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Sometimes you just need to make a little space

Sometimes you just need to make a little spaceI reorganized my room this past weekend.

It wasn’t a project I’d planned, but one thing led to another and suddenly there I was with a tape measure in hand, dreaming of a way to increase my floor space and to make more room for my writing.

That was Friday night.

By the time I went to sleep on Friday I’d reduced the problem from a $5,000+ problem to a $500 problem which only required replacing just a few pieces of furniture and buying some new shelves.

But what I realized when I woke up on Saturday was that I probably didn’t need to acquire any new furniture to make my new dreams a reality… I just needed to be a little more creative with the furniture I already had.

Because here’s the thing — I’ve lived with this same furniture in this same apartment for more than a year and it wasn’t until yesterday that a video opened my eyes to a new vision of my living space.

Having that dream allowed me to believe in the possibility that I could live in my space differently.

For over a year, I’d just tolerated “the way things were” because I couldn’t imagine a better solution.

And once I had, it took me a night of sleeping on it and an hour’s labor to move the furniture around and create a room that feels very different to live in. A room that is much better suited to my needs.

It is not lost on me that this is exactly what we do in coaching — we look at where your ideas about what you are capable of might be narrower than reality or where maybe you are unable to see some new possibility.

We break your rules about how your bed fits into your bedroom and test your unquestioned assumptions about relative dimensions (metaphorically speaking, that is).

We do this so that you can rearrange the furniture of your life and create a new space (a new life) to live in.

I’ve written before about my troubled relationship with rules, and it’s because they cause exactly this kind of perceptual blindness that I both love and hate them.

After all, rules are good — the help us eliminate decision fatigue which makes life simpler and more convenient.

However, rules also have an unfortunate tendency to become artificial limitations on what we believe is possible — exactly the way my bed had become an artificial limitation on how I could use my room because I had assumed (without measuring or verifying!) that it simply wouldn’t fit any other way.

So this week I want to give you permission to dream about the things that aren’t working so well in your home or your life right now. If you had a billion dollars, infinite free time, and a magic wand that could create anything, how would you want those things to be different? What would your ideal solution be?

The trick is to dream without rules or limitations, as much as possible. To really let your creativity run wild.

If you can’t think of anything better, try looking online for inspiration. You might just find your answer is a random video about furniture that transforms seamlessly from a desk into a bed and back again.

Once you’ve hit upon an ideal solution, keep puzzling out ways to downsize it until it’s something that fits within your budget (for time, money, and energy!).

How might you create the ideal effect, but do it unexpectedly?

Perhaps you don’t need a bigger desk in order to create more space for your writing — perhaps you just need to move a nightstand next to your desk so you have more space to store things.

Perhaps you don’t need a smaller bed — you just need to make some measurements and discover that your bed fits in the room in an unforeseen configuration.

Perhaps you discover that you already had everything you needed to make your wildest dreams come true and that the answer has been there all along — wanting only a vision for a better future and a little applied creativity to make it a reality.

After all, as Marie Kondo writes in The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, “The amount of storage space you have in your room is actually just right. I can’t count how many times people have complained to me that they don’t have enough room, but I have yet to see a house that lacked sufficient storage. Once you learn to choose your belongings properly, you will be left with only the amount that fits perfectly in the space you currently own.

So, perhaps the answer is just waiting for you to put aside your assumptions and see it.

Much love,
Jessica

 

Disclaimer: This post contains Amazon affiliate links. I make a (very) small referral commission from purchases made using my links. This does not affect your price.

Is your “bubble” big enough?

Remember how when you were a kid and you had a “bubble” of personal space around you that the other kids were supposed to stay out of?

I remember fighting with my sister in the backseat of the car, scraping lines down the fabric with our fingernails, dividing the car solidly into “my side” and “her side”.

(Much, I am sure, to my parents’ dismay.)

I haven’t thought about my “bubble” in more than a decade at this point, but I’ve been reading Karla McLaren’s fascinating book The Language of Emotions: What Your Feelings Are Trying to Tell You and suddenly I find my “bubble” is all I’ve been thinking about.

McLaren’s book is about bringing your emotions into flow and about the helpful messages your emotions are trying to bring to the surface (for example, anger is the emotion that helps you set healthy boundaries).

She suggests that part of setting healthy boundaries is about maintaining energetic and emotional protection and definition between ourselves and the world around us.

She writes, “Luckily, this boundary already exists. In the metaphysical community, it’s called the aura, and while it has had a lot of wacky metaphysical connotations attached to it, your aura is simply your personal space. In the neurological community, this personal space is now understood to be your proprioceptive territory, and it is created by specific neural and muscular networks throughout your brain and body. Your proprioceptive system maps your body and your position in relation to everything around you; it helps you stand, balance, move, and understand your body’s relationship with its environment.”

McLaren goes on to suggest than in most people the proprioceptive space your brain lays claim to is roughly the area that exists within the reach of your arms — i.e. your “bubble”.

But here’s what blew my mind.

As I was trying out McLaren’s boundary-setting, proprioceptive-space-claiming exercise I suddenly found myself feeling much larger in the world than I usually do. My breathing deepened. My stomach unclenched. I felt my internal self unwinding to expand out into the world around me.

I realized in that moment that at some point growing up I stopped getting bigger and instead started to become very small.

I don’t know when it started — maybe when I was in first grade and my space was defined by the small carpet square I sat on or in high school when the boundaries of my bubble could extended no further than the borders of my desk and my limbs were expected to remain neatly confined in close proximity to my body, not spread helter skelter to hither and yon.

Regardless of how or when it happened, at some point my bubble seems to have shrunk so small it no longer takes up even the space occupied by my physical body. At some point my bubble shrank until it was nothing more than a leaden knot that sits in my stomach and makes me feel anxious and sick.

And so here’s the question that just about broke my brain.

Is this how big I’m supposed to be?

I’ve thought a lot in the last year or two about what it means to be “playing small”. In many ways I’m playing small with this blog — I’m not doing the outreach I should be if I wanted to grow my small community of readers into something “big”.

But what if it’s not just about “playing” small? What if I’ve been being small, instead?

And what about the corollary: What if I’m allowed to be as big as I am? What if I’m really as big as my proprioceptive space?

Because what I know is that when I imagine my edges expanding out to fill the inside of a big oval-shaped shell arms-width out from my body, I *feel* bigger. I feel more allowed to take up space in the world, more allowed to be who I am, more allowed to want what I want and need what I need.

I feel like, just maybe, I’m allowed to become as big as I can reach.

And after so many years of shrinking, it’s a very odd thing to be so large.

I’m still not sure yet what, exactly, this means which is why I’d love for you to try it out and let me know your experience.

Here’s what you do (adapted from The Language of Emotions):

  1. Ground yourself before beginning. Focus your attention on your feet. Feel them growing heavy as if your shoes had turned to concrete and feel your energy settling low in your body and then sinking down into the very center of the earth.
  2. Stand up and reach your arms out to either side of you. Move them front and back and over your head. Get a feel for the space your body occupies.
  3. Close your eyes and imagine yourself in a bubble extending out to the edges of your reach and flowing down under the ground to close beneath your feet. Imagine the boundary of this space in a way that is natural to you — you can imagine a color, a sound, a texture. I personally like to imagine mine as a shimmering, like heat.
  4. With your boundary clear around you ask yourself the question, “Do I claim this much room in the world?”

I’d love to know what you find — how much room do you claim in the world? Is your “bubble” teeny tiny and neglected like mine? Who would you be if you took up as much space as you could reach? How might you behave differently if you claimed all that space as your own? Let me know in the comments below!

Please note: This post contains Amazon affiliate links. This means that I make a (very) small referral commission from purchases made using my links. This commission does not affect your price.

How do you feel about saying no?

It occurs to me, perhaps belatedly, that I may have a dysfunctional relationship with the word “no”.

The topic came up this week as I was tasked to some new projects at work and while, on the one hand, I don’t mind (I like it when other people ask me to help and the tasks are useful, just not interesting), on the other hand, some of the tasks that I was asked to do aren’t things that make me feel zippy inside. Some of them feel more like a weighty ton of bricks.

There’s a part of me that wonders if perhaps I shouldn’t have said no.

This state of self-inquiry is particularly acute because I have been reading Greg McKeown’s book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, and it’s been really useful for crystallizing a lot of the ideas about priorities that I’ve been toying with for a while.

The basic tenant of his book is that we should do “less, but better” — i.e. say “no” to more things in order to focus on that which is essential. It’s a great idea, a great theory; I found myself nodding along with something on nearly every page as I read.

And yet this week I didn’t think to say no when asked to do things that I already know will not be my highest contribution.

There’s a lot packed up in this idea. On the one hand, I think saying no is just hard: it is an act of rebellion, a distancing of oneself from the rest of the tribe.

On the other hand, I think there’s a lot of my personal baggage wrapped up in it, too.

I wouldn’t bother to share my baggage, except that I’m beginning to learn that it’s all the same baggage — we use different words and have different reasons, but our issues are usually the same: at the end of the day we’re generally insecure, worried that there’s something wrong with us, and that the rest of the world might find out. We therefore conclude that our wrongness means we’re not worthy of whatever good the universe offers to us.

For me personally, this means I’m often overly-eager to play the drudge. I operate from a place of “it’s dirty work but someone’s got to do it” and because of my feelings of unspecialness (my own particular flavor of unworthiness), I feel like that person might as well be me.

The consequence of which is that I wind up working on projects I don’t love and feeling like everyone else gets to solve problems that are cooler than mine.

My rational brain knows that to some extent “the grass is always greener”, and other people’s problems probably aren’t any more exciting than mine. But then I wonder — is that true? Or do I just think that’s true because I believe that important work is often unpleasant and has to be done anyways?

Our thoughts get slippery when we try to work our way around them.

I don’t know my answers yet. I know that it’s easier to agree than to say no when I’m at work. And I know that it’s easier to say no than to agree when someone invites me to a social outing (even if there is a part of me that wants to go).

And I know that, as Greg McKeown writes in Essentialism, “When we surrender our ability to choose, something or someone else will step in to choose for us… We often think of a choice as a thing. But a choice is not a thing. Our options may be things, but a choice — a choice is an action. It is not just something we have but something we do.”

This week I felt myself not-choosing, rather than sincerely saying yes.

The point of this blog is not for me to whinge on about my inability to set boundaries around my time at work. The point of this blog is to perhaps help you think a little more critically about what it is you are or aren’t saying “no” to in your life.

My hope is that by shining a small light into my dark and nebulous corners, you might find the shadows a shade lighter in yours.

Where could you do “less, but better” in your life right now? What would you need to say “no” to to make your highest contribution — whether at work or at home? Let me know in the comments below!

 

Some thoughts on faith

This week I had the pleasure of reading Glennon Melton’s Carry On, Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life. The book is series of short memoir essays that read similar to blog posts (unsurprisingly, since Melton blogs at Momastery.com). The book is a quick read and delightful — honest and wise and laugh-out-loud funny in places.

The book is also rather Christian. Melton makes many references to Jesus, to God, and to her faith — unorthodox as her faith may sometimes be. (Her position, I believe, is that as a recovering “ex-everything” she really has no right to judge). But her faith is very much front-and-center in this book and I was surprised by how triggering I found that.

Not because I was unaware that religion makes me uncomfortable, but simply by how much it bothered me to have someone be so candid about it. And so I think reading this book was really important for me (and I’m very glad I did!) because it forced me to reconsider a lot of my beliefs around religion and about faith.

I wasn’t raised in a religion or with a faith. If I was raised with a faith, it was probably “logic” or “science” or “reason” — and in retrospect these things make miserable faiths because they leave no room for our perfectly imperfect humanity. But I did not know this until I was much older and I never questioned these ideas of faith because organized religion does a terrible job of marketing itself and so I really thought that I was better off.

From where I stood, the advantages of a religious faith were invisible. In my admittedly limited experience, religion usually seems to do more to make people anxious and narrow-minded than to create space for more kindness and compassion in the world.

While I know that, in practice, this is not true, and that there are many people (perhaps even most) for whom faith is a comfort that increases their ability to extend kindness and compassion toward others (the “Christian feeling” of the 19th Century), the truth is that these days, from an outsider’s perspective, “Christian feeling” seems often to be more about hatred than kindness. (And I’m picking on the Christians here a little; I think the same is true of many of the world’s religions.)

So I don’t love religious doctrine or institutions, but what I realized in reading Carry On, Warrior is that Glennon Melton and I share a lot of the same ideas about faith.

Because as much as I don’t ever see myself participating in an organized religion — in the past few years I’ve been busy reinventing my idea of faith. And that idea doesn’t look much like Melton’s Jesus. But increasingly I think that faith is important, and a faith in Jesus seems to me no worse than any other.

My faith is not so well defined as any religious symbol — it is a faith in nature, in beauty, in goodness. I believe that nature is good and beautiful and that, as part of nature, we are good and beautiful, too. And perhaps this is not so different than what Jesus would have us believe — but that doesn’t mean I’ll ever worship in a church.

I prefer my worship out beneath the open skies or here, upon the altar of the empty page.

But I do believe we all need a little faith. Without faith we cannot trust or hope, and without hope we have no reason to act with kindness and compassion in the world.

If there is anything I feel certain of, it’s that the world today needs every drop of kindness and compassion we can bear to part with right now. We’ve spent the industrial era moving away from these ideals, I think.

The industrial era asked us to sacrifice our humanity in order to better play the part of the machine and we’ve done so. But now the machines are taking over and the only thing we’ll have left to call our own will be the strength our humanity. (Check out this article from The Atlantic if you want to know more.)

So I don’t know much about faith and nothing at all of God — but if I have to believe in something, I guess I choose to believe in the power of compassionate humanity to save the world. To believe in anything else seems just too dang scary right now.

 

I’d love for this to be a conversation, not a monologue! Do you have a faith? If so, how does your faith impact your experience living in the world? Let me know in the comments below.

 

Please note: This post contains Amazon affiliate links. This means that I make a (very) small referral commission from purchases made using my links. This commission does not affect your price.

 

March 2015 Book Reviews

Boston on the first day of “spring”

April means it should be Spring and yet as of two days ago I encountered snow falling in Boston. Apparently breaking the record wasn’t good enough!

As much as I look forward to warm weather and the day the dry skin on my hands finally, finally manages to heal without the assiduous application of hand cream, I can’t help but hold some fondness for this topsy-turvy springtime weather. Spring never lasts long in Boston — we seem to go from snow flurries one week to t-shirts the next, so this time next month I’m likely to be singing a different tune.

And on that note, here are this month’s book reviews!

Disclaimer: This post contains Amazon affiliate links. I make a (very) small referral commission from purchases made using my links. This does not affect your price.

The Fire Starter Sessions by Danielle LaPorte

“A revolution is a way of being that becomes a significantly better way of doing. And it shifts and lifts people up along with you and keeps the universe on the edge of itself. A Course in Miracles defines a miracle as “a shift in perception”. Revolutions can feel miraculous.”

I really enjoyed reading Danielle LaPorte’s The Fire Starter Sessions: A Soulful + Practical Guide to Creating Success on Your Own Terms this month. Danielle LaPorte walks the woo-woo line a bit, but the crux of the book is about getting really clear on your WHY (I read Simon Sinek’s Start With Why last month, check out that review here).

While Simon Sinek’s book was a satisfying and intellectually convincing read, I think The Fire Starter Sessions may actually be more useful when figuring out what to do if you’ve lost track of your WHY. And as someone still emerging from the battlefield of a total loss of WHY, it’s a subject that happens to be near and dear to my heart.

“You will always be too much of something for someone: too big, too loud, too soft, too edgy. If you round out your edges, you lose your edge.”

For me, this was a transformative book. Full of wisdom and straight-talk, Danielle LaPorte manages to both inspire and cut the crap. I liked it enough that I’m even considering buying myself a copy to keep — a state of affairs that’s basically unheard of. It’s worth mentioning that the Kindle version is crummy — I’m sure the book is beautiful in print, but there are a lot of aspects to the layout that don’t translate well to Kindle. FYI.

It’s always hard to tell when a book feels transformative if it’s the book itself, or if it just happens to be the right book at the right time. I’d guess it’s usually a combination of both — a good book at the right time is probably the most common recipe for brilliant breakthroughs. In any case, this one really worked for me!

 

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

“People are complicated. There is so much more to everybody than you realize. You see someone in school every day, or at work, in the canteen, and you share a cigarette or a coffee with them, and you talk about the weather or last night’s air raid. But you don’t talk so much about what was the nastiest thing you ever said to your mother, or how you pretended to be David Balfour, the hero of “Kidnapped”, for the whole year when you were thirteen, or what you imagine yourself doing with the pilot who looks like Leslie Howard if you were alone in his bunk after a dance.”

This month I also read Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein. The friend who recommended the book to me said that it was the “unofficial novel of The Toast” (if any website were to have a book for a mascot it would be the Toast!). Amusingly I found my feelings on the Toast pretty well reflected by my feelings about this book — which is to say my feelings were mixed.

The book is about two girls who become friends when brought together by a combination of circumstance and WWII. One of the girls works as a pilot for the British Air Transport Auxiliary and the other is recruited by the British intelligence service as a spy. The book is the story of their friendship and of their intertwined fates when a covert mission goes awry.

The beginning of the book triggered two of my biggest pet peeves — on the one hand, the POV was third person limited (i.e. told from a single character’s perspective) and yet STILL she had verbatim knowledge of conversations at which she was not present. The reasons for this tie in to my second peeve — which is that we are probably supposed to conclude that she is making these conversations up, and yet it’s never clear to the reader what exactly she’s lying about or whether she’s lying at all and I found that irksome. (Plus, she’s entirely too glib about her capture and torture at the hands of the Gestapo.)

However, with that said, the book did grow on me as I went and the second half of the book clears up a lot of the mysteries and irritations of the first part. By the time I managed to get all the way to the end I found I was almost willing to forgive the book its inauspicious beginning.

 

 The Best American Short Stories 2011, edited by Geraldine Brooks

“You wind up at an after-hours club Bix knows about on Ludlow, crowded with people too high to go home. You all dance together, subdividing the space between now and tomorrow until time seems to move backward.”
— Jennifer Egan, “Out of Body”

As part of my ongoing literary education (the best way to learn to write great stories is to read great stories!), I picked up a copy of The Best American Short Stories 2011, edited by Geraldine Brooks. I’ve never given much credit to anthologies — I often find them hit or miss, likely because a great short story is harder to write than a decent novel. I find even collections of the “best” tend to be rather uneven in terms of quality.

That remains true of this collection. Some of the stories were breathtaking and had me careening through the pages like I’m drowning. Others left me cold.

“You don’t know what hurts more: the swirling moral turbulence of the book or the belated discovery that everything you thought about it was wrong. You missed it all: register, mood, irony, ambiguity, subtleties of characterization, narrative arc, even basic plot points. You can’t read. It’s like finding out, at thirty, that you’re adopted.”
— Richard Powers, “To the Measures Fall”

A few notable highlights:

  • By far my favorite story was “Out of Body” by Jennifer Egan, and which I was delighted to discover is excerpted from her book, A Visit from the Goon Squad. The story is a stunningly-wrought example of a second-person POV that really works and I loved it and cringed with it and had to take a few moments to sit with it after I’d finished. I’ll definitely be reading the book, so keep an eye out for that!
  • I also enjoyed the story “Housewifely Arts” by Megan Mayhew Bergman, about a woman (a mother) who takes her son on a road trip to go see the parrot that once belonged to her own (now deceased) mother because she wishes to hear her (mother’s) voice. I found the story to be a fascinating and artful exploration of motherhood as she considers her simultaneous identity as daughter to her mother and mother to her son.
  • I enjoyed the second story I’ve quoted as well (“To the Measures Fall” by Robert Powers), which makes two stories in second person that I loved! The thing that’s fascinating about Powers’s story is the way in which it explores a woman’s changing relationship with a book (To the Measures Fall by Elton Wentworth). One of the best things about being a reader is that sometimes you come back to a book many years later and find it’s nothing like the book you remember. Robert Powers captures this experience beautifully in his story.

As a student of writing and literature, I was especially thrilled to discover the contributor’s notes at the end of the book — which I found a fascinating peek into other people’s writing processes, as well as an interesting look at how the ideas for the stories came about.

 

The Fear Cure by Lissa Rankin

“There’s a wonderful line often attributed to Anaïs Nin: ‘And the time came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.’ I understand that the risk it takes to blossom takes a lot of courage. This is your invitation. What will it take for your longing to outweigh your fear of the unknown? What will it take for you to find the courage to blossom?”

Last, but certainly not least, I just finished reading Lissa Rankin’s new book, The Fear Cure: Cultivating Courage as Medicine for the Body, Mind, and Soul. I’ve been a huge fan of Lissa’s work, ever since I was introduced to her work through her previous book, Mind Over MedicineThe Fear Cure is an interesting departure from her previous, more-technical work and is her first foray into the “self-help” genre.

As someone who has realized just how much of a role fear plays in my own life, I felt like the timing of this book’s publication was perfect. (Actually I feel a bit like the universe is conspiring… both Brene Brown and Liz Gilbert also have books on fear coming out this year whose publication I eagerly await.)

In The Fear Cure, Lissa suggests that our Western culture operates under the guise of what she calls the “Four Fearful Assumptions”:

  • Uncertainty is unsafe
  • I can’t handle losing what I cherish
  • It’s a dangerous world
  • I’m all alone

She suggests that we replace these limiting beliefs with what she likes to call the “Four Courage-Cultivating Truths” and guides the reader through a series of exercises to write their own personal “Prescription for Courage”. The truths she suggests are:

  • Uncertainty is the gateway to possibility
  • Loss is natural and can lead to growth
  • It’s a purposeful universe
  • We are all One

While I am agnostic regarding the factual accuracy of some of these “courage-cultivating truths”, I do feel that approaching life from such a perspective would encourage me to acts of greater courage. What about you?

 

I’d love to know what you’ve been reading. If you’ve read any great (or not-so-great) books lately let me know in the comments!

 

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