On September 6, 2016 I was returning from a magically simple and satisfying long weekend on a beautiful mountain lake with my amazing family. I decided that I would return home to a focus of creating a simple life in order to bring back with me that sense of peace and connectedness I felt while at the lake. And one thing I noticed not only that weekend but also in my work as a psychotherapist and mentor for others is that people just want to be heard. Really heard. But not only do people want to be heard but I believe Nature itself - nature that is all around us and within us - also wants to be heard. The practice of simply listening is the key to noticing and receiving more deeply the magical messages we otherwise miss in the busy-ness of our lives.
- Slow down. Stop moving constantly. Stillness is rather important to being able to really hear, to attend with intention.
- Listen for content without analysis. You can analyze later. Right now just take it in.
- Seek to understand. Instead of jumping to rebuttal or problem solving mode, simply listen for what the other person is showing you or what Nature is demonstrating.
- Appreciate what you hear or observe. You need not like it or agree with it but you can appreciate it.
This morning my husband and I sat out on our front porch as the sun came up and we noticed a large spider had built an expansive web between the two porch columns and was busily consuming her breakfast of a rather large insect. I know a lot of people who would have rushed to get the broom and taken down that web, spider and all. As much as I admit that I'm not particularly a fan of arachnids I have a deep and abiding respect for Nature and I have cultivated an ability to slow down and listen to the messages it may have for me. As we watched the spider doing her thing, I appreciated the meticulous work and the art of this web-spinning in order to get what she needs to live another day.
There is something tremendously rich about intentionally living a simple life rather than the complex, confusing, crazed rat-races we otherwise may find ourselves lost in. Slowing down and simply listening to what others are saying and showing us, pausing to really pay attention to what Nature has to demonstrate. . . yields treasures otherwise overlooked.
I am not naturally an organized person but I LOVE being organized. I love having my home in order. It lends to a sense of peace and ease. The fact that this does not come easily or naturally for me makes me the ideal person to share with you what I have learned about creating simple home organization. Here are some tips I have discovered:
- Clear out clutter. We've covered this in a couple of previous articles but it can't be emphasized enough if we are seeking a home that is simply in order. Block off a few hours, grab some boxes and/or large garbage bags and do a massive sweep. Collect all the paper and items that can be recycled, donated, sold or thrown away. Clear it out!
- Function then style and sentiment. It's important that 95% of the items in your home have a function that you actually use and need. 5% of the items can be purely for decoration or sentiment. For example, you might have a couple of awesome fat candles flanking your dining room sideboard that look super stylish but you also might light those candles for ambience during special dinners.
- Be selective with sentiment. Too many baby photos or too many art projects you saved from when your kids were little can end up cluttering your home environment. Select one or two special items per child for display. If you can't part with the others, at least pack them away in the attic.
- Daily sweep. Every morning and every evening make a quick run through the house looking for papers, mail or other items that can be either tossed of filed.
- A home for for everything. When you take your earrings off at the end of the day, put them in the jewelry box. Kicking your shoes off at the door? Set up a shoe cubby. Dishes should either be in the cabinet or in the dishwasher.
These are just a few of the tips I've discovered work for me since we recently moved into the house we are living in. The key to simple home organization is ongoing effort to release what you don't need and be conscious about how you interact with the items in your home so you don't get lost in the stuff and stacks!
Simple meditation is nothing more than the process of sitting with a willingness to just breathe and focus on the present moment. When I first started my personal meditation practice in 1991, meditation wasn't nearly as widely known and practiced as it is today. After 20+ years of practicing and 15+ years of teaching and leading others I have seen how popular meditation and yoga have become - to the point it's all gotten kind of complicated. Lately I have been feeling led to return to the most simple form of meditation as I introduce clients and new students to the practice.
Some people who have never experienced this simple practice might wonder, "What's the point? Why meditate?"
Fortunately, recent scientific studies have proven that basic mindfulness meditation over 8 weeks of steady practice changes the brain in amazing ways. The list of benefits and reasons to meditate is long. But the over-arching reason to meditate is to find harmony within oneself. Harmony with emotions and thoughts. A greater sense of acceptance. And from there meditation practice regularly helps us to harmonize with others, with the circumstances of life.
Simple meditation requires very little except a time commitment of 20 minutes/day, a comfortable, quiet place to sit upright and maybe a timer when you're first starting out. With a comfortable, upright seated position simply close your eyes and accept the sounds you may hear around you. Bring your mind's awareness to sensations in your body and try to relax and allow your body to sink into your seat. Then, focus on the sensation of breath naturally coming into the body and leaving the body. You can expect the first 10-12 minutes to sometimes feel a little uneasy but stick with it knowing that taking this time for simple meditation is like feathering a nest internally that will eventually be a very soft and easy home within your mind and heart that you can drop into.
As a part of leading a simple life, I find it important to learn how to let go of the expectations we once clung to and accept what is as much as possible.
I want to share a little parable with you:
A gambler once said to the Master, "I was caught cheating at cards yesterday, so my partners beat me up and threw me out of the window. What would you advise me to do?"
The Master looked straight through the man and said, "If I were you, from now on I would play on the ground floor."
This startled the disciples. "Why didn't you tell him to stop gambling?" they demanded.
"Because I knew he wouldn't," was the Master's simple and sagacious explanation.
As a licensed psychotherapist, mentor, supervisor, teacher and as a mother I find this wise little story very true. My own mentor told me long ago, "When you are helping people, meet them where they are rather than trying to drag them to where you are."
How often do we all set ourselves up for disappointment and frustration by expecting people around us to behave the way we believe they should? Often others are simply not equipped, informed or aware of what it is we are expecting of them.
In my own pursuit of a simpler life with A Simple Life Project, I am employing an approach to all of my relationships and interactions that takes into account where others are mentally, physically, emotionally and even spiritually before I expect them to behave or act any particular way. How does this simplify my life you might ask? Well, it strips away the complexities of erroneous assumptions and crossed wires in communication.
For example, if I have a mentoring client and we are having our first 90 minute dive-deep session in my 3 month redesign your life mentoring program I shift into neutral with no assumptions as to how my client thinks and feels and I join her in her world by asking particular open ended questions that provides windows for me to look into her heart, her mind, her soul. This greatly simplifies the process of coming to really know where my client is. The alternative (and sadly this happens with far too many life coaches out there) would be for me to march in there with assumptions of what is going on for her and what she needs which then greatly complicates the process because she might feel confused when what I suggest does not fit for her.
Another example on a more personal front would be how I interact with my husband at the end of a work day. If he is particularly silent and seems grumpy rather than seeking to change him or scolding him for being unresponsive, it greatly simplifies things for me to give him some space and then lovingly ask if there is anything I can do for him.
When we rush in seeking to change someone, or we out-right expect people to act a certain way we are really complicating things unnecessarily. Accept people are where they are. Seek to understand but don't try to change people. Otherwise you set yourself up for unnecessary conflict.
Deal with what is instead. It goes a long way in the aim of achieving a simpler life and simpler relationships.
This might be tough but it's important. Letting go can be one of the simplest yet most difficult things to do. Are there relationships that have run their course and may be nothing but a drain and a burden? I'm not suggesting you start breaking up with your entire family and friend group. I am suggesting, though, that as we dedicate ourselves to living a simpler life - especially at this mid-life point - we really need to evaluate who we are hanging out with. You may find you have a friend that you've known for 15 years who complains constantly and can't ever seem to find the bright side, always making every get together about herself and her woes. You've tried to talk to her about it many times but she dismisses your concerns and makes uno changes. It might be time to let her go.
Or, you might have lived a lifetime of being treated poorly by a family member with whom you've made many attempts to assert yourself, set boundaries and request a change to no avail. It might be time to let him go.
Perhaps you've been working in a job you really hate for too long. It might be time to move on, find another way to earn your income and let it go.
Letting go of people and situations that are familiar can feel like a very difficult thing to do.
At this point in life we begin to realize that the quality of our time spent with others needs our attention. We become more mindful of how we are feeling when around certain people or in particular situations. We begin tuning in and listening to our inner guidance more carefully. And often we find it's simply time to let go of some people, some places or some things.
Relief can be had when we follow these hunches. And letting go need not be cruel. You don't even owe anyone a full explanation.
Relationships worth holding onto or jobs that offer us long term security can be opportunities to work through challenges. I'm not suggesting we walk away from all the people who are difficult to deal with. I'm referring to honoring what your inner wisdom tells you on when it's time to simply let go. When you've tried long enough and are feeling perpetually depleted or beaten down. Give yourself permission to lovingly release those relationships and wish them only the best on their own life paths. You can choose to walk away so that you can focus more of your energy and time on the healthier relationships and fulfilling life experiences. Letting go can be a gift to yourself and your life.
As a part of my pursuit of a simple life I have to look at the ways these days I have fun that fit with my new lifestyle In my early 20's I felt compelled to go out on the town at night even though we had very little extra money. In my late 20's and early 30's, my days and nights were busy taking care of my babies. I didn't see a movie or watch a TV show other than Disney and PBS kids from 1994 - 2000. Once the kids were a little older I thought it was a luxury to get to watch Sex & The City on HBO after they'd gone to bed. In my 40's as the kids have grown up my husband and I have mastered the art of simple entertainment and we make this a regular part of our weekly life so that we have balance after a lot of long work hours.
We do love local theater and the arts. Whenever possible we support the creative arts community by attending plays, art shows and local music in small venues. We love our travel adventures and go on trips on average 5-6 times/year. But we also have some simple ways to kick back and enjoy our down time.
- Porch time. I never thought I'd be that adult who sat on the porch sipping on iced herbal tea but I must say that I really enjoy it. We marvel at all the wild life in and around our home. We catch up on the goings ons of the week. Just this morning we watched the morning sky turn from pink to blue. A simple life lends to valuing the view.
- Gardening. I'm not much of a green thumb but I love to plant and care for flowers and fruit plants. It's very rewarding to prune, pinch off the dead-heads, see how the plants are flourishing.
- Cooking. Now that our daughter is a junior in high school with lots of evening activities, Dennis and I are almost empty nesters so we often are the only two home for dinner. We turn on Edie Brickell, Ray LaMontagne or an evening chill play list off of Spotify and cook together. It's truly fun and bonding for us to make our own meals and sit down together at the dining room table or out back on the back porch if weather permits. Back porch dining is definitely part of a simple life.
- Walking. I used to walk only for exercise or to take the dog to potty but now walking in the evenings is one of my favorite activities. I enjoy crossing paths with other walkers and admiring the landscaping and gardens of our neighboring homes.
- Netflix. I must admit in this day and age it is simple and fun entertainment to follow a series or catch a movie on Netflix. We invested a reasonable amount of money into smart TVs and now the cinema is at our finger tips and there is some really great viewing available.
- Chess. It's not just for cerebral kids. It's a game that strengthens the brain and is really entertaining. We keep a chess set out on our coffee table and I've been known to bond with my kids, their friends, husband over a good game of chess.
- Fiction. As a psychotherapist and a leader in my profession I have to stay up on the latest research in the field of wellness and psychology but I love a good fiction book. Whether an actual book or on my reader I love to get lost in a compelling read. Part of living a simple life has been to return to taking time to snuggle with a good book.
- High School Football. Maybe it's a carry over from when my middle child played football but I find high school games to be very entertaining. And it's not just the game. It's watching the kids and the parents in the stands.
- Meditation and Yoga. It's a non negotiable. And I truly love it. Doing a daily yoga practice and sitting in meditation in the sacred space of my new little studio space is one of my favorite things to do and is definitely part of my simple life entertainment.
If you have ideas for simple entertainment you enjoy please post in the comments below!