The end of the year is an orgy of consumption; work parties, family gatherings, shopping and a festival of excess. Add in the chaos of crazy weather, travel and seasonal illness… it can be downright exhausting!
That’s why the New Year is a perfect time to return to simplicity.
Just the word sounds delicious, light and sweet on the tongue: Sim-pliss-itee.
Thoreau said it best: “Simplify, simplify.” Walden was one of my favorite books when I discovered it as a teen. The wisdom within those pages served as a guide while I shaped my life. Paring down to just essentials. Examining what’s really important.
I enjoy reading bedtime stories, and Walden is my current selection. I’ve been reading it on the Kindle, which my sister gave me for Christmas. (Best sister ever!)
This new tool afforded me an enormous shift toward simplicity. For years I’ve attempted to pare down my book collection. Books are heavy. Every time I relocate, which is frequently, I’m reminded how many I have.
Ninety-five percent of them I will never read again. It seems foolish to covet such unwieldy objects. But like lots of people, I have an emotional attachment to my books.
The Kindle weighs less than my cell phone and takes up less space than a paperback. Its size and the availability of my favorite books in digital form helped me let go of that attachment.
I desired simplicity more than I desired the chronic maintenance of a seldom-used library.
So I boxed up nearly all my books and sold them at the local book store. It was an emotional experience. At first I got panicky, and the loss felt like a severed limb.
But when I returned home and surveyed all the fabulous empty space, I felt suddenly free. I was able to get rid of three book shelves. That’s no small fact when you live in a 300 sq. ft. apartment!
The release was intoxicating.
It was so great, in fact, that I did the same thing with all my CDs and DVDs.
While this simplification was literal and tangible, I’ve been enjoying simplicity in other forms lately as well.
Eliminating obligations that no longer feel good to me. Getting rid of habits that clutter my mental landscape. Simplifying communication, consumption, input.
So simplicity is not just for the home and workspace anymore.
You can simplify your head, your schedule, your wardrobe, your finances, your diet. Even small simplification efforts create space. Space is soothing when you’re overwhelmed or depleted.
What in your life could use some simplifying?
Is your home uncluttered and comforting?
Do you absolutely love all the activities you’ve signed up for?
Do all your habits and thoughts support the life you’d like to live?
If not, think about what you could simplify. Free up some room.
Empty space can be filled with something you truly love. Or you can leave it deliciously free and revel in its bare simplicity.
No need to call Animal Control – he’s my pet. His name is Samhain and he’s a Columbian Red Tail Boa Constrictor. “Samhain” is the Gaelic version of Halloween, my favorite day of the year.
I know snakes are not for everyone. (They’re probably not for most people.) But regardless of what you think about Samhain or my decision to share my home with him, you’ve got to admit one thing:
Samhain is one smart cookie.
Let me tell you why.
If there’s anything snakes do well, it’s grow. He grows every time he eats. His skin gets stretched, and doesn’t fit him anymore. So he sheds it. His eyes get cloudy and he slides right out of his skin, leaving a snake-shaped molt behind him.
Not once in my lifetime of keeping reptiles have I seen a snake try to climb back into that discarded skin.
So why do we humans try it?
We come to the decision to make a difficult change. Something needs to go. It’s time for us to grow exponentially.
Growth means our skin is not going to fit anymore. So we shed it: the job, the relationship, the self-destructive habit. The thing we’ve decided is not working for us.
And then, in a moment of panic, we try to crawl back into that discarded skin.
We begin to doubt ourselves. “Maybe it wasn’t that bad.”
We think we’ve made a mistake. “I know it was killing me, but the benefits were good.”
We wonder what we were thinking. “I should never have left!”
Our original decision was the most honest, the most brave. It happened at the gut level. Then the doubt sneaks in, the second guessing. We don’t want to grow, because it’s uncomfortable. Change is disorienting. Letting go is painful.
But all we need to do is embrace our new skin and we’ll be fine.
New skin feels vulnerable. There’s no tough hide to protect you from the elements. It may even look different than you’re used to. Who is that person in the mirror?
If you’ve made a necessary change, prepare to be uncomfortable as you adjust to the new skin.
Let’s learn a lesson from my angel serpent – don’t crawl back into that old self. You discarded it for a reason: it no longer fits. Trust your decision. Move forward and leave that misshapen wrapper behind.
Get out your journal and ask yourself:
Am I willing to undergo the temporary discomfort of change and loss in order to grow into a fabulous new self?
Have I made a change recently that I’m thinking about backing out of because it’s hard?
Am I picking up that bad habit again, going back to that unhealthy relationship, swallow the discontent of that job?
What one small step can I take right now to further my growth and keep walking away from that old situation that wasn’t working?
Samhain’s brain may be the size of a pea, but I gotta tell you — when it comes to growth, he’s got a lot to teach.
While journaling this morning, I got to writing about how squash is a metaphor for life. Which leads me, naturally, to this week’s journal prompt for you.
As you know, it’s Harvest time. Except I’m a city girl, so my idea of a “harvest” is going to the grocery and picking a pumpkin from the produce aisle.
But my partner and I also have a tiny plot in a community garden where we grow vegetables and herbs. And by “we” I mean he. I haven’t actually seen our garden since last May. I just like to talk about it and buy beautiful coffee table books about organic gardening.
The other day, he comes home with a huge, fully-formed acorn squash. It’s gorgeous – deep green and glossy, the size of a football. I’m blown away. He grew that. From a seed! (city girl, remember?)
And it seemed to come out of nowhere – this ripe, full-grown squash. Except I know he’s been tending to it daily since he planted it in June.
It made me realize how much life is like that squash. What we experience today is really the harvest of last season’s planting.
Any situation in your present life is there because of what you started doing (or not doing) six months ago. Your job, your relationships, your creative projects, your home, your health.
Our dreams do not spring forth into our lives, fully-formed, any more than that squash appeared in my kitchen. This is good news. It means our dreams will grow if we plant them ahead of time, water them daily. Tend to them consistently, over and over, day in and day out.
Try these journal prompts
What do you want to harvest next season?
Where do you want to be in 3 or 4 months, and what do you need to plant today to make that happen?
What tiny seed of a dream can you tuck into the plot of your life this afternoon, so it will be ready for harvest this winter?
It’s easy to get caught up in survival mode or crisis management. We’re so busy, there’s so much on our plates. We become reactionary, just putting our whatever fire is ablaze before us.
But if we stop and consciously think about the type of harvest we’d like to bring in, we can square away a tiny plot of time today to sew seeds for next season.
Squash don’t grow overnight. And neither do dreams.
Stuck is staying in a relationship that stopped working long ago. Or eating another pint of Ben & Jerry’s while thinking about how tight your jeans are. Stuck is avoiding that half-completed project begging for attention on your desk.
Stuck is uncomfortable. It makes us feel hopeless, helpless, full of despair.
Paralysis sets in when we don’t know the *real* reason we’re stuck. Not knowing why we’re stuck means we’re unable to take action. But getting unstuck is easier than you think.
I know this because the Page and I share a 300 sq.ft. studio apartment.
I chose this apartment. Granted, it was empty and the warm bamboo floors were awash with golden autumn sunlight when I first saw it. I probably would have signed the lease on a prison cell with that kind of natural light.
So our tiny, fabulously-lit apartment was driving me crazy last week. I didn’t have enough space. The obvious solution? Move.
But just *thinking* about the enormous undertaking of a move left me stricken. The packing, the change of address, the cable installation, all those stairs…
I got stuck.
The Page found me lying on the bed, paralyzed and hyperventilating.
It turns out the solution was much simpler than a change of residence. I just needed some boxes. Boxes to store off-season items, to make room, to clear out the clutter.
The Page left to get boxes, and suddenly I could breathe again. No U-haul necessary!
Discovering your sticking point will propel you into action and toward a solution. Let’s get you energized and inspired again.
Get our your journal and answer the question:
Why am I stuck?
The first few answers are predictable. They sound like something your partner, your mother, or your boss might say.
Keep digging. Answer it again. And again. And again.
Why am I REALLY stuck?
Write every answer to that question, for as long as you need to, until you hit the one that causes a jolt. A little burst of electricity.
The right answer is the one that motivates you to take action, right now.
And you may find that the solution is easier than you expected.
This is a guest post by my lovely and talented sister, Kelley. She’s going to tell you how to use journaling to keep zombies from eating your brains. I’m not kidding. ~Kristin
A while back, I wrote a guest post for Journaling Saves about Emotional Vampires. Despite all appearances, I’m not personally obsessed with strange monsters of the “B Movie” genre.
However, this week, as I was getting my butt kicked by pole vaulting Zombies in the video game “Plants Vs. Zombies”, I couldn’t help but notice some of the obvious connections to what was happening in my life, and the lives of my friends.
Journaling will do that for you.
When Video Games Resemble Life
For those among you who aren’t aware of the charming characteristics of zombies – zombies want to eat your brains. They aren’t sly. They aren’t subtle. And they don’t move very fast. Mostly they shamble along, careful not to drop too many non-essential body parts, always moving in the same direction. For such mindless beings, they are incredibly single-minded in their focus.
Unlike Emotional Vampires, zombies don’t pretend to be anything other than what they are. In fact, when you first see them, despite their gross appearance (which they can’t really help – having recently exited graves), it’s perfectly obvious that they are monsters.
They move slowly enough so that with any basic level of strategy and organization, you can rid yourself and your lawn of them faster than you can pull up dandelions or head off the Jehovah’s Witnesses marching toward your front door.
So why do we let them in to eat our brains?
This, I think, is the real question. We all can recognize our own personal zombies, and we can see them coming. We have scripts, old dialogues, roles that we know well. We think things are buried, but they keep getting dug up again. Zombies refuse to stay where you’ve left them. You know who they are.
Maybe for you it’s that friend that always succeeds in making you feel guilty and wrong for things that you have no responsibility for and no control over. Her emails show up like clockwork monthly or annually, despite your best intentions to root her out of your life once and forever.
Perhaps it’s a family member who thinks you should buy into his reality – who argues with you until you are unsure if you‘re truly sane. Some are co-workers who should have their own personal horror sound track playing a warning as they advance upon us in our defenseless pre-caffeinated state to make outrageous demands and even more ludicrous claims.
In-laws are frequently zombies, moving in on us, (or in with us) despite our best intentions, and evading our fences and defenses. They show up with way too much baggage. They make it through the front door, and then it’s game over. They eat our brains.
In the game “Plants vs. Zombies”, a player plants various “defense” flowers and weapons such as Pea-Shooters and Wall-nuts. My favorite plant is the sunflower, which beams at you and then gives you extra sun.
If you plant enough sunflowers, you’re almost assured of having enough sunshine to fight the wave attacks of the zombies and their cohorts.
Journaling the Zombies Away
Maybe we’re most vulnerable in our personal lives when we’ve neglected our own needs. Perhaps we haven’t planted enough sunflowers to give us hope and energy when the long shadow of an approaching zombie darkens our door.
What are YOUR sunflowers? How can you cultivate them and nourish them, so they give you ammunition for your pea-shooters to stave off that next zombie attack?
What do your zombies look like? What kinds of warnings do they give you before they approach?
What can you do to provide wall-nuts and tater mines to keep the zombies from even approaching your front porch in the first place?
Psychic defense is everyone’s personal responsibility. You deserve more than to live your life like the walking dead.