Thinking Outside the Bento Box

20150318_160202Many years ago, for three years, I lived in Texas with my husband. Texas seemed to own the sky and it would sometimes open up into a display of light and sound that left us shaking. While driving anywhere, we could somehow see both our destination and forever, the endless road, a straight shot for eternity.

Both of us, having been born and raised in the Northeast, were homesick for our home land, the hills and trees; I longed for New England to contain me again, to give me just the vision in front of me and the sense that I was here but not there. I missed the twists and turns of the road and knowing what was around the next corner only because it was familiar, but not because I could actually see it. It felt more segmented, and much less vast than Texas.

And now sometimes when I feel like the weather has contained me too much, the snow covered sidewalks have shut me out, or more accurately shut me in, I find myself thinking of wide open spaces with no walls and no boundaries of an angry winter. I long for warmth and fluidity, and the bursting forth of spring, plants breaking ground, remnants of winter disappearing under the sun.

One season tiptoes into the next, haltingly, bleeding into the other, like mixing paint, some of this and some of that until the change is clear, the season defined. Still we call them by separate names. They are winter and then spring. One and then the other. Words, like walls, organizing our year, our lives. It is a relief when one turns fully into the other, when it becomes  this and not that.

This brings me to the popularity of the Bento Box with its built in compartments and my theory of why we love these. Originating as the Japanese lunch box, the Bento Box offers us a variety of foods, carefully placed in a single portion, each item separated by the walls of the container. No food touches the other.

How easy it is to compartmentalize with a Bento Box! In fact, you can’t not compartmentalize with it. And it looks so appealing and neat and special.

20150318_160117(1)Similarly, but much less tangibly, I came across a Life Box in a book recently. A diagram intended to help us balance our time and energy, it was divided into nine sections: family, work, contribution, friends, relationship, leisure, hobby, personal growth and alone time.  At first glance the life box made sense but then I thought of how many of my areas permeate other areas and how my life is just not nearly as segmented as that.

Sometimes my leisure includes family and my alone time includes contribution or work and a hobby leads to personal growth and so on.  So much of life runs together and really can’t be separated, and I’m not sure I’d really want it to be, though I suppose for some that would be simpler in a way. It would certainly allow you to deal with just one area at a time and to “shut out” the other areas in order to focus on the one.

With a Bento Box it’s been done for you, all separate and tidy and clear and contained. It has boundaries. Clarity. You know what’s there, you see it. There are no spaces that continue on or corners around which you can’t see or things running into each other. It’s just this thing, this material object of convenience, but metaphorically it’s more.

It’s how we imagine we might arrange our lives, or even just some days, if we could, but mostly we know we wouldn’t want to because we can’t be contained, not really; so we appreciate the little things that give us the feeling of containment, or the illusion if you will. The tree lined streets and the Bento Box and sometimes we may even crave the snow banks. But simultaneously, I think, we also want the openness of the sky and the prairie and all the vastness to hold that which we cannot contain.

What we focus on..

It is day five of no sugar and so far the abstinence thing is working as planned.   If thoughts of sugar come to mind, I release them. I just don’t focus on it, because the option of having any is off the table, so it consumes exactly none of my energy. I did dream about desserts though, as in a vivid- feature- movie of decadent options, but when daylight came, it was steel cut oatmeal for this girl. And I have plenty of delicious and healthy options to be giddy about that don’t involve sweets (cacao flavored green smoothies! caprese salads!  Thai food!)

Focusing on what I do want in my life, rather than what I don’t want, always works best.

I know the whole “what you focus on expands” can sound so new-agey and like a modern day tagline, but really it is quantum physics and ancient wisdom and it just works this way whether we care that it does or not. So it behooves us to care.

Except when it comes to the most impersonal things such as weather. I don’t particularly want snow, but I know it’ll keep coming, like it does each winter, like it or not. So I’ve decided this year I just won’t focus on how much I don’t like the cold. I’ll dress for it and I’ll notice how the sun turns the tree branches into glistening silver beams after a snowfall. I won’t exactly embrace it, but I’ll surrender to it. My aim is to  accept it without fuss. After all, I choose to live in New England, so put up or get out, right?

indexI was home alone during the last snowfall, and although my husband had arranged to have someone come do the snow blowing for me, but I simply decided I was no longer afraid of the damn contraption and cleared the driveway myself. And this time I did not shred the buried newspaper into five billion tiny pieces, expelling them across the yard and out into street, causing a news storm. This time was better. The snow blower, for me, was emblematic of making peace with winter. I believed the task was very doable, and so it was.

Which is why, as I am pouring so much time and energy into completing my book, which is a slower and more difficult process than I ever imagined, I cannot, will not,  give too much focus to the thought   Please don’t let me write a book that sucks.

Instead I invite the thought : I am willing to put in all the time and effort required to make this as good as it can be.

Better yet, I just write.

I perplex myself with how I can get so happy over such small things as coconut oil and amazon prime, and yet still want such big things  like a best seller of course. But okay, I will settle for just a reasonably successful book that resonates with enough readers as to consider it worthwhile.

Ah well, all of life is both risky and harmless, so why should this be any different? It feels big and at the same time  just a blip in the big scheme of the universe, so carry on.

And while busy churning thoughts into words that people may or may not ever read, I give little thought to politics these days, or even news for that matter, shredded paper aside. I have never been overly focused on politics and I take in only as much news as I need in order to know what’s going on in the world, and to form an opinion. Lately, though, I am even sick of my own opinion. Focusing on it only leaves me frustrated or dissatisfied. I’d  rather create something I can add to the world, however meagerly, than spin all the stuff that I have no control over around in my head until I end up right back where I started.

Simplifying has brought me clarity.  Sugar was probably the last junk I needed to clear out of my life. Actually, no, I’m sure something else will reveal itself in time, likely a habit or mindset or something else that I awaken to that leaves me wondering how could I have thought that? Or why do I do that?

In the meantime, rather than focusing on what I don’t like or want, I try to keep asking the right questions. What do I want? What would work best? Then I put my focus there, my energy there, and watch it grow.

Choices, choices everywhere

I have so many topics that I want to write about that I’ve avoided focusing on just one. Sitting down to write a post means having to choose what to write about, and my mind has been swimming with too many ideas. I write down the subject matters as they come to me, keeping a list, but usually one topic of the other will come to the forefront. But lately they are all there, eager for my attention like a classroom full of raised hands waving wildly. “Pick me, pick me” each topic seems to call out, so I pick none.

I only want one at a time.   Choices are good, but too many are overwhelming and can dilute the experience of the one thing. I once worked with a woman who told me she always bought her clothes at the same store because otherwise there would be too many choices to make. One store! All of her clothes. That’s how she simplified her shopping issues. 2014-09-19 11.09.25

I recently traveled to the San Francisco area and was struck by the beauty, the vastness and the farms at the ocean’s edge, south of the city.  Every time I go somewhere new or even just read about it, I wonder what it would be like to live there. There are so many different choices that I occasionally wonder if I am missing out on all the ones I didn’t pick. I don’t just want to see different places; I want to settle in. I want to live there, a lifetime in each place. But I don’t want to leave where I am. I’ve heard it said that you can live far or you can live deep. I want both. I want to live deep but in several different places, and all without actually leaving my current home. Impossible.  Alas, we all have to choose.

Upon returning from this California trip, I went to my high school reunion. I grew up just one town over from where I live now.  Most of my husband’s and my family members live within an hour from us. Our roots are here. Our children are here. I love New England. I can go to the ocean, mountains, or city all within an easy drive. I love my state. I love most of our seasons. In the winters though, I find myself dreaming of Arizona, California, New Mexico, and the Carolinas.

Family, roots, circumstances and practicality have all kept me where I am, and that’s probably a good thing. Who knows, indulging that little bit of gypsy or curiosity or whatever it is may have made me feel ungrounded or displaced.  Maybe visiting places when the opportunity arises is the way to go, at least for now and maybe forever. Like the woman who shops for clothes in just one store, there is something to be said for narrowing our choices about some things. Maybe where we live is simply a minor detail of life and how we live is what really counts.

*Please feel free to request a topic on simplifying. Knowing what readers want is helpful in narrowing down the choices!