Scientists have now proven that in a number of important respects following the teachings of ancient wisdom traditions can lead to improved physical and mental health – and in fact can improve our overall happiness. And in particular, gratitude and awe have been found to not just be things we ‘should’ aspire to, to make us ‘better people but are ‘good for us’ in other ways.
While I haven’t researched this in any detail, my understanding is that practices such as gratitude and awe are part of all the main ancient spiritual traditions.
And gratitude and awe were on my mind today as I walked the ‘Fern Walk’ in the Pohangina Valley.
I was grateful on a number of fronts – part of my plan in leaving Massey was to have a bit more time to do things with my partner, Ian. He is a member of a Wednesday tramping group. My goal is to join some of these trips when I am a bit fitter. Today’s trip was part of building my fitness. It was a big deal for me because …
Firstly, it was on a ‘’school day” or would have been, if I’d still been in my ‘day job’. This resulted in an extra feeling of appreciation and gratitude, and that wonderful feeling of being more of a free agent. Secondly I was grateful that I’d managed to force myself to go walking today. I was very tempted to put off getting started with ‘Wednesday tramps’ until I had got on top of more of the groundwork needed right now for the Change Academy. But I’m aware that if I don’t change my routine now, it would be very easy to just fall back into the same busy-ness I was used to in my waged job. So, pat on the back for me. I am feeling a tad overwhelmed with all the work I have in front of me for the next few weeks, but I ‘felt the overwhelm and did it (tramping) anyway”.
And what a day it was. Such a stunningly clear and sunny day – and maybe the sun seemed to shine brighter because it felt a bit like ‘wagging school’!
It was very wet and muddy underfoot because of the recent rain and snow. Having to slow down so much in my attempt to avoid the mud where I could, would on some other occasions have felt frustrating, but today I was able to switch perspectives and enjoy the slowness – perhaps because I’m still a bit in the ‘holiday feeling’ of having finished my waged job.
I found that the verse from Psalm 118 “This is the day the Lord has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it” was often in my mind (not that I knew where the quote was from – I googled it just now!) Whether or not you are a Christian or follow a different spiritual or wisdom tradition, or you think this stuff is all a load of baloney, I am sure you will have had that same sense at times – “This is an awesomely wonderful day; we will rejoice and be glad in it”. The dappled light through the trees, the sunlight, the beauty of the ferns – it was all stunning.
And the third focus of my gratitude was the wonderful person / people who had been out and cleared the track. There was a lot of tree damage from the snowfall of last Wednesday / Thursday. That is only a few days ago. There are still roads that haven’t been re-opened, but somebody had cleared this track. I don’t know whether it was a Department of Conservation staff member or a volunteer (this track was originally formed by a dedicated group of volunteers), but I was very grateful to whoever it was.
I gather, according to science, that my body would have been benefiting from all that gratitude! So not only did it make for an enjoyable day, but it was ‘good for me’!
And on top of that was a good dose of awe. The beauty of our native bush. From the giant trees to the miniature wonders such as fungi. The amazing vistas, the stunning beauty of my surroundings. Again, this added exponentially to the day. And, as with the experience of gratitude, not only did it make for an enjoyable day, but it would have been ‘good for me’ in terms of my health.
A tiny ‘birds nest’ mushroom
Simplifying Your Life – Letting Go Our Need For Stuff
Simplifying your life – does it feel like an impossible dream? Have you sometimes found yourself surrounded by chaos and clutter – on your office desk, in your home, in your email in-box, and perhaps, worst of all in your head? Perhaps even to the extent that you feel the desperate need to sort yourself out, ‘de-clutter’ or tidy up, or in the case of those racing thoughts, to organise and simplify your thinking before you can move on to the things you need to do?
Since I first learnt about Mindfulness I have accepted the idea that thoughts, feelings, urges, sensations and other ‘mental events’ just turn up in our heads – it’s not like we invite them in. But when it comes to the world of physical ‘stuff’ sometimes it feels like mischievous forces are at work resulting in ‘stuff’ turning up uninvited or parking itself in strange places.
The ‘Stuff’ Elves
I guess, when I think about it ‘stuff’ happens like unconscious thoughts – all those many moments in the day when we are not being intentional, and are in a state of ‘auto-pilot’, we collect stuff, store stuff, use stuff , move stuff, and put ‘stuff’ on the ‘backburner’ – somewhere where we’ll deal with it later, as we do with thoughts. It can almost seem as if we didn’t invite that ‘stuff’ into our lives when we accumulate physical belongings without conscious and wise awareness. And just like what happens with ‘stuff’ inside our heads, if we do that for too long with physical stuff, at a certain point we realise it’s driving us crazy and we need to take some time out to sort ourselves out and to simplify our lives.
“For the longest time I thought I needed to be more organised. Now I know I just needed less stuff.” Inspiredrd.com
Simplifying and de-cluttering our Physical Stuff
When practicing Mindfulness the goal is to neither pursue thoughts, feelings and other mental events nor push them away. We aim to just ‘let them be’. Now, that is challenging enough to do in a 20 minute meditation, let alone in every moment of our everyday lives.
And if we want to ‘simplify’ and de-clutter our physical ‘stuff’ then we need to have this same attitude of non-attachment.
Think about the benefits if we were able to do this in every moment. If we were able to just notice, when we see some ‘new shiny thing’ without craving or attachment. And if we were able to just register whether we need it or whether it is just our ‘greed’ speaking. I don’t mean greed with a capital G. I mean that normal everyday human urge to ‘have’ something for our very own, just because we want it. That ‘child-like urge’ to have it as ‘mine’. I’m not talking about greed as bad or immoral here, just as a natural human desire that I am sure everyone has to some degree. Perhaps it harks back to ancient times when for survival we feasted when food was available because we didn’t know when we’d next suffer a famine. Wherever it originated from, this kind of ‘grasping’ seems pretty universal to me.
With conscious awareness we can ‘just notice’ this desire to have stuff. We can use our Mindfulness toolkit and ‘Notice and Name’ – ‘there’s desire’ or ‘there’s wanting’ and just ‘let it be’. That is, let the thought ‘be’, so we don’t act on it, and thus letting the shiny new thing ‘just be’ so we don’t find ourselves taking it home!
Simplifying, Letting Be and Letting Go
“In the end, just three things matter:
How well we have lived
How well we have loved
How well we have learned to let go”
― Jack Kornfield
I am not deeply schooled in the wise and ancient Buddhist teachings about Mindfulness, having learnt about Mindfulness through my study of psychology and counselling – I have taken the main principles and general philosophy, as I understand it, and made these ideas my own. So please be aware that what you read from me is my ‘take’ on Mindfulness. So, I have to say that I find the idea of ‘Letting Go’ hardest of all. But I can more easily go with the idea of ‘Letting it be’. Perhaps this is my ‘Clayton’s’ ‘letting go’ – that is ‘letting go’ without ‘letting go’. (See my last blog for the origin of the ‘Clayton’s’ analogy). Working on our ability to ‘let be’ or ‘let go’ is critical to simplifying our lives.
For me, I can see something beautiful, useful (handy), time-saving, funny, or quirky in a shop (these are some of my biggest ‘hooks’, and you will have your own), or on-line, and in my more Mindful moments, I can notice that urge, I can name the desire to ‘have’ it, and can then ‘let it (the urge) be’, without acting on it. I often am not quite able to ‘let it go’ – instead I’ve just ‘bought time’. Created a pause. And told myself that if it really is a good idea, when I’ve stepped back and thought about it wisely, as opposed to being caught in the excitement, enthusiasm and desire of the moment, then I can always come back another time to buy it. So I can ‘let it be’ – stand back from the urge and let it pass. And very rarely do I decide something is worth going back for.
But that’s in my more Mindful moments. Then there are the other times …
When I can hold onto this way of being, I can still enjoy the shopping experience, but in the same way I enjoy going to an art gallery. Somehow, the need to ‘own’ stuff doesn’t turn up when I go to an art gallery. I can admire the beauty, the creativity, the inventiveness, quirkiness, power etc. of different works of art, without feeling I have to ‘have’ them. And I can do that in shops too, when I’m being Mindful. But I guess I’m lucky that way, in that the only kind of retail therapy I’ve ever found to be really therapeutic, bringing me a sense of joy and aliveness, is playing ‘Little Shop’ with my grand-children! So I acknowledge it will be a lot harder to kick the habit if you are a bit of a shopaholic. But if you seriously want to simplify your life, it will be well worth working on. And I have to say, I’m not sure it’s really possible to beat the shopping habit without digging deeply into the Mindfulness toolkit, with tools like ‘Noticing and naming’, self-compassion and urge surfing, to name a few.
If you’re up for the challenge of simplifying related to ‘having’ stuff or ‘things’, you may find Courtney Carver’s writing (Be More With Less) – and the challenges or missions she posts to be both inspiring and helpful. I particularly enjoyed this post ‘My Favorite Things Aren’t Things Anymore’.
Image Credits – Dollar Photo Club
Simplifying Our Life-styles – by reducing the ‘doing’ stuff
Are you a person who finds yourself over-committed? Or tries to squeeze so much into your life that you don’t have any ‘time for you’. Do you also need to let go of some of this ‘doing’ stuff as well as letting go of some of the ‘having’ stuff? In this way you can really simplify your life.
And that is the far bigger challenge for me, personally. I often joke with my colleagues that when I don’t watch myself carefully I am very easily ‘seduced by opportunity’. I’m not so much a person who gets pulled into saying ‘yes’ through guilt, expectation or obligation (although that definitely does happen at times). But I am a sucker for an interesting project. I see so many possibilities for making a difference in the world, so many interesting, rewarding and exciting possibilities, and I am a glutton for them. I want to do them all. I fear that if I don’t say ‘yes’ now, the opportunity may pass. I am seriously greedy. And possibly, it’s Greedy with a capital G. Greedy for excitement and sense of satisfaction and probably also for acknowledgement and recognition if I’m totally honest. And so I end up saying ‘yes’ to more things than will comfortably fit in my life. And my biggest hook – Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) – what if this opportunity never comes around again. And chances are, the Fear of Missing Out probably makes it harder for you to resist your particular brand of ‘bright and shiny new thing’ too. But more about FOMO another time.
For others of you this ‘greed’ may be for other types of goals – desire for adventure, for artistic or creative activities, for fun, for travel, for more destinations or adventures on your bucket list, for meeting more people, for more achievements, for more successes. We all have our different ‘hooks’. And as I said, the desire for these things isn’t bad or wrong. Lots of the activities we desire are very worthwhile. But it can be detrimental when it gets out of balance.
The downward spiral – towards complexity and away from simplicity
Then, of course, if we get into ‘busy mode’ and become stressed or overwhelmed with all these exciting, satisfying, noble, enjoyable or worthwhile activities, our minds are less and less in that ‘place of perspective’ where wisdom and wise choices and simplifying are possible, and more and more in tunnel-vision and urgency. Less and less in the moment, open, gracious, compassionate and kind. More and more driven, goal-oriented and narrowly focussed – and I’m not saying goal-oriented and narrowly focussed is a ‘bad’ thing, but if this is our only mode of operating, we can lose perspective. We can find ourselves driven and goal-focussed on things that don’t serve our overall wellbeing and purpose well. We need to be able to step into both perspective and focus, choosing whichever is most appropriate to our intentions at any given time. When we are overly goal-focussed we can end up being less able to enjoy the many rich moments of beauty in our everyday lives, less able to really ‘be’ with our partners, children or friends. Less able to see the wood for the trees, and less in touch with the things that are important to us and less able to prioritise the important things… and onwards down the spiral. Simplifying can help us to clarify what are the things that are most important to us. And simplifying can ensure we are less often distracted by the things that are less important to us.
The Mindfulness Toolkit for Simplifying
Simplifying and letting go the desire for more of the physical ‘stuff’:
- ‘Notice and name’ – step back into the observer stance (a place of perspective) and recognise “there is desire” or “I notice I’m feeling the need to have that thing” (or whatever is applicable).
- Surf the urge. No feeling or urge will persist for ever. Learn the skill of surfing the urge until it subsides.
- Remind yourself of your most important values. If Simplifying is one of them, that will help you to stay on track. But be clear in your mind – what is simplifying in the service of, your you? Focussing on these reasons will empower your effort to make this change.
Simplifying and letting go of the ‘desire’ for experiences / ‘doing’ stuff
- Breathe and slow down. Remind yourself that there will be many more opportunities which will be at least as rich as this one. It won’t be the exact same package – and that’s O.K. Who knows, it may even be more satisfying. And if you slow down enough to take one thing at a time, you’ll be able to enjoy it, and the rest of your life, a whole lot more.
- ‘Notice and name’ – step back into the observer stance (a place of perspective) and recognise “there is desire” or “I notice I’m feeling the need to say ‘yes’ to that thing” (or whatever is applicable)
- Surf the urge. No feeling or urge will persist for ever. Learn the skill of surfing the urge until it subsides.
- And keep coming back to your values. If you know this is a pattern you really want to get on top of, choose a word or short phrase that really captures it for you. And regularly, during your day, any time you start to notice ‘rushing-ness’ and ‘busy-ness’ creeping into your day, repeat your phrase to yourself and bring to mind either a memory or an image of what this state is like, to ground you back into this state that you value. Examples might be ‘Peaceful’ or ‘Calm and Grounded’ or ‘Gracious and Wise’ or ‘Calm and Organised’ – give this some thought until your goal becomes clearer and you have found the state that you want to hold.
Mindfulness Attitudes and Simplifying
I consider the Mindfulness Attitudes that Jon Kabat-Zinn identified in his book ‘Full Catastrophe Living’ as also being Mindfulness Tools. When we consciously focus on these attitudes – that is, Non judging, Patience, Beginner’s Mind, Trust, Non-striving, Acceptance ( getting real about ‘what is’) and Letting Go, this can help us to stay on track with any challenge we take on – whether it be a relatively focussed habit change such as consuming less sugar, or a more pervasive habit change such as simplifying our lives. I find all of these are useful attitudes to touch base with when a battle is playing out in my mind over the desire to ‘have more’ or ‘do more’. I love the idea that the more we cultivate these attitudes, the more we cultivate Mindfulness. And the more we practice Mindfulness, the more we are cultivating these values.
” You don’t have to have it figured out to move forward” – The Art of Simple
Mindfulness Attitudes and Skills? Or Simplifying and De-cluttering Techniques? – Or both?
There is a lot of useful information, tips and advice available on how to go about the simplifying or de-cluttering process. And it is my belief that without bringing Mindfulness to the process as well, we will inevitably ‘re-complexify’ and ‘re-clutter’ after our initial burst of simplifying or de-cluttering enthusiasm. If you haven’t already learnt about Mindfulness and begun to implement Mindfulness meditation and Everyday Mindfulness techniques in your life, I encourage you to do so. Check out some of my previous blogs – and you might also like to consider registering for The Change Academy’s Everyday Mindfulness on-line course.
A penny for your thoughts … (not literally, but you know what we mean – we’d love to hear your opinion and learn about your experiences). Any and all comments welcome – whether or not you agree with what I’ve written.
Do you get ‘hooked’ by a desire to ‘have’ stuff or ‘do’ stuff? Share your experiences here. Or do you have useful tips or advice on using Mindfulness for simplifying and de-cluttering? We’d love to hear any thoughts you may have on simplifying your life.
Are you a ‘download’ junkie? Have you subscribed to every ‘useful’ e-newsletter in the known world? And are you drowning in information overload? Does FOMO (the ‘Fear of Missing Out’) stop you from deleting emails and throwing out articles? Me too!
But I’m getting better and better at managing this ‘ongoing battle’ with overload. And yesterday I came across the most ‘sane’ blog I’ve ever seen on the subject (ironically, of course, I found it in one of those zillions of e-newsletters I subscribe to. I’ll include the link below. But first …
“That’s a handy thing” / “You never know when it will come in handy”.
I come from a family of collectors, and some of the collecting borders on hoarding (O.K. to be honest, completely crosses the border …). And to make matters worse, my family are very much into local and family history. Now there’s a recipe for disaster when it comes to rescuing / saving and hoarding everything. And a family saying that we all laugh at, but use frequently is “You never know when it will come in handy”. To be fair, I don’t think this is just something our family suffers from. I am sure it is very common – whether applied widely, or to a particular area of interest.
I don’t know if there’s been any psychological research done on ‘the fear of missing out’ but I wouldn’t be surprised if there has (if you know of any, please tell us about anything you’ve found in the Comments box below). Somehow it seems to me to be quite a primal urge. In the same way that that everything seems urgent and important when we are caught in fight-flight physiology or a ‘rushing’ or urgency mode, making it hard to let go the somewhat less urgent tasks and focus on the most urgent, it seems harder to let ‘things’ go the more stressed and busy we are. It reminds me of the hawks on the road, eating road-kill. Apparently they instinctively grip onto their ‘find’ when faced with an approaching car, which limits their ability to fly and increases their chances of being skittled. The busier or more stressed I am, the more ‘important’ / “might be really useful information later” certain emails or e-newsletters seem. And of course the writers often exploit this sense of stress and urgency by having a limited-time offer in the subject line or first paragraph.
My ‘Claytons’ solution
Firstly, to explain the term – in the 70’s or 80’s in Australia and New Zealand there was a marketing campaign for a non-alcoholic drink, called Claytons – ‘the drink you’re having when you’re not having a drink’. (If you’re interested, this youtube clip of one of their adverts gives you an idea why it was so frequently parodied. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ylH43Tcaj60) So my “Claytons” solution to email was to set up a folder for all the things that I wished I had time to read, called ‘Labour Weekend Reading’. I did this about five years ago, a couple of weeks before our 3 day Labour Weekend holiday, thinking that I would have heaps of time to catch up on all this reading. And I’m still happily ‘filing’ emails that I haven’t got time to read into my ‘Labour Weekend Reading’ file. As yet, I have not opened that file to actually read anything, so it has a humongous number of emails in it. But it has helped me to use the Mindfulness strategy of ‘noticing and naming’ the Fear of Missing Out, and to recognise my unwillingness to ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’! This strategy has saved me from experiencing the discomfort of hitting the delete button and fearing I would miss out on some ‘good stuff’. This is a classic case of avoidance of emotional discomfort! And avoidance is not a Mindful response. But in this case, I’m not sure if there are any harmful consequences to it (I’d be interested on your opinion on this). And one day, with increasing Mindfulness and intentionality, I may reach peace with this, rather than just calling a truce, and I may just hit the delete button and get rid of the whole lot in one fell swoop. But not just yet, because you never know, maybe I might still find time to read some of the emails in that file… I love Christine Carter’s suggestion of setting up a separate email account for all these kind of emails, but in a lot of ways, I think that may also be another ‘Clayton’s’ solution.
And what about paper files?
In discussing this with some Counsellor and Supervisor colleagues recently, it turns out I’m not the only one with this hoarding instinct! We all have boxes or filing cabinet drawers of handouts, training materials and articles which we believe that one day we will sort through and save the ‘good stuff’. I know that I hate re-creating resources on something I have already written about (for example when a file becomes corrupted). So the idea of throwing out a resource and then later discovering I ‘need’ it for a workshop or a client has me holding on to drawer-loads of ‘stuff’. And in reality, if I wanted to look for an old resource for a client, it could take hours to sort through and find. In reality it would be quicker to just re-write it – and I may well create something better and more up-to-date than my original. But the idea of re-writing stuff is, for me, kind of like the idea of scraping my finger nails down a chalkboard (remember them?) But I’m getting pretty close now to just biting the bullet and doing a big toss out.
One idea my colleagues and I talked about was ‘helping’ each other with this task – that with a supportive observer present we might decide “to heck with it, it can all go”. And then we could use the time we saved by not painstakingly sorting through every sheet of paper to have a coffee or a wine and enjoy each other’s company – and celebrate a mini-victory over being captive to ‘stuff’.
Living a simpler life is something that really appeals – being freer from ‘stuff’. Christine Carter’s article on the ‘Greater Good – The Science of Meaningful Life’ website is a great step in that direction with regard to emails. As I mentioned, this is one of the most ‘sane’ articles I’ve read on the topic. http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/howand_whyto_take_your_life_back_from_email?utm_source=GG+Newsletter+April+6%2C+2016&utm_campaign=GG+Newsletter+April+6+2016&utm_medium=email
And you might also enjoy Courtney Carver’s website www.bemorewithless.com if you aspire to a simpler life in a broader sense.
Simplifying, whether it be our inboxes or our lives, helps us to lead a more Mindful life. And Mindfulness helps us to value and achieve simplicity. Both seem challenges worth tackling.
Image Credits: Pixaby and Adobe Stock Photos
A penny for your thoughts … (not literally, but you know what we mean – we’d love to hear your opinion and learn about your experiences).
How are you at deleting emails? Or better still, unsubscribing? And how about throwing out old paper records, articles, resources? And other ‘stuff’ (belongings) – do you aspire to de-clutter and simplify with regard to belongings? What have you found helpful in your attempts to de-clutter. Please share your tips. We’d love to hear from you on the Comments Board below.
Any and all comments welcome – whether or not you agree with what I’ve written.