Digital Dread

I’ve got a handle on simplifying most areas of my life. Then there’s technology. Here’s my dirty little secret: My everything digital is nearly in chaos. Alas, I can no longer avoid it. My digital clutter is taunting me. Like a hoarder who doesn’t know where to begin- or rather, doesn’t want to begin, I think I have issues with technology. I notice the disarray. I feel the immensity.  But I Just. Don’t. Want to. Face it.

I don’t mind organizing anything else. I welcome it, in fact. Bookshelves, wardrobes, closets, kitchen cabinets, pantries, the fridge.  Even the immense photo boxes made it to the top of my ‘sort through’ list this year.   I will gladly arrange, categorize, systematize and coordinate.  The progress is immediate and visible. I love being able to see everything in a drawer and know it’s not overflowing with excess.  A dirty fridge is my pet peeve, as is a messy car.  I will gladly dispose, wipe down, rearrange. Periodically going through my closet is a pleasure.  But I need to touch and maneuver these things with my hands. I printed out 125 pages of my work-in-progress in order to spread it out on the floor and really see it around me.  Just once, I wanted to change it and fix it and make it better while actually touching it.

Oh Technology, I love you. But I hate you. You are so useful, but I am sulking.  You are invisible, but I am tripping over you.  You are everywhere but nowhere. I follow you, I fill you up with my words, but then I can’t find you. I need to sort through you, to have some command over you, but you are getting away.  The files and folders and flash-drives. The downloads, documents and drafts.  A part of my world is housed up in screens and I am a tentative guest. How do I clear through the cobwebs of this computer clutter when I am unsure of what might crawl out? What if I let it go and then I need it? What if I start moving something around and get sidetracked, and can’t stop writing something else?

It’s all so inordinate, so overwhelming. But we must tackle that which scares us, once and for all, right?  I will own my technology. I will not let my technology own me.  Digital housekeeping-it’s the thing I’ve avoided until now. I know it will make things easier and more pleasant in the long run. I will love knowing where everything is, and that there’s a system in place.  My photos- the cyberspace kind- will be in albums. My writing will be filed and labeled and sorted. My chapter outlines will no longer be in a notebook, or in bits and pieces on flash drives. Submissions and responses won’t be lost in a sea of old emails.  I will have order.  I will breathe through the process, moving a word here, deleting a file there. And in the end, Technology and I will become better friends. We will.

The Tradition Wizard

I sometimes resent traditions.  I feel there is a Tradition Wizard making me do certain things and I actually sort of hate him for it. I feel this entity has too much control.  There is a dissonance  when I just don’t really want to obey him and I do anyway.  It seems he has the power to wave his wand and lull society into some sort of Tradition  trance.

Traditions are usually founded on some practical purpose, but often do not evolve with changing time and new information. Even so, the pressure to continue them is overt. So deep runs the pressure to abide by most public holiday traditions, that commercialization is having a party nearly all year long.

I am not saying that traditions don’t have their place. I realize there are many traditions, including some religious ones, which are important to a large portion of humanity. For the most part, I enjoy the big holidays.  And I have loved creating some smaller traditions for my own family that have revolved around reading and mealtimes and birthday celebrations.  Those are my favorite ones, actually, because we created them. They became habits that have made life sweeter.

But the Tradition Wizard is fierce and persistent and he comes around every year, many, many times.  Halloween, for example.  I’ve given out candy every October a zillion times now. I feel obligated to  buy the candy that I am trying not to eat, to give it to the kids who really don’t need to be eating it either. Doorbell rings, dog barks, candy is dispensed. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Enough already.  I’ll never finish my book if I stop for every Hallmark occasion or legend.  Does this make me a rebel?

I won’t even get started on Valentine’s Day. Well, just for a second. I love, love, love every day. And I am loved back every day. And as far as receiving chocolates, well, there’s that sugar thing again…

And Santa. Oh how I resented Santa when my kids were little.  Not for religious reasons. Not because I don’t understand how fun and magical and wonderful it feels for some people. I love the spirit of Christmas. But for me, Santa isn’t it.  I knew my kids were suspicious all along, but it can be so damn hard to break traditions without feeling like some kind of societal deviant. Everyone’s supposed to play Santa for their young children, right? How do you admit to your four year old that she’s right, there is no silly Santa, when there is that Tradition Wizard, waving his wand like he means business?  When nearly every adult she encounters is asking her “What is Santa going to bring you?”  To the child:  Ignore your instincts, and your common sense, little one. I will explain away every question you have about this magical guy in red that defies all logic and brings you stuff! And we will tell you that the holiday isn’t about the stuff, as we perpetuate this overwhelming, magical excitement around Santa coming to bring you… stuff!  When the brief Santa phase ended in our home, one of our children declared, “Oh, it was a lie. I knew it! I’m not ever going to play the Santa trick with my kids”.

Many people hold to traditions like they do to ingrained beliefs. To hear of something different feels threatening, outrageous even. There are fierce supporters of the Tradition Wizard.  I don’t care which traditions my children choose to follow. I only care that they choose them consciously and respect that other people also get to choose for themselves. Deviating from the norm can cause stress and takes courage though.  I hope they always hold firm to what they believe is right for them, and not what they think is expected of them.

My oldest daughter is getting married soon. The advice I gave her regarding her wedding was that there are no rules. She should pick and choose which traditions to include and which ones not to.  Fortunately, she agrees that the wedding garter tradition is really tacky.   I also suggested that she consider whether or not throwing the bouquet was appropriate for her celebration.  This tradition began in the Middle Ages. The single girls line up to compete in catching it and the lucky one who does is said to be the next who will marry. This implies all the single girls want to be married, and as soon as possible. We could question all of the wedding traditions, such as the father “giving the bride away”, and the ancient tradition of the veil worn over the bride’s face, lest the groom in an arranged marriage change his mind when he sees her.  Or we can question none of them. But we at least get to choose.

This engaged daughter is choosing not to have a wedding shower. Originally, these were thrown to “shower” the bride- to- be with items that she needs to set up her first home.  My daughter and her fiancé have decided that they have all the essentials they need to function in their small home.   She doesn’t want to be overwhelmed by too much stuff. Besides, she would rather do just about anything before sitting at the center of attention opening gifts. She is simply choosing not to follow this tradition. It is a perfect tradition for some, but decidedly not for her.

Any of these traditions can be carried out simply out of preference, or a matter of style, or fun, with no implications.  Each bride should pick for herself.  But it should at least be chosen consciously. And to do that, we have to remember that there is a choice. There’s always a choice.

Some traditions are wrought with a history of oppression, and others serve a purpose for some but are meaningless to others. All are optional.  The more pressure we feel about a tradition, the more we should question it.  I say look the Tradition Wizard in the eyes, crack his wand in two over your knee, and walk away. He may try to follow you, but he doesn’t really own you.

cre•a•tiv•i•ty : the ability to make new things or think of new ideas

The topic of creativity fascinates me. It is majestic and universal.  Everyone has an inner creative genius.  People who assert that they are not creative just need to broaden their view of what creativity is. We are all creating, all the time.  We create homes, families, businesses, our own lives.  We solve problems and build things and create software and movies and meals and thoughts.   And of course, there is painting and dancing, writing and making music.

In my favorite book on creativity, the War of Art, author Steven Pressfield writes about the importance of some routine and order when trying to create professionally.  I love what he has to say about the serious artist:  “He is on a mission. He will not tolerate disorder. He eliminates chaos from his world in order to banish it from his mind. He wants the carpet vacuumed and the threshold swept, so the Muse may enter and not soil her gown.”  So the Muse may enter and not soil her gown. I read through his book a second time just to get to that passage again. Creativity comes through the empty spaces, the open heart, the uncluttered mind and room.  It is in this space that we can get creatively messy.

Pressfield spends a good portion of his book describing the perils of resistance.  Whenever we intend to embark on something innovative or artistic, or even simply attempt to create a new and healthy habit, resistance can rear its ugly head. The author even goes as far as to say that yielding to resistance deforms the spirit.

Our options for distraction, or creative resistance, are nearly limitless and can slay our creativity before we ever have the chance to explore it.  Reaching for distraction can be a knee jerk reaction to any kind of discomfort, from boredom to depression. It numbs our fears and enables  us to procrastinate. But to not entertain our resistance, to dive into the stillness and poke around, is to invite the extraordinary. In the void, we stand a chance of churning out something new.  Maybe it won’t happen that moment or that day, but eventually it will burst through as an idea, a creative urge, the solution to a problem, fresh and stunning.

Simply Yoga

Yoga is my answer to everything.  Can’t sleep?  Achy joints, back, knees?  Practice yoga.  Anxious, depressed, fearful, angry, sad, hyper?  Yoga.   Overweight, overwhelmed, over worked? Yoga, yoga, yoga.  After practicing yoga for several years, I became certified to teach.  To stop myself from sounding like an evangelical, preaching yoga from the rooftops, I figured I’d lead some classes, and therefore help make it available to those who came to it of their own free will. I am mostly a student though, coming to my mat over and over because it brings me peace and presence in a distracting world.  It offers me creative inspiration and some physical fitness too.

Speaking of evangelicals though, one appeared at my front door one day and asked me what I thought should be done about the ‘sad state of the world’.

“Everyone should practice yoga”, was my response.  Really.  It’s pure magic. Or rather, it invites the magic that is already ours. My visitor promptly left, speechless.  I hadn’t meant to surprise or offend. It really is my answer.  It’s at least a mindful place from which to view the world.

What else besides yoga can so effectively improve physical and mental health, making thoughtful decisions, a good mood, and deep peace so available? And it’s legal!  (Well, mediation can do all these things too, minus the physical part, but it seems more people are likely to try yoga because it’s exercise).  Yoga is really a meditation in motion.  It’s an exercise practice that gets you out of your head and into your body.  It allows and invites your own life force energy to flow through you, healing and rejuvenating, strengthening and calming.

I’ve seen people fall asleep in class and I’ve seen someone break down and cry. That’s because they needed to sleep and cry. Yoga brings about whatever needs to be.  My favorite class I ever taught was for overweight students. They were all so serene by the end of class, their natural beauty shining through.  I could almost feel the increment of change a single class could bring about.   They instinctively knew that if they had the courage and commitment to keep practicing, the balance that yoga brings about would give them a real chance at a healthier weight.

Since physical yoga has boomed in the west, some would say we’ve lost the depth of its origins. We’ve added music, and advertisements of how it will tone and strengthen and shape. We offer yoga in our gyms, machines clanking outside the door of a class. We have expensive classes and expensive clothes .  We have Lululemon!  Luluemon is magical too, though.  If you want to look like you exercise without actually doing it, just try on a pair of  Lululemon’s  $90 yoga pants. They are amazing.  You will look like you do power yoga even if you never get off the couch.

The physical part of yoga will produce benefits that only physical exercise can give. But that is only one aspect of yoga.  Patanjali’s eight-fold path describes the whole of yoga, the guidelines for a meaningful and purposeful life. Pantanjali was a very cool guy from the eastern world who recognized our cerebral limitations.   But the beauty of yoga is, you don’t have to know about these guidelines to benefit. You don’t need to read about, talk about, or even think about the origins or purpose of yoga to reap the rewards.  Higher consciousness or a spiritual path needn’t be your goal. You can come to yoga because you want stronger biceps or to be more flexible. You can come to yoga because you didn’t have anything better to do on a Thursday evening.   Even then, you won’t escape its magic. You merely have to show up and breathe.  It’s that simple.