I like to create a specific set of intentions for each goal I want to manifest. For me, being a words person, this is usually a list in my journal–but as you can see, I use my right brain to create visual representations as well. A collage or vision board might feel more natural for you, but no doubt there are many other options too–a video, a voice recording, a painting, etc. You can describe the characteristics of a new job, partner, a new house, or whatever it is you want to manifest, or you can take an alternative approach, such as describing how you would like to feel in a new job, with a new partner, living in a new house, and so on. For example …

  • I want to feel protected in the shelter of my home.
  • I want my hard work to be consistently appreciated and rewarded.
  • I want to feel truly known by my partner, and fully accepted just as I am.

For goals that take some time to bring into being, occasionally it feels right to me to start fresh, restating the goal in today’s fresh language or images or voice. That is what I’m doing today, and I hope you’ll join me! I believe we’re just on the cusp of a wonderful time.

This post is illustrated with my SoulCollage cards Unfolding of consciousness, Thoroughbred racer, and Heart expansion.

SoulCollage cards are for personal use, and are not for sale, barter, or trade.

Making way for the new

Receive

Today I’ve been conscious of the need to clear out the old, all that no longer serves me, to make way for the new.

I was waiting for an important phone call this morning; I’d suggested 11 am, but that hour came and went, and no phone call. My instinct was to clear some clutter in order to create some space.

Recently I scheduled a book exchange and dinner with friends, and I’ve slowly been working through my stack of “maybe these can go” books. (Those that can definitely go are pretty much already gone.) Each of us will bring a dozen books or so, and take home books we’re interested in reading. I plan to donate the unclaimed books to either my neighborhood’s Little Free Library, or a nearby community library.

Our last exchange, of unwanted Christmas presents, was lots of fun. We all offloaded our unwanted stuff (and unwanted presents from family can have some weight to them), and came home with a few things we did want. I’ve also attended a clothing exchange in the past, where I was able to see others appreciate my clothes that seemed too good to just drop in a donation bin, and pick up a couple of things myself, including a t-shirt and new-with-tag pajamas that are still in rotation.

I wanted something faster, though, and I thought of my basket of catalogs. I grabbed my recycling basket, and tossed in virtually everything I’d received prior to January of this year. I filled it three or four times, and dumped the old catalogs in my recycling cart. I began emptying my wastebaskets to take the trash out as well, and in the midst of doing that, shortly after 1 pm–the phone rang. It was good news, and a good conversation.

I put out fresh towels, did laundry, ran the dishwasher, and cleaned the bath. Next up is a good spring clean of the flowerbeds.

I’d love to hear some of your favorite ways to clear clutter and make way for something new to emerge in your life!

This post is illustrated with my SoulCollage® card Ready to receive.

SoulCollage cards are for personal use, and are not for sale, barter, or trade.

 

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