For The Love of Stuff
Over the past month, Josh and I spent nearly every day either packing up every item we own into a box, or deciding it was no longer needed and was to be recycled or junked. Every single item in our house. Luckily we had been downsizing and decluttering since we returned from India in March of 2014. We had reduced our book collection by 3/4, our clothes by about the same, and had removed many furniture items, children’s toys, and so much more. We thought we wouldn’t have too much to move and we didn’t have that many “things” left. Well, nothing brings the reality of your belongings right up in your face as much as having to pack them all up and move them.
After we packed, over the course of just under two weeks, we moved 98% of our possessions into a 16′ x 17′ storage unit. We are staying with family while we continue our house hunt. Moving your belongings into storage is a humbling, and very tiring, experience. Most of our belongings are sitting in a quiet and lonely storage facility. At least there is central air. Josh has said he has dreams of taking everything out of the unit and reorganizing it so it is packed more neatly. That is about the last thing I want to do! But I do think about certain items that would be better served by moving them on than by continuing to store them. I think when we finally get to taking them out of the unit, I might have two piles: one to keep, one to get rid of.
Why do we love our stuff so much? What drives us to purchase and keep so many things, from big furniture and appliances to little trinkets and items that we never use or don’t really need? What are we really holding onto? When I think about the energy and resources that go into making all these items, creating facilities to sell them, and then moving them about, I wonder what we are really trying to do. There are about 400 storage units in the facility we are using, and 90% of them are full. Our society is drowning in its own stuff, and we are stripping the earth of its resources just to spend more money on more things that we do not really need.
Sure, I recognize that we do actually use some of these items, and that some items may improve our quality of life or even be very necessary. But then I think about other countries where they make do with very little resources and seem to get by just fine. Maybe there is a middle ground out there? Maybe we could find a way to manage with just a little of what we need — think of all the time we would save by not purchasing, fixing, storing, and moving all of those unnecessary items. Maybe we could start examining what it is we own, what it really costs us, other cultures, and the planet to have those items, and perhaps start to envision a new way?
Let me ask you: When was the last time you went through every item you owned and questioned its true need and value?
Going Gray: Inspiration
*photo credit: http://waytofamous.com/22043-marian-seldes.html
I find it important to stay inspired while pursuing any new endeavor. By learning about the journey of others and how they have navigated a path, I find new ideas to test out and new thoughts to consider. As an artist and creator, I also find inspiration in the artistic expression of others.
My yoga students often give me thoughtful and inspiring surprise gifts. About a year ago, a dear student gave me the book “Wise Woman, ” by photographer Joyce Tenneson. What a treasure of a book. It is a collection of photographs of women over 40, combined with inspiring quotes and thoughts on their life. It was a fitting gift considering my website title of “Powerful Woman Yoga,” but it is even more fitting now on my going gray journey as many women in the book reflect on the idea of dyeing hair.
Here are the words of the late actress Marian Seldes:
“My grandmother always used to say, ‘If you know your part and you know where you have to go, why do you rehearse?’ I always remember this, and it’s true. You have to start each day again- you can’t repeat what you did. When I let my hair go gray I felt an enormous freedom. All those years of having my hair dyed- why do we do that?”
Are you dyeing your hair, or thinking of going gray? Let me know your thoughts and inspiration in the comments below.
Going Gray and Ditching the Dye, Journal Entry 2
I had a moment this weekend where I felt like shaving my head. I only have about a half an inch of gray/white roots coming in, but I felt ready to get all that dyed hair off my head and let my silvers shine. I sent a picture of what I was thinking of doing to my mom, and within minutes she was calling me with an intervention. Mom and I are doing this gray thing together, and we started at the same time (she is a week ahead of me). Josh was standing by with his shiny and sharp electric razor in hand. After I got off the phone with mom, I trimmed a tiny bit off the ends, and we put the razor away.
I have done a great deal of self work with my yoga and meditation practice to become a patient person, and I feel I have come a long way. But there are still moments where impatience can run high. It is not that I don’t like the way my hair looks, that doesn’t feel like an issue right now. Instead, I feel ready to be silver. Usually when I make a decision, when I announce it and I accept it mentally, I take it on right away. Indecision is not my work. My inner work over time has been to sit still and wait for better timing or to let things take their natural course. I am struggling with that in a big way with trying to sell our house, but that is a whole other blogging category…
Mom told me to wait a few more weeks or months, if I possibly could, and then to do that pixie cut. She said I would regret shaving my head, big time, and there would be no way to change it if I didn’t like it. Before I decided to go gray, I thought I might let my hair grow out to my shoulders. But since deciding to go gray, I feel that for me it would be better to go back to short hair and then to let it grow out all silver. I like that idea quite a bit, so now I feel committed.
I am in a few Facebook groups about going gray. If you are on Facebook and are thinking about going gray, I recommend joining one of these support groups: Silver Foxy, Going Gorgeously Gray, and Gray and Proud. These groups offer support and community for those times when you wonder “am I doing the right thing”, or “how do I handle the transition”, and “should I keep my hair long or go pixie?” Sometimes, we need to see or know that someone else is going through the same thing, or that they have the same doubts or questions, and it makes us feel connected. These groups have been positive, supportive, and full of joy. I see in these groups that women, and even a few men, struggle with this process as it brings up many insecurities. Should I cut my long hair? What will people think of those white roots, will they think I am letting myself go? What if they call me granny? While these groups do offer support to people, the truth is, that bigger work has to be done on your own.
One of the things that has helped me decide to go gray is my yoga practice. Yoga encourages us to love ourselves where we are at, and to embrace our inner goodness. Yoga encourages us to question our thoughts and to investigate why we might hold a particular belief that might not be serving us. My deep investigation of Yoga philosophy has helped me to understand that there are many options and ways to approach a situation and to feel less attached to outcome and expectations.
So for now, I will not shave my head. While writing this post, my mom called to check in and see if I had shaved my head after all. I reassured her that no, I had not. “Good,” she said. “I didn’t shave mine either.”
Journaling My Adventure of Ditching the Dye and
Exactly one month ago I decided to let my hair go gray. I last used hair dye on January 3. I don’t like sharing that I have been dyeing my hair, I prefer to make my own body/care choices without public scrutiny. But I have found the decision to stop dyeing to be an empowering action and to share my story, as other stories have inspired me with their stories, might help someone else decide to ditch the dye.
I have been dyeing my hair for about two decades. I found my first gray hair in my early teens. By my twenties, I was probably quite salt and pepper. After I had kids, at 25, my hair went on its own silver adventure. I don’t really know how gray I have been or even how gray I am, because I have been covering it up for a long time. I used henna for years. I just LOVED henna! Henna is a completely natural dried herbal paste that you mix with a little hot water, maybe some vinegar and other natural substances. It both dyes and conditions your hair. Henna has this marvelous earthy scent, it dries like mud on your hair, and when you are finished (about 2 hours later), after you rinse and rinse and rinse, your hair is super soft and glows. For about 10 years, henna worked great. It layered over the gray and added interesting color texture. But as the silver adventure continued, it became more and more difficult to use henna. It didn’t quite cover those white hairs as well, and I had to do it more often. At a two hour per treatment commitment it became difficult to justify and easier to look into other options.
When looking to switch to hair dye, I wanted to make sure that I was purchasing dye as natural as I could (no ammonia or parabens, etc…). I did the best I could with the “safe” options, but the fact is, there is no safe hair dye. Nope. Not at all. They know this of course because they test hair dye on animals. Another bad. It never sat well with me, but I felt I didn’t have a lot of choices, I was just too young to be gray! I played with a variety of colors over the years: Brown, Black, Mahogony, Chestnut, even Blonde! But for some reason, Silver never seemed like an option until now. I didn’t have gray role models in my life for a long time. My own 80 year old grandmother only stopped dyeing her hair a few years ago. But as a yoga teacher in a rural location for the past 10 years, I have had the honor of teaching many “silver foxes.” I always admire their luscious grays and I think I started to realize that Gray, or Silver, is actually an option and it doesn’t have to mean “old”. Ditching the dye would mean I could stop using products I hated and stop making unnecessary waste. I could also accept my true hair and not feel like I had to cover it up because it wasn’t good enough.
Now, I don’t want this to be a judgement against anyone who still chooses to dye. I get it and I understand where you are coming from. I believe you have to feel ready to take something like this on, otherwise it will just be a miserable experience. Anyone who truly enjoys dyeing their hair should not be judged or pressured to change. But I do think we need to reconsider the idea that gray means old and unattractive. I have also heard that it is more difficult for a woman to get hired, or even to keep a job, if she has gray hair. I don’t think this is a reason to continue to dye one’s hair, it is discrimination, it needs to be challenged, and there is only one way to challenge this sexist act: Go boldly gray. What if our suffragette ancestors thought it was too difficult to work for voting rights? We have to start somewhere. So if you love the dye, feel empowered to keep it going. If you don’t, you should feel empowered to ditch the dye and let yourself go gray.
My gray hairs are just popping through at about half an inch. I’ll keep you posted on my journey…
Minimalism and Mindfulness.
I might be tempted to call myself a minimalist. Yet, I still want things. I still crave and feel discontent. My home has many belonging and I haven’t emptied out all my closets. I hope to be satisfied with what is, yet find myself curious about what might be better. I find myself in shops and stores, making purchases when I already have similar items at home. I try to make certain that I remove from the home the same number of items I bring in, a sort of net zero shopping experience, but it doesn’t always work. Sometimes, that tiny space of continued longing remains. Perhaps it is my own personal struggle, those more successful or better stationed might not find these moments in their lives. But I suspect that there are far more people who strive for minimalism and find they struggle (however they might define the words “minimalism” and “struggle”) than there are people who feel success at minimalism, have mastered discontent, and no longer want for anything.
How do we navigate this seemingly human need to seek, improve, create, and accumulate? It can be all too easy to feel like we are swimming in the outcome and effects of our wants (the clutter and more stuff) but also the wants themselves (never being happy, always seeking the next moment, the next thrill). Where is the midpoint? Minimalism is not about emptiness. It isn’t about negating the natural urges, it doesn’t have to be about stifling needs and getting rid of things you enjoy. Instead I would say there is a mindful “less-ness” to minimalism. A slow sloughing off, a carving away of what is unnecessary. When practiced regularly, minimalism engages our awareness and practice of mindfulness in a way that extends beyond a 10 minute meditation. It takes the practice of mindfulness into our daily living and asks us to think about our actions and choices.
How to be mindful
A few years ago, I noticed a post on social media where someone asked: “What the hell is mindfulness suppose to be? I think it’s a complete waste.” I was immediately drawn to attention. It feels like my duty to explain to others what mindfulness is and to convince others of its importance. As I recall, I didn’t do a very good job at explaining or convincing. I don’t think the person wanted an explanation. But the question remained in my mind. What is mindfulness suppose to be? To be mindful is simply to be aware of our thoughts and actions, and to take steps to build and spread that awareness. This is a process that grows over time, and like any skill, one that requires practice and patience.
We might begin to practice mindfulness by simply noticing a habit. I think most of us are aware of habits that do not serve us. Maybe we have a habit of snacking when we are not hungry, or shopping for shoes or sweaters to feel happy, or buying one more book we may never read. Maybe the habit is to look at social media while we are in the middle of a project, or to scroll online for no apparent reason. These habits may not be directly harmful- but they are a bit mindless, and they could be harmful. They are distractions from responsibilities or problems that require our attention. When we first notice these habits we might feel guilt and the inability to change anything about them.
But noticing and being aware of the distraction is the very first step in mindfulness. Once you know there is an issue, you can make a plan. Maybe I am sure to only have healthy snacks around, or I know that I will start to feel hungry at a certain time and a cup of hot tea might divert the need to snack. Perhaps instead of buying new clothes and shoes, I take inventory of what I already have and make certain I don’t go into the store (its easier to avoid the store than it is to not buy once in the store). Perhaps I try to fit in visits to the library so I can browse as many books as I like and I return them once I am done. Or perhaps, you notice the urge of wanting, whatever it is, and you simply sit with that want for a bit, you take a few deep breaths, and in time you observe its transience. These actions can be effective steps to stop or redirect the mindless habits, and in turn the habits becomes less mindless. Now, this stage can take diligence and there will likely be setbacks. But remind yourself that this is a practice, not a perfection.
Mindfulness and minimalism are perfect companions. They are the natural outcomes of one another. Through taking inventory and redirecting, not just with physical items but also with habit patterns, we become more mindful of our actions and perhaps in time we can find a deeper contentment. The work of mindfulness and minimalism is to find more joy in what we already have, to shave off what is simply a distraction and isn’t really needed, to see and feel the contentment of life’s small and simple pleasures.
What is one step you can take to begin this journey?
I have been feeling grateful this week for cooler days and a little rain. It helps to ground my mind and body. I have also settled into having more “on my plate” than I would like. Our time with Swami Gurusharanananda was wonderful, and I want to thank everyone who came out and helped to make it a wonderful week! Your contributions helped to make an incredible visit with our teacher from India. But I rolled right out of Swamiji’s visit and right into Yoga Teacher Training weekends. Three Teacher Training weekends in a row! That is a lot of planning and implementing, and no free time with family on the weekends. My first reaction was to feel stressed and upset “poor me, I am soo busy!” But then I realized nothing was going to change, so I have to hold off on that family apple picking weekend, and not think about all the responsibilities of running the weekends. I find not over-thinking about what needs to be done a key piece of feeling more ease at any moment. I realized I wasn’t really any “busier” than usual, I had to stop feeling busy, and the over-thinking was the source of the perceived “stress”.
Once I settled into the idea that autumn was here, Swamiji’s visit was over, and that there will always be “the next thing”, I was able to slow down my mind and enjoy this season transition in its full splendor. It is like anything else in life: once you come into a place of acceptance to what is, and you stop trying to control, fight, or impose your beliefs on something, there is a beautiful grace that follows. I enjoy those light filled moments when they arise and it is my yoga practice that makes them more accessible.
Here are some happy links for you to enjoy as well. May they offer inspiration into your day and fuel further exploration.
ps… yes, there I was sitting right behind Krishna Das at a recent event!
Learn about Teff! It’s a super gluten free grain (actually a seed) that I wasn’t familiar with, and now I am having a moment of obsession!
Teff Recipes I have been enjoying: Bread, Porridge, Boston Brown Bread Bites.
7 Tremendous Teff Recipes
How much time do you spend offline? I know I would like to spend more time offline… Offline is the new luxury.
Tesla Eco Villages in Amsterdam. Inspired living!
Simplicity quotes from Courtney Carver.
The benefits of quiet time in schools.
Free guided meditations. Enjoy!
Joshua Hall, music to stream from bandcamp