Living a slower, simpler, more meaningful life

Category: Living Thoughtfully (Page 1 of 6)

Following My Bliss

At 8am this morning a book of writings by Joseph Campbell was handed to me by a friendly Australia Post man. I was still in my Pyjamas and the joy of receiving a new book before breakfast started my day on a high. Good things were already in store because I’d planned a trip to the library first thing, to collect a stack of books I’d reserved. This morning’s delivery was courtesy of Qantas actually – an unexpected treat that came my way a few days ago in order to save my frequent flyer points before they expired. It’s complicated, but the good news is my points are secure for another 18 months, AND I have a new book. The book is called Pathways to Bliss and it’s a collection of teachings by Joseph Campbell about how mythology can be applied to our personal lives. I ordered another book at the same time which I had planned to read first, called The Power of Myth. It’s based on a BBC series that introduced a lot of the ideas for which Joseph Campbell is known, specifically how the themes and symbols of ancient narratives remain relevant to modern life. These two books looked like the most accessible way into Joseph Campbell’s work, which I’ve been meaning to find out more about for a long time. I think nearly every book I’ve read in the last 12 months has referenced his work and ideas in some way, and I felt like it was time I went directly to the source.

Without setting out to, I’ve spent the last year or two immersed in a highly customised learning program of my own creation. It’s been a bit like a university course crafted just for me. There are no assignments or exams, but I’m passionately engaged in every topic, so it’s not difficult to learn the material. I studied Business Marketing at University, mostly because I had to pick something, and ‘reading books all day’ wasn’t on offer. Actually, I suppose I could have considered an Arts degree, but exploring my passions, or even my interests, didn’t occur to me. Good students like me were encouraged to prioritise income and employment opportunities. I don’t regret my choice. I wouldn’t be the person I am today if I’d taken a different path, but I do wonder where I might have ended up if I’d studied Arts and Literature and Philosophy – all the things that actually fascinated me as a young adult. I do know that as a consequence, I barely gave a moment’s thought to my own interests during most of my 20s and 30s. I was pulled this way and that by my own and other people’s ideas of what a successful adult should be, until the day I was forced to stop. Health issues kept me from returning to work. With empty time opening up in front of me, I realised I had no idea what I was interested in. I had no hobbies, interests or passions. Nothing fascinated me, and the only consistent thread of my adult life was a pervasive sensation that something was missing.

I decided to try an experiment. I would only do what I wanted to do, for a while. And if that meant lying on the couch reading trashy novels or sleeping in til midday, then so be it. I did do that for a while. I read dozens of novels, some trashy, many excellent. But gradually, a few themes emerged. I dived headlong into a whole new magical world. I studied Reiki, learned to hold Womens’ Circles, attended a Dreaming Retreat and went to Plant Medicine workshops. I bought crystals and tarot cards and burned white sage. I applied myself to all sorts of practical pursuits from knitting to drying herbs to preserving fruit. I found passions around every corner and felt happier than at any time I could remember.

But it’s my reading list more than anything that reveals the path I’m on. The books I’m drawn to are like a trail of breadcrumbs and each title that calls to me, each phrase that resonates, each paragraph that insists on being read aloud, inches me a little further along the path. I’ve read about womens mysteries, initiations, witch burnings and the rising feminine. Desiring to connect more deeply with land I started exploring aboriginal land management practices and ended up knee deep in books on Australia’s indigenous history, colonialism and invasion. I sought out novels by indigenous authors to understand what it’s like to be Aboriginal in Australia today. I learned the phrase ‘cultural appropriation’ which led me to explore my own ancestry. I spent hours researching my family tree, which opened up the doors into Celtic and Scottish history. That has led me down all sorts of fascinating, meandering paths…. right up to today, and to the titles on my current reading list. Can you pick the theme I’m pursuing at the moment??

  • The Power of Myth
  • The Binding
  • Clan of The Cave Bear
  • Pathways to Bliss, Mythology and Personal Transformation
  • The Memory Code, The Traditional Aboriginal Memory Technique
  • Traditional Healers of Central Australia
  • Skywoman – Legends of the Iroquois
  • Becoming Animal. An Earthly Cosmology
  • The Book Smugglers of Timbuktu – The Quest for this Storied City and the Race to Save it’s Treasures
  • The Wisdom of the Mythtellers

At the moment the intertwining themes are myth and story and indigenous wisdom. I’m halfway through a couple, some I picked up from the library today and others are winging their way to me from various online bookstores. I should probably stop adding more to the list and try to finish this lot!

Though there’s a strong mythology theme in my explorations right now, more specifically I’m curious about how a society’s stories define its culture, and what that means for the descendants of colonialism who’ve lost the stories of their ancestors but failed to connect with the stories of the land on which they now stand. Along the way I’ve been pulled into Australian indigenous history and the mythology of the Dreaming. I’ve explored connection to Country, and how that might feel for me, and I’ve been rocked by the realisation that we are all indigenous to somewhere. Now I’m exploring the mythology of my own bloodline, and what connection to country meant for my ancestors. Sharon Blackie’s book If Women Rose Rooted has taken me a long way on this journey and illuminated the way to seek connection with both this land on which I stand, as well as the lands of my ancestors. Historical fiction has also been more revealing than I could have imagined, as it also was with works by Australian authors who’ve written about our own history. Manda Scott’s Boudica series, and the Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley are based on what is known of Britain’s indigenous history, and they’ve given me a personal experience of my ancestors lives, along with a feeling of connection with them as real human beings.

It’s a mixed up, muddled up cauldron of ideas, but something is emerging. The two strands of story and land twine around each other through all of it. I’m dipping now into archetypes and tarot and the common threads that emerge from so many indigenous stories (Joseph Campbell is sure to feature here). I have a sense that it is stories that ultimately bring us back into connection with land and with ourselves. I don’t know exactly where I’m going with this, but I have faith that one day all these threads will weave together into something beautiful that can be expressed and shared. There’s a sneaking suspicion that I’ll end up writing my own stories at some point, but every time I start, I’m pulled in another direction. That’s not for me perhaps, or maybe just not now.

Of course, if I’d just studied Arts at University, I might be a lot further ahead on some of these themes. On the other hand, coming to it late, I have the pleasure of crafting my very own, specifically tailored curriculum, and every word of it is fascinating to me. If I’d studied mythology or folklore or indigenous culture back in my 20s, there’s a good chance I’d be jaded or disillusioned by now. Instead I live in a permanent state of glittering possibility, surrounded by stacks of books overflowing with deliciously potent ideas. Nothing makes me happier than sitting here with a cup of home grown tea from the garden, my latest book obsession in hand and a notebook by my side, delving into the mystery of it all.

Too Busy for a Slow Change? Create Time By Spending Time

If you’re anything like me, the idea of a slower, simpler, more meaningful life conjures up images of relaxing with family and friends and doing more of the things that bring you joy.  Whether that be travel, gardening, dancing or playing board games by a fire, it probably involves having more leisure time than you currently do.

You’ve probably already thought about how to find more leisure time – and it probably goes something like this  “I need to work less, but I need the money to pay the mortgage.  I could get a cheaper house, but that would mean moving a long way from work, and losing 2 hours a day commuting to the office.  Then I’d have to move the kids to a new school, uproot our life, disconnect from our community and lose so many of the things that currently bring us joy.“ Naturally you end up thinking ‘Ahh stuff it – what’s the point??’

When large scale change seems impossible, we look for other solutions.  Most of us try to create additional time using clever cheats, cutting corners where we can to steal back a few minutes. We buy and eat heavily packaged, processed foods or pick up crappy take-aways to save time on cooking.  We make phone calls while we walk or travel on public transport.  We use Facebook to catch up with friends and multi-task on our smartphones while we talk to people, eat dinner or play with our kids.  All of this scrambling might earn us a few more minutes, but it leaves us mentally exhausted, scattered and unhappy.  We crash in front of the TV at the end of the day with nothing left to give.  We don’t find joy in those saved minutes, and we’ve lost the joy from all the simple daily tasks because we’re too busy multi-tasking.

But how do you get the joy back?   How do you slow down and live more simply when there’s no available spare time? It’s something of a paradox, but I think you have to start with the end goal, and work back from there. It may seem counter-intuitive, but to create more time, you have to spend more time doing some of the things you used to rush through.  Of course it all comes down to identifying the right things to spend more time on.

Here’s my list of things that humans should prioritise and spend more time on:

  • Being present for family and friends
  • Preparing and eating real food
  • Moving our bodies
  • Sitting quietly, reflecting and sleeping
  • Doing more of what brings us joy

I’ve thought long and hard about this and I actually feel pretty strongly that these are the essentials.  I think the human body needs to eat nutritious food, move a lot more, and get more rest; and I think the human spirit needs joy and connection and stillness.  I don’t think there’s anything more important.  I imagine the list looks a little different for everyone though.  Your real food might be kale soup, mine slow cooked lamb.  Your stillness might be gardening, mine reading. Your joy might be adventure travel, mine writing.   Have a think about your list of essentials.  Keep it short – no more than five or six items. And then, when you’ve identified what bring you joy and meaning, simply find time to give those things your full attention.  That’s it.  Just start doing those things.

So what happens when you start spending more time on things that used to take less time, when you don’t actually have any spare time left??    You’re probably thinking “ahhh… not likely, unless you want to find me rocking in a corner at the supermarket in my active wear and a tutu.”  But bear with me!

I’m not suggesting you can create time out of thin air.  If you decide to focus on five things that don’t already get much airplay in your life, obviously something else needs to give.  But I think we all have something in our life that we can afford to let go of.  I’m talking about the habits, comforts and all those little routines that do little or nothing to bring us joy.  What’s ready to give in your life?  Is it that morning coffee with colleagues, browsing Facebook before bed or staying late at the office?  Is it reality TV, social gatherings that wear you out, checking emails after hours, or tidying the house?   Whatever it is, if  it’s not a priority, perhaps it’s OK to let it go?

If five things at once feels like too much, just choose one.  Start with the easiest and make that a part of your life.  It’s true that while some changes just require your commitment, others need a bit of planning.  Eating real food when you’re time poor probably requires a weekly meal plan.  Sitting quietly when you have young children at home might call for a little imagination – or the help of a friend. Doing what brings you joy might start with some creative exploration and baby steps.  It’s not impossible though, it just requires you to take the first step.

Each week I share One Small Change that might help you live a slower, simpler, more meaningful life.  If you just don’t know where to start, why not subscribe and follow along. Find out more and Subscribe to One Small Change.

sundial

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What Are You Doing For You This Earth Day?

It’s Earth Day today. Perhaps this is the kicker you need to finally give up plastic, start buying organic or quit shopping at the supermarket. Or perhaps it’s just another opportunity to feel guilty for not doing that stuff when you know you should.

Don’t get me wrong. I think Earth Day is an incredible initiative. The Earth Day movement has mobilised a powerful network of activists to make a difference on a global scale for 46 years – can you believe that? Their 100% focus is to protect our planet for future generations. I don’t actually think there is any more important cause for humanity. And there’s so much each of us can do. From carrying a reusable shopping bag to installing solar panels on our roofs. I”m not one of those people who thinks that what we do on an individual level is too small to make a difference. I honestly believe that the ripple effect from every one of our tiny, personal actions can change the world. There are so many things we can do to set that ripple in motion. But that’s just the thing. There’s SO MUCH TO DO.

It’s overwhelming. And you probably have some other priorities in your life as well. Like keeping children alive, getting out of the house with matching shoes, somehow coming up with 3 meals a day and managing to appear competent in front of colleagues. We’re mostly so occupied keeping ourselves afloat, we barely have time to spare a thought for the fate of the planet. It’s tough enough just getting to the supermarket each week. The idea of evaluating the ethics behind the producers of each product we buy, racing about to 4 other shops to support the local economy and figuring out how to afford the switch to organic is enough to tip us over the edge.

Where on earth do we start? (see what I did there..) You know how they ask you to fit your own oxygen mask before helping others? Maybe for the sake of the planet, we should start by helping ourselves. It’s so much easier to feel compassion for another when we’ve learned the lesson of compassion for ourselves. If we cared enough about ourselves to allow the things we need into our lives, we might be able to spare some energy for others – and for the planet. When you approach a task from the perspective of guilt, your motivation quickly fades. There’s simply not enough power behind it. Filling your life with an endless list of ‘shoulds’ is exhausting.  You burn out.

What does it mean to have compassion for ourselves?  Rest when you need it.  Look after your body.  Take time to listen to what your spirit desires.  What do you think it would look like if more people had compassion for themselves?  How would it feel to spend time with people who were well rested, fulfilled and emotionally available to give?  Wouldn’t the world be a kinder, more thoughtful place? Wouldn’t there be more people with time and energy to make a real, lasting difference?

I love this quote at the moment:

Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive – Howard Thurman

What makes you come alive?  I reckon you know deep down, and I’d hazard a guess that you’re not doing as much of it as you like.  When we allow ourselves to step into that flow and do the thing we love, we really do come alive.  We have more energy, and we see opportunities to share it around.  I think what the Earth needs on this Earth day is more people who have  allowed themselves to come alive.  Sure, we need people to shop locally, eat organic food, stop buying single use plastic, divest from fossil fuels, install solar panels, consume less stuff, support ethical companies and quit with wasting all that food.  But if all the people we need to do that are head down, bum up, burning themselves out trying to win at the rat race, we’re not going to get anywhere.

On this Earth day what are you doing for you?  Ask what makes you come alive.   Listen to what you need and have enough compassion for yourself to allow it.  Light the fire within that burns long enough and powerful enough to give you the energy to make a difference.

Love Leaf

Are You Ready for One Small Change?

Does allowing yourself to come alive feel like an impossible dream? For a lot of people, it’s close to impossible to find your flow when you’re knee-deep in busy.  If a slower, simpler life feels like the first step for you, you might be interested in something I call One Small Change.  Every week I write a suggestion of one small change you might like to make.  Each suggestion is designed to try for a week and see if you think it could help you to live a slower, simpler, more meaningful life.  You can sign up to receive an update every week, or just pop in here whenever you feel like a change.  Find out more about One Small Change.

 

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Goal Setting? You Can Stop Now.

If you’ve been setting goals (and failing to achieve them) for most of your life, I’ve got some good news for you.  You can stop now.  It’s not working.  Goal setting is a complete waste of time.   I’m not talking about planning and task lists.  Those are smart tactics for getting things done.  Saving for a holiday?  Figure out how much you need to put aside each week, make a plan and stick to it.  If there’s something you really want to do, then of course you should plan to succeed.  No, I’m talking about the kind of goal setting you do on the 1st of January.  The life changing, financial planning, paperwork dense, health improving, fitness building kind of goal.  The tough ones that come up time and time again.  Those goals are a waste of time.

I used to be a goal setter.  In fact I’m a goal setter from way back.  I’ve set goals to improve my diet, my fitness, my career and my bank balance.  I’ve set goals to spend my time differently, my money more carefully and expend my energy more thoughtfully. Oh yes, I’ve set goals with the best of ‘em. Sometimes I’ve achieved my goals.  I would challenge myself to do something tricky for a month like give up sugar.  Then at the end of the month I’d feel like a winner and celebrate my achievement…and go back to eating sugar.  Sometimes I didn’t achieve my goals. Those times I felt like a failure and would slink quietly into the shadows.  But I kept on setting goals, because how else was I going to improve myself?

Then one day it hit me like the proverbial bolt of lightning.  I have never once, not ever, had to set a goal for something I really wanted to do.   I have never sat down with pen and paper and written “Have a glass of wine on Friday evenings”.  Not once.  I’ve never set a goal to connect with friends or read a good book.  I’ve never had to work hard to eat more chocolate, spend time with my family or watch the next episode of the latest series. I just do those things. I do them because I want to.

The things I had to set goals for were those I didn’t want to do. That’s why I wasn’t already doing them.  I didn’t want to give up sugar, wine and coffee. I didn’t want to spend hundreds of dollars on chinese herbs and acupuncture. I didn’t want to meditate, do more exercise, or go to those scary dance classes.  But why oh why did I insist on setting goals for things I DIDN’T WANT TO DO?  Was I a masochist, determined to make my own life miserable? Did I want nothing but the worst for myself?   Of course not.  The goals I set were designed to make my life better. I knew I was healthier when I ate less sugar. I knew I felt calmer when I meditated.  I knew I had more energy and less pain when I exercised. I set those goals because I cared for myself and wanted to be happy and feel good.  Didn’t  I??  Or perhaps I was wasting my time on goals I didn’t really want to achieve.

Once it sunk in that I never have to set goals for things I truly want, I started to question my motivation and look a little deeper.  Why was I setting such goals?  Why was I trying to improve myself, and why was I continuing to resist?  What would happen if I just stopped trying and simply let myself be.  If I wanted to do something, I would do it.   If it was that simple (and why shouldn’t it be?) then I was setting myself impossible tasks anyway.  Of course I kept failing, and I was mighty tired of it.

I don’t set goals anymore.  I’ve let myself off the hook.  I figure as soon as I’m ready to make changes, I’ll make them effortlessly.  When the right time arrives, meditation will come as easily to me as chocolate and a good book on the couch.  The energy I used to pour into lists and goals, I now devote to listening.  I write and reflect and try to understand what I really want.  Then I allow myself to do those things.  When I want some time off, I give myself time off.  When I want to write, I write.  When i want to drink wine, I drink wine!  (Did I mention I often want to drink wine?)

My new mantra is this.  If you want to do something, do it.  If you don’t, there’s no point setting a goal.  If there’s something you think you should want, but it continues to elude you, look deeper and find out why you’re not on board.  Maybe you’re not ready yet.  Maybe there’s something else that has to come first.  Listen, and be guided by what you really want.  It’s way easier, and the best part is, you never have to fail!

If you want to do something

 

What I’ve Learned About Relaxation

Since Scott’s Cancer Diagnosis a year ago, I’ve existed in a state of low grade anxiety.  Even when things were going well, I was still tense, living on adrenaline.  Keeping it together was really my only priority, and often that meant taking care of everyone else except me.  Scott’s in remission now and he’s back at work.  The kids are OK.  So, earlier this year I decided to take some time off.  For 3 months I’d take on no new responsibilities.  I would embark upon a relaxation regime to replenish my physical and emotional reserves.   This would be a time to focus in, a luxurious gift to myself so that I might approach the rest of the year with energy and enthusiasm.

I work for myself and as I wrapped up some client work at the end of last year, I started the year with a blank slate apart from one long term client.  In the real world ‘no new responsibilities’ meant continuing to work one day a week but not accepting new clients for a while. It also meant taking care of school drop offs and pick ups and doing all the usual domestic stuff.   But between 9.15 and 3.15 four days a week I’ve had no commitments other than to relax.  At first I really struggled.  It was like an adrenaline come down.  I was tense, angry and emotional.  I cried and napped and fussed about my inability to properly enjoy the downtime.  Although I stopped struggling and eventually fell into a pleasant rhythm, I can’t say that I really enjoyed the time off.  I just couldn’t relax.

Here’s what I’ve learned about relaxation.  I’ve had it wrong for years.  I’ve always been quite good at taking time for myself.  I’d book massages, go out for coffee, read books in the bath, treat myself to a bit of retail therapy, or spend time with friends.  In reality though, I wasn’t relaxing; I was just taking time off work. I’ve never been a workaholic, so taking time off is easy for me.  When I’m inspired and motivated I can put the hours in, but after a while I need to refocus and do something else.  I thought that was me being all balanced, winning at self-love.  Turns out I was just winning at distraction.

When I tried to properly switch off over the last few months I realised how absolutely and completely out of character that was for me.  I don’t relax. I distract.  I take a book to the bath.  I wear headphones and chat on the phone when I walk.  I book in a treatment – so someone else can do the relaxation to me (lazy much?).  I watch movies, read books and listen to podcasts.  I talk to friends, drink wine and go out for food (actually it sounds like I have a pretty good life..).  And yes, reading is a source of great pleasure for me, but it doesn’t still my mind.  Chatting to friends and going out makes me happy and builds connections but I’m an introvert and it drains my well.  I do have a good life, and I do find joy in the living of it.  But there can also be joy in stillness, peace and reflection.  They should be the Yin to my active, busy and distracted Yang.  What I do when I relax is no good at replenishing my soul. I need to stop and be still in my own presence. Find my Yin.  And that, my friends, is hard.

It’s so hard I don’t allow it.  That’s why I take a book to the bath.  That’s why I look at my phone when I’m alone.  I have a million and one strategies for avoiding stillness and peace. And let’s face it, I’m not the only one.  We’re all up to our armpits in distraction and we’ll do anything to avoid a moment of reflection.  Is your relaxation a gift to your soul, or a clever distraction technique?  Are you living in a constant state of Yang overload?

What I’ve learned about relaxation is this.  It doesn’t matter if you take 3 months off.  It doesn’t matter if you quit your job or go on a holiday or sail around the world in a yacht.  If you don’t know how to stop and be still, you’ll never feel truly relaxed.

 

be still

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