Better & Bolder the Blog

In my own sweet time

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I want to talk about reflection, intention, and natural time. 

Last month, I wrote a post in which I described an unhappy eating routine: I was eating late at night and not liking how that felt. The habit felt super satisfying, and I wasn’t ready to give it up. 

This is what in Nia we call Natural Time. It means that we are letting things happen in the time they need to happen instead of in mechanical (clock and calendar) time. I knew that my eating habits were not as healthful as I wanted them to be, and I just couldn’t muster the energy to shift them. It wasn’t time. 

But I’d planted the seed. Just by being being aware and writing about it, I’d set the intention: this was something I wanted to shift. 

Then in the last few weeks of July, my late eating stopped being satisfying. I wasn’t enjoying what I was eating. I felt full all the time. 

I felt cranky, creaky, and old. 

So I set a date, August 2nd, and started a new habit: no eating after dinner. Along with that, I decided to cut out sweeteners of all kinds. 

Instead of the artificially-sweetened electrolyte drink that I was enjoying after a run, I started drinking lemon water. New habit. 

Those of you who get and read my Better and Bolder posts know that I’d talked about the beauty of drinking lemon water (squeeze half a lemon into water) first thing in the morning. I did it for a week, but didn’t love it.  Instead, I start my day with a big glass of water with Herbs Etc ChlorOxygen Chlorophyll concentrate. Does it work? Is it helpful? It’s supposed to build red blood cells and be energizing. I am totally down with the placebo effect if that’s all that’s going on. This is an entrenched habit, one I’ve followed for years, and it gets me to drink a big glass of water first thing. Great habit! 

Changing my great, entrenched habit to a new one — lemon water — wasn’t effective. But adding lemon water somewhere else — after a sweaty workout — works beautifully. I wasn’t ready to do this months ago when I wrote about lemon water (natural time), but the awareness was set up then. I was ready for it when the time and situation was right. 

We expect a lot out of ourselves — eat right, exercise well, be kind to animals, change the world. Some days, all we’ve got is managing not to yell at anyone and to make it to bedtime without catastrophe. Sometimes, that’s all we’ve got. 

That doesn’t mean that more isn’t happening, though. We may be reading or hearing about something and thinking: yes, that’s something I want for myself. We may be aware that we need a change and not quite ready yet to make it happen, but the awareness and the desire prepare the ground for that work. 

Not eating any sweeteners is a big deal for me. I love sweet. If I’d pushed myself to give up sweeteners when I wasn’t absolutely ready, I might have experienced longing and sadness and anger.

Instead, I’m experiencing joy. My vegetables taste much sweeter, and I’m enjoying my meals more overall. That’s the point anyway, isn’t it? To enjoy our food and to eat what truly, deeply, wholly nurtures us. 

I have one exception to my no sugar policy, which is a teaspoon of rice syrup dissolved in hot lemon water, and that, too, now seems sweet enough. I’ve gone from eating two huge apples a day to one small one or even half of one. I need less sweet to register the sweetness and to be satisfied. 

When I’m eating food with sugar (that’s all kinds, by the way, maple syrup, honey, coconut sugar, cane sugar, whatever), the urge to eat feels urgent, overwhelming, desperate, headache-inducing. A benefit of eating less sugar is that the cravings diminish. 

Here’s another huge benefit that I didn’t expect at all. Sugar and processed foods are inflammatory. I figured, well, I don’t eat that much so I’m okay. I was not okay. Once I gave up the sugars, the creakiness and aches after working out decreased, probably by more than 50%. It’s like I’d taken a miracle drug, only this drug was called No Mo Sugar. 

Let’s remember that every body is different. My 52 year old body on sweeteners is not the total picture and doesn’t describe what would happen for everyone. That said, there’s compelling research that an anti-inflammatory diet and lifestyle leads to aging well and living long. You may not eat much sugar, and you also may not know how much sugar you eat. You may not know how you might feel if you went from whatever you’re eating to none unless you’ve tried it. 

One of the most difficult habits I gave up when I gave up sweeteners was chewing gum. I’m used to having something sweet often. I’m used to having something in my mouth often. I’m used to the instant gratification of putting something in my mouth as soon as I felt the desire for it. I have craved gum more often than brownies in the past two weeks.

The sensation of craving something is unpleasant for me, and I want to fix it. The sensations of being hungry and tired are upsetting to me. I want to fix them, and food is an excellent fix. I don’t want to be with this unhappiness and these unpleasant sensations. Yet that’s just what I’ve been training myself to do in the past two weeks. 

When I feel tired, instead of reaching for food to rev me up, I — wait for it — rest. Being hungry and tired feels unpleasant, and instead of rushing to change those states, I just hang out with them. This is not easy for me. This is a challenge. I remind myself that I’m just hungry and tired, which is not so terrible. When it’s time for a meal, I eat. If I really need a snack and I can tell that food will fuel me for whatever activities will follow, I eat the snack. But if I’m bored or tired, I see if I can just wait for the next meal. 

I have on multiple occasions as an adult banished sugar from my life. Knowing that it’s inflammatory and that I’ll live longer does not affect me at all. Knowing that it’s inflammatory and noticing that I ache far less and can do the things that I love with more ease motivates me greatly. What motivates you?

I make no claims that eating daily without added sugars is my new and permanent way of life. Sugar is delectable and seductive. It is physically and emotionally satisfying. It’s very easy for me to eat just one bite of something and two months later realize that I’ve returned to eating sweetened foods every day. I’ll eat more, larger, sweeter apples to satisfy my sweet tooth, which in the end increases that jonesing for sweet things. 

My claim here is that I increased my awareness and set my intention well before I was able to put new habits in action and let go of the less desirable habits. My claim here is that change is possible, and beware that it may come in its own sweet time. 

I feel very happy to be enjoying what I’m eating and how I’m eating. That’s my prayer. That whenever or however I lose that, as inevitably seems to happen with me, that I can find it again in my own way and time. 

Things as Our Honored Guests

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You may already have heard of Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. It’s a somewhat odd little book with a couple of powerful gems. 

Kondo is a professional organizer from Japan who urges us to keep items that “spark joy” and discard the rest. 

I read about her KonMari Method of “tidying up” several months ago and put the book on hold at the library. There were more than 150 people in front of me, so it took a while before the book was available.

Since I am a teacher who enjoys a long summer break, I have time and energy to devote to a de-cluttering project of some magnitude. Having put this off for quite a few summers, I dug in last month, and I wonder if having read about Kondo’s methods is part of what got me motivated to start. Sometimes all we need is a nudge. 

It’s been fabulous. Even without having read her book, I was already thinking about how I could make my office space more efficient and more inspiring. Getting rid of what I don’t need or want clears the space so I can be with the things I do need and want. My goal with my office is to create a space that’s inspiring, beautiful, functional, and roomy. I want to be there. I want to be creative there. I want to walk into my office and go, “aaaah, yes.” 

That means I need to get rid of anything unnecessary and then create spaces for whatever is necessary. It’s very easy to clean out and then just fill the space with more clutter. 

When our home was robbed some years ago, we had to make a list of what we’d lost and how much those items had cost. Since then, I’d been holding onto receipts. Now, I’m snapping a picture of the receipt next to the item instead of keeping the receipt. This is a way of avoiding adding more papers and clutter in the future. 

I am working through files, piles of papers, deciding which can be photographed to archive, which must be saved, and which can be discarded. Old check books? Really? No need to keep them. Old tax returns? Got a business, got to keep them. This is slow work, so sometimes I upload something on Netflix and half-watch while I sort. 

I also went through my books.  Kondo’s method for books is to take them all of the shelves, all of them. Then hold a book and see if it sparks joy. Don’t start reading. Don’t think about it. Just go for the emotion.

For some things, that method works for me. For instance, I have touched a shirt and thought, ick, I never want to wear this again. I feel a strong No for some items. But I didn’t trust this method for my books. So, yes, I opened them, and if I read something that sparked joy, I kept the book. I loved letting go of books I hadn’t read and felt guilty about. Now when I look at my bookcase, I’m only going to see books I want to read or review. There shouldn’t be anything in my home that makes me feel guilty or less than. I shouldn’t look at something and feel obligated to it. My things shouldn’t own me or shame me. 

I went through books with the reminder to myself that if I haven’t wanted to read a book in the past five years, why did I think it was too valuable to let go? If I let go of a book and realize later I want to read it, I can get it from the library or from I picked up one book I bought and never read and realized:  I don’t want to read it. It’s dense and difficult, which makes me feel very unacademic but there it is: perhaps I have less patience and enthusiasm for academia than I’d thought. I loved Robert Kegan’s lecture but his book bored me; I don’t have to read it and I certainly don’t have to keep it. Kondo says if you have a pile of books that you’re planning on reading some day, that day will never come. Thinking of that, I opened up a book I’d never read and, knowing it had to go in the discard pile, I enjoyed skimming it for an hour. Then I happily put it in the pile to donate to the library. 

This is what’s interesting about the process of de-cluttering. It’s about deciding who I am and how I want to live. It’s a funny and rich world we live in that we have so many choices and so many things. We can get bogged down by both choices and things. At the same time, our relationship to our things can tell us a great deal about our relationship to ourselves and others. 

Though I’m still working on my office, I started in on my closet (Kondo would advise against this method, urging us to stick with one area or one item until complete). 

First, and this is minor but beautiful, Kondo says to stop balling up our socks. Instead, fold them. I thought this couldn’t make much difference, but, lo! It’s neater and nicer and easier to see my socks when they’re folded. So, thanks for that, Marie. 

While some organizers say there should be different piles (a keep pile, a maybe pile, a to-be-mended pile), Kondo says to pull out everything and then only put back what you’ll keep and wear or use. Everything else has to go. There is no Maybe pile. I, however, put a small number of items on probation. I try them on again and see they look good and I like them; I don’t know why I haven’t been wearing them. They get one more season and if I still don’t wear them, they’ll go. 

Clothes can be difficult to discard because they are so personal. They may be sentimental or expensive. Going through clothes requires a bit of ruthlessness. It also requires an attitude of abundance. 

It’s important not to fall into “but it cost so much I have to keep it.” It’s continuing to cost you in space in your closet and regrets. Is that how you want to live your life, tied to a past decision? Bah. Move on. 

It’s also important not to worry about if you’ll need or want an item later. That’s your fear talking. That’s no way to live either, always afraid that whatever you need or want will not be available.We may judge ourselves harshly with a fear of being wasteful. Donate the clothes you won’t wear. Enjoy the clothes you will wear. That’s not wastefulness. That’s being both practical and joyful. 

It’s liberating to get rid of clothes that I have kept “in case I need it.” I put that in quotes because you know you’ve said that too. Pants that don’t fit great but I love the color — oh, out you go. If I loved it before but no longer love it, it goes. Sometimes it’s painful. If it worked for me when I was 40, you know, maybe it doesn’t work the same way as at 52. That’s okay. In fact, that’s great. 

My closet feels much better, and I also feel— strangely — a bit better about being 52. I sometimes miss being in my 40s. I’ve definitely had to work to focus on abundance (I’m healthy and active and strong!) instead of on comparison (I used to be stronger!). Letting go of clothes from the previous decade frees me to be more present. I’m surrounding myself with what works for me today. 

Like clothes, jewelry also tells a story of who I was when I bought or received that item. Some of the wonderful, glittery, sparkly rhinestone costume jewelry is no longer fun for me. I’m not drawn to it in the same way. Whenever I give up a piece of jewelry that I don’t love, I can arrange the jewelry I do love so I can see and appreciate those pieces even more. 

I have a box of sentimental items, things I do not and will not wear but keep as mementos of the person who gave it to me or owned it before me. Kondo would advise to let those things go. I like touching them. A picture or a memory isn’t the same. It’s a small box. I’m keeping it. 

I have jewelry that used to belong to my sister, Carol, who died just before she turned 31. I had been wearing some of her earrings and realized I hadn’t worn any of them for some years. It hit me: she was 30 the last time she wore this! This is the jewelry of a young woman. I put those earrings away in my sentimental box.

I did give away a few things that I’ve loved — so beautiful! — but didn’t look great on me and I never wore. I have received beautiful gifts that just aren’t quite right for me, and Kondo is correct that the giver would never want us to hold onto something out of obligation. Move it on! 

Kondo invites people to “appreciate their belongings.” She urges her clients to say, “Thank you for keeping me warm all day,” when hanging up clothes at the end of the day. 

What beautiful magic that is! We feel abundance when we’re grateful. Someone made the clothing we’re wearing; someone sold it in a store. Many hands brought that item to us. Thanking the item is also a way to honor everyone who had a part in bringing that object to us. Yes, it’s just a thing. Gratitude, appreciation and honor for our things make us stronger emotionally. We are more likely to take good care of our things and to recognize when a thing is no longer right for us. It’s easier to move it on, too, knowing it may become someone else’s treasure. 

Thank your phone for helping you stay connected. Bring gratitude instead of resentment or fear to your relationship with that really powerful object - the phone!

Kondo also advises us to greet our homes. Imagine how you feel at the end of a work day. You come in and throw things down, too tired to put things away. Now re-imagine. You go up to your door and pause. You think, “I’m home! Hello, home!” You walk through the door with intention, leaving behind your work day or errands and entering into your private and special space. 

Okay, I don’t know that I can do that, but maybe some of you can. It’s a lovely vision, one that helps us shift and one that helps us be less busy and annoyed. Entering our home stops our energy for a moment and gives us an opportunity to shed our work before stepping in to our home. “In essence, tidying ought to be the act of restoring balance among people, their possessions, and the house they live in,” writes Kondo. De-cluttering allows us to enjoy being at home more. It’s showing respect to our home to keep it fresh, open, and alive. 

Kondo says, “Tidying is a celebration, a special send-off for those things that will be departing the house.” In this way, we can see that our things are our honored guests. 

Will getting rid of clutter change your life? You know, in small ways, sure, it could. For me, it’s helping me settle into my life today and release the papers, clothes, jewelry, things, ideas, and self-image of the past. I can’t get to my What’s Next until I’ve felt good about letting go of what’s been. 

I have a confession. I really enjoy the process. I get into the zone. I love touching things or trying on clothes or jewelry, figuring out how to display what I have, choosing how to move things around so that they’re easier to see and access. I love seeing the new, re-organized space emerge. I also admit that I am keeping plenty of things that I know I don’t need or love. There is only so much giving away and clearing out that I can do at once. I do not have to do this process perfectly. 

If you do not love the process, let yourself do whatever you can, as imperfectly as it works for you. The goal may not to be tidy, nor even to be less cluttered, as those may be personal preferences. You may find that appreciating what you have is both the process and the goal, one that brings more happiness to how you live in your home.