When I lived in Portland, Oregon, I would take regular walks around my neighborhood and admire the homes, the trees, and the gardens. It was an older neighborhood, so the styles and ages of the homes varied greatly, from craftsman to Tudor to ranch. But there was one house I passed most days that was always a little curious to me. Since the sidewalk came within just a few feet of the front door, I could see that on the windowsills and on the tables just inside were hundreds of little figurines, doo-dads, collectibles and the like. I wondered what stories each of those objects held, where they had come from, why the owner displayed them like she did. I'm sure those things held meaning and memories for her, invitations to reminisce and remember. But I also suspect they held dust and cobwebs, or if not, required no small effort each week to keep them clean. For me as an onlooker, the sight of all of them crowded together was so visually overwhelming that I quickly turned my gaze elsewhere and kept walking by. I never truly saw and appreciated even one of them, because there were too many.
Now, I want to be clear that I'm not against trinkets or collectibles or objects that hold significance and memories for us. And I also highly respect my neighbor's choices for her own home decor, whether or not I would choose the same. But what I did learn about myself and about life from that experience and many others is that more is not always (or even often) better.
That might sound rather obvious, but it's also deeply counter-cultural. It seems the message I hear, see, and feel so often is that more really is always better. Consumerism tells us that we'll be better off with more stuff, more money, more activities, more in our schedules; we're worth more when we accomplish more, produce more, know more. We keep consuming and producing and are told to just keep expanding our capacity when things start feeling tight. Get a bigger garage, a storage unit, a bigger house, or a bigger closet to store the expanding amounts of stuff. Sleep less and less and rely on caffeine to give you more hours in the day for more work, more productivity. It's a prevalent and seductive message, but it's based on deep insecurity and leads straight to overwhelm and burnout.
The truth is that we are, in fact, finite. We're human. We don't have unending capacity, in our garages, in our bodies, or in our minds. We need rest, we need empty space, we need freedom to focus on just one thing at a time, and sometimes to focus on nothing at all. Truly, this is good - it's how we're made. Perhaps we could work with that rather than against it? Trying to keep all the things in our minds and focus on everything that somebody somewhere said is important usually means our attention is so scattered that we miss everything. The tiny flower pattern on that beautiful, hand-blown glass piece from Venice is completely lost to our eyes and our hearts when 20 other glass figurines sit within a few inches, vying for our attention. And when we pile the stuff so thick in our garages, both literal and proverbial, we can't find anything when we need it.
You're invited to let some things go today, in your heart and mind and, possibly also, in your garage. Take a few moments to pause and be still. Sift through all the voices competing for your attention to find your own heart, mind, body, and spirit. In order to focus on the one next right thing, you have to set down, at least for a moment, all the other things, both good and distracting. Give yourself permission to do that, to say no, to prioritize - to shift out of overwhelm by letting go.
Once you've turned your attention to your own voice, if the thing you're drawn to focus on happens to be developing a habit of taking good care of yourself, I invite you to join me on Patreon. We focus on just one type of self-care tool each month, and you can choose how much or how little of your focus and energy you want to devote. There's an option for just one short video per month, all the way up to the full gamut - a longer live monthly practice, a monthly workbook, and two short videos per week. If this is the right step for you, I'd love to see you there. Whatever your next right thing is, I encourage you keep refining your focus, letting some things go, and aligning your schedule, your to-do list, and your garage with what your body, mind and spirit are leading you towards.
Just a few days from now will be the shortest day of the year - winter solstice. My city is already getting less than 8.5 hours of daylight, and often the daylight that we do have is obscured by clouds and sometimes rain as well. I feel it in my bones, the season's call towards rest, slowing down, drawing inward. I feel the nudge to gather closer the people closest to me and to enjoy the darkness. My body and my soul need more sleep right now, more calm, more quiet, more simplicity.
And yet I find it curious that, as the rhythms of the seasons and our bodies are slowing down, we as a culture ramp up our activity to such a frantic pace that December ends up being the collective busiest - and perhaps the most stressful - month of the year. In my own family, we do our best to keep things simple, but the added layer of even simple Advent activities, a couple Christmas parties and services, and a few gifts to buy or make seems too much at times. When our natural rhythms are bidding us to slow down, to take a pause from our full lives and let some things go, adding even a little more can feel like a defiant neglect of our deepest needs.
If I take an honest look inward, I find what I truly need is more reading books on the couch with my family and less driving them around town, more moments enjoying the glittery ornaments lit by tiny white lights on our Christmas tree and less moments checking and re-checking my gift lists, more open space for joy and less hurrying through the present moment just to get to the next. The beauty of these needs is that when I attend to them, when I care deeply for myself by honoring them, I have so much more to give to the people around me, especially more of the gifts I truly want to give this season - love, kindness, peace, presence.
But when everything around us seems to have succumbed to frenzy, how can we possibly stay grounded? Or when we've inevitably gotten caught up in the swirling tide, how do we come back to ourselves?
I've thought about this for a while, and back in November when thankfulness was in the air, I wondered if gratitude might be a simple way to re-ground in this season. When the advertisements and messaging are all about what we're lacking - whether it's items we or someone on our gift lists "needs" or gift-giving obligations we're "required" to meet - perhaps a return to gratitude could bring a little clarity. Interestingly, I've noticed this underlying theme in several nooks and crannies here on the internet this December. Just today, gratitude was the theme in my Yoga with Adriene morning practice, and in my email was an invitation to a gratitude cleanse for the week after Christmas. I've personally decided to commit to a simple gratitude practice during the two weeks of my kids' winter break. I'll be noting three things I'm grateful for each day and sharing a few of my gratitudes over on social media (follow along or participate on Facebook or Instagram!).
What will you do to rest and reset in the midst of the remaining weeks of this year? Will you take a moment now to assess how you might kindly attend to your needs? Perhaps a simple practice, such as naming gratitudes, could be a way to nourish your soul and allow you to give your best self to those you'll be with this season.
It’s mid-autumn in my corner of the world. The leaves turned several weeks ago, and their glorious reds, golds, and oranges have mostly fallen to the ground and are quickly turning to brown. Up and down the street I hear the rattling hum of leaf blowers, working to clear the sidewalks, the roads, the yards. But in the park where I walk every morning the blowers haven’t yet made their mark. All the leaves are still in the places they fell, some pulverized by weekday morning feet making their way to school, some caught high in the blackberry vines, most covering every inch of the ground, already beginning to break down thanks to our resident composters, the fungi, bacteria and invertebrates.
It takes a long time for those leaves to decompose, to return to the earth as nutrient-rich soil. It will be winter, then spring, then summer and maybe even autumn again before their nutrients will be released, and even longer until they are taken up again by the trees from which they fell. And as I walked this morning, it occurred to me that our lives are similar. In our world saturated with promises of quick fixes and immediate gratification, perhaps we’ve lost sight of the organic, natural process of decomposition, whereby the things in our lives that die take their time to disintegrate, release their nourishment and join together to transform into something new.
An example from my own life: the death of productivity, or rather, the idolization of it, which at times has run me ragged and robbed me of any sense of joy. It was a year and a half ago that, in a session with my therapist, I had a profound experience deep in my being of choosing to set down productivity as my main driving force and instead to accept my worth as inherent rather than earned. Many, many moments and weeks and days and years of learning and choosing and accepting and letting go had preceded that moment, when those leaves finally released from the branches and fluttered off the tree. But it was only a few weeks ago that I turned my attention to my body and soul’s clear communication that I needed rest and chose to take a weekend retreat by myself. And it was yesterday morning that I, somewhat reluctantly, spent a couple hours reading on the couch when I felt my body needed to pause and slow down rather than just pushing through and getting the chores and other work done.
Those leaves of idolizing productivity, which served to protect me and sustain my life for many years even if at a huge personal cost, may have turned and fallen, but they haven’t immediately disappeared. They’re currently composting, bits and pieces of them laying around my life, my habits, my thoughts, my choices, slowly breaking down, returning their nourishment to the earth. I still try to pack too many things into some days, weeks, seasons. I still can feel overwhelmed by all the work there is to do in the world. I still get edgy when I heed the voices whispering that I haven’t done enough, accomplished enough, contributed enough. I still sometimes neglect my needs for rest, quiet, delight, and joy just to check one more box on the never-ending list.
But more often these days, I have glimpses of those nutrients taken back up by the tree, transformed, and budding into new life. I still work, produce, accomplish, check things off a list, but I’m finding joy in the work and much more clarity about what to do and what to say no to. I’m less driven, more open, more grateful. I’m more present to my children, more able to hold loving space for their feelings and experiences and whole selves to be known and accepted how they are as I learn to hold that space for myself. The change is both slow and deep, and for that I am grateful. The new leaves are tender and green, and the blossoms are just now budding.
What about you? Are there leaves in your life that have fallen and are currently composting? How will you extend patience, love, and acceptance to yourself in the transformation process? What new growth do you see beginning to bud and bloom?
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