I have become quite entranced by the power of organizing this year and I am recommending it to several of my clients and many of my friends. I have been waxing lyrical about discovering the almost magical healing properties of this seemingly mundane activity. Ironically, given that it is all about the physical detritus we accumulate over a lifetime, I have found that organizing is, in fact, very good for the soul.
- Want to know the biggest secret about organizing? It’s not about the stuff
To say organizing is about the stuff is to say that kissing is about moving your mouth around next to someone else’s. Which is to say that the sum of the whole is far greater than the parts. It’s a process, people and within this process there are many profound revelations and hidden benefits to be had.
To begin with, it’s an eye-opening indicator about just how much attention (or not) we have been paying to what surrounds us. Some people say that the state of your surroundings is a direct reflection of your state of mind and I have to say, that for me at least, there is a lot of truth to that. To begin with is the fact that the times I start to get messy coincide with the times I am feeling overly stressed or rushed. Of course, this easily becomes a vicious cycle if you find it stressful to be in disorderly surroundings.
I happen to think there may actually be some scientific merit to the idea that de-cluttering reduces stress, if only because it must take more energy to be in a cluttered room because each time our eyes survey it, our optic nerves and brain have to fire off so many more times to relay the information about all the stuff they are seeing.
So there’s something to be gained from the end result but what I haven’t heard so much about, is the healing that can happen along the way. Having recently gone through all of my possessions, I looked at, touched and made a conscious decision about the value and benefit of keeping each thing. In my case, needing to decide whether each thing is worth the cost of either storing or shipping pushed the stakes quite a bit higher.
What was astounding to me, given that I have moved a fair bit and most recently within two years, was the embarrassing amount of stuff that I really didn’t even know I had in my possession. I wish I had kept count of the astonishing number of trash sacks of stuff that got thrown away, not to mention all the things that were donated or sold. And at the end of all that, I still look at what I ended up with and feel that there is more to be let go.
Looking at mementoes from the past can be bitter-sweet. Reading love letters from someone who no longer shows us that they love us – for whatever reason – brings grief as we remember and re-experience joys and love lost and feel the pain of its absence.
Organizing gives us the opportunity to come face-to-face with a literal manifestation of how much emotional baggage we are carrying around.
The letting go was at times incredibly painful but when you stop to really think about it, totally irrational. Why do we get so attached to things? Of course, what we are really attached to is the meaning we ascribe to that thing, for a really good explanation of this, check out what my friend Jon has to say about Essentialism here.
What I came to realize was that the reason it was so hard to let go of certain things was because I greatly valued the meaning that I had attached to them. I realized that my reluctance had to do with feeling like I was letting go of experiences and emotions I wish were part of my present. So I understood that it hurt because it was very important to me to be able to remind myself or perhaps even to prove to myself that at this time I felt loved, at that time I felt happy or successful, or creative or whatever that emotion was that I want to be able to hold on to.
One of the most difficult parts of the experience was realizing that I needed to acknowledge that not only certain relationships were over, but also that certain phases of my life are over. That there are roles I wish I were playing in my life and other people’s lives that simply don’t fit or exist anymore. I realized I had been holding on to the props required for the movie set of the life I wished I was living.
Letting go of the things shattered my denial and resistance to being fully in the present – which of course is the only place we actually exist in. When I am able to drag myself (sometimes kicking and screaming) into fully being in the present, which perhaps I fear will be just too painful to even survive, I always experience relief. I need to try to remember that just like throwing up, once I finally submit to the inevitable, I always feel so much better afterwards. And the present is where the rebuilding can begin.
So this, dear reader, is how I came to discover the little known fact that organizing is in fact, a sort of spiritual practice since just like meditation it brings one into the present. Organizing facilitates a healing whereby we can review the past and acknowledge its gifts and lessons. As we take the gifts and lessons into our minds and hearts, we can let go of the stuff and without all that baggage it is so much easier to gracefully move on and grow towards a better future.
Being in the business of helping people, it’s a little annoying that it always seems so much more difficult when I’m dealing with my own problems. Undoubtedly it’s all due to a lack of perspective and not being able to see the wood for the trees. Sometimes the answer we are so desperately seeking comes simply from being able to find the right questions. I’m grateful to have had a breakthrough tonight when I read this question from the fabulous Cheri Huber
“What do you have in your life and what do you exclude from your life in order to avoid discomfort?”
Cue major epiphany. Not so much because I answered the question but because, all of a sudden, I became aware of the way I was reacting to the problem. Inspiration came when I realized that a beautiful solution to this and every other problem might lie in simply changing the way I thought about the whole concept of having a problem. Back to Cheri here, who succinctly explains in The Key that there are Four Causes of Suffering:
- Not getting what you want
- Getting what you want and not being satisfied with it
- Having to endure the absence of those or that which you love
- Having to endure the presence to those or that which you do not love
The issue, in every case is that we don’t like that which we don’t like and that our reaction to experiencing discomfort or fearing that we are about to experience discomfort is to attempt to do just about anything to avoid it. The ego goes into over-drive in an all out attempt to control and change things. I think that actually having some tools and skills in the interpersonal realm can put one at a huge disadvantage here as the danger is that we can become consumed by the fallacy that if we just try harder or longer we can make it all better.
Some part of our brain is fixated on a series of irrational assertions centered in the flawed logic that insists that things should be different. That this version of reality is totally unacceptable. That if we were to take the unimaginable risk of accepting the way things are, nothing is going to change. That by taking a stand and refusing to accept the way things are, we have some possibility of changing them. Not so much. The truth is that there is one and only one thing within our control and that is how we think about things.
When it comes to reality, resistance is futile because resisting reality is really the problem.
And here is where the miracle comes in. When I am able to give up my attachment to the way I hoped, or dreamed or believed things should be, it actually comes as something of a relief, suffering is really exhausting.
There is a peace in the acceptance that comes from surrendering the impossible task of trying to control the universe. It’s even better when we entertain the concept that someone or something much better and bigger than us is actually in charge.
Here’s to serenity.
Check out her post This is Why I’ll never be a grown up and be gentle on yourself today!
Sweetheart, I’m so glad you reached out to me. I hear that you are hurting.
I’m so sorry that life is really hard right now.
I have time for you. How can I support you right now?
Where are you? Can you find somewhere quiet and safe that you can lie down on the ground?
Take a breath.
All the way in and all the way out.
When you feel ready, become aware of the floor underneath you. Mother earth, holding you in the palm of her hand.
Let go, let her take your weight.
Relax. Feel everything soften as you sink in to the support of the earth beneath you.
Feel peace spreading inside you, like the sun coming out from behind the clouds.
When you feel ready, can you open your eyes and say hello to your toes?
Notice your feet, your legs and send them some appreciation for carrying you this far on your journey.
Take another breath.
Put one hand on your tummy and the other on your heart.
Can you feel your heart beating?
Let yourself notice the beat of your heart, the one constant thing that remains.
Be an empty beach at the end of the day,
The echoes of the childrens voices have faded away
and all that remains is the whisper of the surf,
As the waves go in and out, like the breath,
In and then out.
Bring your awareness to your face now.
Pay close attention
Can you feel the breath here? Going in and out.
Can you feel the warmth of your skin, radiating out in to the air?
Wait, listen, can you feel something else?
It’s the softness of a hundred butterfly kisses,
Tiny kisses of love and light.
From all the invisible loves that surround you.
And love from before,
Love from ahead,
And love from beyond.
Feel it now. Open to this love and see it surround you,
Let it fill every cell and dry every tear.
Hear the celebration for every moment of your being,
Your strength and your courage, your big, beautiful heart.
You are safe, You are loved
You are safe, You are loved
Inspired by my best friend Lauren, who is always there when I get lost, with her timeless, patient, peaceful wisdom to guide me safely back to shore.
Things may be hard. So hard they may be waking you up at 3 in the morning. You try to keep sleeping but no: now the soundtrack is going… you know, the soundtrack of all the things you suspect are related to how your shoulders feel so tight, not to mention that knot in your belly, or the dull ache between your temples…
It’s too much: too much pressure, too much to do, too much to keep track of, too much noise, too much work, too many messages, too many things… Too much, you think.
Even while it feels like not enough. Not enough time, not enough money, not enough business, not enough lovin’… Not enough, you think.
And you are tired. So tired. If only you could rest, you think. You try to remember when you last sat in the sun and read for an hour. You want to get away… But there’s so much to take care of, you think.
Maybe you have a business. Maybe you have a family. There are people you feel responsible for, or to… Or maybe it’s just you, and maybe that is the thought that wakes you: I am alone, you think.
Oh sweetest heart, come. What I want to tell you is simple, and yet we forget it all the time. I do. (Why do you think I’m writing it to you right now, before I go to bed?!)
You do not need to hold yourself up. You do not need to keep it together. The ground, it is strong. And it’s right there under you at 3 in the morning or afternoon. Supporting you. Let the ground hold you. All of you:
Butt? For sure.
Back? The ground has got your back, for sure!
See if you can let yourself be held.
Also, the air? It’s free, my love, free! No need to skimp. Your neck and shoulders will appreciate the rest they get when your breathing is gentle and deep. Also, you might try this if ever you feel yourself anxious and struggling for breath: let yourself be breathed. Notice how air enters and leaves, enters and leaves. Again and again. What a relief.
Oh my love, I know you know all this, you just forget.
Here’s a crib sheet for 3 a.m. Tuck it under you pillow if you want:
Strong ground. Generous, free air.
Let the ground hold you.
Let the air breathe you.
What a relief.
Oh and too (lest you forget)?
You are loved.
What’s that? By whom?
Ahhh… here’s a thought: How ’bout you fall asleep counting loves! (Sheep are so last century). Count people who love you, past present future. People you love, ever… Things you love… Animals… Places…
Sweet dreams, my sweet…
*Kissing your forehead… slipping out quietly*
Heidi Fischbach is a Massage therapist, Mood detective and Mortar & pestle queen. She uses pure essential oils to create magic potions and lotions for mixed up emotions (made from pure essential oils) including the fabulously titled Losing It:
“The potion for when you’re losing your shit. Or about to. You’re running in circles and the world around you or inside your head is spinning like craaaazy.
Wanted: Calm. Support. Strength. This potion brings to mind the ground supporting us and the roots of ancient wise trees.
Losing It features Sandalwood and Vetiver. With supporting roles by warming Ginger, and sassy Lemongrass. Sweetness by: Ylang Ylang. And bouncer services by Black Pepper (‘Cause, oh yeah: you always want Black Pepper on your side).”
I feel better already, I hope you do, too.
P.S. special thanks to one of my favorite people, Pirate Queen Havi Brooks for introducing me to Heidi.
I have a confession to make, I fell off the self-care wagon. Looking after myself has been an Epic Fail the past few weeks. Quite frankly, if I were a dog-sitter I would have fired me for reckless disregard to needs for adequate exercise, rest and good nutrition
I had a major lack of short-term motivation to think about long-term goals. I was besieged by an inner conflict, as all my good intentions got defeated, one by one.
Healthy, mature me: “ I should really go to the gym tonight”
Adolescent me with bad attitude: “I’m gonna watch tv.”
H.M.M: “Ok if the gym is too much effort, I could do a little yoga here”
A.M.W.B.A: “Screw yoga, Where’s the wine?”
H.M.M: “At the very least, I think you really need an early night”
A.M.W.B.A: “Leave me alone, I’ll go to bed when I want to”
The worst part of not taking care of myself is that I know better – and not in any sanctimonious expert kind of way. Unless you’ve been under a rock somewhere, I think it’s fairly safe to say that we all have an idea of what self-care should entail. If only it were that simple. And it’s not just me.
I regularly meet people who wouldn’t neglect a house-plant they way they treat themselves. A big part of the problem, it seems to me, is that people are uncomfortable with the whole concept of self-care, judging it to synonymous with narcissistic naval gazing and self-indulgence of celebrity proportions.
There is such a cultural aversion to it that you could be forgiven for thinking there is a competition for America’s biggest martyr, when you listen to people try to outdo each other with boasts of how much they are working and how little sleep they are getting.
People who do a good job at looking after others are amongst the worst offenders when it comes to looking after themselves, it seems. As for professional caregivers – Oy. These are intelligent people with a good sense of cause and effect and more than a passing understanding of human biology and yet they would pretty much rather die of a stress-related illness rather than take the risk that anyone could possibly accuse them of being selfish.
The ironic thing is that actually, not taking care of yourself is really far more selfish. If you neglect your physical well-being for long enough, chances are you will be checking out on your loved ones somewhat earlier than they could have wished for. And back in the here and now, when you don’t manage your stress, you’re guilty of polluting other people’s day with a toxic emission of negative energy.
Self-care is about taking personal responsibility for your health and well-being. About ensuring that you show up for the people and things that matter, most able to give your best. At the very least, it’s about maintaining your physical body in good working order for as long as possible. Not eating crap, moving the moving parts on a fairly regular basis, resting when you are tired. That’s the minimum and yet even that seemed like an impossible task last month. I was way beyond prevention, but I was unable even to activate the rescue plan that I would usually implement to get myself out of burnout.
Happily, I think I have figured out was going on and it’s already getting better, thanks to the phenomenal healing gifts of Dr. of Oriental medicine, Tansy Briggs. She explained to me that when chronic stress reaches a critical level, it triggers a permanent acute response to everything. As my recent blood work confirmed, my cortisol (the stress hormone) level indicates that my fight or flight mechanism has been stuck in the on position for a while now and closely resembles that of someone with PTSD. Thanks to my mind, my body has been locked in survival mode.
The sympathetic nervous system evolved back in the day when having a snappy response to an approaching tiger was a giant asset. However, living today like a tiger is permanently about to attack is not conducive to doing most of the things that are helpful to my stress level. It makes sense really. If I thought the chances were fairly high that I was about to be eaten by a tiger, I probably would choose the extra calories with a side of Chardonnay. As far as exercise is concerned, I’d want to conserve my energy to out-sprint the tiger – this of course, is the reason that there are no prehistoric cave drawings of people doing aerobics.
No wonder I couldn’t convince myself to leave the house and head for the gym, my body was sending me signals that a disaster might happen at any second, sheltering in place was the obvious choice. Tansy explained that she needed to “reset” my adrenal function with acupuncture. And believe it or not, after just one session, I woke up with the startling realization that I wasn’t feeling stressed. Normal, happy even. Rational. Willing and able to quite cheerfully go for a run and hit both Saturday and Sunday 8am yoga classes this weekend. What a relief.
Sometimes it seems that just knowing what one should do differently is not enough. We need to ask for help. And that involves believing that it’s more than ok to take care of yourself. You deserve it and so do the people who love you.
One of the biggest relationship mistakes that people make is to express anger instead of fear or sadness. That anger often arises from a sense of betrayal derived from the idea that an unwritten rule has been broken, the thought being ‘This is not what I signed up for’. But more often than not, instead of sharing the thoughts and feelings underneath it all, we ignore the elephant in the room and fight about the symptoms instead of the causes.
For Brad and Julie it all started when they had twins, right around the time he got his big promotion. All of a sudden their worlds were upside down. Between recovering from the caesarian and taking care of two babies with colic, Julie was completely overwhelmed and couldn’t wait for Brad to get home from work to give her a break.
Evolution equips us with the desire to learn from the perils we survive. Once bitten, twice shy; yet this pre-historic instinct designed to protect us from predators and poisons, really doesn’t serve us when applied to affairs of the heart. Take Alice. Alice has a broken heart. Like a clock that stopped, it’s frozen in time, hands pointing fixedly to the moment three years ago when she found out that her boyfriend was cheating on her. Alice would really like to meet someone. More specifically, she would really like to meet someone, get married and have children, sooner rather than later. But she is not even dating right now and the reason is because she is stuck. Immobilized by her shattered trust, the torment of the unanswered why, the bitterness of betrayal and the abject terror of being so hurt again.
Alice has a heart so tender, sweet and generous. She is a sweet girl who enjoys being a girl, inside and out and yet when men meet her, they don’t find her feminine at all. The tension of all that unresolved emotion has taken up residence in her body, you can actually see it in the jaw that aches from night after night of being clenched so tight. It’s as if the fear and pain has been there so long that it has become hardened over time, solidifying into a rock-hard protective shell around her heart, mirrored by the layer of extra weight she has cloaked her body in. Trying to meet a guy in this condition is incredibly difficult, the metaphor that comes to my mind is that it’s rather like belly-dancing in a suit of armor.
For a woman (or man) who identifies as feminine and seeks a masculine counterpart, openness and softness are powerfully attractive attributes to embody. Ironically, it is being vulnerable which requires the most courage of all.
Perhaps the most important step in the process of healing a broken heart is to make a conscious decision to stay in the present and to remember that our past does not dictate our future. If we don’t, the danger is that we show up on the doorstep of a new relationship with a pantechnicon of emotional baggage accrued in every other relationship starting with our parents. To leave the past behind may take work, just because emotional wounds are invisible, doesn’t mean they don’t need tending to or healing time just like physical injuries. Journalling, friends, coaching or counseling can help, but don’t wait for the fear to disappear. Choose to love in spite of it.
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Announcing the Practical Enlightenment series: for which I invite you to get your big girl (or boy) panties on and grab a flashlight as we dive under the bed of your subconscious to confront and conquer the monsters lurking there.
Over the years, I have discovered that trying not to feel certain feelings consumes an enormous amount of energy. My personal theory is that it also contributes to depression, stress and even ill health (a.k.a. dis-ease): In the pursuit of avoidance, it is easy to fall victim to unhealthy coping techniques such as over-eating to “stuff down” feelings, overindulging in the consumption of alcohol or – fill in the blank with the compulsive escapist activity of your choice.
What I’d like to suggest is that you join me in exploring a whole new approach to the feelings you’d most like to avoid. Instead of denying our undesirable thoughts and feelings, we will summon up some courage and turn towards them armed with an invincible mixture of Compassion and Curiosity.
Self-compassion is very helpful in this kind of personal healing work – beating yourself up is such a futile exercise. Self-criticism is a form of stagnation, continually bemoaning the problem and stating that it shouldn’t exist does nothing to alleviate the situation. Your time and energy is far better spent in getting past your opinions about whether things ought to be different, accepting the reality you are facing and moving on into solution-seeking. When you replace critical self-condemnation with an attitude of slight detachment and curiosity, you may be very surprised at how much progress you can make in a very short amount of time to heal patterns that have dogged you for years.
To continue on the theme of how what goes on in your head affects your health, today I want to discuss the subject of how you talk to yourself. Before, you start to hotly deny the completely unfounded rumors about your tenuous hold on sanity, allow me to clarify; I am not talking about the ‘out-loud discussions with people that everyone else can’t see’ kind of talking to yourself. I am referring to what is commonly referred to as “self-talk”, ie the running conversation you have with your self (or selves) in the privacy of your own mind.
I’d like to ask you to stop for a moment and attempt an objective analysis of your inner monologue. First of all, leaving aside the content, what is the tone of voice you most often use with yourself? Is it exasperated or encouraging? Is it anxious or appreciative? Critical or grateful? Does this remind you of anyone in your life? Secondly, take a piece of paper and a pen – or pull up a blank doc on your keyboard, and thinking of the past few weeks, jot down the phrases or thoughts that you have most often had about yourself.
What have you got? Is this the voice of a mentor or a meanie? Without passing any emotional judgement, let’s take a pragmatic look at this. Being the world expert on yourself, what would you consider the most effective or productive method of motivation for yourself. Do you respond best to praise, nurturing and encouragement or a drill-sergeant style of humiliation and strict discipline? You are undeniably the boss of you. So how would you rate your current management style? Would you let someone you loved be treated like this?
Thinking about your personal and professional goals for a second, doesn’t it make sense to speak to yourself in the most effective way to motivate yourself to reach them? How do you talk to yourself?
In spite of the fact that many people tend to live as if their head and body are two distinct entities, there is, in fact, a great deal of kosher clinical research to back up the notion that what goes on in your head has a tangible effect on your body. Evidence continues to accumulate in favor of the idea that psychology affects biology. In other words, what you think will affect your physical state of health.
Your mental and emotional reaction to stress – and by that I mean any experience, real or imagined, that you would rather avoid, triggers an internal alarm system that activates a host of physiological events that tax the body and reduce the capacity of the immune system. Mood swings, headaches and migraines, digestive problems, trouble sleeping, more frequent episodes of illness, such as colds or flu, and lack of energy and fatigue are commonly reported among people under stress. Other adverse health effects attributed to exposure to stress include increased blood pressure, increased risk of cardiovascular disease, autoimmune diseases and accelerated aging. Chronic stress may lead to damage of the receptors of the hippocampus, the area of the brain that helps interpret whether an experience is good or bad, which has been linked to depression which has been proven to increase the risk of heart disease and other serious physical ailments.
Seems obvious that the easy answer is to immediately eliminate all stress from your life. Back on planet reality however, the good news is that in recent years, scientists have also come to the same conclusion that the yogis have known for a couple of millennia; that you have, in the space between your ears, a powerful mechanism with which you can improve not just your emotional well-being but your your physical health too. The literature on happiness, optimism, and behavioral therapy techniques designed to re-frame negative thoughts continues to grow exponentially as new discoveries are made regarding the connection between positive mental outlook and physical and emotional health.
What this means to you, is that by learning ways to control your emotions, you can protect your physical body from the damaging effects of stress which occur when our habitual fear or anger reactions trigger the “fight or flight” response – and begins that chain reaction of chemical events.
According to studies by Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D of the University of Massachusetts Medical School, subjects studying meditation for periods of at least 8 weeks and longer in order to measure the effects of mindfulness based meditation practices on chronic pain and anxiety disorders yielded significant findings. Chronic pain subjects demonstrated a decrease in the need to use pain medications; those with anxiety disorders showed a drop in the number and severity of panic attacks, as well as a reduction in scores on depression and anxiety inventory tests up to three years after the initiation of the study. Other research, indicates that meditation reduces the production of the stress hormone cortisol. Meditation has been reported, both in scholarly journals and by word-of-mouth, as an antidote for everything from mood disorders to cardiovascular disease to a heightened sense of compassion and empathy for our fellow man. It seems that there may just be something to all that woo-woo meditation stuff after all.
So the good news is, that regardless of external stress, cultivating a way to a calmer, happier way of being lends itself to a healthier body, and meditation and positive thinking are proven ways to get there. Simple enough, right? Until you actually start to pay attention to what goes on in your un-supervised mind. Scary, isn’t it? My friend Lynnie was fond of saying to me “Stay out of your head, you’ll get mugged in there.” Left to it’s own devices, your mind will tend to fall into a few familiar ruts of repetitive, and often negative, thinking.
Once you start noticing your thoughts, try to avoid spiraling into a vicious cycle of self-criticism and despair as you realize how negative they are and how doomed you are! The good news is, that simply noticing your thoughts is 99% of the battle. This is what they call the development of a ‘witnessing consciousness’. In other words, rather than just being angry – you are able to notice that you are feeling angry.
Once you make this very simple but critical distinction, congratulate yourself! You have just given yourself an unbelievably powerful advantage: by creating the possibility of choice. In the words of Viktor Frankl, the author of Man’s Search for Meaning which he wrote about his experiences as a concentration camp inmate, it’s “The last of human freedoms – the ability to chose one’s attitude in a given set of circumstances.”
What this means, is that with a little practice, you can develop the ability to change and control your emotions. Yes, you! You can do this, I promise; even if you hate the idea of meditation, can’t sit still and have the attention span of a gnat. I’m here to help.
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