I was looking for apartments online in Fairmont WV and saw one I actually got excited about. I haven’t closed on my house, but have accepted the offer of the potential buyer.
What’s significant is that I did not know if I was even capable of getting excited about anything anymore. I started to believe that excitement was the logical expression of stupid idealism. Perhaps it is sometimes. I certainly cannot discount that possibility in my life.
The excitement came from seeing the hardwood floors. Nobody should get excited about flooring, except that having hardwood floors, for whatever bizarre reason, has always been a dream of mine.
I am not excited in the same way as when I was young because I am not naïve anymore. My plans include visiting the local office on aging down there and the movement disorders clinic at the university hospital. It’s hard to get enthused about it all. I’m not 25 or even 35 anymore. I’m pushing 50.
People have been asking me what I want. Deep inside, I know exactly what I want: to be alone, to have some serious alone time. To not have to be so available all the time. The other day, I was meditating and Barry just casually asked some question. He has zero social awareness. I can’t blame him for asking the question, but I still yearn to not have to answer it.
The truth is that I am not just looking at this move; I am also looking down the road at the next. When Barry passes, I can literally move anywhere, without regards to Huntington’s resources. This is part of why I want to travel lightly: I don’t plan on staying put. I would love to check out Asheville, NC; Charlottesville, VA; and maybe places in KY or TN. Places where it snows, but it also melts. You’re not still looking at the same nasty slush on Valentine’s Day that came down all pretty and fluffy on New Year’s Eve. I would never move to Buffalo or Cleveland because of the three dreaded words: “lake effect snow.” I would like to be far away from any Great Lake. The idea is to take some modicum of control over my life and have it be about me and move any darn place I please. Preferably with hardwood flooring.
“The field of boundless emptiness is what exists from the very beginning. You must purify, cure, grind down, or brush away all the tendencies you have fabricated into apparent habits. Then you can reside in the clear circle of brightness.” Hongzhi Zhengjue, https://buddhismnow.com/2016/05/10/field-of-boundless-emptiness-by-zen-master-hongzhi/#more-12178
I have been seeing a lot of overlap lately of Buddhism, New Age mysticism, and physics. Here are some labels for, what I suspect, may be the same thing: void, matrix, akasha, Tao, shunyata, field of boundless emptiness, etc. I’m sure you can think of more.
Enlightenment seems to be about getting in touch with it, whatever it is.
Here’s something else I have found in various New Age books and some Hinduism, I think: it is the source of everything and you can get whatever you want from it, provided you don’t want whatever-it-is too badly or for any ego gratification whatsoever. So…let me get this straight. I can get what I want as long as I don’t need really need it. Gee, thanks. Not. It is like someone saying to you, “If someone else gives you a mansion, I’ll offer you a one-bedroom apartment for free.” Meanwhile, you’re homeless.
In New Age circles, the result is people pretending that they don’t really have certain needs and desires. Pretense is the precursor to delusion. If you lie to yourself long enough, I believe, eventually even you will have no idea what reality is.
And yet, the concept of enlightenment intrigues me. I want more than anything to feel differently. But any delusion can accomplish that. I don’t need to pretend to be enlightened for that.
I want to know what would change if I became enlightened. “Before enlightenment, chop wood and carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood and carry water.” This clarifies nothing.
My issue is that I have seen so many people that live lives devoted to spirituality and have such low ethical standards or levels of maturity. Their spiritual development has zero impact on their real-life behavior. That’s why I appreciate Ken Wlber’s AQAL system. He at least acknowledges the parallel tracks of emotional and spiritual growth. And the concept of tracks (conveyor belts to Wilber) implies the process involved in said growth, and that there is limited value to instant anything. That makes sense to me.
One of my strategies has been to become somewhat of a minimalist. I believe that anything I own, owns me right back. If I can’t reasonably take care of it, why do I own it? Owning less simplifies my life by letting me be responsible for the upkeep of less stuff. Less stuff equals more time. I call it “the beauty of doing without.” Some things are not optional: food, clothing, and shelter. Most other stuff is highly optional. Wants are negotiable; needs, not so much.
While Barry is still alive and I am temporarily stuck in the caregiver role, I am going to go as deep as I can. This is because, once I have to support myself financially, I may never have the time again to truly pursue any of this. This may be my only opportunity to get in touch with the void, matrix, akasha, or whatever it may be called.
Ignorance v Awareness
Inattention v Knowledge
Laziness v Spirit of Helping
Deception v Honesty, Sincerity
Easy for Us v Easy for Them
I found this contrast online simply googling the word “simplicity.” It popped up in the “images” section. I traced it back to “presentationzen.com”. It is perfect.
I have always sought simplicity, and then rebelled against the simplistic viewpoints I have encountered. Pretending climate change is a hoax is not simplicity. It is ignorance of the mind-bogglingly complex interconnections of the real world. It reminds me of Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” debacle of the 1980s. Simplistic attitudes address nothing.
Of course, I found this nugget of perfection on a Zen website. Zen is real. Zen is in-your-face. Zen confronts you with who you are, not the pretty images we all try to project.
The most telling contrast is “Easy for us versus Easy for them.” Ask any programmer and they will tell you that the most complex thing in the world for them is to make a product “intuitive” and user-friendly. Like “the natural look” in makeup, a lot of work goes into its appearance of easy flawlessness. To make something look simple and Zen requires a great deal of up-front thought, planning, and preparation.
Anyone can take something simple and make it look complicated. It takes a genius to make something complicated appear simple. I had an anthropology professor like that. Sitting in his classes made the material seem strikingly obvious and left you feeling like, “Why do the other instructors make all this easy stuff look so hard?” Arthur Helweg (of Western Michigan University) is a genius. That’s all. In my opinion, he is on the level of Steve Jobs.
Leave it to our corporate, consumeristic culture to co-opt, bastardize, and taint the beauty of simplicity. Entire magazines are published to help people look simple and eco-friendly. The people in their articles wear $500 pairs of shoes as they tout the advantages of “simplicity.” It is difficult to imagine them missing the point to any greater extent. Meanwhile, McMindfulness overruns corporate America, encouraging workers to pay closer attention to their jobs. If they are not careful, these workers will start seeing through the meaninglessness of their jobs and start finding ways of making their lives genuinely simple.
I guess the reason the image of the contrasts struck me so hard was my attempt to live more simply and how demanding and relentless simplicity, harmony, and Zen truly are. Talking about them are easy, while doing them is something else. Making time for Zen is challenging. Staying on top of demands is never-ending.
I realized a week or so ago that part of my desire to “live more simply” is nothing more complicated than a yearning to be free of my current responsibilities. There is a limit to how simple my life can become while taking care of a sick husband. Also, the weather has made me want to hibernate until spring. The Weather Channel showed a map of the world’s temperature deviations from normal. The Eastern U.S. and Greenland were blue, indicating cooler than normal temps, and the rest of the world was various shades of red and orange, revealing the truth of global warming. In Michigan, many of us don’t even want to open our front doors because it is so bitterly cold. Nodding off is so easy—and tough to justify in a world gone haywire. “Keeping things simple” may be more fantasy than reality at this point in my life. I reject both needless complexity and stupid simplisticness. Funny how it doesn’t feel like I am trying to strike a balance. Or be inordinately contrary. But it sure looks that way.
“As you continue to breathe deeply, you may begin to visualize some kind of constructive action. At first, it’s just a thought, but as time goes on, it becomes more appealing. Before long you really want to put all those newspapers in the recycle bin. But don’t give into the urge right away. Instead, keep breathing slowly in and out. The longer you do this, the harder it becomes not to take care of the newspaper. When you can’t stand it anymore you are ready to proceed.” One Thing at a Time: 100 Simple Ways to Live by Cindy Glovinsky
To some degree, this is how I live my life. I have to allow ideas percolate and motivation accumulate in order to have enough to keep me going. I have to feel like I can’t not do something. Then I am unstoppable. If something merely seems like a good idea, it is highly unlikely to ever get done.
My problem or issue with American consumer culture is that there are tons of outlets for urges, thereby dissipating all of them. That way, they never build up to a point of feeling urgent. The best intentions are forgotten with everything else that needs to be done that day. People get accustomed to having every urge satisfied and then there is no urgent need to do anything at all. Justice is easily ignored when every craving is fulfilled.
This is why, I believe, religions frown upon “dissipation” in its great variety of forms. Living a meaningful life is difficult in a sensual wonderland. Reducing the number of objects of attention is liberating and clarifying, as long as one does not proceed to live in an artificially-created tiny world that impacts no one. That’s the danger of monasticism. I appreciate Thich Nhat Hanh because he is a monk that lives in the real world. That balance is tough to come by.
I think this is why motivation is so hard for me to come by lately. I have gotten rid of so many things that there is little accumulation of anything. Hmmmmm……
I have been overwhelmed lately. Dealing with Barry’s sponsor’s impending death has created an internal emptiness I was not prepared for. Also, my computer updated itself, thereby making internet access impossible once again. I took it to the store I bought it at (because I had forgotten how to uninstall updates). They showed me how again and I also wrote down the key for my anti-virus software.
I went home and un-installed the last couple months’ worth of updates. My computer hasn’t worked this well in, well, months. I did not have a virus. I’m contemplating un-installing all the updates I can. Every last glitch has come from a Microsoft update, as near as I can tell so far. Every. Single. One. Wow.
Yesterday reminds me of a saying by a favorite Christian lady evangelist: once you’re in over your head, it doesn’t matter how deep you go. Life contains many things that a person has no control over, but much of the drama we deal with is manufactured for someone else’s profit. It can take some thought and discernment to figure out how much in life is inevitable versus how much we can avoid simply by making more conscious choices (like driving less when gas prices spike, or taking public transportation).
This is where simplifying one’s life clarifies issues. Getting rid of stuff has made my real needs so much more obvious. I can look at problems and see what I can and can’t do. Death? Not much I can change about that. Computer questions? Go to Staples. Too many commitments? Do some cancelling. Spider webs in hard to reach areas? Where’s the broom?
I’ve been staying home as much as possible, in an effort to spend as little on gas as possible. There are limits to how thrifty I can be, however. Barry and I go to Biggby’s on a close-to-daily basis. Also, he and I have appointments and meetings (for him). Due to the Huntington’s, he does not respond well to change. What this amounts to is me trying to create a predictable environment so as to not stress him out. That is extremely artificial and tiresome.
Staying home encourages me to get rid of things to streamline my life. This is very deliberate simplification. I am very conscious of creating space for the next phase of my life. Everywhere I turn, “making space” or “creating an opening” seem to be the theme. Watching Dr. Phil, a guest was having communication problems with her daughter. In reality, the mother never allowed the daughter to finish one sentence and even insinuated that Dr. Phil was delusional. The audience roared with laughter as he suggested that perhaps someone qualified could take over the discussion. The mother lived in a fantasy world and any professional that disagreed with her opinion was obviously incompetent in her mind. Her mind had no space for disagreement. Healing requires space for completing unfinished transactions.
Space also has other functions. As someone easily overwhelmed, I work at perpetually de-cluttering my house. It was pure survival when I went to business school. When I was working, going to school, and dealing with Barry’s cancer, I did not have the emotional wherewithal to hunt for things or deal with too much visual stimulation. Getting rid of stuff was both cathartic and mandatory. Also, during school, I saw how the simplest idea usually wins. Think Apple, with all of their intuitive design features. Think of sitting in the middle of an empty room versus sitting in a crowded room.
Simple translates into flexible. In the empty room, you can face any direction with equal ease and respond instantly. I am determined to simplify my life so I have maximum options when Barry passes and also so I don’t lose my mind in the meantime.
The world we live in demands flexibility. The organizations that have simplified have the best possibility of survival. A refusal to change or simplify can be a death warrant. An inflexible company, for example, is the institutional equivalent of Barry. Barry at least has an excuse, an actual neurological disease. I have sympathy for him because he has no options. He is a good guy doing the best he can. The diagnosis is terminal and I have understood that for years. An organization that has to live in an artificially controlled environment to survive is of no use to anyone. Taking care of a hothouse plant requires maintaining the hothouse, regulating the temperature, humidity, etc. Eventually, pretending that the plant is strong feels ridiculous. If the plant can’t survive outside, we let it die. We might water it outdoors, but we won’t coddle it. If it lives, fine; if not, oh well.
Creating space opens up reality to the possibility of healing. People need to be heard, not just placated or pacified. When a person has just had an emotional catharsis, suddenly they might have clarity. Every organization they belong to will benefit from their new found clarity and inspiration. Flexibility blossoms and new solutions are made obvious, if the organization can tolerate the fresh air. He who can open a space for healing to occur, wins.
In the book I am reading, Deep Change, by Robert Quinn, the author talks about taking voluntarily taking risks. He refers to it as “Walking Naked into the Land of Uncertainty.” The examples are inspirational, but I am coming from a different place: involuntarily taking risks or, rather, living in the land of uncertainty without ever having been clothed in the first place.
The example the author first uses is that of an executive that is put in the position of having to “downsize” and lay-off people repeatedly. The man did some soul searching, asked himself a lot of questions, and eventually became empowering to others. “He felt personally empowered. He stopped worrying about the dangers of change and how he was seen by the organization.” (Pages 7-8)
This man’s situation strikes me as a quite high-class problem. He has a very well-paying position, with a great deal of power over others’ fates. He eventually develops a conscience. Good for him.
None of this applies to me.
Even in high school, I saw what it would take to have friends and be “popular”: ignore being lied to, act stupidly in front of boys (to make certain they did not feel threatened by a mind possibly sharper than theirs), etc. I made horrendous choices in friends because I had older siblings that were wretched role models, because they used drugs and alcohol in great quantities. I learned that doing without (friends, for example) was way better and easier than feeling used and abused. It is tough to manipulate someone who is willing to walk away from the situation entirely.
I entered into adulthood with few coping skills. I had tried marijuana a couple times. After all, people seemed to really like it. It did nothing for me. I had many unmet needs driving my behavior, some of which I have only recently emotionally detoxed from. Financial survival and moving away from my parents were my only concerns.
Some of my “nakedness” comes from being at the bottom of the food chain and some of it comes from not finding adequate distractions to keep myself from examining the situations I was in. I grew up in a working-class family, full of uneducated (but often well-meaning members). I have never found a chemical escape that made me feel better, unless you include caffeine. Whatever emotional distress I have experienced has had to be dealt with stone cold sober.
I went through life, taking care of my husband, who has a heart of gold and Huntington’s. He worked for GM for 32 years. Life was tough at times, but not necessarily more difficult than for anyone else in my circle. I was knitting myself some emotional clothing, even if from tattered materials at times. Then he got cancer.
I always knew I would have to support myself one day, but he was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. The necessity for self-support became imminent. Any emotional clothing I may have had was torched by the cancer diagnosis.
Once again, I am walking through the land of uncertainty naked. My priorities were instantly clarified. I am like Joshua Fields Milburn and Ryan Nicodemus: when your security blanket gets stripped away, the value of what remains gets carefully examined. Stuff simply stops being important. Making baklava is replaced with taking my husband to radiation. Submitting to the “authority” of the church is eschewed in favor of relationships that actually serve both people’s needs. Organizations that serve a few are abandoned in favor of seeking organizations that work for the common good. Other people’s expectations of me are tempered by my expectation of mutuality. Life becomes simpler. Being naked is simple.
For people high up on the food chain, walking through the land of uncertainty naked is a deliberate and frightening choice. For many people, however, no clothes were inherited in the first place. Walking naked can be an act of solidarity with those who never had any clothes to begin with. That’s where the real change can occur. Those of us who have been naked for years are the hope of the future. We’ve been dealing with ever-changing reality for a long time now. When life has fallen apart (or was never built up from the start), all the stuff others have to “put on the line” to try to be “change leaders” just doesn’t matter anymore. You can’t “risk” something that you no longer (or perhaps never did) have or care about.
I feel much better today than yesterday.
Talking with my friend, who is in Maryland looking for work, she said that she has had to do a lot of letting go in the past few months. I know how she feels. After we hung up, I got rid of a few sets of queen-size sheets. When Barry passes, I will probably just use the wooden bed frame from the bed in the extra bedroom, which I think is a single. I have more to get rid of, but I now have a little bit more room in my dresser. It makes me feel so much better. No matter how stuck I feel, it helps to get rid of some physical object. When I looked at Barry later sleeping in his chair, instead of feeling stuck, I just felt bad for him. Big difference. The snow melting also helped. Part of the issue, no doubt, is this never-ending winter. Things are improving slowly. That’s good because a quick melt of the accumulated snow would flood everything. Everything I get rid of makes me feel better.
“Happiness, as far as we’re concerned, is achieved through living a meaningful life, a life that is filled with passion and freedom, a life in which we grow as individuals and contribute beyond ourselves. Growth and contribution: those are the bedrocks of happiness. Not stuff.
“This may not sound sexy or marketable or sellable, but it’s the cold truth. Without growth, and without a deliberate effort to help others, we are simply slaves to cultural expectations, ensnared by the trappings of money and power and status and perceived success.” http://www.theminimalists.com/21days/
This is approximately where I am. This quote is by two minimalists, Joshua Milburn and Ryan Nicodemus.
Being married, I don’t have some of the freedom they do. What struck me from reading about Joshua was that he lost his mother and marriage in a short time frame and he is also an INTJ like myself. We can go about our lives for decades, living out the expectations of our family and/or society until something happens (like middle age, death, divorce, or any trauma) and then we suddenly see what isn’t important to us. Perspective is instantaneous. How could I have ever cared about ________? Old priorities fall away like a winter coat on the first 50 degree day of spring. But I understand where they are coming from.
Living a simple life is all about deliberate-ness. It’s not about being poverty-stricken, but about being selective and careful with all you do, making it all count.
For me, some of the perspective came from Barry’s cancer and Huntington’s. Making baklava to sell to the poor? Gone. Seeking the approval of religious authorities? So gone. Becoming capable of financially supporting myself? Now at the top of the priority list. Discarding items for eventually moving? Somewhat important, but not urgent. Priorities are instantly clarified.
But physical, tangible stuff comes with a cost. I will never forget a TV show I saw about a decade ago. This family really wanted to get out of debt. Both parents worked. Sounds like an obvious strategy, right? Not so much. The host went through the couple’s expenses and noticed some things. Because the wife worked, they needed daycare, a very serious expense. Her job required another vehicle (requiring purchasing, gas, taxes, plates, insurance, and maintenance), steel-toed boots, lunches, and regular clothing purchases. It was actually costing them money for her to work! She was more than happy to stay at home and get out of debt faster.
Perhaps when the children are old enough to not require childcare, the situation will change. Things change constantly and require re-evaluation. The point is simple: everything you have (including a job) has costs associated with it and vigilance is required to make good decisions on a regular basis.
“Growth and contribution: those are the bedrocks of happiness.” Amen.
I got my new computer and it was already pre-programmed with tons of advertising. I feel like our culture conspires to keep us from living simple lives. I had to figure out how to get rid of the advertising I did not want. I have decided never to click on advertising. If I wish to purchase something, I will go hunting for the item myself. I am so ridiculously tired of being marketed to.
No more diddling around online. I am looking for ways to use my computer sparingly and productively. Leo Babauta is a great help. I have a few of his books now. They keep me on track
I am determined to be much more careful in my use of resources. What do I want in my life? To learn how to provide a safe space for others, to be helpful to humanity, that kind of thing. I want to learn Access and how to make myself more valuable to businesses. I want to make the energy I have count.