Living Lightly

Susan Vogt on living more simply but abundantly

Browsing Posts published by Susan Vogt

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 because 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?

Simplifying one’s life need not mean eliminating all luxuries but it might be a helpful practice to ask ourselves whether a contemplated purchase or possession is a necessity or a luxury. This can focus our decisions about how we spend our money and time.

For example, during this cold winter I thought about those who don’t have a warm place to live or warm clothes. I had an extra winter coat, a scarf, and ear muffs. Clearly these would be necessities for a person in need so I took them to the local Cold Shelter and felt virtuous.

At the same time, I found 8 thin dressy leather gloves plus a dozen very elegant napkins that I inherited from a rich relative. These were not gloves that would keep anyone warm and the napkins were beautiful but not functional since they were made of a thin, transparent material. Both items clearly fit the luxury category and might best be used walking on the red carpet at the Oscars or hosting a tea for a dignitary. I decided to take them to a nearby antique dealer.

This got me thinking about what really is a necessity and what is nice, perhaps even beautiful, but more of a luxury if one is trying to live simply. Sometimes the decision is clear and easy like the above, but often it’s muddied by lifestyle, stage of life, who I compare myself with, and how extreme I want this “simplicity” thing to be in my life. Is there no room for treats or simply living a middle class lifestyle?

OBVIOUS NECESSITIES: Food, Clothing, Shelter, Health Care, Education.

Of course there’s lots of wriggle room in the above categories. Clean water is a necessity, but what about soft drinks or wine? Clothing is a necessity but how stylish need it be and how many slacks are reasonable? Shelter is a given, but last week I spent 10 January days in a convent in India with no heat. I wasn’t always comfortable but it increased my empathy for those who are cold by necessity not choice. Education is a necessity but does that include private schooling or a doctorate?

Realizing that this is a subjective subject, I propose the following Guide for the Sincere Seeker (or guilt driven purchaser or purger). Consider the following questions when the distinction between a need and a treat are murkier:

  1. Who do I compare myself to? If my frame of reference are millionaires then I can cut myself a lot more slack than if I compare myself to an unemployed single parent. Action step: Rub shoulders with some folk who have less material goods than yourself. This might mean taking the bus, serving meals in a soup kitchen, walking a poor neighborhood, tutoring an indigent child… Knowing the poor can keep us more honest about our real needs.
  2. Is it necessary for the health and well-being of my family? Think household supplies and tools.
  3. Is it necessary for my job? This includes professional looking clothes and tools.
  4. Will buying _____ help me serve others better? Thus, I can justify having internet and other technology that helps me do my work, keep connected to our out of town family and friends. Having unused bedrooms allows me to host out of town family, guests, and sometimes people in need of a temporary home.
  5. Will this purchase deepen my spiritual life? This applies to books, movies, music, retreats…
  6. Will spending money on _____ help create community? Offering hospitality, helping someone take advantage of an opportunity to grow, donating to worthy causes, etc.
  7. Do I already have a serviceable version of ______? Is a new one going to make my life easier so that I have more time to serve, or is it simply a shiny thing to boost my pride?
  8. Is it a quality product that will last? Sometimes, it’s worth paying more for something even though it may look like a luxury to others. Consider such things as a fuel efficient car or solar panels.
  9. Is it fair that I have ______, when others cannot afford it? If it’s a necessity; Yes. If it’s optional; Maybe not.
  10. Can I do without it and not suffer undo harm?

TREATS: And then there is the question of treating oneself or others. I’m not opposed to an occasional treat. Heck, a dinner out can be both convenient, relationship building, and at times a necessity. A massage may be a luxury but call it that and count it as reinvigorating your body and spirit. We needn’t be misers with ourselves, but that’s where rubbing shoulders with those who have less can keep us honest. It can keep our treats and luxuries in bounds.

Stay tuned for my February 14, 2018 Lenten practice. It will have to do with being kind.

In the spirit of end of the year lists, I’ve picked a dozen favorite snippets from my 2017 blog posts. This was like picking a favorite child but in my ongoing effort to save you all reading time, I forced myself to whittle my original 18 down to 12. Click on the links to get the full story.

1. First world debates: It’s sobering to remember that some people don’t have the money to pay for necessities, much less gifts, whether online or local. Some of our neighbors on planet earth are hungry, living in dangerous places, fleeing war zones, living with addictions or family violence. What a luxury it is to debate the best way to spend and save our discretionary money.

2. Don’t complicate giving
stuff away. Sometimes figuring out the best place to take stuff can be a hassle. Relax, just keep giving. Trying to be too pure about the details can tie up energy. In these troubled times free your energy for the truly major political issues like caring for the poor, healing relationships, and protecting the environment.

3. Going Beyond my bubble: Perhaps the most life-giving action I can take is to enter into the world of people who think differently from me on political issues. Learn to love those who voted differently from oneself by understanding them better.

4. Lessons learned from pruning paper:  plus Strategies:
a. One thing leads to another.
b. Uncovering history can be a sacred experience in seeing the categories of our lives evolve.
c. Most everything takes longer than anticipated.

5. Media Literacy: It’s going to be impossible to make good political decisions if we can’t even agree on what the facts are. A population that can be swayed by propaganda and biased news is being hacked even if the voting machines aren’t. Our minds are being played with. I think one of the most important steps to building a healthy democracy is to recognize false advertising.

6. Letting go of health: I don’t wish bad health or an accident on anyone – But wait! Maybe I do. Some lessons can only be learned the hard way. My broken arm has slowed me down, but has taught me a lot

7. Letting go of Anger: Let go of the anger against the person. Keep the outrage with evil.

8. Letting Go of Mistakes: We can’t go back and undo the past – we only learn from it to do better in the future. Mistakes are the tools of learning.

9. Letting Go of Being Right: Check for the flaws in my own position. Check for the truth in my adversary’s position.

10. Plastic Do’s & Don’ts: DO NOT put plastic bags in curbside recycling. Make a place.

11. Letting Go of Worry: Differentiate between productive worry and unproductive worry.

12. Wasting Time vs. Saving Time“Haste makes waste.” Cultivate patience. Make time to read, think, laugh, exercise, and pray. Slow down enough to be mindful of the people and places around me.

Bonus: Nature can be a window to the soul.

Tweet any of the above if you like.

   Click to enlarge

HANGING ON:
It was just one leaf – but it kept hanging on. That’s what I thought as I looked outside my bedroom window from Nov. 21 to Dec. 5. As I sat in my prayer space during those two weeks, I kept pondering the spunk of this lonely leaf (see the middle of our neighbor’s window). I thought about the trials of this political year and how caring for the common good can be tiring and frustrating. Yet, like the leaf, we hang on. We continue to go to meetings, call our congressional representatives, donate to worthy causes, and give a hand to those in need.

CONTEMPLATING:
And then, on December 6, it was gone. I knew the leaf would eventually fall to the earth and become part of the ongoing cycle of life…But it gave me hope to see that it kept trying to stay connected. So my prayer turned to pondering my aging body and when would I die? And what would happen to the essence of my being after I died? Is there really an afterlife? Is there really a God? Or is this just a myth that helps people deal with the trials of life? Hmmm.

And then the birds came. Male cardinals – in their bright red plumage. Five of them flitted around the bare tree on Dec. 6. Cardinals are common in Kentucky. (It’s our state bird.) But five of them on one small dogwood tree at the same time. That was unusual. Maybe I noticed them that day because the tree was so bare. Then I started noticing the squirrels scampering across the wires. It always seems miraculous that they don’t fall. So my thoughts were pulled out of the depths of desolation and uncertainty to hope, the web of life, and the wonder of creation. I have no proof that there is an afterlife, but I have this intuitive sense that there are cycles to life and maybe it is more about being transformed and living through the next generation. I don’t know, but I can believe, and that shapes how I spend my days and hang on today.

 LETTING GO:
And then there were the boxes of loose photos – approximately 1,500 photos stored neatly under a window bench. They lived in the land between conscientiously organizing them into photo albums and the digital era (1994 – 2004 for us). I discovered them because I was searching for some memento photos for a friend who was moving out of town. This started me on a compulsive roll. I decided to prune the obvious duplicates and poor quality photos. (See pile).

PASSING IT ON:
Then another insight – Hey, the kids will be coming home for Christmas soon, This could serve the dual purpose of reminiscing together and passing some photos on to them. I would then feel free to pitch the rest. It could be a way to say farewell to the old year and welcome the new – sort of a family bonding and purging time. (I’m writing this before the kids arrive so they may just chalk this up to one more of Mom’s corny ideas. Meanwhile, some of you might want to try the photo review yourselves – either this New Years or on some other family occasion.

LESSON:
Be mindful. Hanging on for awhile can be virtuous, but eventually we need to let go of the non-essentials to see more clearly and nurture the ongoing life around us. Nature can be a window to the soul.

BONUS:
Check out the ritual I created for letting go of Memorabilia: Letting Go Of a Symbol – Internalizing the Memory

 

Living lightly is not only a matter of reducing material possessions but also not crowding my time with trivia. By virtue of my personality, I enjoy the challenge of saving time. Sometimes this means doing things faster or multitasking. Of course there are pros and cons to speed and efficiency. It takes time to play, pray, and nurture relationships but appreciating people, beauty, and life are important. It’s tricky to find a good balance. As we prepare for Christmas gatherings, may we use our time well, saving time for relationships is not wasteful.

My own family dug into this challenge of saving vs wasting time at our December family conference call. I asked, “What practices save you time and what practices waste your time?”

  • Daughter: Waste – researching things to buy on the internet.
  • Me: Waste – Facebook, waiting (in lines or for tech support), looking for lost stuff, shopping, computer glitches). Save – multitasking (organize my files, GPS, googling information)
  • Husband: Waste – napping, BUT Save – getting up early because I can nap during the day
  • Son #3: Waste – video games. Save – skipping breakfast
  • Son #1: Save – buying groceries online. Waste – when online vendor makes a mistake
  • Son #2: Save – playing video games (by interspersing something that is relaxing with doing work, I’m more efficient at my work, which saves me time in the long run.) Waste – sleep. I hate sleeping. It wastes too much of each day.

This conversation heightened my awareness of time wasters/savers that occurred during the next 2 weeks. For example:
TIME WASTERS came in several categories:

  • Stupid Mistakes – I didn’t realize that putting soybeans in a plastic container in the microwave for 15 minutes would burn the soybeans and melt the plastic. Click to enlarge photos.
  • Unavoidable delays – Booking a trip to India took about 20 minutes of human contact and 2+ hours of intermittent time on hold. It’s a long story. 🙁
  • Unproductive time
    – Accidents. My car was rear-ended. It wasn’t my fault but it still took a lot of time to deal with insurance companies and the repair shop. I hadn’t scheduled an accident into my week.
    – Researching purchases: I needed new fitted sheets for my twin mattresses plus I wanted a contour rug to fit around our toilet. We have very usable but older twin mattresses, but,  manufacturers have gone to thicker mattresses and thus deep pocket sheets. Also our 30 year old toilet base is too large for the contour toilet rugs. After spending about 5 hours visiting stores and searching online I came up smarter but empty handed.

TIME SAVERS:

  • Reduce phone calls: The National Do Not Call Registry blocks many calls but does not apply to charities, political calls, and surveys. To block other landline calls just wait for the dial tone, Dial 1160, and follow the instructions.
  • Reduce email: Since I sign a lot of online petitions, I also get on too many political email lists. Gmail conveniently puts these in the Promotional tab but too quickly that can add up to 1000 emails. I periodically unsubscribe to all but the most vital ones to me.
  • Reduce Facebook posts: I like to keep abreast of family, friends, and causes on Facebook, but it can become a time hog. I block all ads and recipes. I also use Social Fixer to filter phrases like Happy Birthday, Merry Christmas, Mother’s Day.
  • Multi-tasking: Use phone hold time to check emails and Facebook Use exercise and walking time to listen to podcasts or radio. Use TV time to fold laundry. Use time waiting in lines to pray for the people around me or meditate rather than fuming.

LESSONS LEARNED:
1. The old maxim, “Haste makes waste” is true.
2. Since I can’t control the world or avoid all accidents, cultivate patience and perspective.
3. Sometimes saving time isn’t worth it. Make time to read, think, laugh, exercise, and pray.
4. Slow down enough to be mindful of the people and places around me.
5. Don’t lose stuff. Easier said than done. Having less stuff makes what I do have easier to keep track of. Organizing stuff takes time but makes it easier to find later. Being conscious of my movements can help, but who is always totally present to the moment? Bottom line: Chill!

I’ve been writing this blog since 2010 and over these 7 years have explored many angles of voluntary simplicity (material, emotional, spiritual, and technological). The question I keep coming back to is: How much is enough?How much is too much?

  1. On the material level I realize that there is a point where more possessions don’t bring more happiness but rather clutter my living space and crowd my time.
  2. On an emotional level I’ve come to understand that there are attitudes like wanting to be in control or to be right and emotions like anger or worry that bring stress to my life.
  3. On the spiritual level it’s grounded in
    -Give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that I need. (Proverbs 30:7-9)
    -The one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little. (2 Cor 8:15)
  4. On the technological level I continue to struggle with which gadgets (internet, phone, TV…) bring me needed information and comfort and which distract me from the person in front of me.

I’ll never come to the perfect answer to my question of “enough” nor do I pretend to give you the answer. Perhaps the “answer” is to continue to face the struggle and question my purchases, thoughts, and actions.

In the spirit of just having finished Thanksgiving and preparing for Christmas 2017, I offer you some videos to enjoy in the hope that they will continue to challenge your life decisions.

  1. Vicki Robins about Your Money Or Your Life. This 27 minute Upon Reflection interview is old, but it’s a classic and still rings true (except for the 1998 family income statistics).
  2. Graham Hill’s 5 minute Ted Talk, Less Stuff, More Happiness,
  3. Jerry Iversen’s even shorter (2 minute) introduction to Simple Living Works. (You can go on to the follow-up talks if you want.)

Watch one or all before you dig too deeply into your holiday shopping.

Personal note: Over the years my own family has experimented with various Christmas gift giving policies. Some years we give a gift to everyone, some years we’ve picked names, one year we agreed not to buy anything in a store (i.e. home made gifts, experiences, etc.) This felt virtuous but took a lot of time. This year we decided to not exchange gifts (except for the children).  Our thinking is that we will feel less burdened and hectic before Christmas and enjoy each other’s company, games, and food when we all get together. We’ll see how it goes.

Recently our daughter moved to a new city. Many of her belongings stored at her previous home in Africa would take at least 3 months to arrive in Washington, DC. She thought she would help me out with my ongoing disbursal of extra household items by taking a few things from our home. She really only wanted “trash” – stuff that I didn’t need but that she could use temporarily until her own stuff arrived.

Her requests: several mugs, a hand mixer, towels, and a blanket. And, oh yes, remember that elegant chinchilla stole that Nana passed down to her but she didn’t want to take to Africa. Now she might have a use for it. It’s a keeper.

These were easy requests. I still had a few extra mugs, towels, blankets, and one hand mixer that worked most of the time. Her plan was to pass these things on to others once her own supplies arrived. She figured she was doing me a favor by giving me an opportunity to further clear out extra stuff. She was right. The nice thing is that she understood the value of passing things on and not buying unnecessary duplicates. I can’t imagine having an occasion to wear a chinchilla stole anyway. 🙂

Other temporary gifts that sometimes come my way are trinkets, favors, and similar swag that you might get at meetings. If I can’t pass it on to someone who needs it, I keep a basket of such stuff for visiting kids and invite them to “pick a treat.” The only problem is that I fear I might be helping them develop a habit of accumulating useless stuff. What do you do with swag you don’t need or want?

When a crisis or catastrophe strikes, people are often motivated to be generous. Floods, hurricanes, fires, accidents, etc. are hard on the victims but they often bring out the best in those who are in a position to help. Maybe this is the easy side of letting go because it’s clear that someone else needs something more than I do. This happened to me recently on several occasions.

The guitar: A music studio in my area was flooded and a lot of their instruments were warped. They put out a call for help. I had an old guitar in our basement that our kids had used as a beginner guitar. It wasn’t great but it was good enough for the young students of this studio to have a starter guitar to learn on.

The suitcase: Similarly, I saw a notice that a women’s homeless shelter in my city could use suitcases. When a woman is ready to leave the shelter they often need a suitcase to carry their miscellaneous clothes and possessions. I had just gotten a new suitcase and was happy to take my older one to the shelter.

The band jacket. This one was not the result of any obvious adversity, but as I was on a roll with taking things out of closets, I found our daughter’s high-school band jacket. It wasn’t a particularly warm jacket so it wouldn’t do a homeless person a lot of good, but still, it made no sense to trash a perfectly useable jacket. I called the school and they said they’d be happy to have it since some of the band members might not have the money for a new jacket.

These were easy decisions that felt good. It may not be the height of virtue but it did take the mindfulness of paying attention to needs in my community and taking a little time to make the connection. Sometimes giving is painful because we fear we might need it later. Other times it just seems natural and obvious. What has been easy for you to give away? What has been hard?

I thought I was finished with my “Letting Go of various emotions” series, but my husband gently reminded me recently that maybe I need to worry less. After resisting my automatic response of  “Well, I have to worry for both of us.” I realized that there was some truth in his comment.

The incident that prompted this exchange was that on a recent long, arduous hike in the Canadian Rockies, near the end I said something like, “I wonder if I’m going to need knee or ankle replacement surgery.” Although I wasn’t ready to call the doctor, I suppose I was super sensitive since I was still recuperating from my broken arm surgery. My legs started to feel more normal once we got back on level ground, but his comment stuck with me. Yes, I do worry more than he does and probably more than is good for me. This started me thinking about how I deal with worries and how to let go of unnecessary ones.

Upon some personal reflection and listening to some podcasts on dealing with emotional stress, I realized that there are two basic kinds of worry:

1. PRODUCTIVE WORRY. These are the worries that I might be able to do something about. Thus, worry can motivate taking an action that is preventive or a solution. Response: ACT.

  • If I’m worried about a health issue, I can read up on it, consult my doctor, take a medication, etc.
  • If it’s a world problem like poverty, war, racism, I can join an organization that works on this issue. I can become politically active.
  • If it’s a serious worry about one of my kids, I can talk to them about it, although this gets dicey with adult children.
  • I can sleep on it. Sometimes a resolution will evolve by morning – or at least it doesn’t feel so urgent.

2. NON-PRODUCTIVE WORRY. These are the worries that I can’t do anything about like the dark, being in a plane crash, people not liking me, dying… often the kind of things that keep you awake at night. Response: LET IT GO. But how? The following are strategies that usually work for me:

  • Prayer or Meditation. If I can’t physically do something to fix the worry, taking it to prayer, turning it over to a higher power, then putting it out of mind helps. Of course focusing on the worry, even in prayer, can be the opposite of letting it go, so it’s helpful to find something else to focus on. So…
  • Substitution. Focusing on another thought or practice like my breathing or body in general helps me. Others find a soothing practice like yoga or an active practice like running helps. Although I’m not usually a fan of repetitive prayers, if I can’t sleep at night, saying the rosary works for me.
  • Put it in Perspective. If my mind is too consumed with the worry for substitution to work, I can sometimes talk myself out of non-productive worry by reminding myself that things could be worse. When I’ve had a car accident, I remember that I wasn’t hurt. When I broke my arm, I remembered that I live in a country with ER rooms, orthopedic surgeons, and I have health insurance. When I do something really stupid and think people will laugh at me, I tell myself that in time this will be an interesting story to tell and after all it was just a stupid mistake not a mean spirited one. This isn’t the end of the world.
  • Focus on Gratitude. Calling to consciousness those many people and things that surround me that are good combines both substitution and perspective. My sanity prayer is:
    * I am alive,. (breathe deeply) but I will not always be.
    * I am loved, therefore, I don’t have to prove myself to others. It’s not all about me.
    * Who are the others that need my love today? Focus on who I can be present to today.

What helps you tame your worries? Please share in the comment section below.

Plastic items are light, easily cleaned, and often cheaper than cloth, wood, metal, or brick. Maybe the three pigs should have built their homes out of plastic. But, of course most plastics do not biodegrade easily or quickly which make them anathema to environmentalists like me. They can, however, be recycled.

Conscientious citizens already know the basics of recycling and responsible municipalities usually provide curbside recycling to make it easy. So, problem solved? Almost. Communities differ in what they accept in curbside recycling so contact your local government for details. Here are some plastic recycling basics for the recently committed recycler and some strategies for the faithful but tired ones.

BASICS:

  1. #1-#4 plastics; stacked compactly for photo

    Reduce or Reuse first. Recycling is the backup of the 3 Rs. Better to “precycle” by not buying as much, buying things that will last, reusing or repairing what you do have so that less needs to be recycled.

  2. Plastic bottles and jugs. Most curbside recyclers take plastic bottles and jugs (along with paper, glass, and cans). Good.
  3. #1-#4 plastics. Some curbside recycling companies won’t take #1-#4 unless it’s a bottle, The number in the triangle is irrelevant. It has to do with their recycling machines and who they can sell the plastic to. Stores like Whole Foods generally take #1-#4.
  4. Don’t put curbside recyclables in a bag. The bag can gum up the recycling machinery.
  5. #5 plastics

    # 5 plastics. Yogurt and like tubs are typically #5 plastics. Curbside recycling companies almost never take #5s. Again Whole Foods will usually take them but the bins are often separated from the regular recycling bins.

  6. Plastic bags. DO NOT put plastic bags in curbside recycling. It gums up the recycling machines, thus nimble fingered human beings have to deftly pick the bags off the recycling treadmills. Almost all grocery stores have a place to deposit plastic bags. Even better, ask for paper bags. Better yet, bring your own reusable cloth bags. Even with reducing your own plastic bag consumption, you’ll probably end up with some plastic bags. For those of us who still get a print newspaper, you’re bound to have plastic wrappers – unless you have a dog. 😉

STRATEGIES:

  1. Make a place. Maybe you have good intentions of recycling but, hey, the recycling can is outside and it’s a cold day, or it creates such clutter in the house. Once you find a place and container (ideally near the kitchen) to put recyclables in, it makes turning an intention into a habit easier.
  2. bag of plastic bags

    Pack your car. We dutifully collect all the plastics that cannot go in curbside recycling and store them in the basement – where they stay for too long, because Whole Foods is not nearby. Now, once a bag is full of non-curbside plastics, we put it in the trunk of the car so we can drop them off when we’re in the neighborhood. Procrastination is minimized. Besides, who’s going to steal plastics bound for recycling?

    What strategies have you devised to improve your recycling?

Although I like to think that most often my opinions are right, I admit that my husband, Jim, is often more accurate about facts than I am. I might say, “Hey, there were about 50 people at the party.” Jim might say, “No, there were 46. I counted.” I chalk this up to different personality styles.

In this post, however, I will  not be dealing with these kinds of facts, nor job situations where there’s a chain of command and a verifiable right way to do something. Rather, I’d like to focus on human relationships and how the conviction that I am right can sometimes be counterproductive. It can keep me from seeing the whole truth and finding effective ways to convey my views to another. It can also make me obnoxious.

For example, in this contentious political season, I’ve been thinking a lot about how to talk with people who have a different idea of what is the right course for our country. (See Going Beyond My Bubble and Political Conversations posts). There are three possibilities:

  • I may be right. But convincing others of this may not be helpful. This applies to family relationships, friendships, and politics.
  • I may be wrong – at least occasionally. 😉
  • Both of us may have part of the truth.

As my thinking has matured on this subject, I’ve learned a lesson from Jake Sullivan’s interview with Charlie Rose (Aug. 10, 2017). To summarize this 54 minute video I now see the wisdom of

  1. Checking for the flaws in my own position. Even though I might think I’m mostly right, there may be parts of what I believe that are weak or could be challenged. Am I willing to change and improve my original position?
  2. Checking for the truth in my adversary’s position. Even if I think the other’s position is fatally flawed, there may be a kernel of truth in it. Otherwise, why would they hold it so strongly? Is there a need or a fear that they are trying to address?

Once this exploratory truth seeking task is done, several implementation steps occur to me.

  1. Exercise “Silence of Words.” (This terminology comes from the Marianist “System of Virtues.” It basically means “Shut up, pause, and listen.”) This intentional pause allows time to hear the other express their opinion and for me to show that I understand their position and respect them even though I may continue to disagree.
  2. Exercise “Mindfulness of Words.” This means I speak but not out of anger or desire to win the debate. After recognizing any basic truth or agreement I have with parts of the other’s position, I express my own position.
  3. Let your life speak. An alternative or addition to #4 is not to debate anything, but rather to let my actions show my values. If I want to combat racism, I treat all people with respect. If I want to reduce poverty, I spend my time and money supporting programs that lift people out of poverty. If I want to protect the environment, I myself reduce, reuse, and recycle, and then support the environmental movement.
  4. Be Mindful. This isn’t just about speaking carefully, but rather carrying a consciousness of others and the world around me as I go about my daily life. How is each person, animal, or thing I see or hear during the day drawing me out of myself to recognize a bigger truth, a sacred presence?

Some people need more self-discipline and organization in their lives. Some people need less. To those who like to be in control (like me) the challenge is to let go of micromanaging my life, other’s lives, and the world.

It is only relatively recently that I’ve recognized my love of control as a potential problem. Generally I think of myself as a reliable, organized person who makes plans, gets things done, and meets deadlines. This is good! It makes my life work more smoothly and others can rely on me. But then, in an instant, came “the fall.” Recovery from my broken arm has taken a lot of time and dependence on others. I had to give up control. All this got me to thinking about the bigger fantasy of being able to control the cosmos.

3 INSIGHTS

  1. Know Yourself – On a continuum of 1 – 10 do I tend more toward the obsessive-compulsive, over-controlling side or more toward the laissez-faire, chaos side?
  2. Balance: Being organized, planning, meeting deadlines, etc. is good, but it can be overdone. Since I know that this is a strength of mine, my challenge is to develop my spontaneous, being present to the moment, and acceptance of uncertainty side.
  3. Process vs Outcome: One sanity saver I learned in parenting is that I am responsible for the process I use in parenting my children – not the outcome. This keeps me from judging my self-worth based on the success or failure of my children. Now I need to apply this to other life tasks. For example, I diligently plan my public talks or meetings. BUT, I can’t control whether people will agree with what I say or apply it to their life. I can’t control whether a group will choose to act.

3 THINGS I CANNOT CONTROL

  1. Other People. I can try to persuade, inspire, or enforce consequences but we all have free will. I can carry a small child to his/her room for a time-out but I can’t guarantee the same bad behavior won’t happen again. I can’t control traffic that might make me late 🙁 .
  2. The World: I can’t personally prevent a nuclear war, devastating weather, world poverty…
  3. What Happens To Me: I can slip and fall through no fault of my own. A drunk driver can hit my car. A jealous co-worker could spread lies about me which result in my being fired.

3 THINGS I CAN CONTROL:

  1. The Way I Treat Other People: I can treat others with respect, kindness, and generosity, whether or not I think they deserve it.
  2. Taking Actions that Impact World Problems. Although I can’t dictate world peace, I can join organizations that work for peace, protecting the environment, reducing poverty, better race relations… I can become politically active since that is a way to make positive change beyond just individually recycling or giving food to a food pantry.
  3. My Time and Thoughts. If I take #2 seriously, it can quickly lead to over-commitment and stress. This is where the circle of seeking control can spiral out of control. I have found that it’s important to do something, but not everything. Prioritizing how to best use my time considering my talents, interests, and other obligations is the key.

Thoughts may be even harder to control than time since they are often prompted by feelings that rise up unbidden. The temptation is to feel overwhelmed and discouraged about mistakes or what’s yet to be done. For me, the following practices help me tame these negative temptations and be gentle with myself:

  • Developing a spiritual foundation (See Richard Rohr’s meditation, We Come to God by Doing It Wrong,  and the 5 minute video, Happiness Revealed for ideas.)
  • Being in community
  • Taking time to laugh (at myself and the fantasy that I can actually control the universe.)