A Life of Esteemable Acts

Nothing_stone

It used to be that I would do one of two things to make myself feel better–either I would overeat or I would spend money.

I overate to the tune of being morbidly obese with a BMI of 41 and I overspent in the thousands. With the addiction to compulsive eating and debt to income ratio on the rise, I hid perfectly well in society. I was fat and so were you.  My debt matched yours.

With the higher weight and the higher debt came the greater shame and embarrassment. I crawled into a meeting for people addicted to compulsive overeating. I put down the food.

Five and a half years later, I still weigh and measure my food and instead of being morbidly obese with a BMI of 41, I am at a healthy weight with a BMI of 21.

No longer is there shame attached to my eating.

Today, I pay my bills. No longer do I throw them away in the hopes that the creditor will forget all about it. Yes, I really used to believe that. It makes perfect sense in a world where burying your head in sand seems like a good idea.

My husband, in all of his wonderfulness, does not know this part of me. He finds it hard to believe that I used to be that way, despite the evidence of what I’ve shown him (pictures, defaulted student loan notices, etc.) He knows me as the woman who keeps a clean and organized home, sticks to a regimented food plan, goes to meetings a few times a week, and pays the bills on time (mostly).

What happened? How did I go from being a slothful glutton to an organized and detail-oriented person?

A few years ago, a special woman entered my life. We talk everyday, I tell her what I’m eating for the day, and we talk about life in general.  She is a decade younger than me, but we have similar backgrounds. Our mothers are Irish, fathers Italian. We’re both bad at being Catholic, but love the Church warts and all. Our mothers were alcoholic. And we both have the disease of compulsive overeating.

One day, she said to me, “All the positive talk about ourselves and taking our inner child out to play is all bullshit. Want to know how to build good self-esteem? Do esteemable acts. Get your ass up out of bed every morning. Don’t overeat. Be honest.”

It’s really that simple. Today, my list of esteemable acts has expanded to include other areas.

Be available to those who truly want (not need) my help.

Shut up when they don’t.

Pay my bills on time.

Spend within my means.

Save for my retirement.

Save for a house.

Show up for work on time and ready to do the job.

Tell my husband I love him.

Write.

 

Do you want better self-esteem? Do an esteemable act.

Busy Boycott: Eliminate the Non-Essential

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I love to wake up in the morning.  Although, judging by externals, it might seem like the opposite were true.   I’m not one of those people who is all sunshine and bubbles as soon as my feet hit the floor. In fact, I don’t even want to talk to you. I need silence. That’s why I’ve made it a practice to get up a full hour (at least) earlier than my husband.

I love morning routines. For years, I’ve done pretty much the same thing every day: get my coffee, sit in my chair and read my meditation books. Occasionally, something gets added or deleted in the routine. The automation puts the right spin on my day.  My morning needs to begin so smoothly that I don’t even put the coffee on then. It’s prepared the night before and put on a timer. My coffee is waiting for me before I open an eye. It’s a beautiful life.

This week, I started Courtney Carver’s 21-day Busy Boycott challenge. It’s been a real eye-opener. I am now confronted with all the things that clutter up my day–constant Facebook status-checking. E-mail checking on my phone. Responding to calls whose numbers I don’t recognize (even just looking at the phone when these calls come in is a time-waster).

I’ve eliminated these distractions by doing these simple actions on my phone:

  1. Removing the Facebook app
  2. Removing (or hiding) the email app
  3. “Favoriting” friends and family contacts and keeping my phone on Priority ring ONLY. This means that I hear the ring of only those people I’ve favorited. All others go to voice mail. I can get back to them at my earliest convenience.

By eliminating these things, I find I have more time for what I love, what I am passionate about.

KNITTING!

This is a brand-new discovery for me. The first time I tried it, I almost threw my needles and laptop across the room. The woman in the video made it look so easy. Ugh. I couldn’t cast off to save my life. I had tears in my eyes. When my husband came home, he knew something was wrong. It was really that bad.

But I was determined.

The next day, I went to my local yarn shop. There was a hank of yarn just begging me to pick it up. I did, and fell in love.

Now, I could cast on and cast off.

That was a week ago. I am making time every day to knit, including it as a part of my morning meditation routine. It’s not perfect and I’m making a whole bunch of mistakes, but I don’t care. I love the process of it.

 

WRITING!

Okay, I already knew this. But here’s what’s different–I have more time to do it. It’s not because I’m working less, it’s because I am eliminating the non-essential.  Instead of watching episode after episode of home improvement shows this afternoon, I am completing this blog post. Sure, I watched some during lunch, but as soon as lunch was over, I shut the TV off. Now, I’m not against television. It can be a great tool. For me, it’s a trade-off–do I want the comfort of sitting in front of the tv, or would I rather hone my passion to write? Today, I want to write. It’s that simple.

Maybe later I’ll turn the tv back on. But not now, I’ve got too much to write.

 

 

The Problem of Unitasking

Buddha MarblesRemoving material clutter from our one-bedroom apartment was a great start. We didn’t have it easy merging two households into one after we got married, but with focus and determination, my husband, Mark, and I have boiled most of our possessions down to two components:

  1. Do we need it?
  2. Do we love it?

If what we own doesn’t fit this criteria, we get rid of it lovingly. This is an ongoing process

Our apartment is now a sanctuary we come home to. We can relax knowing there is enough room to breathe. There is a space between our possessions.

Beauty unfolds.


The Problem

What about the clutter of the mind?

A multitude of messages bombard my mind at any given moment. Focusing is difficult as I have become accustomed to processing input from a thousand different directions. My mind seems to have been programmed that way.

As I sat in meditation this week, I found it difficult to focus on the simple act of experiencing the air as it entered my body.


The Process

The compassionate teacher gave us a phrase to use, focusing on the three-step process of breath:

  • Breathe in–OHM
  • Stop–(AH)
  • Breathe out–(WHOM)

Thought distracted me.


The Lesson

Everything we do has a lesson, or virtue. Even if we do it with imperfection. Perhaps that’s when we learn the greatest lesson.

My meditation fell far short of perfection.

It was a success.

I showed up and saw what I needed to see–I have a problem. I didn’t know I had one. Now, the way to a solution is cleared.

This is a gift.

What Do We Value?

 

Would you pay a monthly access fee if it meant seeing no ads in your Facebook feed?

This was the question I posed recently to a Facebook group. Not immune to sales pitches, my home page was inundated with ads for stuff I really want but do not need.

Those shoes look really cute.

That’s a nice comforter, how much?

Scores of people responded, all with a resounding NO!

I began to question the authenticity of my minimalist journey. How could I even entertain the idea of paying for an already free service?  Doubts abounded.

Then a curious thing happened.

Someone else, with questions about minimalism, asked her fellows about paying someone to clean her home.

Almost everyone who responded said they hire someone to clean. Some had people come in several times a month, others once in a while. These were some of the same people who refused to pay a small monthly fee for social media use. Yet they were willing to pay at least four times that much to have someone clean their home.

What’s going on here? Are minimalists inconsistent? Sure. We are just like everyone else. We struggle, sometimes confusing wants with needs, like with love. Are we hypocrites, giving lip service to a life with less, but not really living it? Perhaps.

These thoughts and more crossed my mind as I read through the responses to this woman’s question.

Perhaps we’re not asking the right questions.

Perhaps we should be asking something more fundamental–what do we value?

If that’s the question, then it makes perfect sense for a minimalist to pay someone to clean their home, yet not want to shell out the bucks to skip a few ads, and vice versa.

If we value a clean home, but cannot do it, then paying someone to help clean it adds value to your life (not to mention you are helping another person make a viable living).

If we want to eliminate visual clutter and reduce the temptation to buy objects, then paying to have the ads removed can be a valuable service.

Minimalism isn’t about spending less money. It’s about using money as a tool to greater freedom.

 

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Joshua Becker, Becoming Minimalist

PS…I found a great Firefox app for blocking Facebook ads–free!

 

 

The Bagless Day (Winter Beauty)

IMG_20160112_113643601 (2016-01-13T01_33_08.885)   (2016-01-13T01_34_03.166) (2016-01-13T01_34_34.852)The hike this morning was late. After eleven. Usually, I trek to the woods (when I go) much earlier, but cleaning was a priority.

The ground was soft, the forest floor carpeted with old pine needles and mud.

Should’ve brought my gloves, but the cup of coffee kept my hands warm. Coffee and walking, a perfect pair.

No scarf or hat, either, but it didn’t matter.  There wasn’t much wind. The collar on the down jacket was high enough for ear and neck.

Sometimes, in the sunlight, the jacket shines brown. Other times, silver. It’s one of those new, shimmery, lightweight, packable jobs.

It’s the same walk, every time: Park the car near the entrance, head east. Deep woods. People bring dogs here most days. They also bring babies.

Today, park workers were my companions. For what seemed like miles (it was only feet, really) I heard the loud, muffled conversation of two men clearing a stream.

Birds, what few remained in this bitter Northeast cold, were nearly silent.

Consider the ravens…

No indoor shelter, only feathers keep them warm.

…they have neither storehouse, nor barn.

Yet here they are existing–no, living. Finding food in visibly dead woods.

I felt my pockets, pockets! A gorgeous gift of winter, little things (and big) can be tucked away in the crevices of clothing.

Cell phone?

Check.

Wallet?

Check.

Keys?

Check.

I had all the material items I needed. Everything else remained at home, tucked away in a backpack for another day.

Unencumbered, I left the park.

 

 

 

 

The Farmer’s Market

Feeling better, I donned my usual winter uniform–Irish sweater, jeans and loafers, and trekked out to the newest farmers market in town. It being winter, there were just a handful of fresh produce stands.  Hand-baked goods and exotic olive oils dotted the suburban mall landscape.

Actually, this farmer’s market wasn’t new at all. It exists from Spring to Fall at the town green. Only this year, they chose to open in winter at the local mall.

Thank goodness, if only because we have another place to go other than the super market. Guilty-conscience, though: super market and a big box store were a part of this trip. But they’re not as interesting to write about today.

Usually, I pass by any baked goods stand because I have the double-whammy of being gluten-sensitive (but not intolerant) and sugar-free (recovering addict). But I had to stop at The Dragon’s Nest because of the cool name.

The baked goods looked delicious. I wanted them. Today, I no longer buy everything I want. Walking into a Twelve Step meeting 5 1/2 years ago started me on the road to minimalism and moderation. For years, I had abused the privilege of eating sugar. That privilege is revoked, never to be gotten back. After all, a pickle can never return to being a cucumber. I’m okay with it. I’ve tasted every ingredient in those farm stand baked goods before.

Today, I leave those savory items for those who can eat them or for those who have not yet reached the depths of hell.

May they take a bite and know that hope and help exists.


 

If you are suffering from food addiction or know someone who is, here are some helpful Twelve Step organizations:

http://www.oa.org

http://www.foodaddictsanonymous.org/

 

 

 

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The Mindfulness of Being Sick

When was I hit by a Mack truck?

This was my first thought as I stumbled out of bed at 9 this morning, 4 hours later than my usual wake up time.

At least the nausea and vomiting had stopped earlier last evening. The body aches and head throbbing were just aftershock.

Chicken soup (homemade), Greek yogurt (homemade), and now coffee (again, homemade).  Eating is getting back to normal.

There is nothing like illness to make you take a look at what is most important now.  It keeps me present to the task at hand. It keeps me mindful. It’s really hard to worry about next months bills when your stomach is doing somersaults.

Mindfulness and minimalist are the buzzwords of today. It makes sense. Minimalism isn’t just about having less, it’s about not being consumed by stuff so that you can live more in the moment (mindfulness).

Being sick jolts me into the present. What exactly can I do today besides sleep? Not much, but I can eke out what is most important–eat for nourishment and get some writing in.

The Uninspired Writer

 

Show up and get to work…and at the same time, listen to where the writing wants to take you. Dinty W. Moore

 

I’ve been published. Okay, now what? Wait for more inspiration? Ever since I was a child, I’d create a sentence in my mind and think, wow, that would make a good opening to a novel.

Or, I’d be washing dishes and an idea would pop into my head. What a great premise for a story! I told myself.

Story ideas would float in and out of consciousness my whole life, so it only seemed natural that stories come from  inspiration, right?

Well, yes and no.

Yes, the idea has to somehow form, but what do I do with it? If the formation of a story, essay, blog post, etc., ends with the last dish dried, then I’ve got nothing. I can’t call myself a writer if I’m not actually writing.

There are two things that stop me from writing:

  • Having no ideas
  • Laziness

Actually, you can probably take the no ideas excuse out and just call it plain laziness. I had no idea what I was going to write about today, yet here I am. Why? What’s the difference between today and every other day I let this blog lie dormant? Did I have more ideas today?

The truth is I had no more of a clue what I was going to do today than any other day. The only difference, and this is a big one, is that I set an intention to write.

Sure, it’s easier to write when I know beforehand what I want to write about.  But those days are not the norm. Most days I say, “I got nothin’.” Most of those days I don’t work at writing.

Today, I still said I had nothing. But I showed up to work.

And I worked.

 

The High Cost of Stuff

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27.2 billion dollars.

That’s how much Americans spent on self-storage units in 2014.  Let me repeat that number:

27.2 BILLION dollars.

A quick internet search rendered at least 20 mini-storage businesses within 10 miles of my home. According to the Self-Storage Association, the self-storage industry is one of the fastest growing segment of commercial real estate over the last 40 years.

As if this trend wasn’t alarming enough,  new homes are getting bigger as well. 

Credit card debt is on the rise.

Our waistlines are growing, too.

More stuff. Bigger houses. Ever growing debt.  Increasing waistlines. What’s happening?

Our lives have become unmanageable. We build bigger houses so we can have more room for our stuff. We buy that stuff online with our credit cards. We have too much stuff so we pay monthly for storage. We eat more to feel, what, happy? Satisfied? Fulfilled?

What desire are we trying to satiate? Is it security? Happiness? I don’t know and only each of us can figure out what’s going on for ourselves.

I can tell you this:

I am happier now than in the days when I was very active in my food addiction.

More food = more unhappiness.

I am happier now that my husband and I are actively paying down our debt and doing without.

Increasing debt = increasing anxiety.

I am happier now in our one bedroom apartment, with ZERO need for a self-storage unit, than ever. The apartment is relatively easy to maintain because we have a lot less stuff than we did even a year ago.

More stuff = more stuff to clean, more stuff to worry about (or conversely, ignore), more stuff to look at, more stuff to get rid of, more stuff to pack away, more house, more taxes (because we need a bigger place to go with all that stuff) and more debt.

More stuff = less happiness.

Less stuff = more happiness.

When Gift Giving is About Us

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We are not as generous as we think we are.  A bold statement, I know. Controversial, even. And true.

A gift is something that is freely given, no strings attached. Even the expectation of a thank you diminishes the generosity of the giver.

How often did I expect something in return for the gifts I gave this Christmas? More than I care to admit. For example, this year I gave my husband gift certificates to a local movie theater. He can choose to take me, or to take his friends. It’s his gift, he can do with it as he pleases. Or so I’d like to think. However, yesterday, he was uncomfortable in his seat.  This is what I said:

“Don’t complain.”

Here is what was in my head:

Don’t complain because I gave this to you as a Christmas present. You should be grateful.

Pow! There it is, the invisible string!

Thankfully, I did some self-editing and didn’t say that. Still, it severely diminished the generosity of the gift, even if my husband never experienced the full tug of the string attached to the gift.

True gift-giving, which has absolutely no strings attached, is a really tough practice, but is ultimately very freeing. It frees us from resentment, expectation, and disappointment.

It also frees the recipient from obligation.

Wait, what?

If we give a gift to someone shouldn’t we expect a thank you? And if they don’t like/can’t use it,shouldn’t we expect them to at least return it for store credit?

Nope.

Even the expectation of a thank you or a gift exchanged for something they like/can use/fits better, etc. is a string attached. I like to call these attitudes “no strings that are actually strings.”

Here are some examples:

Expectation of thanks (already mentioned). Of course we should always give thanks for a gift received. And teach children to write thank-yous.

Expectation of use, including gift cards. Even gift cards are becoming increasingly exchangeable.

Expectation of an exchange for something they like/can use (already mentioned). Well, if they don’t like what I bought I hope they return it to get something they like.

Expectation of no complaints (ahem!) See above

Expectation that they will think you  are awesome because of this fabulous gift you gave them. We want them to like us.

And ultimately, the expectation that they will love and keep the item because you have given it to them. Period.  No matter what we say to the recipient, we still want them to keep the gift. We’ll think less of them if they don’t keep it.

All of this brings me to my next point:

Invisible strings make receiving gifts much harder than it should be.  A gift, freely given, is never a burden, and should never come with restraints. I put a condition on my husband yesterday when I told him not to complain about the theater seats. This is wrong.

This year, I really didn’t want much for Christmas, but I know my family wants me to open up presents for Christmas, so I suggested gift cards to yoga and knitting classes, some consumable items like luxury soap and gourmet olive oil and balsamic vinegar. These are things that I love and will use. Some family members told me very simply they don’t like to give gift cards, even if the recipient loves them.

Okay, so, in addition to getting the gifts I already suggested, I also received some beautiful sweaters. None of which I needed. Rather than returning them to the store to get something else I did not need (true, I could return them and get store credit toward a future purchase) I decided that I would donate them to a local parish outreach. Why shouldn’t poor women wear beautiful clothing that also keeps them warm?

This decision was not without it’s controversy in my house. While I have absolutely no desire to hurt my family’s feelings, I do want to extend their generosity. They have so generously given to me that I want to pay it forward and perhaps brighten the day of someone who only gets secondhand clothing.

And should they so desire, they can throw the clothing away, no strings attached.