As I was cleaning my closet in anticipation of my daughter-in-law visiting, (visitors are always an incentive for cleaning my clothes closet), I began an attempt at tidying, aka giving stuff away. You may have heard of Marie Kondo with her Japanese art of tidying, in which she emphasizes ONLY keeping what you love and what brings you joy and keeping your belongings to a minimum.
I never found the heart to follow Marie Kondo’s strict program. My version of tidying is “inspired by” Marie, as in a film that is “inspired by a true story.” Lots of possibility for distortion.
But working in my own closet, I decided to create my ultimate system, based on two simple rules:
Do I need it?
Do I love it/Does it bring me joy?
It was then that I realized: Marie had not gone far enough.
If you’re into drastic tidying, why not take the next step?
I began looking suspiciously around the house with the muse of tidying sitting on my shoulder.
Here’s an excerpt from our conversation:
Houseplants. Yes, I know that jade plant has been with you for ten years. But it collects dust. Must go. The dracaena collects spiders. Dust and spiders do not bring joy. When you think of the work entailed in keeping houseplants alive, the answer should be obvious. The only question to ask is: should you keep the potting soil?
That rocking chair. You say you love it, it’s comfy, it brings you joy and reminds you of your family, from whence it came. But consider this: do you really want those memories of family cluttering up your life? Remember the time your father scolded you for not eating your asparagus, and banished you to your room and you missed dessert? This was traumatic! Do you really want these memories?
Beware of objects that are memory attractors. In fact, I recommend that you start tidying up your memories as well. Why not offer Marie Kondo rights to this hot new book: The Japanese Art of Tidying Memories. (Give her my compliments.)
Your grubby garden clothes. Why feel grubby in the garden when you can wear clothes that make you feel wonderful? You still have a few nice, professional clothes left, so you can choose a stylish outfit in which to garden. Of course, you will ruin it in a relatively short time, but that means you will have fewer clothes to choose from. Big success!
Your sofa. Sofas invite guests to sit down. Now comes the moment of truth. Think candidly with me. Consider all the guests who have visited your house recently and ask yourself: did you LOVE them all? I’m sure you liked a few of them. But did you LOVE them all? Were your conversations nonstop joy? Did you talk about the President or politics? I knew it! Did that bring you joy? If your conversations were less than fully joyful, you may want to let go of guests. And the best way to do that is to deep-six that sofa. As the Japanese would say, sayonara.
Your shopping list. Because your purchases are down to a minimum, you no longer need a list. Yes, I know you may forget some things. But then you will buy less. Perfect!
Your telephone: This is a no-brainer. Why keep a landline for emergencies? Have you noticed who’s been calling you? That woman who wants to help you with your credit card, or that nice sounding Jennifer who says, Sally?…Sally is that you? I’m so glad that you picked up. Obviously, your landline is a goner. But what about your cell phone? Your iPhone 5 is so out of date. Why bother to replace it when soon they’ll be coming out with phones you can implant in your arm and answer by pushing your skin? Better to junk your phone and hold out for the latest technology.
Spinach. Do you love it? Does it bring you joy? Or do you just like it, thinking it’s good for you? Into the compost! Decide what brings you joy. That’s right, dark chocolate. I’ve heard that a person can live on one 70% chocolate bar a day. The big benefit: no more cleaning out your refrigerator.
See how fun extreme-tidying can be? And this is just the beginning!
Maybe you want to make a list of friends depending on how much joy they bring. Does your husband’s stuff bring you joy? Out with it! (Or how about your husband?) Or your garden…way too many weeds…perhaps you can burn it down and then plant one rose bush. Perfect.
My muse had many more suggestions, but I’ll stop there…
Marie Kondo, you are an inspiration. As austere as you are, you just didn’t go far enough. And besides, I’ve already taken your book back to the library.
It stopped bringing me joy.
I remember many years ago going out for a morning run around Central Park in New York City. It was a crisp, blue-sky day, I had a lot of energy, the run was going well. Then a tall, male runner came blasting past me and shouted, “Don’t run on your toes!”
I spent the rest of the run fuming. How dare he! He didn’t know my body or how I needed to move. (Turns out, toe running isn’t such a terrible thing.) What gave him the right?
And who asked for his advice?
My husband and I have a friend, a great, multi-talented guy, who works extremely hard. He’s helped us a lot. But his habits of coffee, cigarettes, and energy drinks didn’t seem very health-friendly, at least from our not-particularly-humble perspective. We debated whether we should say something.
We wondered again when we found out that he’d had a small heart attack last weekend.
Trouble is, unsolicited advice rarely works.
Five Reasons Advice Doesn’t Work
- It hasn’t been requested, When someone is not open or curious to receive new information, your great suggestions aren’t going to make a difference. What’s worse they can turn people defensive.
- We don’t fully understand the context. Lives are complex. Understanding context requires understanding:
- someone else’s background and experiences;
- the emotional context–how someone is feeling today (nothing worse than a fresh piece of advice on a bad hair day);
- external variables affecting them such as family, finances, and commitments.
- You might be wrong. (It happens from time to time.) Advice often assumes you know more than they do. It’s so tempting to talk from a place of superior insight. What happened to humility?
- Advice aborts questions. Advice, too firmly given, keeps us from digging deeper into questions. Often, we need to ask “why?” before we ask (or advise) “how.”
- Advice rarely touches the heart–the real power center for change. The person you are talking to needs to feel the imperative of change in their bones. They need to be able to envision the change, hear the change, taste the change…and feel the pain of not changing, before they may be willing to act.
When you can give advice
In certain circumstances, you can give advice.
- When someone sincerely asks for it and is open and receptive. (Or signs up for advice.)
- When you can treat them as a peer who will consider whether your advice is right for them. You are offering advice, not prophecy!
- When they plan to take action. (If they don’t, why bother?)
- When the timing is right (Not when there’s a crisis, the soup’s about to boil over, or they’ve just listened to the State of the Union.)
Of course, there’s one more scenario in which you can offer advice.
- When your husband really needs to make a change. (I couldn’t resist–although he tried to edit this out!)
Fortunately for our friend, his heart attack apparently hasn’t caused permanent damage, but It did give him all the advice he needed to make a change.
And I bet that advice will stick!
Remember “Sweethearts,” the little pink sugar hearts made by Necco that are given out on Valentine’s Day with words stamped on them? They’re called conversation hearts and printed with expressions like: Be mine, the best, hug me, luv me, too sweet, etc. Believe it or not, 8 billion hearts were sold last year, although some of them have been updated with sayings like, “text me” or “tweet me”
On Valentine’s Day, we’re trying if only in a sugary way, to tell people we care. Here’s a better way to tell someone you care without the calories or chalky residue left in your mouth:
Appreciate them. With a real saying. From you.
Unlike those little heart sayings that could be handed out to about anyone, make your appreciations longer and specific. You’ll make someone’s day. The more specific the better. I admit, even though I’m trying to kick the habit, I’m still a lush for appreciations like, “You’re great” or “Love your writing.”
But, if you really want to make my day or that of someone in your life, offer an appreciation that lets people know a particular reason why you like them or their work, or give an example of what went right for you. For example, that last blog post made me think, and I love that, even if I don’t totally agree.
A way to give positive feedback
When I teach about giving feedback, I sometimes encourage students to use the following sequence to offer their experience of another:
When you …(say what happened)
I felt ….(describe your experience)
As a result of that (share any outcome).
Sometimes a class member will complain, “But I don’t know them,” or “I haven’t been with them outside of class,” or “I’ve only known them for two years.”
This usually means one of two things:
- They have their radar up for insincere flattery and appreciations that are designed to get something (like sweeten them up and then ask for something).
- They aren’t used to noticing things about others or expressing what they notice. I assure participants that they should never offer insincere or manipulative appreciations.
Then, I then suggest they practice noticing.
I promise you that in a two-minute interaction with a clerk in a store you can find something to appreciate. It might be a pin someone is wearing or how they attend to you so quickly, or the fact that they ask you how you are.
Here are some real-time appreciations I can imagine giving to people in my life:
- When you came into Zumba, I felt the energy pick up in the room.
- When you asked about my Mom, I so appreciated your remembering. It makes the situation we’re dealing with easier.
- The comments you offered in the meeting really got my attention because they were so thoughtful and relevant.
- The fact that you do the food shopping is such a gift because it allows me to concentrate on my writing (thank you, husband!).
- The story you told moved me because I could relate to your example of that girl.
- The way you convened the group and brought everyone together was artful.
- You have an incredible knack for finding just the right card to send; your cards make me feel great.
Practice makes the art of appreciation a lot easier, and what better time to practice than on the official I-care-about-you day?
Besides, appreciations are a good value (aka free) on the annual double-the-price-of-roses (Valentine’s) day.
Of course, there are some specifics you might not want to say:
- That dress or Hawaiian shirt makes you look less fat.
- The mic makes your voice sounds less screechy.
- This time your presentation was interesting.
But you already know not to do that!
Can you imagine a Valentine’s Day where you make it your mission to appreciate others in your sincere, just-being-you way?
Patience Is NOT my middle name.
As I age and am aware of the years passing, I still want to do so much, and my tendency is to hurry up. But this week, I was wondering if the path to more creativity later in life might actually require learning to wait.
Many have written, over time, of the virtues of patience:
The poet Rainier Maria Rilke wrote in his famous Letters to a Young Poet, “I beg you, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart.”
The writer Leo Tolstoy wrote, “The two most powerful warriors are patience and time.”
Even Elon Musk, the fast-moving founder of Tesla said, “Patience is a virtue, and I’m learning patience. It’s a tough lesson.” (I understand that!)
This week I interviewed the founder of the blog site “Later Bloomer,” Debra Eve, for my about-to-be-relaunched Vital Presence podcast. Debra shares stories of people, throughout history, who have blossomed creatively at midlife or beyond.
She inspires with accounts of artists, explorers, and writers such as:
The beloved folk artist Grandma Moses, who became the poster girl for launching a creative career late in life, when she started painting at age 78.
The poet Wallace Stevens, who was particularly prolific late in life, even though he never quit his day job in an insurance company. He was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for poetry at age 75, just months before he died.
The artist Mary Granville Delany (1700-1788) who began her life’s work in her seventies, creating botanical prints now held by the British Museum. She is also said to be the founder of the art of collage.
The lexicographer Dr. Peter Mark Roget who embarked on his most important work after retiring from medicine in 1849. The world knows him for the Thesaurus that he published at age 74
The adventurer Alexandra David-Néel, who became the first Western woman to visit Tibet’s forbidden city of Lhasa when, at 56, she slipped into the city disguised as a sooty-faced male servant.
Check out the Later Bloomer website for many more fascinating examples.
Advice for later bloomers
When I asked Debra what advice she would give someone like her who is embarking on a creative venture in midlife, she offered this:
“Be gentle with yourself. Have patience.”
I knew Debra had been working on a book of her stories, but when I asked her about it, she told me that she was choosing to slow down the project. She’s not ready to quit her job as a legal assistant, and she’s OK letting the book project wait for a while longer, perhaps until she retires from a demanding, yet rewarding, job.
If a younger coach was working with her, he or she might try to pep Debra up with phrases like: “Take a risk.” “Don’t wait.” “Just do it.” “Quit your day job,” etc.
They may have not yet learned that patience is part of later-bloomer wisdom.
Transformation in a week or a weekend
During my 30’s and 40’s, I attended a lot of transformational workshops that championed thinking big, pushing the edges of possibility, transforming participants (in a week or weekend) and moving projects forward with urgency. Often “breakthroughs” came as you felt yourself being pummeled by a transformational two-by-four.
Today, I don’t need to go to a workshop to be pummeled. Life can do that for me, thank you very much. I can be gentler. I can let time transform.
As Elizabeth Taylor (the novelist) wrote:
“It is very strange that the years teach us patience–that the shorter our time, the greater our capacity for waiting.”
It isn’t easy
Like Elon Musk, I don’t come by patience easily. I’m learning that some projects, like the book I’m writing, have their own life and will take the time that they take.
Dang! I wanted to do it fast.
As I work on my practice of patience, I’d love to hear what you have learned. Have you experimented with stepping back and letting a project follow its own natural rhythm?
Where have you allowed the future to pull you forward rather than thinking that you had to do all the pushing?
I know it may take me a while to learn patience. Fortunately, I can wait.
I usually love the turn of the year, when I set time aside to do visioning and planning, think about the big picture of where I’m going, and get revved up for the months ahead. But this year, my life took a different turn. I was ambushed by a nasty cold, the kind that lies in wait until you say to yourself “Now, I have some space to let down” and then attacks.
This wasn’t the rest time I had imagined. Indentured to a period of forced relaxation, and attached to a permanent kleenex, the last thing I wanted to do was figure out my future. I’ve learned to not think too far ahead when I’m feeling punk and wearing mud-colored glasses.
The only future I could see was the next hour, as I tried to imagine what would get me through an afternoon of feeling dumpy.
When I sat and asked my team of inner advisors for a piece of advice, they offered me this wisdom that I share with you:
Find something of joy. In the next hour.
A new way to look at joy
I’ve often thought of joy as a state enlightened beings achieve, like happiness on steroids. Because I’m still in remedial enlightenment, I don’t have high hopes for achieving an ultimate state of bliss in this lifetime. I’m challenged by my ability to see the not-joy parts of the world around me (aka the suffering) even on the days when I’m feeling especially good. So how would I ever attain this perma-state of enhanced happiness?
One way I occasionally experience joy is when it runs into me. Joy sparkles in the wake of external victories: our team wins, the lottery calls our number, we win a contract or score a date, our child is born or our dog has puppies. Joy like this feels great, but it’s a gift that doesn’t last because it comes from outside. And big successes can’t just be conjured up when you need them.
What I needed was now access to joy I could find in the moment, joy that would get me out of my funk, out of my nightgown, and into the world (or at least the portion I felt well enough to be in).
I decided to concentrate on the suggested assignment and look for a moment of joy in the next hour. It wasn’t that hard. Soon, I progressed to looking for joy every fifteen minutes.
The process is remarkably easy. You just tell yourself you’re going to find a moment of joy and you find it. You take an inner snapshot of anything that awakens your sense of wonder, awe, magic, beauty or whatever turns you on. The moment only needs to last for a few seconds, just long enough for you to pause.
Because you’re not trying to achieve a state, you don’t have to deny that there’s tough stuff in the world. You can delight in the absolutely exquisite, orange mushroom that is growing beside the smelly garbage can.
Joy-hunting shifted my focus.
When I decided that the color royal blue brought a bit of joy to me, I began seeing royal blue everywhere. I had never noticed it was the color of our county’s recycling bins.
You see what you give your attention to.
On my joy-quest today, my first day I ventured outside the house, I found joy through:
- a fascinating conversation with a stranger on the bus
- gazing at Mt. Rainier set against a cloudless sky
- watching my mother almost smile from her bed
- feeling my thighs burn as I ran to catch the ferry
- dreaming of puppies
and those were just a few of the many mini-moments.
Finding simple enJoyment in these moments didn’t have to be significant in any way. I was relieved of the pressure to make something meaningful out of them, or make sense of my life, decide whether an event was good or bad, or determine the direction of the world. Instead, the equation I used was much simpler: did something make me feel a hint of joy: yes or no?
I really recommend this as a practice, especially for those of us who need to occasionally claw our way out of the doldrums. I made it back to the land of the living, where perhaps I’ll start that process of visioning in a couple of days.
Now to you. I’ll give you fifteen minutes: Where will you find your moment of joy?
Now is a time between times, this week between the end of one year and the start of the new one.
For some, approaching the New Year is an opportunity to review the year past and to set goals for the upcoming one. I look forward to doing both and envisioning how I plan to move ahead in 2018.
Before I move into planning mode, I need time this week to sit, enjoy being with my husband and spend more time in contemplation, letting the bustle of preparing for the holidays calm; allowing time for a more inward journey.
We don’t talk too much about the time between time. It’s like the rest between notes, or the negative space between and around objects in a drawing. Without silence, music is not possible, without empty space, art does not exist.
Without moments of doing quiet and nothingness, the busyness of our life can become a relentless cacophony of activity.
Taking time to contemplate, or just sit this week, gives me nourishment for the year ahead. Whatever your practice of seeking solitude, you have an opportunity this week to pause, reflect, and draw sustenance for your journey through 2018.
The world will wait for you.
This is a time to identify what nurtures your soul. This is a time to explore the sacred in the every day and ask the darkness for its gifts.
As the Persian poet Hafiz, wrote:
Now is the Time
Now is the time to know
That all that you do is sacred.
Now is the time to understand
That all your ideas of right and wrong
Were just a child’s training wheels
To be laid aside
When you can finally live
With veracity and love.
What is it in that sweet voice inside
That incites you to fear?
Now is the time for the world to know
That every thought and action is sacred.
This is the time
For you to compute the impossibility
That there is anything
Now is the season to know
That everything you do
Excerpted from “Now is the Time” translated by Daniel Ladinsky in
The Gift – Poems by Hafiz the Great Sufi Master
As you face the darkness of this time of year, you might enjoy this poem by contemporary poet David Whyte:
When your eyes are tired
the world is tired also.
When your vision has gone
no part of the world can find you.
Time to go into the dark
where the night has eyes
to recognize its own.
There you can be sure
you are not beyond love.
The dark will be your womb
The night will give you a horizon
further than you can see.
You must learn one thing.
The world was made to be free in
Give up all the other worlds
except the one to which you belong.
Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet
confinement of your aloneness
anything or anyone
that does not bring you alive
is too small for you.
– “Sweet Darkness” by David Whyte, House of Belonging
Before you get busy planning, as I will do, I hope you take time between the years to be a bit quieter and listen to how life is speaking to you.
What will bring you most alive in 2018?
I wish for you a wonderful start to the New Year and look forward to our path together in the coming year.