When I was growing up, we didn’t talk about feelings in my family. It was as if they didn’t exist – except for happiness and maybe a little sadness.
When my mom reached midlife, however, I could tell something was brewing. She seemed more angry and less tolerant–in a good way. Good because these hot emotions weren’t directed toward her daughters, and good because she shared some of them with us. And mostly good because midlife was leading her to set limits, consider her wants and needs at the risk
I remember one day in the car having just arrived home, she revealed to me that she had reached her limit with my dad’s drinking, and that if he didn’t shape up soon, she might leave.
I listened to our mother’s rant, noticing how negative and full of not’s and no’s it was.
“If he doesn’t….I won’t…I don’t want…”
I don’t know where the wisdom came from, but I asked, “I hear what you don’t want, Mom, what do you want?”
She stumbled for a moment, and wasn’t able to find the Yes. It was a stark and rare moment because she’d never talked about how her husband’s drinking bothered her, though it was obvious by her cold silence toward him when he was drunk, that it did affect her.
I was relieved that something real had been unveiled, even if negatively delivered. At least she was modeling admission that feelings other then happy and sad do exist.
Going Toward or Away From
Decades later, when I was feeling called to Mexico, I went to visit my parents where they had retired in California. Mom and I were walking through the golf course nearby their house, talking about my attraction to Latin America. Then she asked me something I’ve always remembered: Are you going toward or away from something, Robin?
That stopped me in my tracks. I considered for a moment, digging to see if I found any “away from” motives. I didn’t. “Toward,” I replied, definitively. And it was true.
Minimalism vs. Simple Living
Lately I’m thinking about No’s vs. Yes’s in the context of Minimalism vs. Simple Living.
When I left my marriage and house in the suburbs to craft a simple life in accordance with my values, Simple Living and Voluntary Simplicity were the terms used to describe what I was doing.
Those titles evoked the sensation of a slower, conscious, nature connected and earth respecting lifestyle. I moved to a part of town with mature trees and eclectic architecture, where I could walk or ride my bike anywhere I needed.
I started a Voluntary Simplicity Support Group in my town, which lasted for over eight years. Simple living, or Voluntary Simplicity, was easy and natural for me, and there were many others who came to our group over the years, searching for their own simpler way to live.
A question from newcomers that came up often was, “Do I have to get rid of everything to live simply?” This said with some dread and a tinge of pending failure. Our response was:
“Voluntary Simplicity does not mean being without. It’s more about really knowing what is important to you, and focusing there. If you decide that boating is what you’re passionate about and you need a big boat to accomplish your dreams, then get one.” I was a graphic designer and video documentarian, so for me, a good computer was my necessary tool. I had no guilt or qualms about having this. My computer was my friend and partner and I loved dancing together, sharing creative breakthroughs with images and documentaries at two in the morning.
No shame in having what serves you. Once you’ve decided that the rat race and working to have what you’ve been told you need to have in order to be happy, successful or fulfilled is not what you believe or choose–having certain things ceases to be a problem. On the contrary, the things you have, serve and support your essence. It’s about self-connection and intentionality, rather than following the mainstream unconsciously.
Nowadays, I hear a lot about Minimalism. A lot of people have asked me how to live like a Minimalist. “Do you have to get rid of everything except for what will fit in a duffle bag? Is it okay to have new vs. second hand clothes? Can I eat out?” To me, the minimalist approach frequently feels downward: about not having, getting rid of, less, no. It seems like a disciplined even stringent attitude of saying no to what you’ve realized doesn’t jibe, so that you can discover, make space for and enjoy, what does.
That’s all fine, I don’t judge this approach. I do notice how it heads toward the yes by starting with and staying focused on the no, though. As if you have to keep your eye on the gremlin of consumerism and materialism lest it take you over, once again. And maybe it does feel like that for many. Another observation is that Minimalism feels masculine in style. It has qualities of firmness, hardness, discipline, mind, and austerity. This is not to say Minimalism is for men, we all have masculine and feminine parts in different proportions, driving different parts of us. That said, I do notice a lot of Minimalists are men.
Voluntary Simplicity and Simple Living in my perception have a more affirmative tone. They are the yes, the going toward that my mom was referring to. Perhaps for people drawn to Simple Living the yes is already apparent and so the no is easier to release. Additionally, this approach feels feminine to me. And heart-based. It touches me with an air of softness, opening, optimism and abundance. Not better, different.
Later, I heard the term Voluntary Simplicity, and went to a workshop about it. That is where I got the inspiration to start a support group for people like me who were in the process of going against the mainstream flow, and could use some support– as it surely wasn’t coming from our society and families! If you want to read all about my transition and process, it’s in my book Calling Myself Home.
Are you a Yes or a No Woman?
Where do you start when you’re figuring something out, setting a boundary, making a change? Are there times you’re Yes and other times No?
The truth is, we’re whole beings living in a dual universe. You can’t have the yes without the no;
both support and shed light on where we’re going and how to get there.
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