Simplification… inside out or outside in?

Do you ever feel like there are themes in your life? Inescapable ideas that keep forcing their way in from all different directions? Perhaps through a Sunday sermon or a conversation with a friend. Maybe on the pages of a book or even on TV. Whatever the case, it’s the same basic message over and over.

For me, the message has been simplicity. This theme began making its way into my life over two years ago. I was talking to a friend and sharing with her that my life had been feeling chaotic. Everything from my external circumstances to my internal thoughts. A lot had happened throughout the prior year and while I was seemingly coasting through life, it was all beginning to catch up to me. And this thought started to arise in my mind… “slow down and listen”. Intermittently, as the past few years have gone on, this thought has continued to creep in as I have indicated several times in other posts.

My initial instinct when first noticing this theme was to clear my schedule and remove stuff. Each year my husband and I do a “Year in Review” where we talk about how things went the previous year and what we look forward to or want to change the following year. This is one of my favorite things to do and I look forward to the weekend between our anniversary in January and Valentine’s Day where we enjoy this much-needed getaway and conversation. Last year, since we were apart most of the summer and then in frantic, stress-out mode a good deal of the fall, we did a “check in” weekend as well. As we drove out to Virginia Beach for a night away, we decided that we had been all too consumed with zoning out in front of the TV as an attempt to relax and it was no longer accomplishing that goal. It was just noise and gave us this false feeling of “commitment” as we had to catch each of our many shows or we’d get behind. So after “fasting” for a week we went ahead and canceled our Direct TV service.

The problem is, even though we canceled our Direct TV we still find ourselves busy with who-knows-what ALL THE TIME. If it’s not one thing, it’s another and between law school finals and holiday parties our schedules are non-stop this time of year. So I am starting to think that is never going to change, nor do I want it to anymore. We love our busy lives and relationships and different commitments!

I am learning though… It’s what’s going on inside of me that’s the problem, not how much TV I watch or the way we spend our time throughout the week.

So the latest thing is… My friend and I decided to do some kind of reflective reading/bible study together and we found an author named Mindy Caliguire, who had a whole book on simplicity. She talks all about the fact that there are external things we can do to live more simple, authentic lives but there is also an internal stillness that allows us to feel free and joyful despite hectic schedules and other obstacles.

She quotes Thomas Kelly from Testament of Devotion, p. 45 :

I have in mind something deeper than the simplification of our external programs, our absurdly crowded calendars of appointments through which so many pantingly and frantically gasp… there is a deeper, an internal simplification of the whole of one’s personality, stilled, tranquil, in childlike trust listening ever to Eternity’s whisper, walking with a smile into the dark.

So that’s my most recent revelation… maybe I have been barking up the wrong tree… taking my quest for simplification to a literal place and focusing on the outside stuff only. Maybe what needs to be simplified is the number of things I think about each day and the catastrophizing trap I fall into when the smallest of obstacles crop up. It might also be helpful to stop over-analyzing my conversations with others and trust that if things aren’t good, someone will let me know. Among about a million other things that cross my mind in a given day. The point being… that’s the stuff that needs simplification.

Worry Be Gone

I heard a sermon at church on Sunday about the topic of worry and it really spoke to me. I have been a worrier for as long as I can remember so it has become a part of who I am. While I don’t like the fact that I worry, I can’t seem to shake the habit completely. When presented with a problem, whereas some see opportunity, I see worst-case scenarios. When considering options for the future, I see obstacles before adventure or excitement. When I hear good news, I wonder what the catch is.

Growing up, I had a friend who, as an adult, chose a different path for herself than the one I decided to head down. Our lives grew apart, yet we kept coming back to one another because of our history. I remember when we were kids and I was taking a shower in her parent’s bathroom and flooded the whole thing. That was the day I learned the bath curtain is supposed to go inside the tub when you’re taking a shower. Nothing like bonding over ruined carpet. We took annual family vacations to the lake and of course saw each other through first dates and first heartbreaks. As we grew older however, our interests began to change and we wanted different things from a friendship. We were no longer on the same page about what we each considered fun and productive for our lives and our relationship was causing more stress and fighting than anything else. And yet, we had a hard time letting go of the friendship. When something is familiar, no matter how destructive or unhealthy the habit, person or situation might be, it’s hard to let go and enter the world of unknown.  We would rather stay uncomfortable because… well, it’s become comfortable.

How does all of this relate to worry you ask? I’ll tell you… I’d like nothing more than to wish the old pal well and move on with my life. Unfortunately, it’s hard to give up the relationship because it is such a huge part of my life now.

Here’s what I was reminded of on Sunday though:

*We often worry because we think it “proves” how intensely we feel about something. Thinking constantly about a stressful circumstance, does not mean that we care more about it. It just prevents us from enjoying and being present throughout the other areas of our lives.

*Worry can make us physically sick. Sometimes I am so comfortable stressing out about something that I don’t even know I am doing it until I notice chronic fatigue and headaches. This gets really old, really fast and can have detrimental effects on my physical and emotional well-being.

*Our fear of the unknown is often much worse than the reality. Our minds are powerful and have a way of magnifying every little thing into a catastrophe when in real life we often go, “wow that wasn’t as bad as I thought!”

Here’s what I am working on… Perhaps you will choose to join me in this.

When I start to feel worry surface, I ask myself: Can I do anything productive rather than passively sitting by and letting my mind wander about worst-case scenarios?

If so, I do it! Action is a great distraction and when we are distracted we are not worrying.

If the situation is out of our control, we need to find a way to function anyway. Here’s what I do:

  1. Talk about it. Talking to someone who is not involved can bring about new perspectives and remind us of the bigger picture.
  2. Relax. We worriers have active minds. My hubby jokingly tells me he can’t leave me alone too long because when he comes back I have all kinds of new thoughts and concerns about a given situation. So, I need to utilize my own personal relaxation strategies. Sometimes this means, reading a book or watching a show. Cooking helps relax me and so does working out. What relaxes you?
  3. Seek counsel. When I found out my husband and I are moving not once, but twice in the next three years, I made an appointment with a counselor. The simple act of making that phone call relieved my worry a ton. I went to counseling for four or five sessions and talked about a bunch of different things… none of which ended up relating to our upcoming moves (at least not in a direct way). But I do have more insight into why I stressed out about them to begin with. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Counselors and Life Coaches are trained to help you sort out the how’s and why’s of your feelings and oftentimes once we understand ourselves better, the issues lose their power over us.

I totally get that these thoughts are not going to solve everything. My hope is that they will remind you, as the sermon reminded me, of how destructive constant worry can be and how some simple strategies can make a huge difference in our quality of life!

The Learn-As-You-Go Approach

Recently I have noticed how easy it is  to trick myself into thinking I am growing personally… becoming wiser… more insightful … more helpful to others…

For example, I like to think that reading is a helpful growth tool. And I definitely believe it can be. But sometimes if I’m being honest, I’m just going through the motions. Reading makes me feel smarter and more productive than other leisure activities and so simply opening the book and skimming feels “good enough.” But without really allowing the words to sink in or roll around my brain creating any kind of new ideas or thoughts about life, how productive is it? Restful perhaps. But growth-inducing? Not so much.

Just the other day I was telling some friends about an experience I had in graduate school. I am pretty sure this “lesson” will stick with me longer than the contents of most books. Here’s what happened: our class had spent the entire semester writing a paper about our childhoods. The paper itself was huge because we were really forced to remember things… the good and not-so-good and the impact these experiences had on us. When it finally came time to turn in our papers, we did with mixed emotions; Relief to finally be finished along with mental and emotional exhaustion after such an arduous process. But alas, they were complete. Our professor handed out a scoring rubric and let us know that these were the points we would be graded on. We looked it over and he asked us to grade our papers taking into account each of the bullets listed.

He collected our “grades” and dropped a bomb that set the class off into an explosion of heated emotion and confusion. The grades we had just given ourselves were our final grades on the paper. How can I possibly grade you on your life experiences? That’s for you to work out within yourself, he told us. Well to say we handled this well would be… a lie. Some people were in tears, others fought back stating how unfair this was and how we had been mislead. Our teacher calmly, albeit somewhat amused I think, questioned what was so unfair. If we had scored ourselves truthfully and given ourselves an accurate grade for the work completed, what was the problem?

There were a number of “issues” revealed by this fiasco wonderful learning tool. For starters, if we had not been truthful in our evaluation of ourselves, the question was, why? Was it because we didn’t want him to judge us somehow? What if we felt we deserved a higher grade than he did? Then would he would think we are totally full of ourselves (a personal concern of mine)? Was it an attempt at humility? Was it true humility?

The point of all of this is, I learned more in that hour than I have reading most books. Or hearing most speakers. It was real life and it was powerful. There are so many opportunities in day-to-day life to confront our “issues” and work through them. As a conflict-avoider, I can read books up the wazoo about how to deal with conflict but unless I “practice” in real life, I am not going to improve.

This isn’t easy – don’t get me wrong. It feels out of control to take the learn-as-you-go approach. And there is nothing wrong with pursuing self-improvement initiatives. In fact, I think it’s commendable. But I guess my point is, be aware of opportunities around you to be honest with yourself and others and to really examine what’s going on in your heart. Especially when you are on the verge of critiquing someone else’s actions. Stop for a second and ask yourself what’s going on inside of YOU. Start there.

Drawing a blank… but in a good way

I have been trying to figure out what to write today and struggling a bit… I’m not sure why but recently my mind has been rather blank when it comes to blogging. It’s actually kind of nice because my best posts tend to be on days I am struggling the most; the days my mind looks more like a jumbled up mess than anything that remotely resembles health. And blogging serves as a release of those thoughts into something more coherent and understandable, even to myself.

Therapy has been helping. In fact, I noticed a shift in my thinking and a decrease in my anxiety levels the very day I scheduled my first appointment. In my first two sessions, my new shrink has been gathering background info with very little ah-ha’s on either of our ends. However, it has still been helpful somehow. Many people look down on therapy, like there is something wrong with them if they choose to go. I totally disagree. We are all broken, whether we admit it or not. Why not choose to work on things rather than ignore our “issues”?

It has also been helpful to sleep when I am tired. Novel concept I know. On Saturday for example, I got in bed with a book at 3:00 or so in the afternoon and ended up sleeping till 6:15pm! Must have needed it.

Oh and did I mention my hubby and I went on a TV fast last week? This is MAJOR for us. It felt so freeing! So much so in fact that we decided to cancel our Direct TV completely! Mind you, we still have our Netflix Instant and Hulu Plus but still. Coming from the girl who used to work at a TV Studio, this is big-time.

Simplification. De-stressing. That is the goal right now.

I read an awesome blog post today by one of my favorite writers, Shauna Niequist called On Ylang-Ylang, Being Human & Practicing Grace. Sounds like she is in a similar place in her life. I love her way with words. Take a read if you’d like and hopefully you’ll feel as inspired as I do.

 

Busy and Bored

A friend of mine recently posted this on Facebook and it has caused a stirring in me ever since. Read Henri Nouwen’s words and see if you can relate:

One of the most obvious characteristics of our daily lives is that we are busy. We experience our days as filled with things to do, people to meet, projects to finish, letters to write, calls to make, and appointments to keep. Our lives often seem like over-packed suitcases bursting at the seams. In fact, we are almost always aware of being behind schedule. There is a nagging sense that there are unfinished tasks, unfulfilled promises, and unrealized proposals. There is always something else that we should have remembered, done, or said. There are always people we did not speak to, write to, or visit. Thus, although we are very busy, we have lingering feelings of never really fulfilling our obligations…

Beneath our worrying lives, however, something else is going on. While our minds and hearts are filled with many things, and we wonder how we can live up to the expectations imposed upon us by ourselves and others, we have a deep sense of unfulfillment. While busy with and worried about many things, we seldom feel truly satisfied, at peace, at home. A gnawing sense of being unfilled underlies our filled lives… The great paradox of our time is that many of us are busy and bored at the same time…

While running from one event to the next, we wonder in our innermost selves if anything is really happening. While we can hardly keep up with our many tasks and obligations, we are not so sure that it would make any difference if we did nothing at all. While people keep pushing us in all directions, we doubt if anyone really cares. In short, while our lives are full, we are unfulfilled.
– Henri Nouwen

It’s interesting because I have definitely been sensing a theme in my life the past couple years. Remember the whole “Slow Down and Listen” concept I have referenced several times? Well this speaks directly to that… yet again.

Life feels like such a rat race sometimes. And we do whatever we can do fulfill that desire within us for something more. We spend time with people beyond what our personalities even desire, simply so we don’t have to be alone. We race from activity to activity at such a pace that our brains and emotions have difficulty keeping up. We allow ourselves to feel stressed out and exhausted because somehow that seems better than sitting in the reality that we feel alone. Or confused. Or insecure. Or unfulfilled. Or all of the above and more.

Like Nouwen so aptly states, we are busy and bored at the same time. If we allowed our boredom to sink in and didn’t fear it so much, we might have a good shot of dealing with the root causes and making some positive changes. But instead we compound our jumbled up emotions by adding busyness to the mix.

It’s taking all of my strength and energy not to ask the question, “So what do we DO about this??” Because the whole point is we do NOTHING. We sit in the questions and open ourselves up to the answers. They may come through circumstances or a piece of wisdom from a good friend or even the words of a stranger. But if we continue to fill our lives with all the wrong things or even a bunch of okay things, we might miss it. Whatever it ends up being.

So… we sit.

Anticipation versus Reality

Realizations are popping up left and right these days. I love it! Funny how that happens during or after a trying time… personally, I think I close myself off to growth during the good times. It’s not intentional but I become so self-sufficient and self-focused. I forget to seek and ask and open myself up to new ah-ha’s, thinking I’ve got it all figured out.

Well here’s the latest…

I am learning more and more that anticipation is often much more difficult than the reality of whatever we are anticipating. Here’s what I mean:

As I’ve been reflecting in the past few posts, my hubby and I are anticipating change. He had been applying for various post law-school jobs for months and we have been stressing not knowing where we would end up or what kind of job he would get. He’s been under a lot of pressure and as I tried to patiently wait for final offers and decisions, I found myself anticipating a complete upheaval of all that we know and love. Chaos really, as if we’ll have to sell all of our belongings and moving to a foreign country with no phones or internet connections. My mind blew everything up into some kind of chaotic mess that I felt knotted up from the inside out.

Then a strange thing happened. We found out. And in a way, I was right. Our move does involve a “foreign country”. Well, not exactly… Washington D.C. and then New York City… but they feel like foreign countries to this suburban girl (who specifically said she would NEVER live in NY)! Within hours of getting the news however, I felt myself calm down. Just knowing provided a sense of peace, even though the news was not what I thought I wanted at all!

via

I still don’t know if we’re going to like living in these cities but I no longer fear them in the same way. There was something about the possibility of living there that absolutely freaked me out. But the reality that we ARE going to live there is actually kind of exciting.

We waste so much mental, emotional and even physical energy being stressed. Our minds are powerful and they have the ability to impact our well-being in some crazy ways. My hope is that each time I am in an anticipation phase, unsure of what’s to come, I would remember the feeling of peace that is just around the corner and that memory would keep me calm in the midst of  the chaos.

Clinging to what we know, even though what we don’t know could be better…

I would rather stay put – even though what I HAVE might not be nearly as good as what I COULD have – just to avoid change. What?! That doesn’t even make sense. As I type it I feel totally nuts.

I would rather:

  • Be bored than take risks because boredom is comfortable.
  • Stay in my current circumstances rather than try something new because what I’m currently doing is safe and has gotten pretty easy.
  • Work a dead-end job because starting over means sacrifice and a change in lifestyle.
  • Not meet new people because I have already put in the effort to get to know my current friends and community. Why could I gain from knowing new people?

I hate to admit this. It’s embarrassing. And yet often times it’s how I live my life.

Fear of change drives many of my decisions. It’s easier and more comfortable to accept the negative aspects of my current situation than to risk trying something new. I fear failure. I fear loss. I fear disappointing others.

Change = SCARY. UNKNOWN. UNCERTAINTY.

Or does it?

Just over two years ago, I found myself in a similar spot as I am now. The mere thought of moving out of California, my hometown, gave  me heart palpitations. I was terrified. Little did I know that moving across the country would be one of the best decisions I would ever make… for so many reasons. (Well, it would be more accurate to say I “was forced to make” – but still).

So what’s next?

If only I knew.

But I have to cling to the hope that what I experienced in the past is an indicator of what’s to come in the future. And it’s going to be good.

 

You have to back up before you can move forward

I have a tendency to charge ahead without really planning or thinking things through sometimes. This desire, coupled with society’s incessant emphasis on productivity, leads to a constant feeling of being on a hamster wheel, unable to get off and unable to stop spinning. And even though it may not always appear as such to the outside world, this feeling definitely persists in my own mind.

I did a post a while back called “Slow Down and Listen” and that phrase continues to resurface in my mind. It’s become somewhat of a mantra actually that will come to me during periods of high stress or “thinking overload”. Overanalyzing is a part of my DNA and while that may not change – at least not anytime soon – I can take pause, even if just for short periods of time.

The problem is, while I am thinking, thinking, thinking, (or speaking, speaking, speaking for that matter) I’m not listening. And if I’m not listening, how can I grow? How can I appreciate the beauty around me? How can I observe the experiences and life lessons of others in order to avoid the same mistakes myself? Or simply learn a new and improved way of doing things?

Listening is essential to growth. Slowing down in order to speed up. Because what’s the point of running ragged in a direction that isn’t leading anywhere?

So yet again, I’m stepping back… so that I can move forward.

Summer days… drifting away…

I haven’t blogged in a few weeks. Been busy… much busier than I ever expected this summer, not having my husband around. I am realizing that if I am not intentional about my time, it will slip away, leaving me wondering why I haven’t accomplished anything of value and having nothing to show for the days that have passed.

Months ago I made some decisions along these lines. Cutting out some of my favorite TV shows in favor of reading more and spending time with friends.

So far so good. It’s helpful to check in every so often though so here goes…

Definitely not watching as much TV. I like to watch TV while I eat but other than that I have been trying to spend my discretionary time learning, studying, reading for fun, exercising and cleaning.

My newfound freedom at the beginning of summer caused me to go to bed much later than my body normally prefers. (Notice how it’s the freedom’s fault, not my own). I am trying to get back to better sleeping habits so that I am more awake and less, well cranky, throughout the day. I hate that I need 8 hours of sleep each night. I can manage to survive on less sleep for a few days or weeks at a time, but beyond that I crash. Last night I went to bed at 9:45pm. I’m feeling much more refreshed today and whattaya know, even writing a blog post.

Continuous learning… that is one of my goals and for a long time I allowed myself to become stagnant. As “educational” as Grey’s Anatomy is, I don’t think I have learned enough to actually perform heart surgery. I’m studying anatomy via the ACE personal trainer workbooks and looking forward to using what I learn to help others in the not so distant future.

All in all it’s been a good summer. Counting down till my hubby gets home but still… not too shabby on my own either.

On a separate note – the hubs and I are preparing for our European vacation this August. Does this make up for 12 weeks of being apart? Not exactly. Well, maybe just a little. He came home last weekend and we saw A Night in Paris by the NC Symphony, after having lunch at Le Farm bakery of course. It was a day of Parisian fun. And the icing on the cake? A nice man gave us free tickets to A Night in Paris as we were walking up to the box office to purchase them. Crazy blessing and a beautiful evening!!

The Trees

Yesterday, as I was walking with a friend in beautiful North Carolina, my eyes caught sight of the lush greenery around us. There were speckles of color poking out of the green pallet, but mostly it was just green. Different shades, but green nonetheless. It is a color scheme that is familiar to me now, but two years ago it was foreign and reminded me of the fact that I was in a new place, away from family and friends and everything I grew up knowing and loving.

Back then the trees represented a wall of sorts. Driving down the freeway and seeing only a row of trees looked to me like there was a barrier between us and the world. Where were the people? Who would become our friends?

Two years later I see the trees completely differently. Now they enhance my perspective of this place I actually call home. Never did I expect to like it here, let alone call it beautiful.

I tend to get reflective when preparing for a transition. Nothing soon but I have a feeling one might be coming. As my husband and I make plans for the future, it continues to hit me how much I have fallen in love with where I am right now. Not only have I grown to appreciate the trees, but I have also found that behind them are friends. This has become home.

So wherever we end up, and whatever we do, I cling to this realization. Home is wherever we are, as long as we’re together. Anywhere can eventually feel like home if we open ourselves up to a different kind of beauty and invest in the lives of the people around us.

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