New Year, New Clutter Free Me

It is a new year and with that I binge watched Marie Kondo’s Tidying Up series on Netflix.  Marie and her translator visit various homes within the Los Angeles area to assist families in getting their homes organized and revitalized.  Although I have read the book, seeing it visually has been inspirational.  What’s particularly interesting in this show, is it highlights people of various ethnic backgrounds, ages, and life circumstances.  Clutter is a universal issue.  And since it’s the new year, and I am attempting to move within the next month, I need to get started decluttering.

Last year I attempted to get rid of 365 items, one for each day.  I landed at 225ish.  Not bad, but not enough.  At this point, I am going to try to rid of 365 items from January 1stto May 2nd, my 40thbirthday.  So far, I hit 61 items.  Not bad for January 13th.

But as I began discarding more and more, I began finding gifts from others that I had not even looked at before.  Sometimes I receive so much or end up having so much, I pile it to the side, and don’t even have the chance to appreciate it.  This week, I actually took the time to wear three gift items that I have yet to utilize. Sometimes I value these gifts to the point of waiting for the right moment to “premiere” them, but then the moment never comes. And I forget about what was given to me with care and thought.

As I looked closely at the gifts given, particularly two necklaces, I noticed they were given with such care.  One even had my initial carved into it, another offered various precious crystals that were well thought out as to what I may need to welcome into my life. I wore one shirt with my beloved foxes with pride.  Why did I put these gifts off?  My room was full of clutter, I didn’t have space to allow them to shine.

It’s easy to start having negative thoughts about who we are as a friend or family member when we recognize the lack of appreciation and disregard we may have had for what has been given to us.  How could we be so thoughtless as a recipient?  But it’s never too late to change.

This is going to be a new effort of mine, to actually appreciate gifts that are given to me when they are given to me.  Live the joy in the moment, versus waiting for the right moment to come.

Portland: The Happiest City in America

As a wanderluster who has travelled the world non-stop for the past five years, I would like to make the big jump to guess that Portland is the happiest city in America.  Although I am an American, I haven’t lived in the country for over five years.  Therefore, each time I come to the US, I feel as if I’m a visitor.  Most times I connect with family and friends, but sometimes I squeeze in a new city to explore.  This is the case for Portland. At the age of 39, this is the first time I visited and I am solo.

 I am exploring places to relocate to when my time for repatriation nears.  Moving back to America from Europe will be quite shocking, especially during these times.  I want a city that can ease the blow.  Many people have encouraged Portland, and therefore I took the jump to squeeze it in during the holidays.   

My interaction with Portland is quite limited, as I am travelling solo.  But what I have witnessed is joy.  People are happy here, despite the gray cold weather, grittiness, and numerous homeless that grace the streets, bridges, and sides of the highway.  My brother tried to correct me saying that some of these people choose this lifestyle and are not homeless per say but known as “wanderers.” 

On two different occasions, when I tried various coffee and donut shops the staff were dancing.  It was not a gimmick, they were simply jamming out to either Michael Jackson or some hipster song.  What a joy to witness that.  Dancing and joy are contagious.

Portlanders also exude this sense of Midwestern kindness.  As an Ohioan, this is comforting to experience in other towns.  It’s odd when a large city that is full of pedestrians, bicyclists, tourists, and people overall actually take the time to be kind. Each store I went into, the staff made an effort to say hello and good-bye.  They may have even offered up a chat.  In many other metropolitan cities, staff members will opt to ignore you while staring at their phones hoping you may leave.

Being pet-friendly is another reason why this town may be so happy.  Dogs may come in and out of establishments.  I have heard from someone who recently located from San Francisco that one of the draws of the town was this feature.  All the homes they looked at renting were open to welcoming their large older dog.  She actually felt bad about turning down potential landlords because they were all so kind.

 “Keep Portland Weird” is one claim to fame here, which you may definitely witness.  I saw someone wearing a Ramen Cup onesie during the day time. Nobody glanced twice.  Crazy hair colors, piercings, mismatched clothing, excessive tattoos….all are welcome. Numerous stores even boasted on their exterior walls how accepting they were of everyone.  It’s a liberal town that embraces all.

There are hidden spots of refuge such as the Lan Su Chinese Garden, which transports you to a different country after you enter it’s walls.   Drop in tai chi classes were available, or you could opt to have a tea ceremony in their tea shop. 

Powell’s Books, one of the most notable independent book stores in America, can also be a place of wonder.  With the decline and closure of many bookstores throughout America, it was awe-inspiring to see a type of place exists here. Perhaps it’s the love for literature that brings happiness.

Maybe it’s not a huge jump to make this conclusion of Portland being the happiest city in America.  The Nordic countries generally place in the top 3. One would think with the minimal sun and cold temperatures that people would automatically grumble.  But perhaps these towns carry what the Danish like to call “hygge”.  It’s coziness with friends, coffee and tea, delicious sweets which you don’t carry guilt for, books, being warm and comforted by your wool sweaters or layered attire, bicycling, nature, and kindness. 

Although I may not be relocating to Portland anytime soon.  I can appreciate it, and would definitely return.  I can see why people are drawn to the laidback lifestyle, eclectic vibe, and warm hearted locals. 

“Portland was a dream both in the literal sense and the metaphorical sense, both tangible and not – a fleeting affair you want to hold on to but can’t, so you try memorizing her every detail only to fail to do so in the consumption, in the savoring, in the absorbing of yourself into her. When she’s gone, she comes to you in snippets, replaying in your mind like a fragmented picture show.”
― Jackie Haze, Borderless

“How was I supposed to survive here? These Portlanders were an entirely different breed of white people.”
― Gabby Rivera, Juliet Takes a Breath

 

Unexpected Life Coaches

During this holiday season, I have been lucky enough to meet up with friends and family. Some of them I haven’t seen for several years. Although it has been amazing to catch up on squeezing in shortened stories of our lives in a small amount of time, there has been an unexpected result of these connections. People who have been in your world for more than ten years are witnesses of your life. They may not know the everyday details of the fluctuations that occur, but they are observers who see the general arc of your story. You provide the same role for them.

One of the most interesting things about this though, is being able to share your goals for the future. They don’t just know you from the past, or are hearing about the present, they are containers to breathe in the shape of the next phase of your life. One after one, as I retold how I want this next part of my life to go, they listened and supported how I plan to carve out my path. Sometimes my goals can appear quite lofty, but each time I explained them they seemed to solidify deeper in my bones. They are becoming reality. I am starting to believe it is possible to achieve my dreams for the next decade.

Old friends grant you the gift of being mirrors of the past, present, and future. They remind us of how certain values have traveled and remained consistent with us throughout our various haircuts, partners, jobs, apartments, body sizes, or financial status. Yet they also can observe the shifts we have made as a human being in how we want to carry out the remainder of our lives. Through inquiry and reflection with these special people, the universe is providing a sacred space to pause to determine what is truly essential and meaningful.

This upcoming year I will be turning 40, I met with friends who have been in and out of my life due to relocations since my early 20s.

When I brought up my midlife crisis of this upcoming birthday year to a friend who just turned 40, he said “Congratulations. You made it to the next level!” If life is a game, and I am true to the statement of a previous post of being a trickster, I am making it to the next level. What will be in store?

With each “level”, more is unraveled. Our authentic being is longing to be revealed. We remove the layers of our youth in which we try to please our parents, friends, and society. What is left is questioning what our soul longs for.

I am so grateful for each friend and family member I have been able to catch up with. I cannot fully verbalize the impact of how these brief meetings have landed and touched me collectively. As we head into the new year, pause to take in how your experiences with friends and family have potentially served as catalysts of reflection, inspiration, and hopefully action.


Sacredness

Today is Christmas Eve, and before I make the long journey on the 11 hour flight back to the states I went to church. But it was not any church, it was my gym swimming pool which exists in an old church. For a moment, it felt sacred. I was the only one in the large space. The pool was still, the room was dimly lit. It was magical, as if I stepped into a dream. But it lasted a mere 30 seconds. Then one by one people joined me in the pool. The staff came into the room , and the sacredness vanished.

This happens often, sacredness is in our midst but then it escapes us. Sacred moments do not just have to happen when we are alone. It is available at all times, we just have to work through the noise to see it. As I swam, change lanes, had people pass me, pass others, it’s easy to lose sight of the beauty of the pool. We are in a church swimming on Christmas Eve! I reminded myself to slow down and check out the stained glass each time I turned my head to take a breath. Breathe in during the midst of a workout. Sacredness exists here.

This past month I have been on a kick of listening to guided meditations by Sarah Blondin, they are truly exquisite. A link to her website is below. Without planning this theme for today, I listened to one of her guided meditations of making everything sacred. Perhaps her mantra of sacredness repeated in my head with each lap I swam.

These modern times of busy-ness, non-stop online activity, consumerism, and travel all are all heightened during the holiday season. Can we slow down and witness the sacred ?

I now sit on a plane full of vibrant chaos… crying babies, disgruntled passengers, arguing family members, and exasperated individuals. For me to take the fast track to zen, it includes zoning people out with headphones playing the Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong duet album. I’m not yet at the place to be calmed to zero without them. But some people are.

I read a book by Pico Iyer this week called The Art of Stillness, he mentioned a story of a woman sitting next to him while taking an extended international flight. They exchanged pleasantries initially, and after that she sat forward in her chair. She did not read, sleep, listen to music, or talk to anyone. She just sat there, comfortable with silence. Pico was mesmerized and it reminded him of a conversation he had with a spiritual leader regarding how to get over jet lag. This individual stated that he viewed flights as short retreats in the sky. This individual voiced “there’s nothing I can do, so it’s really quite liberating. There’s nowhere else I can be. Clouds and the blue sky. Everything is still and everything is moving its beautiful. “ Pico then added that think how Buddhists see our mind. The clouds are our thoughts, but underneath the passing clouds is always a blue sky. Be patient and clear skies will appear.

Wherever you are this holiday season, be it traveling via crowded airports, trains, cars, or in solitude – may you find the sacredness available in each moment. The path you take doesn’t matter (including the quick fix of old school jazz tunes). It doesn’t matter how you get there. Simply breathe and take it in. The blue sky exists, as long as you are patient enough to wait for the clouds to pass and dissipate. Sacredness will emerge if you are willing to see it.

May you have a sacred holiday season.

https://www.sarahblondin.com

Unexpected Moments of Grace

I do not at all understand the mystery of grace – only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us. -Anne Lamott

Sometimes we may wake up feeling irritable or negative, despite our desire to wake up with cheer and gratitude.  After an extended amount of time, we may begin to feel as if that the world is against us.  One thing after another goes wrong, and it’s as if we are on the perpetual defense. We are prepared for attack, and it seems we are the only ones fighting our battles.  We have an army of one, and it’s purely exhausting.

But if we stop to pause, perhaps we can begin to notice we are not alone. Those that care for us may reach out at unexpected times. The universe is sending us little nudges that we may actually have others on our team.

This is the case during this holiday season.   Various stressors contribute to feeling overwhelmed and on edge.  But simultaneously as this is occurring, numerous people have been reaching out and expressing their care and gratitude towards me.  It’s been quite a surprise and I realized I had a choice. I can remain angry and bitter, and opt to not see the joys people have been offering me.  Or I can turn towards the love, and allow myself to take it in.

The past several days, I began receiving cards, phone calls, gifts, emails, and texts from friends and family from various parts of the world.  When I let down my guard, I can see and feel acts of grace that are landing my way.

Just as I wrote that last sentence, a group of 20 something men dressed as Jim Carrey’s “The Mask” 90s character walk by the Starbucks window I am currently sitting in.  One noticed me as I observed them.  He knocked on the window, simply smiled and waved at me. They carried on walking. This is exactly what I mean.

Can we be present enough to catch the world showing you it’s warmth and care through loved ones and strangers?  Catch the ball. Shift perspective.  Perhaps life is not creating a war against you.  Maybe life is simply a game.  If you look around instead of hogging the ball, you can see that you have people who are on your team trying to help you score.

Earlier this week, I was listening to Liz Gilbert’s book Big Magic.  She discusses the concept of how we have a choice to be a martyr or a trickster in our path towards living a creative life.  We don’t have to view the world from suffering dark eyes, we can begin to see it as fun and delightful.

She says: “The trickster understands that all this world is temporary, all of it is shifting, all of it is nonsense, all of it is fair game for delight The trickster never dies a grim death in a walk-up tenement while suffering romantically from tuberculous. The trickster doesn’t compete, doesn’t compare, doesn’t beat his head against the wall, doesn’t wrestle demons, doesn’t try to dominate mysteries that were never meant to be dominated in the first place. The trickster just keeps on PLAYING. The trickster is slippery and sly, wry and wise, always looking for the secret door, the hidden stairway, the funhouse mirror, the sideways way of looking at things — and the trickster always endures.

I choose the path of the trickster, not the path of the martyr. I choose it for my artistic life, and I choose it for my real life. It has made all the difference, believe me.”

I concur with Liz.  I choose to see the world as full of grace, love, and a little trickery.  The world is offering me support, and the Mask reminded me this evening to lighten up and smile.  We got this.

“But what we can do, as flawed as we are, is still see God in other people, and do our best to help them find their own grace. That’s what I strive to do, that’s what I pray to do every day. “-Barack Obama

For further reading, check out below:

https://www.elizabethgilbert.com/its-better-to-be-a-trickster-than-a-martyr-i-recently-did-a-radio-interview-o/

Christmas Socks Deux

It’s been difficult to get into the holiday spirit this year, but I forced myself to wear a holiday jumper yesterday on national xmas jumper day. I have tried to squeeze in some holiday tunes on my commute home. One would think people are kinder and make more effort during the holidays. Yet this isn’t always the case.

I am in the process of selling my home with an unruly tenant that has made things difficult. Without getting immersed in the story, it’s been quite strenuous to see the good in humanity when these tenants can treat people in such a selfish and manipulative manner. Automatically I know I needed to shift energy, I tried to read something uplifting last night after receiving upsetting news. Then I went to bed.

But today is different. I slowly put up my minuscule Christmas tree. And I decided to return the tradition of Christmas socks from last year. Prior to my yoga class in London this afternoon, I would get off one tube stop earlier at Kings Cross and deliver these presents. There tends to be a higher amount of homeless in this area. My brother started this tradition last year instead of being lonely and sad, buy Xmas socks with snacks and hand them to the homeless.

As I journeyed down, I repeated my intentions for the day as “service and hope.” I began this morning and after I handed my first sock package to someone and greeted them merry Xmas, I wanted to cry. These people today are striving to survive in 3 degree Celsius weather (36 Fahrenheit), what have I been complaining about? I have so much to be thankful for in my life. It’s full of luxury, opportunity, and all I am giving these people is socks and snacks?

But I realise I momentarily did offer more.

I am treating these individuals like human beings I am interested in. Throughout their struggles, society has turned their gaze the opposite direction. We are not responsible. It is not my problem. I am not turning away in disgust, shame, or ignorance. I am turning towards them and seeking them out.

I know it seems quite simplistic this lesson of kindness and care towards others is the real Xmas gift to be shared. But I need to continually remind myself that. How can I show others I interact with that they are not alone? The world cares for them. Sometimes it’s a smile, sincere eye contact, or a word of gratitude, sometimes it’s food, and sometimes it’s socks.

Half read books no more

“A room without books is like a body without a soul.”
― Marcus Tullius Cicero

The first week of December is coming to a close, and I recently was reminded of my list of goals for this past year.  One goal was to read 48 books, doubled from last year’s number.  When I looked of my list of books read in my journal, I realized it it was only 31.  I have less than one month to go.  A fire ignited staring at that measly number.  A new plan shaped into action.. I may not be able to read 17 new books by the end of this month, but I could begin to finish many of my half read books this year.

You know how this works.  You begin to read a book, it’s exciting, but somehow your interest wanes.  Life limits the amount of reading time available with either less time commuting on a train, more time talking on the phone, or longer work schedules with less mental capacity to read.   What generally is the case, is another book may come along that seems more fitting in your life.  This latter fact has been true for both of the modalities I choose to read:audible and tangible books.  But this week, I am determined to at least finish those that are nearing completion. In the past two days, I have finished four books and am adding two more to the list.  I expect to complete these by tomorrow evening.  Nothing makes me feel more accomplished than completing a book that has been sitting bookmarked for months.

These unfinished books tend to taunt and haunt me.  I like to view myself as an educated, cultured, and curious individual.  Half read books are a reminder of the lack of discipline to achieve my goals and dive deeper into a subject.  I’m a shopaholic when it comes to purchasing books, but it doesn’t seem right at this moment to buy more if there are so many that remain incomplete on my shelf.  A friend of mine faces a similar disorder.  He states that his ADD is only apparent when he seems to be simultaneously reading five books concurrently, and cannot focus on one.

The solution is finish reading books in their entirety.

I know it has been suggested by some individuals, that it is okay to not complete reading books.  Why waste your time on something that doesn’t interest you? Although this may hold true on occasion, don’t let this lesson rule your extended reading lists.  Read a book until the last page (yes it’s okay if you skip the acknowledgements section.)  Track the books you read each year, including author and title.  Re-reading books count.  It’s a luxury to dive into a favorite, most likely we may get more out of it the second and third time around.

What I have noticed with focusing on reading these incomplete books, is I have been spending less time online.  I am not seeking out as much useless facts or questions I temporarily have, and sinking deeper into the exploration of these various authors’ well researched knowledge.

Read books to completion. Take note of what you have read this year. And then slowly allow the sense of accomplishment to exude from your being.

How many titles have you completed this year? What do you most recommend?

“Reading was my escape and my comfort, my consolation, my stimulant of choice: reading for the pure pleasure of it, for the beautiful stillness that surrounds you when you hear an author’s words reverberating in your head.”
― Paul Auster, The Brooklyn Follies

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