White Space

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I have become a bit obsessed with stuff.

The mountain of papers, journals and other bits of detritus left behind by my mother has me wondering what compels people to keep what they do.

Both my husband and I have spaces in antique shops. His is full of books, lots and lots of books, as well as cool old ads and a few chatchkes. Mine is the result of some of my mother’s stuff. Nothing really of much value, but I couldn’t just toss it. In truth, most of her things ended up staying in her apartment for her neighbor or at a thrift store close to her home. What was left that didn’t occupy a sweet spot in my history went to the antique store.

To furnish these spaces we often attend estate sales and sometimes garage sales. I can tell a lot about the owners of these collections of things. What’s important to them, what fads they succumbed to, how old they likely are, where in the world they have been and of course their personal taste.

And I often wonder why they kept what they did. And why they bought it or how they got it.

What makes our stuff so important to us?

Every antique store I have been in has been stuffed to the rafters with memories left behind. Yet we are still manufacturing stuff at an alarming rate. Furniture is no longer meant to last longer than the trend that created it. Appliances and technology have built in obsolescence. There is no restaurant without a to-go option that usually requires materials that never bio-degrade. And everything needs accessories now.

It’s all just too much stuff.

Part of this year was to be about counting my things and releasing what I didn’t need or no longer used. I was hoping to get to a sort of baseline of things. X number of shirts and shoes, the perfect amount and blend of furniture, only books that are used for reference or are waiting to be read, nothing other than holiday decorations in storage. And even those are to be pared.

I don’t know that I’m truly up to the task. It all just makes me so tired.

My intentions are solid, but my resolve waivers from time to time. Part of the process I guess. I hope.

I don’t want to leave behind cryptic notes and journals filled with repetitive and never resolved thoughts, but I’m afraid I’ve already failed on the journal task.

When I travel abroad, I often stay in Airbnb apartments. Recently I rented a tiny two bedroom flat in Madrid. It was done entirely in Ikea with the exception of the rustic wood doors that covered the French doors. Everything was white with clean lines. There were maybe 8 “things” that served no real purpose, otherwise a small sofa, a tiny table and two chairs, a TV stand, a lamp. That was kind of it. It may sound more like a cell than an apartment but to me it was refreshing.

It was breathing space. Room to think. It helped tremendously that I was six time zones away from my stuff and the projects that await me, but it was also a glimmer into the way things could kinda-sorta be. To not have that tug that I should be doing something or something else other than what I’m doing. Just this. Just space.

Now whenever I am confronted by a box, or a pile of papers or even the garage (THE GARAGE!) I close my eyes and let my mind rest on all that clean, white, simple space.

It helps. The work continues.

Travel Enlightenment

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Aaaaannnd, we’re back!

Not that I actually ever left, but there were many distractions and disruptions that led me physically,  mentally and emotionally away for a bit. Now that I have returned I am ready to pick up where I left off and maybe start over a little on some things.

My time away (I led a yoga retreat to India for two weeks and took a week for fun in Spain) revealed a few things to me. It always does, this is why travel is so important to me. (If travel is your thing too, you can read about my wanderings here: allisonswanderland.)

A few nuggets for my own consideration:

Whenever I’m in India I eat completely, 100% vegetarian. And I feel great. I have “been” vegan, vegetarian, paleo, and every other named dietary follower before. And I never truly stick with any one thing for long, but I have learned a lot about my tendencies, likes, dislikes and what my body appreciates.

Conclusion: I am going 95% vegetarian for the summer. Why not 100%? Because one of the things I’ve learned about my body is it doesn’t process legumes well and it loves protein, so eggs, yogurt and a bit of cheese will be my primary sources, not beans. If I get lethargic I’ll need to add a bit of meat for medicinal purposes. [Please note: there was no intention of sarcasm in that medicinal comment. I truly believe that almost any food when eliminated can be added back in, in small doses as a benefit to the body.]

Traveling also always reveals to me that I have an irrepressible need to be outside and to walk. I love to walk. Walking in cities fills me with wonder and purpose. I have also learned through my travels that I can stop in the afternoon for a pick-me-up of a fully-loaded cappuccino and half a creme brulee and still lose 10 pounds. From walking. About 10 miles a day.

But Florida’s summer heat makes me edgy and lazy and the lack of hills makes me a little sad. So I’ve crafted a plan to walk to the gym (about 1.5 miles one way) every morning super early, walk the hills on a treadmill for 30 minutes then walk home all sweaty. By the way I will be passing a Starbucks and a Panera so… can you say incentive? Maybe some days I’ll even strap my laptop to my back and stop at one of the aforementioned places on my way home to pound out a few blogs. Who can say for sure?

I cannot control anything, [insert eye-rolling emoji here] except my reaction. I ALREADY KNEW THIS, but it has been thrown in my face over and over and over again with unnatural force recently. What I continually attempt to control is my environment. I want my house to be certain way, have structure, be organized. I want the same for my office and the studio (I own a yoga studio with two other magical ladies). This is important to me, not for the unexpected visit from Elle Decor, but so I can have head space to be creative. If there is stuff everywhere I feel so tired and uninspired.

Having just acquired most of my mother’s belongings, there is nothing if not a lack of structure in my home. Getting upset about it only hinders the process and there’s so much to learn in the process.

Organizing things, sorting, compartmentalizing and yes, purging, all make me very happy. It’s this weird internal sense of things clicking into place, and it only works with tangible objects. I cannot feel satisfied by sorting through files on my computer. I have to touch and move actual stuff. The Universe has gifted me a tremendous opportunity to go to this happy place, I just need to see it as that and not the furniture and stuff shaped mound of frustration I’ve made it.

There was more wisdom imparted to me but this is plenty to work on and adopt so I’m sticking with these three. To review, I will:

  1. Eat a 95% + Vegetarian diet throughout the summer, which is about 6 months here.
  2. I will satisfy my need to wander through hill and dale (while not meandering abroad) by walking to the gym and climbing on equipment.
  3. I will take my time and practice mindfulness while organizing and continuing to purge stuff from my various environments.

I am also still deeply committed to minimizing my personal carbon footprint by reducing my trash and carefully considering all purchases.

It feels good to have a plan, some structure and goals. As soon as I finish integrating whatever I am keeping from my mother’s gifts I will resume, and in some cases restart, counting all my objects.

It was actually quite therapeutic.

Lovable

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About a week ago I was up at my ashram for a yoga teacher reunion. It was little more than 24 hours, arriving at noon on Tuesday and leaving around the same time Wednesday, in which we reconnected with each other, did some yoga and made a couple new friends.

The treat in going to the ashram is being in the presence of Yogi Amrit Desai. Wednesday morning, after yoga, we had that opportunity. During trainings, and even between trainings, Gurudev – our term of endearment for him – leads philosophical, spiritual talks called darshan. He shares his thoughts about many things in the yoga world and reminds us of a few universal truths, but most of his talks circle back to consciousness. This morning was no different. This is the reason I am here.

Today he is talking about how we feel we need to do things, be something and act in certain ways to be lovable. He was giving examples and making us nod in agreement and laugh at ourselves. I would drift in and out of engagement as usual, doodling in the margins of my journal, writing the big ideas down, then I heard it.

When we hear the same word over and over again, especially in our own language, in our own accent, it sometimes loses power, or at the very least, impact. He was saying lovable repeatedly. Only in his Indian accent he was pronouncing it love-able.

This completely reframed things for me. Lovable – Love-uh-bull – sounds to me like I have to add things to me to make myself presentable to another to be loved. I have to primp and preen, be smart, make money, have nice things, not be myself. I have to behave. To be loved.

Love-able makes me feel as if I have to strip away pretense, wash my face, take off my nail polish and open my raw authentic self up in order to love another.

One sounds desperate and seeking, the other scary and exciting.

Maybe I’m the only one who sees it this way, but I don’t think so. It tracks with what we’ve been told: In order to love another you must first love yourself. In order to love yourself, you have to accept yourself AS YOU ARE and that is knowing who you are underneath it all.

Acceptance of self = Self love = Lovable. Able to love.

[Photo: Young orphaned buck that was cared for across the street from the ashram. He now comes over to visit and receive love.]

Soft Reboot

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I have been home from India for nearly a month now. It’s time I come back. The process becomes slower and slower with each trip. I leave a little more of myself behind so I can carry more of India home with me. The integration is only painful when I have to suddenly be somewhere incongruous with this process – a conference call, listening to someone gossip or accidentally catching a newsbite.

In the almost four weeks since my return I have been writing a lot. And loving it. I have been going through my photos of India and taking new photos of undiscovered (by me) places near my home. Frustrated with my lack of perfection on this one. And generally just ‘being.’

I have been working, yes, but not with the urgency I had before the cleansing of my spirit. There is so much to do that I WANT to do, but those memory-rich corners of my mind have not allowed the organizational part of my brain access to the data necessary to be effective. We must come to a compromise.

It is blending the work, here and now, with the enchantment of the India experience. It’s called presence and I just need to remember that.

Time for a soft reboot. I will make lists. I’m good at lists – it’s the doing of the stuff on them that sometimes eludes me. Here’s my first: My list of the lists I need to make.

1. Make a list of tasks that need my semi-immediate attention (taxes, newsletter for work, blog page for the Sacred India tour group, etc.)

2. Make a list of business and personal goals (really these are all personal, just some relate to the businesses I personally own)

3. Take a look at current food and lifestyle choices – adjust accordingly (same old, same old – cleanse, eat clean, move more)

4. Prioritize the items within each list then take a walk to let it all settle into my cells. Take my camera – just in case.

Just making this list makes me a little sad, but if I want to go back to India, grow as a human, I have to learn to integrate it all. I have eased back into this American life as slowly as I could. I will hold in my heart the images of Indians napping in their rickshaws in the middle of the day, the visits to temples any time for a quick spiritual refresher and the overall feeling of being held by a force so omnipresent and so unconditionally loving that I must infuse my everyday life with its essence.

I will continue to be present in everything I DO so that I may simultaneously BE.

PHOTO: In Rishikesh, up near the Himalayas, the Ganges is pristine and beautiful. Here I am near a cave that many have come to meditate in, including Swami Satchidananda. This is the Ganga Ma – the mother Ganges – just outside the cave.  I have blogged about my entire trip – From London for three days to India for 18 at http://www.allisonswanderland.com.