Here comes one of those themes again. You know, the times where something comes up repeatedly across sessions that catches my attention. And while it's not exactly along the lines of decision-making, or meditation, that we've been talking about in past posts, it's definitely related. It's around the disconnect between what people think a space or project is, and what it actually is.
It's like going to one of those haunted house attractions that pop up around Halloween (hey, remember those? Gee, what's my favorite holiday going to look like this year?). Anyway, you know the drill - everyone goes in nervous and ready for a scare, but also with the complete knowledge that nothing they see will be real. The horrific zombies that jump out wielding machetes and chainsaws, courtesy of hourly-paid local actors and apprenticing makeup artists, are just that - local actors and makeup artists. Maybe even college kids just looking to earn some extra cash. They drive to work, clock in, get ready, do their thing, clock out, go home, and sleep. They probably are not particularly scary people absent their costuming and some strobe lights. We know all of this, coming and going, but in the middle…in the moment, we're terrified - or at the very least, startled. There's a belief, even if temporary, that what is happening is real enough to be afraid of.
So too you might look at a closet or the top of a desk and, even though you know that underneath the clutter there's just a closet, or just a desk, it looms SO large (ahem, did I hear someone say "Big Scary Goal"??). Despite understanding that individual piles of things are simply things, and that they actually belong to you, and that you suffer in terms of time and peace of mind when you don't deal with them - you freeze. Or flee. Or even fight. Yup, I do sometimes see the evidence of fights with stuff… it's rarely pretty and generally involves things hastily thrown away or stuffed in drawers or bins with no rhyme or reason. Regret soon follows.
It works the other way around, too: minimizing. How many of you have taken a skeptical friend to one of those haunted house affairs? The one who is convinced it's no big deal, and ridiculous, and insists they won't even blink when Freddie Krueger shows up. They're kind of annoying about it, and then naturally, they're the first one to start bawling. You might also look at a closet and think, "Oh, it's just a closet. No biggie. Won't take me long - nothing to see here." Au contraire. Start pulling that stuff out, and soon you're aghast at what you've squirreled away.
The truth about a cluttered space generally lies somewhere in the middle, between unapproachably terrifying, and so benign as to not warrant any care. So how do you take the mask off the organizing job, and see it for what it really is? What is actually true?
Part of the process goes back to the "L" of the LESS Method - "Learn." You can't know what all needs to be organized if you don't know what objects are there, and at least some of their stories. If you were to learn about the people in the haunted house, who they are, whether they like dogs or cats, and how they take their coffee, how frightening would they really be? If they turned all the lights on and took the masks off, what would you understand?
Could you similarly look at working through your space as getting to know your stuff? For instance:
"Alrighty, let's learn all about this paperwork, and see what trends we can uncover, what mysteries we might solve. Oh, THAT'S where the warranty is for the vacuum. And the receipt for the new tires...oh wow, and the key to the safe deposit box! I've been looking all over for that! I remember now...I was cleaning out the car before I picked kids up at school, and I stuffed all of this stuff in a bag in a hurry. Hmmm, I wonder how often I do that? If I'm tempted to do it again, could I pause and stop myself?"
Kind of takes some of the edge off, no?
Another approach might be to take just one small piece of the project to examine. Like instead of heading straight into the whole creepy corn maze, you first take a walk through a small pumpkin patch (sorry, I'm really on that Halloween roll now). So instead of the whole, massive, enigmatic closet, you could pull one bin to carefully deconstruct. And that might go something like:
"OK, I had no clue what was in here. Oh, it's a bunch of the kids' toddler toys. And Fluffy's old leash and collar - I miss Fluffy. But it's been years, and I think I can handle this now. I'm not sure why I avoided this bin, but maybe it's because I was afraid of the unknown. Now that I see it, the mystery has dissolved, and I can accept what it is. I even think most of this stuff can be donated, and that's going to free up a ton of space."
And when you get your decisions made, and the bin has some shape, purpose, and order, you might have the increased confidence to head into the rest of the closet.
Or not, but you'll still be further along than you were when you started.
How else might you look behind the curtain, peek under the wolf costume, or crack the creaky door open on that big, bad space?
Show of hands out there - who has tried, and given up on, meditation? Or just wondered about it? Or completely pooh-poohed the idea?
It's everywhere. You read about it on popular websites and threads. Your therapist told you to try it, and your annoyingly optimistic best friend swears by it. Maybe you don't trust the concept, or you think it has something to do with religion (no), or have to know some sort of secret handshake (perhaps now, a secret elbow bump). Maybe you've gotten the impression that you have to sit entirely still to be able to do it (also, no). I even had someone tell me they were terrified to try it because they didn't know what it would be like to not have anything going on in their head.
I can see why that impression might be unsettling, especially if it were accurate. But I've noticed a trend in clients asking about it, giving it a shot, and seeing impressive results. I don't start brand-new clients out diving into meditation, but because it is such a huge part of my personal sanity toolkit, I thought it worthwhile to take a post or two to explore the topic with you. Every little bit of relaxation helps right now.
Disclaimer: I'm not a meditation teacher, nor have I had official training (a term that sounds out of sync with what I know about it). I can say I've been a novice meditator since roughly 1994. The first time I gave it a shot, I was on vacation. I had purchased a cassette tape of guided meditations at a bookstore and popped it into an archaic sound device (known in those days as a “Walkman") in my room near the beach. I was only curious to see what the experience would be like. Since I had no preconceived notions, I had sort of a beginner's luck encounter - more relaxed than I had ever been, wide-open…it was meaningful in ways I can't adequately describe. I recall that the tape ran about 25 minutes, and involved imagining that my body was a clear, empty container, filling up with orange liquid. I have no clue why it was orange, and looking back, I have no clue why I didn't wonder about that little detail sooner. All this to say, what I'm sharing is not intended to give you an expert-level primer on meditation. But stay with me.
I kept up my cassette tape routine in the months that followed and noticed myself as more creative, patient, and steady - all things that made a huge difference in the teaching job I had at the time. I read books to learn more. I was increasingly able to trust my intuition. I didn't always maintain over the years, as children and moves and career changes would disturb the regularity of the practice. But now I've meditated every day, in some form or fashion, for the past 4-5 years. Trying to go without it now feels as uncomfortable as not brushing my teeth.
So what does it have to do with being more organized or productive? I have some observations, as well as interesting feedback from people I work with. As mentioned above, I personally feel more comfortable trusting my intuition, and you'll recall that plays a role in decision-making processes. I'm able to stay calmer in unsettling situations. The phrase "presence of mind" is relevant here. It's easier to think before I leap. What if we could all pause for a moment before we mindlessly purchased yet another notebook, or app, or a set of "organizing" supplies?
When I sense a client is really unsettled, stressed from whatever has happened immediately before a session, I often note their rapid, shallow breathing. Sometimes I'll ask if they'd like to take a deep breath or two. Full, slow breathing is relaxing, and that's because the exhale is a parasympathetic nervous system response*. It slows the heart down automatically. Observing the breath is one of the first and most common ways to begin a meditation practice. Sometimes, now, a client will even recognize how breathing helps, and ask me to do a brief guided meditation with them. Our work together flows much more comfortably after that.
At this point, I could list a lot of scientific research about the benefits, but you all can Google. I think it is equally powerful to hear feedback from those who've tried it. Paraphrasing, one client shared that it helps her to keep "toning the muscle" that allows her to step back from her ADHD emotional whirl. It helps in remembering the observing, core, central person who can distinguish thoughts.
Another stated, "I just wanted to see if I could...focus and slow my thoughts. As time went on, I started incorporating [noticing] breathing in and out. I also try to let go of something that is irritating me or something or someone I am holding a resentment about. Now, I look forward to meditation every night. When I have to miss it, I can feel the loss of calm."
Yet another summed it up this way (again, paraphrasing): It helps make the space between what's happening and what your thoughts and emotions are. When you can step back and observe the feelings, it gives you the opportunity to validate emotion and allows you to disengage from it - and make a decision not governed by the emotion.
We even identified four effects:
presence - observation - validation - disengagement
So if you're looking at a cluttered space, or a goal you haven't reached, or a tangled-up to-do list, what if you could:
So maybe all of that sounds like a huge leap - from sitting quietly, repeating mantras to getting your desk drawers Instagram-worthy. But I've seen similar things happen, even with very brief, guided meditations each day. If nothing else, a few moments of quiet somewhere in the craziness of our days can't be all bad. Sound amazing? Or maybe just vaguely intriguing?
In the next post I'll explore different ways to get started, and keep it going. In the meantime, who out there has a meditation experience to share?
Meditation is not about having yet another new strategy or self-help plan, but rather providing a framework in which to see yourself more clearly.” - Andy Puddicombe
*For more about breathing, check out a great book called Breathe: The New Science of a Lost Art by James Nestor.
Sara Skillen - Certified Professional Organizer®, Certified Organizer Coach®, wife, mom, dog-lover, author. Learning to trust my intuition more every day. Shall we work together?