Tag Archives: beliefs

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

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

Defining Intelligence

I went to the dentist last week. I spent the usual hour with the hygienist and then the dentist breezed in to give me four or five minutes of exam, comment, teaching and friendly conversation. Thankfully, I don’t require more than this, as my teeth are in excellent shape. In the course of those few minutes, I used the term “permaculture,” and he asked me what it was. I gave him a brief answer, and on the way out the hygienist said I had a “high dental IQ.”

“She has a high IQ, period,” he responded as he left.

I almost got out of the chair and went after him to explain that I’m the dumb one in the family, and certainly don’t have a high IQ.

As I’ve gone about life since then, I’ve thought a lot about that interaction. I’ve also been feeling massively irritated, isolated and discouraged. This morning I woke out of a dream of being in a closet groping for my gun, my knife, even my Leatherman, absolutely incandescent with rage, because a man outside of the closet was having a dramatic and violent meltdown, intimidating everyone present because of something I’d said or done that he didn’t like.

I wasn’t intimidated. I was royally pissed off.

When I had my weapons assembled, I stormed out of the closet and came face-to-face with a clearly frightened woman who was wringing her hands and making excuses for the behavior of the yelling man. I screamed into her face that he could take his (blanking) opinions and shove them up his (blanking blank) and unsheathed my knife, not because of her, because of HIM.

I woke abruptly at that point and thought, I’m not depressed, I’m MAD!

Photo by Nicole Mason on Unsplash

While I showered and cooked breakfast I sifted through IQ and conformity and cultural and family rules, economic success and failure, work, invalidation and silencing and keeping myself small . I thought of how pressured I’ve always felt to toe the line, be blindly obedient, follow the rules, ask no questions and be normal. Normal, as in compliant, and refraining from challenging the multitude of life’s standard operating procedures that “everyone knows.” Normal, as in not daring to resist, persist, poke, peel away, uncover. Normal, as in never, NEVER expressing curiosity, a thought, an experience, a feeling or an opinion that might make someone uncomfortable. Normal, as in never admitting that the way we’re supposed to do things doesn’t always work for me, and frequently doesn’t appear to work for others, either. I slammed around the kitchen, turning all this over in my mind, letting the bacon burn, and finally pounced on a keystone piece to blog about.

What does it mean to be smart? Why do I feel like a lying imposter when someone makes a casual comment about my IQ? Why is IQ even a thing? Why does so much of my experience consist of “sit down and shut up!”?

Intelligence is defined on an internet search as “the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills.” Please note the absence of any kind of test score in that definition. Likewise, there’s no mention of economic status, educational status or social status. Also, this definition says nothing about intelligence as a prerequisite for being a decent human being.

The definition takes me back to the playing field in which I wrote last week’s blog on work . Here again we have a simple definition for a word that’s positively staggering under assumptions and connotations.

Fine, then. I’ve explored what work means to me. What does intelligence mean to me?

Intelligence means the ability to learn, unlearn and relearn. Good learners do not sit down and shut up. We question, and we go on questioning until we’re satisfied with answers. We try things, make hideous mistakes, think about what went wrong and apply what we learned. We don’t do the same thing over and over and expect a different result. We exercise curiosity and imagination. We pay attention to what others say and do and how it all works out. We pay attention to how we feel and practice telling ourselves the truth about our experience. After a lot of years and scar tissue, we learn to doubt not only our own assertions, beliefs and stories, but everyone else’s as well. We practice being wrong. We become experts in flexible thinking. We adapt to new information.

We give up arguing with what is.

Intelligence endures criticism, judgement, abuse, taunts, threats, denial and contempt. It’s often punished, invalidated and invisible. Intelligence takes courage.

Photo by Cristina Gottardi on Unsplash

Intelligence is power. It does not sit at the feet of any person, ideology, rule or authority and blindly worship. It retains the right to find out for itself, feel and express its own experience, define its own success, speak its truth in its own unique voice, and it remembers that each of us is limited to one and only one viewpoint in a world of billions of other people.

Intelligence is discerning the difference between the smell of my own shit and someone else’s.

For me, intelligence is a daily practice. It’s messy and disordered and fraught with feeling. It means that everything is an opportunity to learn something new. Everything is something to explore in my writing.

I have no idea what my IQ is, and I don’t much care. I’m sick and tired of all the family baggage I’ve carried around about who’s smart and who isn’t and how we all compare. Honestly. What am I, 10 years old? Enough, already.

I’m also fed up with being silenced, and in fact I’ve already refused to comply with that, as evidenced by this blog. I understand a lot of people don’t want to deal with uncomfortable questions. Too bad. Those folks are not going to be readers. It’s not my job to produce sugar-coated bullshit that can’t possibly threaten or disturb anyone.

So there it is. The practice of intelligence. My daily crime.

Photo by frank mckenna on Unsplash

Get over it.

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