About what matters

Writing about what really matters

Category: Releasing clutter

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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The most important lesson

Thoroughbred

As I mentally prepared for an interview this week, I asked myself a practice question I’ve never actually been asked, but that I may ask in interviews myself now that I’ve thought of it–What is the most important lesson you’ve learned in the course of your career?

I knew right away that for me there were two lessons–It doesn’t have to be perfect, and I don’t have to be right. (The second lesson I’ve written about before, so it’s the first one I’m focusing on today.)

This first lesson began fairly early, and benefitted my personal life as well as my professional one.

In the mid-90s I worked for a small public company that made computer hardware components. My priorities could and often did change on a daily basis, depending on the orders that came in.

Most orders couldn’t ship without documentation, which was my responsibility, so booking revenue was directly tied to what I produced. The engineers also revised the hardware frequently, which required me in turn to revise the documentation.

I grew up watching one of my parents conduct endless research before making a move. Deadlines were met rarely to never. I found this tremendously frustrating to watch (especially since there was a clear relationship between deadlines being met and money to put food on the table), but found myself repeating the approach, to a much lesser extent.

This job completely broke me of those bad habits. It was clear to me that time was of the essence, and what I was working toward one day could easily change the next. There was no time to be wasted on hand-wringing, and plenty of inherited problems to solve. What I really needed to do was make tangible progress toward a goal every single day.

I had distinct tendencies toward perfectionism, but I saw that I had multiple opportunities to work on nearly every document. My goal became not to make anything perfect–a clearly unachievable goal given the time constraints–but to make everything accurate, and better and/or more cost-effective than it was before. Incremental improvement rather than perfection.

I’d already noticed, as I made significant strides toward dropping baggage, releasing bitterness, and becoming more positive, that I really picked up speed at work. An early manager had noted that my work could be more “expeditious.” And she was right–I spent a lot of time at that job being upset rather than working.

It turns out that eliminating mental–or audible!–moaning really saves a lot of time. What I do these days is simply dive right in to the work.

Occasionally, various delays and obstructions prevent me from doing that. At those times, the (unbidden!) mental image I have of myself is a racing thoroughbred confined to a paddock. All I want is for the starting gates to open so I can run out onto the track and open it up–flying like the wind, doing what I know how to do.

What would you say is the most important lesson you’ve learned, as it relates to your career?

This post is illustrated with the SoulCollage card I made today, Thoroughbred racer + True north.

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

How to get unstuck

winnie-the-pooh-stuck-in-rabbits-house

By chance are you feeling stuck today? Perhaps you know what you need to do, but you’re unsure of the next step. Or perhaps you know the next step, but can’t seem to take it. Maybe you just have an aimless feeling, like your sense of purpose has gone AWOL. Maybe you feel like you’ve been in a rut forever, and don’t know how to get out. Perhaps you find yourself in a liminal stage between an ending and a new beginning, and things aren’t flowing as you’d like. Whatever your level of stuckness, here are some ideas to get you moving in the right direction …

  1. Write down some intentions about what you want your life to look like. Get out your journal–or, if you don’t have one, take a quick trip to the bookstore and treat yourself to a lovely new one in a favorite color. Then open your journal to a blank page, and let your intuition guide you as you write a title. It could be “My intentions for …” or “What I want my life to look like.” Your title could relate to how you feel stuck, or it could relate to something seemingly different. Thoughts about your list may come to you over a few days. Fine-tune it until it really expresses what you want (you may want to copy it out again once you’re done), and then read through it every so often. I like to read through mine before I meditate.
  2. Check your energy flow, and correct it if necessary.
  3. If you’re feeling stuck, you might not be grounded.
  4. Fix something that’s bugging you. WD-40 the creaky door. Pull the weeds you’ve been eyeing. Is a tree seedling or some noxious weed (devil vine is the bane of my existence) sprouting from a seam in your driveway or sidewalk? Boil the teakettle and put a stop to that. (Sometimes it takes more than once, but boiling water always wins.) Kick something ugly to the curb. Say no to something you’ve been asked to do that doesn’t feel right for you. (Don’t you feel better already?)
  5. Clear some clutter. This is a fantastic way to power through a barrier. You’ll get the biggest bang from clearing old and/or negative clutter (i.e., clutter with negative associations for you). Bonus points for clearing clutter directly related to an area where you feel stuck. You may want to identify an area where you can make a significant impact in a reasonable amount of time–an area where you’ve already made a decision about what needs to happen, or where you can make that decision right now.
  6. Try something new today–and if you don’t try new things regularly, begin to make it a habit. (This one step can easily change your whole outlook on life.) Have lunch or dinner at a new restaurant that’s getting good reviews. Try a food or cuisine you’ve never tried before, or a new recipe. Call a friend and have an impromptu picnic, or take a walk, in a park or public garden that’s new to you. Stop in a store that’s caught your eye. Go see that museum exhibit that looks so interesting. Take a weekend road trip to someplace you’ve never been. Take a workshop and learn how to do something you’ve never done before. If there’s something you’ve always wanted to do, take that first step today. Always wanted to play the piano? Find a teacher and book a lesson. If you’re deciding whether or not to do something, and the no feels like unjustified fear–say yes.
  7. Look around your home for things that belong to someone you used to be. Are there textbooks from the student you used to be? (You’ll never need to know more about the accounting methods of 20 years ago.) Shelves of novels when you’ve stopped reading fiction? Magazines about hobbies you don’t do anymore? A whole wardrobe? Love letters (or hate letters)? What baggage could you release today in order to create space for the you you’re becoming?
  8. Look around your office at work. What’s out of date? What project is every bit as extinct as the dinosaur, but you still have all the paperwork? (Maybe you can let go of all the files for Project Dinosaur, if there’s no company policy that mandates keeping them.) Do you see any paper that’s actually yellowed? This may be a clue.
  9. Add something to your life that will guarantee change, like a new friend, or a new pet.
  10. Slough off your old skin quite literally. Go shopping for a body scrub that smells wonderful, and use it. (Fresh has some lovely products.) Get a pedicure, facial, or massage. Get a haircut. Get your teeth cleaned (it’s good feng shui!).
  11. What do you have that’s expired, past its use-by date? Check the cupboards and medicine cabinet. Find a prescription take-back program (your city or pharmacy may have one), and take advantage of it.
  12. If you’re still not sure what your next step is, ask yourself the question, and go to sleep. See if you don’t wake up with new insight.

 

How to look younger

Jacob's sheep

That which is striking and beautiful is not always good, but that which is good is always beautiful. –Ninon de l’Enclos

Last weekend I had dinner with a group of foodie friends, including one I hadn’t seen in a few years, only once since he moved away. He immediately started trying to figure out why I looked different: “Your hair’s darker. [I denied it because it’s still its natural color, but he may well be right–hair does darken with age, and mine is less chestnut than it used to be.] You look younger!”

I immediately inquired what exactly he’d been smoking in New Orleans. I know for a fact that I haven’t been aging in reverse. In fact, it’s just in the past few years that I’ve gone from looking younger than my age, to … not.

But when someone else, who has seen me continuously over the past few years, said she’d also noticed I looked different, I wanted to know what it was they were seeing–and more importantly, why.

After dinner, when I stopped by the ladies’ room, I took the opportunity to consult the mirror. Indeed I did look younger. My face looked fuller, softer–relaxed. I realized the tension was gone from my face. What had I done, anyway?

Then I remembered.

My laptop had died the day before, and when I got home with my new laptop, I was looking for ways to enjoy its exponentially better Beats Audio sound. I decided to listen to both the evening and–for the first time, the next morning–the morning guided meditations on Doreen Virtue’s Chakra Clearing CD.

It turns out that while the evening meditation is great for winding down and processing a difficult day, the majority of the chakra clearing work happens in the morning meditation. Since time in the morning seems to be chronically short for those of us who don’t create our own schedules, I find a weekend morning is best for this meditation. (I like it so much, though, that I may well try to make time for it on certain weekday mornings. It’s about 25 minutes, slightly longer than the 15-20 minutes I normally meditate.)

I feel compelled to note that the meditations include a couple of moments that could be construed as cheesy, but I am all about what works. Considering how well these meditations work, I am completely willing to forgive those moments (and I’m certain cheesy is in the eye–or ear–of the beholder).

I listened to the meditations again last night and this morning, and today I found that doing the meditation really zapped the indefinable ‘crummy’ feeling I woke up with–I’m not sure of its source, perhaps the unpleasant storm that swept through with extremely high winds while I was still trying to sleep. The meditations had the same effect on my face as before.

I hope you’ll try these meditations for yourself. When you do, I think you’ll find yourself feeling better, more relaxed, and yes–looking younger.

This post is illustrated with my SoulCollage card Jacob’s sheep, some of whom are very young indeed.

What’s not to love about that?

Rosie

I find it fascinating how, when I feel compelled to organize and clean, so often some sort of insight or breakthrough follows right on its heels.

This past weekend, I did two clutter-clearing kinds of things. First, I bought and organized a filing cabinet I’d been wanting for a couple weeks or so. (Really it’s years that I’ve liked the look of these little cabinets, especially the bright red ones!)

I also got a massage. It became clear to me some years ago that I tend to store negative cell memories in my shoulders and neck. My aha moment came when I was getting a shoulder massage from a coworker who was also a massage therapist (and quite intuitive as well, as I think many of them are), and she immediately started picking up on information about my father. I hadn’t been thinking about him at all–but I had far less than normal range of motion when turning my head due to pain in my neck (ah, the much-discussed pain in the neck!) and shoulders.

Unfortunately when I called to make my weekend appointment, my semi-regular massage therapist had left my salon, and I made an appointment with someone I didn’t know who was available.

The massage seemed OK, but afterwards I could quickly feel what I think was (and is) toxicity and therefore pain (a painful, slightly burning and stagnant sensation) spreading around my shoulder muscles and lower back. This was unlike anything I’ve experienced with a massage before, but I’ve since talked to someone who used to work at a spa who’s heard of this type of reaction before. (My usual massage therapist would really go after it at certain points, and I’d often do breathwork in order to tolerate the intensity. By using breathwork, I wouldn’t need to ask her to back off. I’d be sore afterwards, but not like this.)

Before long, my digestion was out of whack. And Monday morning I woke up nauseated–an unusual sensation for me. Fortunately I’d finished all pressing assignments before leaving the office on Friday, so had no reason not to stay home sick. By mid-morning, the promise of the nausea was fulfilled, and it wasn’t long before no particle of anything I’d eaten in recent memory remained in my body. (Talk about your clutter clearing.)

Meanwhile the ache had spread from the parts of my body that had been massaged (upper body only) to those that hadn’t. Note to self: Think of massage as less a salon service, more holistic healthcare. I’d actually gotten a recommendation of a massage therapist who sounds much more skillful prior to keeping my appointment … live and learn.

In my world, there are two kinds of sick–too sick to read, and the other, better kind. For a good while, I was too sick to read.

But, once I felt better, I really felt better. I got a bit of a post-illness high. I spring-cleaned some more, I felt cheery. (The high continued today. I asserted myself; there was no getting me down.) I also realized, when there was very little in the house appropriate for a sick person to eat, that my diet–organic, unprocessed, and delicious though it may be–really is too rich. I’m feeling ready to do something about that.

And … I was ready to hear the guidance that yes, at last, it is time to go. I can see clearly that now I’m in the right frame of mind to set intentions and parameters, and make good decisions about what’s next. “Get me the hell out of here” isn’t the best launching pad to success, I do see that now.

I don’t exactly regret anything, and I feel pretty pleased with the eventual outcome, but I do believe I’ll think twice about the skill of anyone in whose hands I place my body in the future. I also realized while writing this that probably the reason I have felt so traumatized recently by being treated unfairly (and I think betrayed is not too strong a word) by authority figures was a connection to past-life issues in this area. (So many of us have lost our lives and loved ones unjustly in the past. If you tend to seize up a bit around the so-called “important” people of this world, you very likely have this in common with me.) So probably the toxicity I’m feeling has not to do just with recent and earlier experiences, but likely some past-life stuff as well. All part of the clutter I’m here to clear.

The toxicity is certainly not all gone–I can clearly feel it still in my body, there’s more work to do–but today I feel lighter, as well as having a mandate to move forward. And what’s not to love about that?

This post is illustrated by my SoulCollage card Persistence + Rosie the Riveter.

How to create a filing system

Bisley silver

When you finish clearing paper clutter, what to do with what remains? You need a filing system.

For me, the purpose of a good filing system is to be able to lay your hands on the paperwork you need immediately, with an absolute minimum of hassle or stress. When your formerly-photographic memory starts to curl around the edges, a good filing system comes to the rescue!

This weekend I bought this lovely little filing cabinet on sale, and today I labeled its drawers and began using it.

Because I dislike hanging files, this is the first filing cabinet I’ve ever owned. The beauty of this one, with its 10 equally-sized 9 3/8 x 14 1/2″ drawers, is that each fits a small stack of papers, including tearsheets from just about any size magazine–no folders necessary.

My existing system consisted primarily of document boxes. I have both large and letter-size document boxes. What I’m currently buying are from Bigso Box of Sweden. They’re made of 70% post-consumer recycled fiberboard, and my color of choice is hot pink. (Sadly, Bisley doesn’t make filing cabinets in hot pink! I’d be all over that.) I’ve used these boxes for many years now–they’re sturdy and attractive.

In the letter-size boxes, I keep the images I’ve saved for SoulCollage:

  • People
  • Animals
  • Divine
  • Flowers and nature
  • Architecture
  • Objects
  • Backgrounds

I use the larger document boxes for everything else. I keep one for each year. In these boxes are

  • Paid bills
  • Receipts (except for wardrobe and flexible spending)
  • The completed kitchen calendar for the year, which shows when I did what
  • Completed tax return

There are other document boxes for

  • Important papers, like birth certificates, Social Security cards, adoption papers for the dogs, etc.
  • Collections, which has receipts for collectibles
  • Wardrobe–This includes a large manila envelope for each season (fashion seasons, Spring and Fall). On the front I write what I bought–date, store or website, manufacturer/designer, item description, price. I also keep a running total of what I’ve spent for the season. On the back I write what wore out and had to be discarded. Inside go all receipts, hang tags, catalog pages, packing slips, etc. This makes returns nearly effortless.

I’m using the drawers of my new cabinet for the following:

  • Tax paperwork–W2s, mortgage statements, etc. Previously I kept a large manila envelope recording donations in my “year” boxes. On the outside I’d record the date, organization, and amount, and inside I’d keep receipts, acknowledgment letters, etc. These envelopes are a bit too large to fit in the drawers of the new cabinet, so I’m planning to get a smaller size envelope, and keep donation information for the previous and current year here–until the tax return is complete, at which time I’ll file it in the appropriate “year” box.
  • Flexible spending receipts–I never know just when my flexible spending program will demand documentation. I’ve filed current year receipts and health insurance claim reports here. I’ve learned to ask for what I’d need while I’m still at the healthcare provider’s office. A couple minutes’ effort there saves me a big headache later.
  • Cards–my own business cards, blank cards for my beautiful handmade address file, extra drawer labels.
  • Garden inspiration–tearsheets and articles.
  • Interior inspiration
  • Products to try
  • Home improvement–sketches, estimates, products, ideas, tearsheets.
  • Work-related paperwork such as hardcopy resumes, reviews, notes, memos.
  • Summer recipes–Except for baking, I cook without recipes, so these are for inspiration.
  • Winter recipes

Adding my new filing cabinet inspired me to spring-clean my office, and pitch out a number of papers that were once important, but no longer are. I’ve added others that I couldn’t identify immediately to my paper basket, where I’ll identify whether they’re still relevant, and if so, to which category they belong.

What you care about and want to keep may be different from my categories, but I hope these ideas and strategies will be useful to you and adaptable to your needs. Happy spring cleaning and filing!

How to release bitterness

Mandiba

Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies. –Nelson Mandela

As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison. –Nelson Mandela

I well remember the moment I realized I was, in fact, bitter. My father had frequently accused me of it–akin to sucker-punching someone and then later accusing them of being bruised–but I didn’t take him seriously.

The moment came in my Jewish-American Lit class. I was an undergrad, probably about 20 at the time. We were reading Philip Roth’s Goodbye, Columbus, and one of my classmates commented on the protagonist’s being bitter. I responded that no, he was perfectly normal, with just a little resentment about x, y, and z.

When all my classmates seemed to agree that Neil Klugman was bitter, and only I thought he was perfectly normal, I had an aha moment. Normal for me was bitter. I’d been marinating in bitter for pretty much my entire life thus far–it was my milieu.

I also remember very well the moment I decided that something had to change. It was years later, I was still explosively angry, and of course that anger had a way of showing up out of all proportion to the current situation.

I was at the big post office at the airport buying stamps (God love you if you’re old enough to remember when we used to have to buy stamps all the time, so we could pay our bills and write letters to people). When I left, my stamps set off the alarm. I took them back to the cashier to have the sensor deactivated. I then left again–and set off the alarm again. At which point I lost it–in a way that seemed quite normal to me, and was very consistent with what I’d witnessed growing up. But the wide eyes up and down the long line of those waiting for their own stamps clearly indicated my reaction wasn’t proportional to what had occurred.

At that moment I decided I was quite tired of carrying that much anger around, and something had to change. Perhaps you’ve decided that too.

The answer, of course, is forgiveness–but it’s not what you think.

For years I resisted forgiveness, because it wasn’t what I thought either. It seemed weak. Not at all–forgiveness requires strength.

Forgiveness is not letting anyone off the hook. I think the first, most important thing to realize it that’s it’s not you or I who has anyone on the hook to start with. Yes, you have been wronged. But (and hopefully you are relieved to hear this!) you are not the ultimate arbiter of justice.

My belief is that a universal and inescapable law of karma exists, bigger than you and me, bigger than all the wrongdoers and evildoers, bigger than this little planet where it all went down.

And that law says that if you hurt someone, there will be consequences for you. What you do will come back to you, no exceptions. When you throw someone’s life off course, there will be major consequences for you. Those consequences could last multiple lifetimes. If what you put out there is unpleasant, what comes back to you will be equally unpleasant–most likely even more so. And if you put love out there, it will come back to you multiplied. You either pay your karmic debts, or game over. Those are the choices.

The universe says, I got it.

So your concern is you, not the other guy. And it really all comes down to this–are you going to let what happened ruin your life and your health, or are you not? It is just that simple.

Forgiveness is taking your power back. If there is bitterness in your heart, that is like giving a piece of your power away to someone else. Someone who very likely should have less power, not more. Forgiving fully enables you to inhabit the fullness of your own personal power. And letting go of bitterness is a decision–one only you can make.

For me, the process looks like this …

  1. Understand that you are bitter. That’s not mother’s milk you’re soaking in!
  2. Understand that bitterness doesn’t serve you. It is not now, and never will be, your friend.
  3. Decide to release it. I’m not going to tell you it’s easy, but I am going to tell you it is so, so worth it!
  4. If you’re not sure how, ask for information about the right tool for you to flow to you. Information is abundant, one of the easiest things to manifest. Breathwork (sometimes referred to as rebirthing) is a tool that has worked for me in letting things go. I’ve done the therapy thing twice–once in my 20s and once in my 40s, once for each parent it seems–but for me it was a tool for understanding and making sense of things, not necessarily for releasing bitterness. Meditation is also a wonderful tool for letting go of unhelpful things like perfectionism and judgment, and brings you into the present and out of the past. I started meditating after I went through this process.
  5. As you release bitterness, watch the importance of your ‘enemy’ shrink. What a small person he turned out to be!
  6. Now that you have it back, get on with your beautiful life.

This post is illustrated with my SoulCollage card Forgiveness + Nelson Mandela. Nelson Mandela is a true hero to me, not least because he forgave so well. I was inspired by mindlovemisery’s Prompt 46–Bitter Loathing.

The heart space meditation

Endurance

As I was looking through an older magazine tonight as part of my ongoing clutter-clearing effort, I came across this meditation. I immediately tried it and loved it and really did feel rested after a short time. I think you’ll love it too. This is Loch Kelly’s meditation, mentioned in Sara Reistad-Long’s “Rest Cures” in the January 2008 issue of O Magazine. Enjoy.

Kelly suggests deciding ahead of time how long you can allow yourself to rest [I set a timer when I meditate]–people usually do it from one to 20 minutes, but you may want to go longer. To prepare, take a big inhalation, filling your stomach from the bottom to the top like a water pitcher. Exhale as you normally would. Next, look up and allow your peripheral vision to expand, a gesture intended to keep you engaged with your surroundings. Smile to tell yourself that you’re doing something you enjoy.

On the left side of your chest is your heart. Imagine, on the right side, an open space–your heart space. Gently close your eyes, and as you do, bring your awareness in from outside, feeling it centered around your eyes or forehead [I used my third-eye chakra] and allowing it to drift down like a feather, through your jaw, through your throat, down the right side of your chest to the area where your heart isn’t–a soft, embracing, velvet space. Let the awareness of your whole being enter the heart space and remain there as if returning home after a long journey. Rest in this safe, velvet peace, and visualize your body’s cells drinking in the calm, enjoying the deep silence for as long as you need. When you’re ready, slowly open your eyes as though you’re waking from a wonderfully restorative sleep.

Illustrating this post is a SoulCollage card I made last year, Endurance + Staying on the path.

How to go to sleep

sweet dreams

Every baby is born knowing how to go to sleep, and they do so effortlessly, whenever they want to (emphasis on whenever they want to).

And then … then it can get more complicated.

This week, for me, sleeping was complicated. I was eventually successful at getting my sleep back on track, and I thought I’d write about what I did, since I imagine that at any given time, there must be thousands if not millions of people having exactly the same problem.

First I’ve noted the things I do to sleep well on a regular basis, and then the additional measures I took when my sleeping pattern started to go off the rails. (Where I’ve written about a topic before, such as how to meditate, I’ve linked to it.)

Here’s what I do on a regular basis …

  1. I keep my life pretty unplugged–no TV or smartphone, but I do have a laptop. I’ve read recommendations to avoid screen usage starting two hours before bedtime, and so I try to avoid going online as bedtime approaches. This way, not only do I not encounter the artificial light that’s known to interfere with sleep, but also all the mental clutter I could encounter by reading my e-mail, a news site, a combative forum, etc. If you do go online as bedtime approaches, I recommend keeping it positive. If you have anyone in your life who’s apt to drop bombshells via e-mail, maybe it’s best not to go there.
  2. I’ve always been a light sleeper, but (spoiler alert!) as I’ve gotten older, hormonal changes associated with perimenopause appeared to significantly accentuate this tendency. As a result, I take two things at bedtime. One, a low-dose progesterone replacement, and two, a tryptophan supplement. On a normal night I take just one of the three tryptophan caplets, and I get a noticeable benefit. If I know I’m wired or if I’m falling asleep slowly, I’ll take another.
  3. As I mentioned, I do have a bedtime–you’re never too old for bedtime! It has some flexibility to it, but I know about what time I need to get the household ready for bed, and I know there will be negative consequences for me in terms of sleep debt if I don’t track to it.
  4. If you have a job that exercises only your brain, as I do, getting some physical exercise is a great idea. Being tired in all senses helps me be ready to sleep. I love to take walks by a nearby river, and I’m equipped to do so in various types of weather. Gardening and dancing are great exercise too. I like exercise to be pleasant and fun. I’m sure there are people who love the gym … sadly I’m not one of them.
  5. I limit caffeine to 1-3 cups of green tea a day, and usually a max of one coffee drink (such as a Starbucks tall, which for anyone lucky enough to be outside Starbucks’ orbit, is their little way of saying small). If I’m tired and really need to crank it out, once in a blue moon I’ll have two cups of coffee. I enjoy it, and typically have it in the morning on a workday. I’ll usually have decaffeinated coffee with dessert at a restaurant–for some reason, I feel that dessert calls for coffee. I try never to have caffeine after 6 pm, and often avoid coffee on the weekends. I stopped drinking soft drinks a few years ago after eliminating my beloved Dr Pepper during a 21-day cleanse. After 21 days without it, it no longer tasted the same and it became clear I could live without it, so I have.
  6. My bedroom is my bedroom–not a gym or an office. I don’t own any exercise equipment, and have my office in a separate room. If you’re short on real estate, I’d recommend compromising your dining room or living room rather than your bedroom. Far better to have the Nordic Track next to the sofa, and sleep like a baby. My bedroom is the preserve of peaceful, pleasant, low-tech activities.
  7. I have no clock in my bedroom. I do need an alarm; my clock is a battery-operated Zen alarm, and I keep it in the hallway outside the bedroom. Typically one of my dogs gets up and alerts me even before I can hear it myself (she’s responding to the sound it makes before it starts to chime).
  8. I have no phone in my bedroom. Not only do I not want it ringing in my ear and waking me unpleasantly, but I’ve learned when my phone line has been dead how much more peaceful I feel without a live phone line right next to me.
  9. Every night, typically right before bed, I meditate for at least 15-20 minutes. This usually helps me wind down and puts me in the proper frame of mind for sleep. It’s also a good idea to set the intention at this time that your own energy be optimized for sleep.
  10. It’s a great idea to keep the bedroom clean. I’m not talking about a sterile environment perfect for watchmaking, but getting the dust bunnies out from under the bed on a regular basis can only help create a fresher environment that’s more conducive to sleep. If your bedroom’s gotten a bit dusty while you were busy doing other things (and whose hasn’t), there’s no better use of your time than to take a few minutes to get it in better shape. I promise you’ll be delighted with the fresh energy you create.
  11. I prefer to garden outside, but I do keep a few houseplants in my bedroom to help purify the air. I originally put them there on the recommendation of a feng shui consultant. I think she had a specific reason for wanting me to have them there that year, but they remain and still serve a useful purpose.
  12. I make sure the dogs go outside immediately before bedtime. A couple of them (I have three) aren’t so fond of the backyard late at night, and no doubt they have their reasons. If they’re reluctant to go out, I take them in the front yard instead.
  13. At bedtime, I spray the linens with diluted French lavender essential oil. I use Aveda Pure-fume Spirit Spray, which I have custom made this way at any of their stores. I get one free on my birthday, and so can you. I’ve noticed that the lavender aromatherapy makes a real qualitative difference in the depth of my sleep.
  14. My front porch light shines through some of my bedroom windows, so I turn it off before bed. I keep the back porch light on, a night light (with an LED bulb) in the kitchen only, and keep a lamp with a dimmer switch in my office on very low (this allows me to see the keypad for the security system). Otherwise, the house is dark.
  15. Good pillows are worth whatever you pay for them. I’m allergic to feathers, so I’m partial to a not-too-thick, medium-firm pillow with an organic cotton or wool filling. Good sheets are worthwhile, too. I like linen, or in the winter, cozy organic cotton jersey.
  16. I lower the thermostat a degree or two at bedtime for optimal comfort. When the weather’s perfect, perhaps a little cooler outside than inside, I open a bedroom window for a few hours before bedtime in order to get the freshest possible air. (If you have the thermostat set at a temperature that’s non-optimal for your sleep because you or someone in your household likes to save a buck … if you’re in no danger of having your utilities disconnected, I believe there are better ways to squeeze a dime.)

This week, I took the following extra measures:

  1. It’s a great idea to be aware of your city’s quiet hours, and make sure others are following them when you need to be sleeping. You shouldn’t have to listen to nail guns at 6 am, or a dog barking all night long. Sometimes not everyone is aware of the law, so I like to let people (neighbors, contractors, etc.) know about the law and ask for their cooperation before I ask for it to be enforced. Very often, that’s all that’s needed. In my case, I made calls and sent e-mails about 24/7 construction noise. Technically I learned that round-the-clock construction is allowed at a distance of more than 300 feet, but I was able to achieve a considerable reduction in noise.
  2. I bought malleable silicone earplugs. They don’t block all sound, but they do block a lot of unpleasant noise. I was concerned about getting earplugs that block everything since hearing does provide important safety cues, allows my dogs to communicate with me, allows me to hear my alarm, etc. All that is good.
  3. I changed the sheets. Nothing says “Let’s go to sleep” like freshly unfurled sheets and pillowcases from the linen press. If you anticipate any challenge in going to sleep, making your bed completely fresh is incredibly inviting.
  4. I’m encouraging my dogs to be more considerate. No barking in the middle of the night when they go outside, and they get one chance to decide to join the party–no serial trips outside.
  5. Taking a lovely hot bath with Epsom salts is extremely helpful, especially if the cause of your insomnia is a magnesium deficiency.
  6. The first four nights this week that I had difficulty sleeping, I wasn’t able to go back to sleep after getting up to let the dogs out. The fifth night, I never went to sleep at all. At 2 am, I got up to meditate (again). I knew exactly what was bothering me, and also that it was my “resistance to what is” that was keeping me awake. I decided it had to stop. I got out my journal, and wrote down everything I want in this (work-related) situation, none of which I’m getting. I then wrote down that I know I’m not going to get what I want from the other person involved, either now or later–and I accept that. I’m not changing what I want, need, and expect, but I am changing my resistance to the reality of what I’m getting. I’m also putting my intention out there for a match between what I want, need, and expect and what I get in the future. With that, I suddenly became very sleepy, and was able to go back to bed and sleep peacefully the rest of the night. So, while completely acknowledging how difficult this step can be, I recommend releasing your resistance to what’s bugging you. Like resentment, resistance only harms you. Jesus said, “… Resist not evil” (Matthew 5:39). He didn’t mean, of course, that evil is all right, simply that resistance is not an effective strategy.
  7. If your sleep is off track, don’t be afraid to do whatever it takes to fix the problem. Your sleep directly, and by that I mean directly, facilitates your sanity–which is more than just a nice-to-have. You ignore sleep deprivation at your peril. This week I took a day off work to ensure I got myself back on track–and that my sleep deprivation had no unintended consequences. Some years ago I had a crisis during which I was sleeping two hours every other night. That, my friends, is not enough. I got myself to a doctor, got a prescription, and took it. (Actually, on reflection, I told my sister what I needed and she made the appointment and drove me to it. Driving when seriously sleep deprived: Seriously not a good idea. I still owe her for her help at that time. Which brings up another point: Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it.) Some months later, I began weaning myself off it, cutting the pills into the smallest pieces I could without their turning to dust. I believe it was just about a year later when I was completely off it. I’ve had people who weren’t sleeping tell me they don’t want to be dependent on a sleep aid, and that is very admirable. I would love to see more of that attitude, in general. But dependence on a legal prescription is far from the worst possible thing that could happen as a result of sleep deprivation, and it need not be permanent. In my experience, I’m able to take prescription medication one night to sleep, when I need it, and I may be able to sleep well without it the next. So it’s important to realize that a sleep aid can be used occasionally. However, if you’ve tried everything else and decide you need a prescription, please be sure to research any prescribed drug you plan to take carefully. Some sleeping pills are known to have serious side effects.

On a lighter note, illustrating this post is the SoulCollage card I made today, Sweet Dreams. My sincere wish for you is sweet dreams and sound sleep–tonight and every night!

Ashes of roses

incense-burner

As I sit in my home office tonight, Gracie warm in my lap, the pleasant scent of rose incense still lingers.

Typically I feel the energy in my home is very good, but I noticed recently while doing a couple of guided meditations in my home office (for proximity to my laptop) that the energy there could be much better.

I attributed the energy issues to the chair where I was sitting, a family hand-me-down, as well as to one of my dogs, who tends to be fearful and nervous, spending a lot of time in my office. It may also be that stressful energy associated with my job (I sometimes do work at my desk) has accumulated there. And all the electronics are probably doing the energy no favors either.

This morning, I knew I’d be doing another guided meditation here as part of a teleclass I’m taking, so I burned a stick of incense on a table right next to the chair where I’d be sitting. This afternoon, I was able to meditate there easily.

A few weeks ago, I burned some incense on my desk, and I was amazed by the clear, clean, pure atmosphere I felt there afterward.

I’ve found that a lot of incense can be too strong and intense for me, but I really like the Maroma Encens d’Auroville fair-trade rose incense I’ve been using. I think I’ll burn another stick on my desk tonight …

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