Category Archives: Emotional Intelligence

The Complexity of Simple

It’s the first week of the new year, and many of us are pausing to look back over our shoulders at where we’ve been the last twelve months and then turning to survey the path before us, at least as much of the path as we can see. The internet is awash with lists of how to make New Year resolutions as well as lists of why we shouldn’t make New Year resolutions. Advertising for buying our way to a new persona is frenzied.

As usual, I’m out of step. I’ve read a couple of great pieces this week, one about the limits of willpower and a list of 13 things to give up for success. I’ve read and re-read them, thought about them, and discussed the first article extensively with my partner. Normally when material like this catches my interest it develops into a blog, but this week nothing is happening.

Photo by Amy Humphries on Unsplash

All I can think about is simplicity.

Lists are great. I used to be a champion list maker. They guided my whole life during a lot of complicated years.

Now? Not so much.

I have really simplified.

But the thing about simplifying is how complicated it is.

For example, more than a year ago I stopped shaving. But that’s not where it started. It started with me deciding I was no longer going to please people. But that’s not exactly where it started, either. Part of it started when I decided to allow myself to be everything I am and nothing I’m not.

If I hadn’t given up on pleasing others and limiting myself, I never would have stopped shaving. It wouldn’t have crossed my mind to do so. Interrupting this lifelong habit never made it onto a list, though it would have been easy to cross off. One decision and it was over.

Making a list of behaviors to discard is wildly misleading, because it doesn’t address what underlies our inappropriate and ineffective behaviors, and that’s where all the ongoing and time-consuming work is.

Pleasing others and making myself small are two lifelong, deeply entrenched habits, and I work every day to make different choices. It’s not easy. I’m not perfect. (Another deeply entrenched habit–perfectionism!) Any distress or inattention results in automatic reversion to my old habits. I don’t expect to ever be able to cross ‘stop pleasing others’ and ‘stop making yourself small’ off a list.

On the other hand, working to change and challenge these two big things allows a whole cascade of smaller habits to loosen and fall away, the kinds of habits that are reasonable to put in a list. Pleasing others and making myself small create an immensely complicated set of actions.

Anyway, one day it occurred to me to ask myself why I shaved.

Answer: Because everyone does. It’s a social rule that women shave their body hair. Hairy legs are unattractive.

The everything-I-am and nothing-I’m-not me: Oh, yeah?

The not-pleasing-other-people me: I don’t think hairy legs are unattractive. All my lovers have had hairy legs. I didn’t mind. In fact, I like body hair. It adds texture and sensation, especially in erogenous zones. I refuse to accept that male hairy legs and armpits are acceptable and female hairy legs and armpits are ugly. That’s ridiculous.

So I stopped shaving.

Ahhh! Simplicity.

No more razors or shaving cream to buy and throw away. No more rashes, nicks or razor burn. Less hot water, less time in the shower. Bonus: In wringing humidity and hot weather, the hair on my legs and under my arms helps me cool more effectively. Another bonus: No more microcuts in my armpits. I worry less about health concerns regarding deodorant. A third bonus: Hairs provide sensory information. If a tick is crawling on me, it stirs the hairs on my body and alerts me to its presence.

I still wear shorts and skirts. I swim every week. My partner appears to be able to deal with a woman in a natural woman’s body without fainting with horror. In fact, I don’t think he even really noticed.

Shaving is just one of many examples of things that can be crossed off lists, but before we can get to those, we have to deal with the big stuff, and that’s hard, ongoing work. The big stuff drives the little stuff. Want to get more exercise? Work on keeping your word to yourself. Want to lose weight? Excavate your relationship with food and redefine it (which means change your life and purge your kitchen).

Simplicity is frequently the end result of complex effort.

On the other hand, some of us have a genius for making simple steps unbelievably complex.

Take exercise, for example. Do you want to exercise more? Really? Then set down the device you’re reading this on, put on clothes appropriate for whatever is outside and (here’s the hard part) walk. You don’t need a dog, a buddy, your mate, special clothes, neon shoes, a Fitbit, a step counter, a timer, a gym membership or a piece of expensive equipment. You don’t need earbuds or entertainment.

Photo by Jon Flobrant on Unsplash

Just. Walk.

Now you’re getting exercise. Do it every day and you’re getting more exercise.

It’s simple. Nike got it right. Just do it.

If it feels more complex than this, it’s not the exercise that’s the problem, it’s some belief or pattern (often deeply buried and unconscious) that’s sabotaging our efforts. And that’s complex!

It’s been very cold here in Maine, as it has in many other parts of the nation. We had a heavy snow on Christmas Day. After my daily stint of three or four hours of writing, I wanted a walk, so I layered up and went out into the storm.

Unbroken fresh snow underfoot. One set of tire tracks going up the hill. The chill kiss of wet flakes against the little bit of exposed skin on my face. Wind, and the sound of the trees groaning and creaking and the snow hitting my hood. The sound of my own breath, which condensed on the scarf wrapped around my face so that it crusted with ice. My steady footsteps squeaking up the hill. Everything grey and white and shadow.

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Christmas Day, and nothing but swirling snow and breathing, walking, the warmth and vitality of my own life. So simple. So peaceful. So starkly beautiful, and nothing to do but inhabit my body and the day.

In these days, fully in the grasp of winter, life is reduced to the wood stove, hot meals, my daily exercise and my writing practice. At 4:30 p.m. it’s dark. Storm and gale, wind chill and subzero temperatures limit our ability to drive. We delve into our piles of books. The cat snuggles with us on the couch. If the power goes out, we light candles and I’m not displeased. At night, the house pops and cracks, groaning in the cold and the wind. Sitting in my comfortable chair with my feet up and a blanket around my shoulders, I doze off as I’m reading The Element Encyclopedia of Magical Creatures. This kind of extreme cold is very simplifying. Eat. Stay warm.

Simplifying my life has made me happier, healthier and more productive. It’s also been frustrating, slow, unpredictable, unexpected, terrifying and painful. It has not looked like an orderly list on a fresh sheet of paper written with my favorite pen. It would be nice if it were that easy, wouldn’t it? Lose weight. Check. Get more exercise. Check. Spend more time with family and friends. Check. Get more sleep. Check.

Those are all worthy goals, and perfectly attainable, but not by writing a list or making New Year resolutions. Changing behavior is a great deal more complicated than that, and creating a life of simplicity is an enormous undertaking.

Boy, is it worth it, though!

Happy New Year to each of you.

Photo by Das Sasha on Unsplash

All content on this site ©2018
Jennifer Rose
except where otherwise noted

Being Good

Relationship is the finest crucible I know for personal growth and transformation. Unfortunately, it’s also the best crucible for abuse and destruction, but I no longer focus on that aspect of connection with others. My relationships now are based on growth, not destruction. I have promised myself this.

As my partner and I slowly move toward shaping a life of self-sufficiency and holistic collaboration with our land and community, we are experiencing (naturally) many unwelcome pauses and fallow periods as we wait on favorable weather, the scheduling needs of others or the availability of funds.

I’ve noticed that during these frustrating pauses my partner serenely deals with the work of the day and then is perfectly happy to sit on our sagging couch, a book in one hand, the TV remote in the other and the cat velcroed to him, occasionally getting up to feed the wood stove.

Photo by Lilly Rum on Unsplash

It drives me nuts. How does he do that?

We had a conversation about it over breakfast recently.

He’s hanging out and waiting for the stars to align so we can begin to move forward again. That might come in the form of some income, a phone call, a stretch of really warm days, or who knows what other miracles. He figures it will all work out, one way or another, in time, and meanwhile he might as well relax and enjoy life.

I, on the other hand, from my earliest memory, make Deals with the Universe. My Deal is that I’ll Be Good in order to get what I need to survive. Being Good is specifically defined.

  • I will not complain, whine, want or need anything I don’t have.
  • I will hoard what I do have and be grateful, because I have so much more than many others.
  • I will work as hard as I can at all the tasks that can be done right here, right now, even if it’s only scrubbing the kitchen floor on my hands and knees or cleaning out closets.
  • I will not wait, hope, dream. I will act. Now!
  • I will not make excuses, procrastinate or (God help us) relax.
  • I will never admit to feeling afraid or anxious or impoverished in any way. Being truthful about our experience is “airing dirty laundry,” which is shameful and vulgar.

Somewhere inside me is a hysteric who knows my partner is wrong. Sitting on the couch means he’ll never see his dreams come true. He won’t deserve to see dreams come true, because he’s not doing anything to help himself, to prove himself worthy of good things. He’s not hoarding what we have. He’s got a light on for reading and the TV on and he’s putting wood in the stove as though those six cords out in the barn will last all winter! (They will.) He’s not doing all the tasks that could be done. He’s failing the test, failing his side of the deal, and we are screwed.

All this panic and fear impel me to work harder and harder at everything. At anything. I must demonstrate to the Universe that I’m not a slacker, a sponge, an ingrate. I must also make up for his blasphemy of sitting on the couch, because we hold dreams in common, and we can’t manifest the lives we want without each other. Clearly, I must Be Good for both of us.

The infuriating but inescapable truth is that I can’t honestly say my Deals with the Universe work better than my partner’s approach. I’ve always had what I’ve needed to survive, but so has he!

It’s not fair.

Then, this last week I read the best essay I’ve come across on rape culture and its effect on women. The writer perfectly expresses much of my longing and the difficulty of allowing oneself to be fully and powerfully female. I feel more and more tension around this in our climate of hysterical political correctness, labeling, jargon and sloppy thinking. The increasing visibility of symptoms of rape culture give me hope that in some quarters there is a will to change, but will it be enough? Will we ever really see an equal playing ground for all people? Not necessarily the same playing ground, but equal in contribution and value, equal in respect, resource and power?

I don’t know.

Anyway, I went for my morning walk with the essay and my Being Good rules rattling around in my head. There were snowflakes in the air under a mostly cloudy cold sky with occasional gleams of sun. The river flowed quietly along and I sat for a while under the trees to watch the snow fall in the water.

Photo by Joshua Fuller on Unsplash

What if, I wondered, instead of my exhausting and not-notably-effective list of what Being Good entails, I changed my Being Good Deal with the Universe to living the truest and fullest expression of myself possible? What if that included the entirety of my wants, needs, feelings, thoughts, creativity, passion, power and sexuality? What if that included all the great and small activities and experiences that give me pleasure? What if I gave my obnoxious, persistent and compulsive judgement a sabbatical, with an option for permanent retirement?

I was so intrigued by this that I’ve been playing with it for the last few days. In that time my laptop developed technical problems and is in the shop, so I’ve been without my usual habits, tools and routines. This blog was not published first thing Thursday morning. I notice that life manages to continue in spite of it. I’ve read, walked, laid on my back on the ground in the sun, meditated, gone swimming and luxuriated in a hot therapy pool, done Tai Chi and ordered my favorite body oil. I’ve listened to Christmas music. I’ve eaten a bowl of ice cream. I’ve had an honest conversation with two women I like and admire. I’ve taken walks with my partner. This looks much like my usual life, it’s just that currently I’m allowing myself to enjoy my experience without shame, expectation or judgement.

Life is a lot easier and much more fun under my new (and simplified) Be Good Deal with the Universe. Will the Universe frown or smile upon this new Deal?

Who knows? Maybe it’s none of my business. Maybe the Universe isn’t looking over my shoulder, recording every action and thought, maintaining a cosmic scorecard. Maybe the Universe is sitting on the couch, alternately reading science fiction and watching reruns of Star Trek on Syfy and paying absolutely no attention to me whatsoever, and all my frenzied flapping around is just a waste of energy.

Sometimes I make myself tired.

I think I’ll go sit on the couch.

Photo by Josh Applegate on Unsplash

All content on this site ©2017
Jennifer Rose
except where otherwise noted

 

Abundance or Scarcity?

Last week, I explored the meaning and experience of anxiety. In doing so, I realized that all my anxiety has a common root in scarcity, which gave me the subject for this week’s blog. Scarcity and abundance. What could be more perfect for Thanksgiving week?

Scarcity, according to a quick internet search, is “the state of being in short supply; especially want of provisions for the support of life; unlimited wants in a world of limited resources.”

In spite of the fact that I come from a middle-class background, I’ve always lived with the bony specter of scarcity. As a child, I constantly feared there wasn’t enough, even though there was enough. We always had a home, and food, and clothing. The house was full of books and music. We had pets. We had cars. We even took vacations, a thing I was certainly never able to do with my own children. Still, I was always afraid we’d run out of money. The worst thing I could imagine was not being able to afford to feed and care for the animals! I was continually waiting for it all to disappear.

My insecurity around physical resource was not the biggest anxiety producer. What really ensnared me was emotional scarcity. It never seemed to me there was enough love, or patience, or joy. There wasn’t enough time, enough energy, enough hope. My feeling of emotional hunger led me to conclude that the problem was me. I was greedy and selfish. I wanted too much.

Most painful of all was my belief that I wasn’t enough. Not smart enough, not strong enough, not quick enough, not wise enough, not loving enough, not adult enough. I could see no cure for my inadequacies, no hope that I could ever be fixed, and, employing the heartbreaking logic of children, my conclusion was I didn’t deserve anything but scarcity.

Unsurprisingly, my experience since I formed that belief has been of scarcity on every level.

It’s important to note that in some significant ways this frame of scarcity has been useful. I don’t have “unlimited wants,” for example. In fact, I’ll rarely admit to wanting anything at all, which is a problem on the other end of the spectrum. I’ve never enjoyed shopping. I’m a reluctant consumer. I don’t long for gems or cruises, fine wines, luxury cars or elegant homes.

Living with restricted financial resource has taught me a lot about the limited power of money. What I value and want most, as well as what I most want to contribute, can’t be bought or sold. I’ve also learned unfulfilled wanting and longing can be lived with.

On the other hand, living from a position of scarcity has not only kept my anxiety fat and happy, it’s impoverished my courage, my ability to love, and my self-confidence. My belief in scarcity has sucked away a lot of my power.

Photo by Brigitte Tohm on Unsplash

What about abundance? Abundance is “a very large quantity of something; plentifulness of the good things of life; prosperity.”

When I started thinking about anxiety in the last couple of weeks, I began to notice its presence or absence during activities of my daily life. For example, when I deal with household needs and wants, bills, the grocery list, and think about jobs, I feel anxious. When I’m out walking, gathering cones, cutting greens for holiday wreaths, collecting the beautiful little Sensitive fern pods for crafting, I feel no anxiety and have no experience of scarcity. The fields, the woods, the river, the trees, the fall bracken and naked branches and twigs all speak to me of plenty, and plenty, and plenty again. Abundance is everywhere. There is enough. I am enough.

I wrote last week about my suspicion that my anxiety is a bad habit as much as anything. I wasn’t consciously choosing to haul around such a dreadful burden, but dredging it up from my subconscious into the daylight, specifically defining it and shining a light on it allowed me to realize I don’t have to allow anxiety to run me. I can choose to disengage with it.

What if the frames of abundance and scarcity are also choices? What if I decide scarcity is no longer a useful label for my experience or self-definition, and I choose instead to believe in enough, or even in more than enough? Imagine it. Enough resources. Enough water and silence and time. An abundance of arms strong enough to hold me through the deepest hours of the night. A river of tenderness. A roomful of dancers. A strong, resourceful, wise, creative self.

Photo by Roderico Y. Díaz on Unsplash

Abundance is everywhere I look this morning, in the glowing wood stove, in the cartons of eggs stacked in the refrigerator, in boxes of wreaths I’m loading into the car to take to my friend’s farm store. Abundance is in writing these words, and when I glance from them I see, out the window, the infinite beauty of the November landscape.

It’s also true that we’re nearly out of bacon, and I know there are other items on the current grocery list. We’re heading into winter and haven’t been able to fix the leaky roof, but I suppose one could say there’s more roof than hole, so that’s a good thing!

Photo by Jeremy Thomas on Unsplash

Isn’t it really all just a cosmic balance? We can’t possibly take in everything at once in life, so we narrow our focus, and invariably find what we’re looking for. Changing our focus changes what we see. Perhaps abundance has always been hand-in-hand with scarcity and I’ve just never looked beyond what I knew and expected. How can these two concepts be separated? They make each other possible.

My anxiety is currently sulking and on a starvation diet. Scarcity is what it thrives on, but I’m kind of bored with that tired old goblin. I’m enjoying my new focus and filter of abundance. I like the way it makes me feel. It doesn’t make all the challenges go away, but it certainly balances them with a peaceful, satisfied feeling of enough, and I’m grateful.

It’s Thanksgiving Day as I post this. I wish everyone the abundance of the season in food, loved ones and joy.

All content on this site ©2017
Jennifer Rose
except where otherwise noted