Living Lightly

Susan Vogt on living more simply but abundantly

Browsing Posts published by Susan Vogt

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There are several layers to Recycling Christmas:

1.The SUPER-SPIRITUAL: This approach goes back to the basics and reminds us that Christmas is about the Christ coming into the world as a human being. It is not primarily about buying presents. The focus is on being generous and remembering those who are born into poverty as Jesus was.This is all true and good but the spiritual only approach risks being inhuman if taken to a judgmental extreme.as your family calls you the Grinch yelling “Bah Humbug!” Besides, the joy of family gatherings and gift-giving is not bad, even though frequently overdone.

2. The SUPER-FRUGAL: This approach is akin to the super-spiritual but the motivation is not only getting back to the basics but doing it cheaply.I have been accused of this by my family since by natural temperament I tend toward frugality. (They have less neutral term for it.) For ideas on this style see Frugal Gifts for Family & Friends and Nothing New Christmas 

3. The SUPER-ENVIRONMENTAL: Serious environmentalists can be hard to live with at times. They take their water bottle everywhere,refuse straws and plastic bags, may even carry their own reusable silverware,etc. (I plead guilty.) But there are other issues like what about all the boxes and transportation involved in online shopping? For a closer look at complicated decisions like this, click here

The above are all legitimate things to think about as we approach Christmas, but for the weary or lazy, I offer two simpler and less conflictual?? ways to be a good person who accepts that Christmas involves giving gifts but still is conscientious about reducing one’s impact on the environment.

4. THE PRACTICAL: If you are hosting family for Christmas (as we are this year) it typically means cleaning the house. My own modest cleaning this year revealed

  • that my stack of 8 ½” by 11” papers was now 10” high.These are papers that were originally only printed on one side so I used them to print unofficial stuff on the other side.
  • Jim noticed some folks sifting through the neighbors’recycling bin for metal. He remembered that we had a bunch of metal remnants in the garage which we planned to some day take to the metal recycling center.

“Some Day” became today for the paper and metals. Itjust took keeping our eyes open.

5. THE “IT’S NOT TOO LATE” APPROACH: So it’s Christmas morning and presents are being opened. It’s not too late to recycle part of Christmas. Consider the wrapping paper.

Many years ago in our super-frugal days when of necessity we didn’t have much discretionary money, we decided to wrap our family Christmas presents in brown paper grocery bags. The kids were young enough that they didn’t complain that we were weird. We said that “Simple brown packaging can hide treasures.” We still do it but few others do.

Solution: Most traditional wrapping paper can be putin paper recycling as long as it doesn’t have glitter or foil on it and youtake off sticky tape, ribbons, and it passes the “scrunch” test. Check RecycleNow and Earth911 for details.

My last post on giving away socks was easy peasy. This one took some homework and research. We’re all familiar with the environmental slogan, “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.” This is good; but I sometimes rant about how folks often jump to the Recycle part and overlook the more substantive Reduce/Reuse aspect. After all, we wouldn’t have to recycle so much if we really lived more lightly by consuming less and reusing what we already have. Well, today I’m taking exception to my own advice.

It all started several weeks ago as I was driving through the neighborhood on our weekly garbage collection day (which is also recycling day). I noticed that many homes only had their brown garbage carts out at the curb (no green recycling carts). I wondered why?

  • Maybe they were out of town? But no, they had to be home to put out their brown cart.
  • Maybe they didn’t know that both the brown and the green carts were free?
  • Maybe they didn’t have any paper, glass, cans, or plastic bottles to recycle? (Maybe I’ve been doing too good of a job of picking up recyclables that I see on the street during my daily walk. 😉 )

Hmmm. I decided to do some research. On the next garbage/recycling day, I walked through the neighborhood and counted.
• 102 places had BOTH a brown and a green cart at the curb. Good!
• 160 places had ONLY a brown cart at the curb. (Some of these places had 2 brown carts but no green cart. I assume this was because they were duplex homes rather than one family regularly just had too much garbage to fit into one can.)

Since this was research, I peeked into a few of the brown carts and noticed that recyclable cardboard, cans, etc. were easily visible. Groan.

What to do?
1. I could just swallow my frustration and feel satisfied (smug?) that at least my family and closest neighbors were recycling. After all, I’m busy. I have other important things to do. I’m not my neighbor’s keeper.
2. I could take a step to multiply my recycling effort. This idea came to me because of a workshop that Jim and I are facilitating called the Pachamama Drawdown Initiative based on Paul Hawken’s Drawdown book which outlines 100 solutions to reverse global warming. The idea is to move beyond personal environmental sustainability lifestyle changes to find ways to multiply our efforts on a community and systemic way.

I chose #2 and decided that one way I could influence at least my neighborhood was to put a notice in our local Neighbor NextDoor email group.  Many communities have these private social networks that send out emails about local services. It seems to be especially useful when looking for lost dogs or cats or alerting folks to suspicious activity in the neighborhood. I called our local waste collection company, got some facts and posted this notice.

Dear Neighbor Nextdoor, I care about our neighborhood and about our planet. Today was garbage and recycling day in Latonia where I live. On garbage/recycling day I have noticed that sometimes only the brown garbage carts are next to the curb but no green recycling carts. I decided to do an informal survey of how many people use the green recycling carts provided FREE by Rumpke. 102 homes put out both carts, BUT 160 homes put out ONLY the brown garbage carts. We can do a lot better! Did you know that you can easily get a green cart FREE by calling Rumpke (1-800- 828-8171) and talking to customer service? They will deliver the size cart you want to your home within 48 hours. Recycling is picked up every week on the same day as your garbage day. Website: www.rumpkerecycling.com Email: Covington@rumpke.com

So far I’ve gotten 8 responses thanking me for the information and often saying they didn’t know the green carts were free or how to get them.

Click to enlarge

Sometimes life gets busy. A relative dies. Emergencies come up…and this blog is overdue. That’s when it’s nice when an opportunity falls into one’s lap. That’s what happened today during my walk. I saw a sign at a neighbor’s house soliciting coats, sweaters, socks etc. for homeless people in the community. It’s getting cold. I often take our unneeded winter clothes to our local emergency shelter but hadn’t gotten around to it yet and the temperature has been dipping into the 20’s.
Aha! I had some new (but the wrong size) and older (but still useful) heavy socks waiting to be taken somewhere useful. It almost feels like cheating because this decision is so easy – just walk the socks over to our neighbor. An example of not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. Boring but useful.

If politics, hatred, suffering, and the sorry state of the world is cluttering your mind – welcome to the club. It’s easy to become depressed and want to return hate with hate. But that doesn’t solve anything.

On my last blog post, Let Go of Trivial Judgments, I promised to move beyond trivial judgments to find constructive ways to channel justified anger into action. Following are 7 steps I recommend.

  1. Let go of the trivial – to make room for what’s important. DONE √
  2. Identify the top 2 issues that are worthy of your outrage. Let your outrage with evil motivate you. (Let others take care of the other issues. You are not in charge of the world.)
  3. Become informed. Check credible news sources. Read. Listen. Think. Learn how to recognize propaganda and news bias. Check here, here, and here for resources
  4. Listen deeply to the hurts and fears of the “other.” Try to understand, rather than to hate back. While you are listening include listening to your heart, body, and soul. For me, this means taking my frustrations to prayer. May God open my heart to fully understand and inspire me to discern positive, effective responses.
  5. Strategize. Good intentions are not enough. Think of positive, specific, doable actions. (See Will Grant.) Consult others. As The Pachamama Alliance says, “Together we are a genius.”
  6. Join with others. This multiplies your individual efforts and supports motivation.
  7. Act. Prayer and penance are worthy actions but must be joined with concrete actions for change. The act of acting also relieves depression and feelings of helplessness.

For example, I identified working for a sustainable environment and responding to the sexual abuse/cover-up issue in the Catholic Church as my top two issues. (I also care about making health care affordable to all and many other social issues but I have limited time and energy so I had to choose what I knew most about and was in the best position to influence change.)

Regarding environmental sustainability, I studied resource material and took training to lead workshops on this issue (Awakening the Dreamer and Drawdown). About a year ago I also intentionally sought out people who had a different political stance than I did and tried to understand their fears. I joined a team of local people to lead workshops on environmental sustainability, social justice, and spiritual fulfillment. It takes a lot of time. I can’t do every thing, but I can do something. I must do something.

Contact me if you want to know how I have acted on the sexual abuse/cover-up/clericalism issue.

Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief.
Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now.
You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.
The Talmud

About 6 months ago I focused on trying to be kinder for Lent. One dimension of this was to be less judgmental of other people. By the end of Lent I realized that it’s harder to actually change my internal critical self than to give things away. Today, over half a year later, I’m noticing even more judgmental thinking. Maybe this is because of increased awareness, maybe it’s because there’s more to be judgmental about in our recent political climate, or maybe this is just a deeper spiritual issue.

After reflecting on this conundrum awhile, I’ve come to the conclusion that a helpful step might be to separate trivial judgments from substantive judgments that are worth spending emotional energy on.

For example, some trivial energy drainers that I’ve noticed in myself are:

  • On a plane I saw a woman with a full size pillow. I was tempted to say, “You don’t travel much, do you.” (To save space, I like to bring only a small inflatable pillow for long flights.)
  • Or “Whatever possessed that woman hobbling through the airport to think that wearing 3 inch heels was a good idea?”
  • While we’re on airports – Why on earth does CVG have long stretches of carpeting on the floor? It makes it harder to clean. If they want to reduce sound, do it with wall or ceiling sound deadeners. (I emailed this feedback to the management.)
  • At worship services, my internal liturgist sometimes thinks, “That song should be done at a quicker tempo.” Or “The lector should be trained to speak more clearly.”
  • When hearing people give public instructions, I wince at wordy, overly complicated directions.
  • On the radio, when the host ends an interview with, “Thank you for being here.” the guest should simply say, “You’re welcome.” not another, “Thank you.” Also, hosts on serious programs should not open the program with “Hey!” in an effort to be casual and friendly. “Good morning,” “Good Evening,” or “Welcome” work fine.
  • Oh yeah, can we all stop saying, “so…yeah” when closing a statement.

So, these are a few of my pet peeves, and I know they are all trivial. Perhaps venting them once here will help. I’m sure others probably have at least as many gripes about annoying mannerisms that I have. (Note to my brothers and kids: You don’t need to comment on this. 😕)

The point is that as much as I’ve committed to letting go of these trivial judgments of others, it’s taking a long time to free myself of such internal judgments. I welcome comments from readers on how you deal with trivial matters like these.

And why should you care? Because it weighs us down in negativity when we need our psychic energy to go towards actions that can make a positive difference in our world.

Stay tuned for my next blog post which will propose moving beyond trivial judgments to finding constructive ways to channel justified anger into action. Think politics, sexual abuse/cover-ups, global warming. So…yeah!

I’m a speaker and a writer. That means I care about words. I suppose we all do. I recently attended an international meeting that heightened my awareness of how we use words. Because the meeting included people from 23 countries that covered 5 continents we spoke many different languages and had simultaneous translations into 4 languages. When I got past the Tower of Babel, it reminded me of Pentecost when the apostles spoke their own language but were understood by people speaking many different tongues. Translations aren’t always perfect, but being translated and interacting with people who speak other languages taught me a lot about words. For example:

  • I’m too wordy. Many people are. Even introverts who typically think before they speak, can get caught up in over-explaining. I pride myself in getting to the point in both my speaking and writing, but I realized that because I was being translated it was important to use fewer words and to choose them carefully. This can hamper spontaneity but better to be heard than to have a whole sentence missed. Letting go of using too many words is a skill worthy of a Living Lightly blog.
  • Stretch to understand people. Many people at my conference spoke English as a second language. This meant it took more work on my part to understand a person who was not a native speaker. This limited in-depth communication, but forced me to find words that captured the basic meaning and to listen more carefully through unfamiliar accents. This same principle applies to English speakers in the USA whose language sounds different because of geography, class, age, or different life experiences.
  • Not everything has to be said. Some of the most memorable communication took place without words. We played “follow the leader” walking hand in hand to go through complicated corridors to a destination. We danced together (often awkwardly but laughing) at the evening cultural nights. We drew pictures, hugged, and watched people wipe tears from their eyes at sad or joyful moments.
  • Eating together is universal communication. Although I hesitated to sit with people at meals who I knew did not speak English, occasionally I took the risk. Not much was said, but smiles and exchanging names connected us – until a multilingual person could join the table. My lack of languages was humbling.

The experience reminded me of Mindfulness of Words – one of the virtues that as a Lay Marianist I seek to grow in. This used to be called “Silence of Words” but has evolved to an understanding that using words well is not just about silence, but also knowing when and how to speak with intentionality and love,

At the risk of repeating myself (which would be inconsistent with trying to limit unnecessary words) , I decided to check if I had ever blogged on “Letting go of Words” before. Indeed, I had. Click here for additional insights. What aspect of speaking or silence do you struggle with? What has helped you make your words count?

Sometimes you’re in a hurry. Sometimes you’re behind. Sometimes you just don’t want to take the time to figure out where to take your extra stuff. That was me last week. I was being good. I was going to a prayer service. BUT they asked folks to bring some school supplies as a goodwill offering for low income families. A nice idea, but I didn’t want to take the time to go out and buy anything.

But wait! Why don’t I just check our art supply drawers and office supply stockpile? Having raised four children and still having grandchildren who visit, we never purged our crayons, markers, and glue. Having gone to too many conferences (and organized some of them) we have way more folders than one family needs.

It didn’t take long to find:

  • 3 boxes of markers. (We still have 2 full boxes and about 20 loose ones.)
  • 32 unused pencils (We still have plenty. It’s the erasers that go bad.)
  • 2 bottles of school glue
  • 1 child’s safety scissors
  • 1 mega eraser for “Big Mistakes”
  • 150 sheets of packaged ruled paper
  • 66 clean colored folders (that have been used but don’t look like it). This was only 1/3 of our stash.

I think these will get us in the door to the prayer service.

What’s the point?
There’s probably plenty of other extra paraphernalia lurking around our home that I just haven’t gotten around to clearing out the “more than necessary for the grandkids” stuff. So, prayer and the Sisters of Charity did me a favor by prompting my 15 minute search and giving me a good cause to give it to. I didn’t even have to make a trip to Goodwill or one of my other go to donation places.

What if you took 15 minutes today to scan your home for extra school supplies and take them to a school in need? What about extra tools, dishes, towels…Pick a category. You don’t have to do a whole house purge, just perhaps a weekly or monthly review of stuff you’ve outgrown, or just have extra.

I feel too busy. That seems to be my mantra lately. Maybe it’s yours too. I thought my Taming Time blog post would help me declutter my calendar and life. It did help, but I want more. I’m finding that I’m being led into a deeper dimension of time. Lately I’ve realized that some of my stress comes from feeling that I have to make sure everything I do succeeds. Part of this comes from my sense of responsibility and that is good. But is it possible to be over-responsible?
Yes.

I’ve had leadership roles in 2 national meetings this summer and a major role in an international one coming up this month. I find myself trying to help others with their tasks and fix a lot of problems. This is also good – maybe. The question that occurs to me, however, is when should I try to “help” others and when am I doing too much because I think I have the best way or I want it to be my way.

Of course this dynamic of controlling and being over-responsible not only applies to meetings but also to marriage, parenting, jobs, and friendships. Sometimes we (I) have to let go of thinking I can control the outcome of a job or relationship and focus on doing what I can, taking a break, and being present to the person next to me – in the house, car, store, or at a meeting. It reminds me of my parenting maxim, “We are responsible for the process we use in raising our children, not the outcome.”

I may make a mistake, forget a task, or be less than perfect. The project I’m working on may not meet my expectations. That’s OK. Life on earth will survive – or maybe it won’t. (I do worry about and work for environmental sustainability.) But how am I lightening the load of my neighbor by an attentive, non-judgmental ear. Sometimes that’s more important than saving the world.

How do you deal with letting go of control? Or maybe you have the opposite inclination – to let other people do the work and worry. How do we balance these two extremes?

PS: And, oh yes, please excuse the fact that this blog post is a week late. I’m sure you noticed.

Now that we have our solar panels installed, I thought I would be so happy. I am, but the feeling is fleeting. The same thing happened after we got replacement windows, or even when I get a book from Amazon, or the perfect all purpose travel blazer. But it’s not just about stuff. Often I wait with great anticipation for our kids to visit or to get an award. Somehow, I keep thinking that this purchase, event, or accomplishment will make me happy – and it does…for a very short time. Bottom line: Happiness of this kind is fleeting. I know that, but the emotional promise is still alluring.

So, is there anything that brings lasting happiness? Healthy relationships, having a spiritual core, working at something you love, finding meaning in life are all things that come to my mind. Usually these deeper satisfactions go beyond material stuff.

It was with this attitude that I watched Graham Hill’s Ted talk, Less stuff, more happiness. By virtue of my organized personality I really liked his super efficient, tiny apartment, which was clear of clutter and employed multiple use furniture. This was appealing. But, I realized that even if I had the perfect tiny house, this would not automatically bring lasting happiness. Some sages say that happiness is an inside job. True, but perhaps even truer is that happiness involves giving ourselves to others. Some examples that come to mind are:

  • Meaningful relationships (friendship, marriage, family)
  • Service
  • Commitment to the common good
  • Helping those in need

Pair these with time to be self-reflective and ponder creation and the prime source (who I call God) – maybe that’s enough.

How have you found happiness that lasts?

Yea! A couple days ago our new solar panels were activated. This is probably the opposite of my recent Keep it Simple post, because it wasn’t a simple or cheap endeavor, but it was worth it. Over a year ago we started thinking about getting solar panels for our roof. We contacted an installer, got a bid, and then procrastinated for about 9 months until another email offer woke us up. Now we were ready and we moved expeditiously.

After confirming that our roof was in good enough shape and checking out the payback timing we decided to invest in 16 panels. It took about 2 months and a hunk of money but we considered these 4 principles:

  1. It takes money to save money. Of course saving money over the long haul is good and applies to paying more if the higher quality product means it will last longer and be better for the environment.
  2. Doing our part. But, the bigger motivation was that although we can’t single handedly reverse global warming, we can do our part.
  3. The multiplier principle. As more people buy into solar, the multiplier effect kicks in and makes a bigger impact on reducing greenhouse gases plus reduces the cost because of economy of scale. (Caveat: We were also lucky that we moved fast enough that we bought the panels which were manufactured in China before Trump’s tariff goes into effect saving us more than $4,000.)
  4. Solar panels on Marianist sisters’ convent, Ranchi, India. Click to enlarge.

    We’re not first, but we won’t be the last. As proud as I am to now be contributing to part of the solution for global climate change, I was humbled 6 months ago (January 2018) to observe that the retreat center I was staying at in Ranchi, India was powered by solar panels. Several years earlier I had visited a newly constructed school and parish in a nearby rural area of India that was completely powered by solar. Many of the smart developing countries are leap-frogging carbon based energy sources and going straight to renewables, just like they’ve skipped landline phone installations and adopted cell phones as their primary phones.

I’m happy. Our house is happy. We expect to power about 95% of our electricity needs from the sun. According to the team of scientists led by Paul Hawken, rooftop solar installation ranks #10 among the top 100 ways to reverse global warming by 2050 DrawdownThe Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming  (Jim and I have just finished the training to lead Drawdown workshops  Contact me if you want to learn more.)

How have you saved energy (electrical or human) through modern technology? Has it cost more to do it? How did you decide?

Sometimes life gets messy, complicated, too busy, or painful. We, who like to think of ourselves as responsible hardworking people, can beat ourselves up thinking we’re not doing enough. It might be missing deadlines, not recycling enough, being lazy, or not living up to our values as fully as we would like. This week was like that for me.

I came back from a trip sick, felt miserable, at the last minute had to beg out of a meeting that I was supposed to lead, and felt guilty. I’m behind on my twice-a-month blog posts. I’m still sick. Letting go of my guilt was the first task. Picking an easy blog post was the second.

Here’s what I’ve got – Simple is good.
Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Forgive myself.

For example: We live in Covington, KY but its right on the border of Cincinnati, OH and thus we’re part of the Cincinnati metropolitan area. Covington has weekly curbside recycling for the usual plastic bottles, glass, paper, cans, etc. BUT, I have to search for worthy homes for other household items like clothes and kitchenware. BUT, Cincinnati just started a new curbside recycling option called Simple Recycling. You just put clothing, shoes, and home goods in one of their large orange plastic bags and it gets picked up weekly. The problem is you have to live in one of the participating US cities. We just took our bag to one of our Cincinnati friends who gladly put it out with their curbside recycling. Done!

It’s not perfect, but it’s easy – if you live in the right city. Simple Recycling is not a non-profit but they recommend Donate Stuff  for people who want to go the extra mile and get a tax receipt. Unfortunately, Donate Stuff also does not operate in many cities.

Some questions for you:
*How do you keep your living lightly simple?
*When do you make compromises?
*What gets in the way of doing good because it’s just too complicated or takes too much time.
Others will appreciate your tips.

Our daughter was home for Mother’s Day. Yay! Now that she lives back in the States, I encourage her to take her stuff that’s been stored at our home to her home – a  much delayed goal. In the process Heidi identified 6 books that she said were obsolete and should be pitched.

  1. The Best Colleges, the Princeton Review,© 1992. OK this is fair. A lot has changed in colleges in the last 26 years.
  2. Cracking the GRE, the Princeton Review © 2000. Also fair. Anything you needed to know about this graduate school test has probably changed over 18 years.
  3. Real SAT, by The College Board © 1995. Comments on #1 & #2 apply.
  4. The Internet for Dummies © 1994. Since I’m still pretty dumb about the internet, I thought this might be worth keeping for reference but she said it’s obsolete
  5. More Unix for Dummies © 1995. What is Unix anyway? Same answer as #4.
  6. International Thesaurus of Quotations © 1970. I thought this would be worth saving but she pointed out I could find any quote quicker on the internet. OK.

In order to redeem myself I added one obsolete book of my own, Workbook for Lectors © 2015. Although this is the most current of all the books, since the Catholic lectionary repeats every 3 years, there’s no need to keep anything longer than 3 years.

Normally I take used books like this to Friends of the Library or Half Price Books, but since these are all paperbacks and truly obsolete, I suppose just recycling them as paper is easiest.

Why not take this prompt to do a quick scan of your home for obsolete books. Free your books and some space.

I’d love to know what “no longer needed by anyone” books you discover.

Sometimes our lives are cluttered with things. Sometimes it’s things to do that clutter our mind and time. I wonder if I will ever get my To Do list done before I die. Sure, I make time to nap, read, recreate, and take vacations so it’s not like I don’t take breaks, but still I wonder if I will ever really get caught up. So here’s a collection of tips I’ve developed over the years to deal with taming time.

1. Pray first: Even if you’re not “religious,” taking time daily to contemplate who I am and what’s important – is important. If I wait till there’s time, other priorities crowd out this spiritual time. Now that we are no longer in the active parenting stage of life, first thing in the morning works for me. For those with other bio-rhythms last thing at night can qualify as first in anticipation of the next day.

2. Set priorities: Most time-management gurus advise identifying no more 3 priorities that you hope to accomplish each day. Do those first, starting with the top priority. This is good unless your top priority is to create world peace or it becomes a day long project. Solution: Estimate the time your top priorities will take and if one might take more than 1/3 of your working day, reevaluate. Set deadlines. Exception: 3 Minute Rule. If several things are not top priorities but are quick and easy, do them early.

3. Keep a To Do List: Consider a To Do list not as a burden but rather a tool that frees you of the stress of keeping everything in your head. Some things are necessary and have a deadline; others are nice to do if time allows. One beauty of a To Do list is the satisfaction and joy of crossing tasks off (in red) when accomplished. My daughter recently co-authored a playful Wall Street Journal article, America Is Drowning in Lists, which includes ideas from the Ivy Lee Method to Bullet Journals.

4. Develop Email/Text/Phone Protocols: Only check emails after your basic priorities for the day are set lest you wallow in email purgatory before starting the important stuff. However, email does allow you to identify some 3 Minute Rule tasks from your To Do list and quickly cross them off.

  • Reduce Email:
    – Don’t reply to all unless “all” really need to know.
    – State the goal and deadline clearly. For example: Need a reply by ___.   OR   For your information – No need to reply avoids unnecessary “Thank you for your email” emails
    – Expedite scheduling large group meetings with an app like Doodle.
    – Filter and/or Unsubscribe from unwanted repetitive promotional emails.
  • Texting: Best for short messages, your kids, or times that might interrupt a person’s job. But, don’t overdo it. Don’t contribute to another person’s phone clutter.
  • Phones: Turn alerts off or ignore during meals or meetings unless your mother is in the hospital. The live person in front of you always comes first.

5. Check social media last and only for a limited time – maybe 30 minutes. Use Social Fixer to prune unnecessary Facebook posts.

6. Save Time for Recreation & Relaxing: This might come under setting the day’s priorities if you tend to be a Type A personality like me. Accomplishing a lot is good. Being a balanced person is better. Don’t waste time complaining unless you can do something to fix it.

7. Laugh, Turn it Over Sometimes people and life will interfere with even the best time management system. Think of these as a spiritual call to pay attention to the humans and life around me. Laugh at the folly of trying to completely control my life.

For additional ideas see my past posts under the TIME Tag cloud (bottom of right column), especially Wasting Time/Saving Time.

Arise! Happy Easter

For 6 weeks I’ve been trying to be kinder. This Lenten resolution stemmed partly from my kids kidding me about being judgmental of others. Although their examples were humorous, I recognized that there was some truth in my complaining about others’ foibles, the political state of the world, and also being hard on myself. Being a type A, organized personality, I set out a plan. I would try to be kinder to people by giving things to them, doing helpful acts, and speaking more kindly to and about others.

Here are 7 things I learned:
1. Transformation starts with intentionality and commitment.
As the Pachamama symposium explains:
*A VISION without a PLAN is just a DREAM.
*A PLAN without a VISION is just DRUDGERY.
*But, a VISION with a PLAN can change the world.

If the vision was to be kinder and the plan was to do at least one extra act of kindness a day, I committed to hold myself accountable by each morning anticipating what acts of kindness I might do, writing them down, and then reviewing my progress the next morning. Some days I couldn’t think of a specific kindness to do. On those days I planned to look for opportunities and then check myself the next morning to see if this heightened awareness made any difference. Consciously looking for opportunities helped.

2. Things will seem to get worse before they get better. At the beginning I felt like I was going backwards. I noticed more times that I slipped up and criticized others. The reality probably wasn’t any different, but consciously trying to change a habit heightens perception.

3. Speaking kindly, giving compliments, being “nice” is easier – in the short term because it takes effort to actually do an act of service or give something away, BUT

4. Doing direct, concrete acts of kindness is easier – in the long haul. This seeming contradiction was because I found it was harder to curb my tongue and negative thoughts than to just hand out some money or do a favor. I needed to search for what might be behind another’s behavior such as the needs they were trying to meet or the fears that drove them. This stirred up understanding or compassion rather than seeing the other as an adversary or wrong.

5. Actions, Thinking, and Feelings are all connected. I thought I could think, pray, or believe my way into loving an enemy. Sometimes a spiritual belief can lead to a compassionate act. But sometimes an action has to come first. An act of service or emotional encounter can lead to changed thinking. Any of these can be a entry point and lead to growth.

6. Using physical prompts can help good intentions. When my daily plans to be kinder evaporated into forgetfulness or busyness, I found prompts (like fasting, turning off media, putting tape on my mouth, notes in conspicuous places) could be a reminder.

7. It’s not all about me. In the end, I kept coming back to realize that this whole process of trying to be kinder could actually be a big ego trip. Hey, look how good I am! What helped me to tame undue pride was to call myself back to focusing on the other. Theologians call this “kenosis” or self emptying. This is the real spiritual challenge – to not focus on my own success or failure, but to focus on the good of the other, lest we become puffed up, self-absorbed, or feel guilty. A less academic term, that captures this concept for me is the “smug factor.”

Kindness can mean many things – giving people stuff, helping folks, saying kind words, not saying or thinking mean things about people, protecting the environment, and praying for people. On that last one – praying – I haven’t written much because it seemed like a throw away phrase. Something you say when someone dies and there’s no action to take. Well, it’s time to mention prayer.

PRAYER: You can never have too many rosaries – or can you? I realized that I could only say one rosary at a time and our household had several so we agreed to give two extra ones away. But it wasn’t so easy. I planned to walk to a neighborhood second hand religious goods store and give them the rosaries. Unfortunately it had gone out of business. I ended up taking them to our parish school. Done.

ACTS OF KINDNESS: Then I went on to more direct acts of kindness:

  • Donated 2 dresses and shoes to our contra dance dress swap last weekend,
  • Made applesauce and scones for community meals
  • Gave a Kroger gift card to someone in the checkout lane at the Kroger grocery.
  • Danced with a couple people who didn’t have partners at our dance

KIND SPEECH & THOUGHTS: But I’m still trying to speak more kindly like:
1. Giving compliments
2. Refraining from making a criticism about a person behind their back
3. Going beyond gossip to not even thinking negatively about another
4. Trying to understand why people evoke a critical reaction in me
I’ve done pretty well with #1 and am getting better at catching myself with #2. To help me I decided to put tape over my mouth for two days to remind myself to be mindful of my words every time I spoke. Don’t worry, I took it off and put it on my hand when I was in public.

LOVING AN ENEMY: But trying to really “love my enemies” when they seem to me to be harming others and our country through their political office or votes – now that’s a challenge. I lay a lot of blame on lack of media literacy. As an educated person I believe I read and listen to accurate news. But… it occurred to me that others probably think their news sources are accurate and mine are not. I decided to test my bias. For several days now I’ve been watching a variety of Fox News programs and comparing them to my preferred news sources – NPR and the NYT. I wanted to see if biased news was as readily apparent to me as I presumed it would be.

The results were mixed. Some Fox News was pretty straight news. An interview with the Saudi Foreign minister seemed rational. I didn’t agree with everything but I could see how a reasonable listener could accept it as honest news. But then there were the news commentators like Hannity, Levin, and Ingraham. Surely their over the top sarcasm and exaggeration would be seen through by a thoughtful person. Of course on the other side are the left leaning comedians like Colbert, Oliver, and Meyers. I like them, but hey, they’re comedians. Should a news show be held to a higher standard because people assume it’s factual? I leave that for you to ponder.

SOLIDARITY: As I reviewed this week, however, I realized that I’m trying to be kind to those who live in my bubble or who are public figures. What about those millions of people who live with real poverty, hunger, or violence. How can I be kind to them? That brings me back to prayer. I wanted to put my prayer into action, I am not about to move to Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Mali, Kenya, or North Korea and try to be a missionary (though I’ve been to each of these countries – well, N. Korea if you count the DMZ). But I could try to be in solidarity with those who suffer much more intensely than I do. I decided to make 3 minor sacrifices to unite myself with those who don’t have a choice.

  1. I skipped lunch for two days and plan to eat nothing on Good Friday. I won’t starve but I wanted to feel the hunger.
  2. I decided to walk to the pharmacy to pick up a Rx. I could have driven but I wanted to remember that not everyone has a car or easy access to medical care.
  3. Last Saturday I participated in our local March For Our Lives.

None of these actions will change the world – but they will change me. Each time I feel the hunger, get in my car, take a pill, phone my congressman, I will remember those who don’t have a choice.

A strange thing started to happen to me last week. I was running out of ideas of kind things to do for others. (There’s only so many times you can count opening a door for someone. 😕 ) What I started to notice was that folks were being extra kind to me.

  • At the Korean restaurant the hostess noted that the only open table involved sitting on the floor. Without being asked, a lady who was already eating overheard our dilemma and volunteered to switch to the floor table. Wow!
  • A friend volunteered to go out of his way to pick me up for a weekend retreat because Jim needed our only car for an out of town trip.
  • I was responsible for morning prayer at the retreat and had brought a boom box for the CD I wanted to play. Only, darn, at the last minute I realized that I had lost the electric cord. I went to the front desk to ask if the retreat center had an extra CD player, and voila, there was my cord! Someone had found it in the parking lot and brought it to the desk.

These were happy but humbling experiences since I felt I wasn’t making much progress on doing concrete acts of kindness for others. I kept looking for opportunities and several eventually fell into my lap:

  1. Our upcoming weekend contra dance requested food for brunch. OK, I don’t like to cook, but I promised to make some scones.
  2. The same contra dance group always asks for folks to clean up after the Monday dance. I usually don’t do it because I have a long drive home. This time I volunteered.
  3. A letter came to our house addressed to someone we don’t know. I could have just marked “return to sender” on it, but the name sounded vaguely familiar. I decided to check with several neighbors to see if anyone knew a Kelly _____. It took me 6 knocks but I finally found Kelly and met a few new neighbors in the process. (We’ve had a high turnover in our neighborhood recently.)

So I made some progress in the “help others out” dimension of a kinder Lent, but I hadn’t really dealt with the underlying habit I was trying to change – judgmentalism. Yes, I did refrain several times from criticizing others. But I’m trying to substitute positive thoughts about people I find annoying or malicious, especially politicians. Then an interesting turn of events happened.

I was sitting next to a stranger at a group dinner. I asked what he did. His long response made me think he was pretty full of himself as he took opportunities to mention many of the impressive things he did. I decided not to complain about him to my husband when I got home. That’s progress. But then I started examining my own behavior. Don’t I look for ways to slip in my achievements when talking to strangers? In a way this fellow did me a favor. He helped me see how I was guilty of similar prideful talk. He helped me see how I might come across to others.

I guess it’s not worth mentioning a few other miscellaneous efforts I made. What habits are you trying to change?

Last week my husband mentioned to me that if the Church really wanted people to do something sacrificial during Lent, she might propose that we eat a vegan diet on Fridays or all of Lent. After all, fasting from meat still allows fish – even lobster – which is hardly a sacrifice. As I thought about it, I realized that not eating animals or animal products might be a way to be kind to nature and thus fit with this Lent’s focus. I decided to try it – for a day. Jim and I aren’t vegan but we do try to minimize the amount of meat we eat so I didn’t think this would be terribly hard, but it would raise my consciousness about what I eat.

I was wrong about it not being hard – even for a day.
Thursday: I managed breakfast and lunch OK. But, a guest prepared dinner for us that night and it included chicken. It would be rude (and thus unkind) not to eat the meal she had generously prepared for us. No problem. I would just substitute dinner the next day for my final vegan meal.

Friday: On Lenten Fridays I usually go to our parish fish fry. No problem. I would substitute pizza for the fish and skip the pepperoni topping. As I was about to bite into the pizza I realized that a main ingredient in pizza is cheese, which is made from milk, which comes from cows and thus doesn’t qualify as vegan. Duh. It would be a waste of food not to eat it so I decided to substitute Saturday’s dinner.

On Saturday, Jim cooked veggie burgers and had a vegetable side dish. Fine. Then I noticed he put melted cheese on the burger. I slyly scraped the cheese off but he caught me. And asked why it was more moral to waste a good hunk of cheese? He’s right of course.

On Sunday my son and I went out to dinner at a Korean restaurant. No problem. I ordered BiBimBap, my favorite rice and vegetable dish. But, I forgot that it came topped with a fried egg. Darn. Eggs are an animal byproduct of chickens. I semi-guiltily ate it and pushed my substitute dinner back another day.

Monday, I finally had my chance. I was eating solo at home so I put peanut butter and banana on a rice cake, had some applesauce and considered myself redeemed.

I didn’t consider my attempts to eat vegan for a day to qualify as doing a daily act of kindness so I supplemented by:

  • Giving a book away.
  • Giving my time away. I received several long phone calls one day that delayed what I had hoped to accomplish. I consciously tried to be attentive to the caller anyway.
  • I tried to help an older lady with a walker navigate a cafeteria line, but she actually was pretty experienced in doing this herself and didn’t need my help.
  • I chose several dresses that I liked well enough but hadn’t worn in a couple years and  donated them to “Dress for Success.”
  • I stopped myself from thinking a criticism about a speaker’s undue loquaciousness.
  • On days that I couldn’t think of a specific kindness to do, I made an intentional effort to look for opportunities that might present themselves to me during the day.

Lessons learned:

  1. I doubt that going vegan for me is worth the trouble. Vegetarianism seems good enough.
  2. The commitment to look for opportunities to be kind is a new mindset for me. This awareness is worth the trouble.

 

 

I’m finding it easier to be kind by giving stuff away or helping someone than to be kind by refraining from being judgmental.
For example, I took

  • some blankets and jackets to the cold shelter
  • some toiletries to the Respite Care Ctr. for indigent patients
  • a therapy brace to Guatemala. (Well, I didn’t quite take it to Guatemala, but since I finished my broken arm therapy, I gave the brace back to the company which sends used braces to patients in Guatemala.

I was kind to several friends who wanted company or a listening ear.

I was kind to the environment by patching a hole in my jeans rather than buying a new pair – the old Reduce-Reuse-Recycle routine. (Click to enlarge photos.)

All this was very intentional and I think “counted” as being kind…
BUT, I continue to catch myself in mid-sentence starting to criticize someone. I’m usually not complaining about a friend but rather a politician or other public figure. Sometimes I realized my judgmental remark in mid-sentence. Sometimes I was able to self-censor and catch myself before I spoke, but I still had the critical thought. Once I was able to rethink my complaint and reword it in non-judgmental way. Ideally, I’ll be able to break the habit of thinking negative thoughts about someone by substituting compassionate understanding of their needs or fears. (Although I still reserve the right to feel outrage with evil since it can motivate me to act.)

What I’ve learned about trying to change a negative habit:
1. Increase awareness: The first step seems to be an increased awareness that I’m doing it wrong. This may feel like backsliding but I think it’s mostly a matter of being more conscious of the habit I’m trying to change.
2. Reduce: The second step is to actually stop the habit – some of the time.
3. The goal is to change the attitude that underlies the bad habit.

In the case of judgmentalism I think the demon is thinking that I’m better than, righter than, more important than other human beings. I don’t consciously believe that, but the urge to be loved, liked, and succeed is pretty universal. The challenge I think is to balance a healthy self-regard with remembering it’s not all about ME. That’s a life long journey.

Oh yes, and then there was Sunday when my goal was to be kind to myself. I indulged myself in a giant cookie and started the long overdue project of organizing the loose photos from 1990 to 2002 – when we mostly went digital. I like organizing stuff but this may take the rest of the Lenten Sundays.

Ash Wednesday: I started this first Be Kinder week with giving several things away and trying to bite my tongue from making a criticism. The latter was by far the harder. I was successful at taking 2 pairs of jeans and 2 tops to Goodwill. I also took 2 sheets to the Catholic Worker House. Yea! The problem came right after the Ash Wednesday service. During our parish Salad Supper that followed Mass, I commented that probably it would have been better not to sing a song during the distribution of ashes because I couldn’t hear the words of the ash giver. I may be right but that’s not the point. I was halfway through my comment at the dinner table when I caught myself and said, “Oh oh, I just violated my Don’t be judgmental resolution.” Then I tried to wriggle out of it by rationalizing that I wasn’t being judgmental about a person; it was just a comment. I can see that the temptation here is to justify my judgmentalism by calling it constructive criticism or giving feedback.

Day 2: Does it count? I wasn’t sure how I would be kinder today so I wondered if I could carry over some of yesterday’s give aways?  Since I gave more than one thing away, can I count it as several days? Since I took stuff to more than one place can it count for 2 days? The sheets weren’t new. Should I just count them as one? I then realized that paying too much attention to what counts was not in the spirit of Lent. I decided to pay attention to who crossed my path on my walk, smile, and greet them. It wasn’t much, but I saw a few people and it did bring a mindfulness to my walk.

Day 3: Beyond the usual. I went to a funeral of a friend today. I think that counts as being kind, but I would have done it anyway. Shouldn’t a Kinder Lent be about doing things beyond my normal habits? Yes. I decided to feed the hungry by taking a bunch of raw vegetables to our parish fish fry. I also dropped off a blanket to our local cold shelter.

Day 4: Progress or backsliding? Two times I stopped myself from criticizing friends behind their backs. They were minor complaints but I held it in. Unfortunately, I also made an intervention that I thought was harmless but the person took it as a criticism. I guess I have a ways to go. I also helped push a friend’s car that was stuck, but I would have done that anyway. It doesn’t count.

Day 5: Be kind to self day. Since it’s Sunday I took a long nap and watched the Olympics.

Day 6: Be kind to nature. I recycled a dying plant by putting it in the compost and saving some of its dirt for this African violet.

Day 7: Be kind to an animal. This was one of those empty days when I wasn’t sure how I would be kind. I just watched for opportunities. I reached out to a sad friend and then…I saw a dead squirrel on my walk. Hmmm. I paused then decided to pick up the squirrel with a dust pan and bury it in the holler behind our house.

In future weeks I won’t bore you with a daily log of my acts or refraining from complaining, but I thought it might be helpful to me and to you, to see the process of trying to build a habit of kindness. It takes daily intentionality and holding oneself accountable. Have you ever tried to change a negative attitude or habit? What helped?

Over the past 8 years rather than just giving something up for Lent I’ve tried to do something pro-active to make me a better, more loving person. This has included:
2010-Giving away one category of possessions a day
2011-Continuing to give stuff away including intangibles
2012-Eating on a Food Stamp budget
2013-Creating less waste
2014-Decluttering hidden stuff by pruning a Drawer-a-Day

2015-Trying to buy nothing other than food
2016-Clearing paper clutter from my desk and obsolete paper from file cabinets
2017-Cleaning my mind and heart of anger, i.e. Political Conversations

Although my home and heart certainly still have room for more pruning, I’ve been searching for my next step. Lent is a good time to take stock of who I am, how I can become a better human, and start practices that that can become ongoing habits of virtue.

My decision for 2018: Be Kind
This may sound like a fluffy, general, be nice kind of resolution but it stemmed from my self-awareness that I can be overly judgmental, a tightwad, and care too much about what people think of me. Focusing on others is a growing edge I want to foster. I was also prompted by a 10 year old refrigerator note to myself: “BE KIND: Don’t be a Jerk. Honor the Absent, Give the Benefit of the Doubt.” It’s a nice idea, but I hadn’t made much progress toward these ideals.

THE PROBLEM:
The challenge will be to go beyond just general, feel good, niceness. I knew I needed to make this goal more deliberate, conscious, and systematic. I want to bring a heightened consciousness to what might initially seem like a very meek goal – just be kind.

THE PLAN: To each day intentionally do something specific, and go out of my way, to be kind:

  1. To another human being. This will probably include continuing to give stuff away to people who need it, but will also include acts of verbal kindness to those I meet in my daily travels (stores, meetings, in traffic, etc.) I already have a few items that I plan to give away, but instead of just waiting for Viet Vets to pick up my miscellaneous stuff, I plan to actually take my donations to a person or place that can use it. I also plan on finding ways to compliment another, but more importantly to bite my tongue when tempted to criticize or complain about a person in their absence.
  2. To planet earth. This will probably include more recycling, paying attention to the animals and plant life around me, and generally choosing something tangible that I can do to improve our common home beyond what I normally do. Should involvement with our local Pachamama Alliance environmental group count?
  3. To myself. On Sundays I’ll probably take a rest and find something to do that renews my spirit. Do you think it would be OK to ventilate about life’s frustrations and maybe even some people. 🙂

HOLDING MYSELF ACCOUNTABLE
In order to avoid Being Kind just ending up as a pleasant platitude that doesn’t really challenge and transform my life, I am committing to write a specific action plan in my journal each morning. The next morning I will note whether I accomplished my action (or inaction in the case of complaining about someone). If I didn’t do my planned action was I able to find a substitute? Of course knowing that I’ll be telling you all about my successes and admitting my failures will also keep me motivated. (My husband also calls me to honesty.)

TAKE AWAY: I’m thinking that making a specific daily decision is the key to developing an ongoing attitude and habit of kindness, not just an occasional being nice. What do you think?