When I was little I remember hearing my mom share that the rationale she learned from her mother about changing her underwear daily was to avoid the horror of being in an accident and the hospital or ambulance people seeing that you had dirty underwear. That was my grandma: behaviors were taught, motivated and performed based on what others would think.
Despite my rebelliousness about doing things because of what others would think, I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that some mornings I look at yesterday’s underwear, cock my head and consider, “Could I wear these again today?” I feel I have a little more permission to do this knowing my older sisters used to reuse hers Inside-out when she was in college and responsible for doing her own laundry for the first time.
I do my own laundry by hand outside where the mountain spring water arrives via garden hose. But sometimes it doesn’t come, or the weather is too wet and the pile accumulates. It is on those rare occasions that I might (grimace) turn a pair inside out and use them, praying I don’t get in an accident so everyone would see the seams on the outside and know. Though here in my mountain village in Mexico I don’t think people would judge or even notice that!
Today while walking I used vision as a present moment practice. The morning was crystalline with colors bright and clean after last night’s rain.
I allowed myself to and inclined towards seeing what was before me. Several times I stopped and simply looked all around. The swirling high clouds in the rich blue sky. The deep natural carvings in the mountains. The reddish earthen path. New houses being built. A white dog with short bristly fur and a brown patch mark over one eye who came to greet me.
As I turned onto the path that would return me to the main road I felt myself moved and opening with appreciation for the beauty and goodness of my environment, my life: having the time and flexibility to take a morning walk, the strength and coordination to walk where and how I please, pain-free, the mildly cool breeze caressing my arms and nourishing me, nice clothes and good shoes.
I love wearing white. When I lived in the States and had an executive-type job I often wore white. The conflict is that I’m like Pigpen – I attract dirt, so all my white shirts soon had embarrassing stains on them: spots of turmeric or hot sauce that I couldn’t scrub out. Fortunately, there were plenty of good second hand clothes stores where I lived, so I treated myself at that time to a hearty selection of two dollar white tops.
Then I moved to a mountain village in Mexico where I’m soon to complete twelve years. Yesterday I was trying to recall what it was I knew and envisioned when I decided it was the place where I could and would to live in accordance with my values. The first image that came to mind were the clothes drying on the flat roofs of the houses I viewed from the roof of the house where I was staying. I also vaguely remembered some ideas about living slower with less technology. But clothes drying on the line was concrete: Here I could wash my clothes by hand and hang them outside to dry. “But,” I argued with myself, “I could have created a life in which I hand-washed my clothes in the States as well. What is special about doing it here?” Somehow being part of a place where this is how life is normally lived (versus an anomoly) is important to me. It gives me a sense of belonging; that although a foreigner and stranger to this place and culture, I fit here. We fit together
I still love washing my clothes by hand and hanging them on the line. It remains a part of my lifestyle, a value, and a pleasure. But here’s the irony: I’m not very good at it. And even though I’m resigned to the belief that I’m not good (tidy) enough for white and so rarely dress in it, avoidance has not made me immune to accruing stains when I do wear it.
Yesterday, sitting amongst an intimate group of women in their thirties, one of my students asked me, “Does life keep getting better?” I closed my eyes and paused, searching within for my true experience. The women groaned, interpreting my silence as, “Uh oh, bad news.” I explained to them that the question is a profound one, and that I needed time to locate my response.
After my students left and over the next several hours, I found myself continually returning to the question. First, it was interesting to me that already their experience was one of improvement every year of their lives. Did I view my life that way?
A good starting question for me was, “Define better.” I have spent my adolescent and adult life in search of understanding and experiences that are healing and transformative. “What would need to have happened or be happening in order for me to feel my life is getting better with time and these efforts?” I asked myself. I’d need to feel an overall lightening, more joy, ease, sense of freedom. Gladness to be here on the earth in my body with my personality and essence.
Does anybody else’s life seem as ironic as I perceive mine?
A workshop is offered for female empowerment at a great price and at a place I love. There is nothing I want more now than to be the empowered Me. I’ve been sick for two weeks. I can see all the reasons why I “should” go. And when I imagine it, I feel tired and that it will be a drain on my energy. Do I choose to push and do what I think I “should” again? Draining my life force energy even more and once again? It is the way I’ve always done things. Push and try to be “good” and “right”. My credence has been: Have no limits.
Or I could say “No,” and stay home and recuperate and be gentle with myself, maybe a small quiet walk with a friend. That feels like a relief.
The irony for me is that I have an idea of what I “should” do to become Empowered Me. And maybe it isn’t really so. Maybe the empowered me says, “No thank you,” and trusts myself and my body and what feels gentler and kinder, “even though”. Maybe this idea of doing what I should, this doing at all, is part of that patriarchal value inside of me around doing-equals-success. What if the empowered thing is to listen to myself, stay home recuperating and nourishing myself. No matter what anyone else thinks or says. That is the empowerment I do want.
I recently was asked this question and as a person who left a great career after the sixty hour weeks affected my health, it touched home. While I've been living a consciously simple life for twelve years and enjoy the time and freedom to engage in activities that I want to do, which nourish me and which I feel passionate about, I still have a propensity to workaholism. That said, with my sombrero and Wellness Coach hats on, here are my suggestions:
1. Create a schedule that includes everything that is important to you - rest and sleep, eating well, exercise, relaxation/spiritual practices, fun, socializing, as well as the tasks you are obligated to. Count the “non-work” items as as important as the others and take the fact that they’re on your list seriously.
Depending on you, what works for you, what you need at this time, the schedule can be loose or tight or somewhere in between. For instance, there may be certain tasks that must be done at specific times: picking someone up, a meeting, taking medications or eating at specific times. Everything else can be fit in between those. Somedays there may be no time-related tasks. On these days, if you feel you can trust yourself to not just do the obligatory tasks or only do the self-care tasks, then you can flow. If you choose a flow day, look at the schedule at the start of and throughout the day to keep in mind what you’ve committed to for that day and check them off as you do them. If flowing is too unstructured for you then you can also schedule everything in. Be literal and keep track of your time. Allow for 15 minutes leeway for unexpected occurrences. Check items off the list as you do them no matter how you choose to structure your day.
I suggest making the list for the next day the night before and really looking at what will be
When I started living simply, in according to my values, I was shocked to discover there was a movement in the states called Voluntary Simplicity that dealt with the same issues.
I formed a Voluntary Simplicity support group in the city where I lived which lasted over eight years. Now it is twenty-five years later and “Minimalism” has replaced Voluntary Simplicity.
I am not a Minimalist in that I don’t aim to have nothing. The principle we offered and shared in our support group was more about following your heart, discovering who you really are, what you really want and are passionate about - and then have the “things” you need, if any, to support that. There is no judgement about what that passion is. It could be sailing around the world - in which case a large, good quality, safe boat would be idea. That is appropriate, not a bad thing!
It can be frustrating being around people who mirror issues we have and don't like about ourselves, let alone to admit! Just like with all addictions - as dealt with in the 12 step programs - each person has to hit their own bottom and realize it. Only then can and will they choose to make changes that better serve them and those around them.
For people in this situation I suggest that they keep doing and developing, making time for, the things that represent “stopping and smelling the roses” for them. You can do these things alone, with others, and even invite the person your thinking about in your question. The key and challenge of course, is fully owning just for yourself those activities and the joy and nourishment they bring you. That means, without attachment, need, manipulation to try to “make” (the same as “get” - both of which indicate force or control over) the other do the same for themselves.
Not easy, I know, but the only answer I feel is healthy and truly productive. By being yourself fully, which includes “smelling the roses,” you are living in a good way for you, with just that motivation. Paradoxically, you are then being a model for others to do the same.
This was demonstrated to me years ago.
I was recently asked this question which is a great one, in itself exhibiting awareness. To me, the environmental aspect of a minimalist lifestyle is in a way the most important and is at the heart of the theme. Here's why:
For me and many others who experience discontent with the standard prescribed lifestyle in the States, it is an observation or felt sense that the way of living - especially with so much technology - is out of kilter with a harmonious, respectful relationship with the living world.
The development and rise of technology in the West came from a very mental perspective that sought to control nature and the masses. The craving of the mind to understand, know and in that sense have dominion over life is a strong one. Scientific thinking from the Industrial Age, promises a reality that is fixed. This makes life less scary and uncertain and offers the idea that all that we seemingly can’t control in life could be conquered. Man over “God”.
I have increasingly been receiving questions about living simply lately. When I changed my lifestyle over twenty years ago I was surprised to discover an actual movement based on the ideas and sensibilities I held, called Voluntary Simplicity. Now, Minimalism has taken hold as the trendy term.
I have some issues around the term, as it seems to hit some people as a a lifestyle change requiring unwanted discomfort, poverty, giving up of "stuff" overall perceived as a sacrifice. All of which has negative connotations and seems to be received sometimes as the hammer of justice telling people what they "should" and "must" do. Ouch.
A local woman who has a restaurant came to my authentic Indian cooking class today. When the students went around the circle taking turns introducing themselves and speaking about what the attraction was that brought them to the class, her story surprised me. She shared that she disliked Indian food. She had a particular isue with the spice cumin, that she said made her feel ill. Smelling it was not a problem, but when it was used in dishes she found it overpowering and literally sickening. Another student suggested perhaps she has an allergy to the spice. When she would be visiting her daughter in San Fransisco and they would go to and Indian restaurant, she would bring her own food.
We continued talking about cumin for awhile, two participants shared that they love cumin, and one woman shared that in traditional Mexican cuisine, cumin is used often in the north, but not in the south. I agreed with Laura that cumin can be overpowering and told her, “Well, most of today’s recipes happen to feature cumin, and in fact I had planned to give you all a lesson in cumin! Are you open to having any cumin in the food or do we need to make two batches of the dishes?” She said that a little cumin would be all right and the other students agreed to this adjustment.
Last night I had a dinner that felt good to my body and that I felt proud of.
It took days and lots of preparation to have this simple, wholesome meal.
Last week, I made a new batch of fermented vegetables, which took about three days to ferment to the point of having a tasty, tangy bite due to the freshly squeezed lemon juice, grated garlic and ginger I added.
Six days ago, I started soaking my quinoa for fermented quinoa, to which I added some of the brine from the fermented vegetables.
My unconscious woke me up this morning with the song. "Let's Get it Started".
What good, smart, fun, creative and wise inner accompaniment I have.
Followed by "Dialogue" by Chicago. To which I've been dancing, singing, crying, smiling and acting out.
This song rocks and it's words are true.
I urge you to dwell in the positive. What you imagine and project with feeling, happens.
Give it a listen, make your decision, and see how your day and world changes.
I'd love to hear from you, let me know how it goes!
I'm struck by the triviality of my life. The tabs open on my computer when the earthquake hit included: Shopping for a new backpack because the one I have is faded and sags and has some holes. Then, a page that explains something I recall hearing about: using vinegar to wash and disinfect veggies. Finally, how to remove rust stains from clothes. And I think my life is meaningful.
Such are the concerns of a life with so much abundance and freedom it can spill over into decadence and mis-led energy investments.
When I finally made it out my door in my pink clogs and the ground had stopped shaking I called for my landlady who lives on the same property to know if she was okay. She was fine and wanted to go see what the horrible deep rumble had been, maybe a house had fallen. We went out to the street and neighbors were talking. A house that is being built across the street had cracks in some of the lower adobe bricks. Would they have to start over from scratch, I wondered? The men who had been working on the second floor told about how they couldn't get down for the shaking and wondered if the house would crumble and them with it.
Maria came back minutes later from down the road in the direction of the deep rumble and said that part of the mountain that faces us had broken off. Soon, her sister came crying, holding a plastic cup with a swig of jerez in it, sharing with Maria that their other sister's house had fallen. While Maria went in to get her house keys her sister turned into my arms for an embrace. They went off to see about Rosa's house.
I stood in the middle the street talking to various neighbors, some of whom I did not know, all of us sharing stories and agreeing on the degree of shaking and fright, and realized, "I'm not enough part of the community. I don't know my neighbors. I need to get out more, make more of an effort to interact with the people." In this moment of survival standing at the crossroads I saw: what matters is community and love. That's all.
I went to buy emergency supplies in Inez's tienda, just in case. She showed me where a wall had separated from the ceiling, revealing old timber. Then she told me about the church cupula and how it was damaged. We stood in the doorway together and I noted with sadness the poignantly crooked cross on top of the dome. Behind it, in the distance, la ventana, a sacred natural "window" high on top of the mountain. Inez told me, "All during the earthquake I was worried about our dear ventana, would it be alright?" The ventana is intact, but in our village and nearby towns, the poor crosses are eschew. As with all the natural disasters lately, with the crooked crosses it seems blatantly significant. I wonder, "What would it mean to right the crosses in a way that they felt heard, understood and respected? And our dear Earth?"
All my growing up years of being an art student, it was always with the attitude of being a learner, with the acceptance of the unspoken rule that assumes I don't know and the teacher does. This at least sets the stage for openness to receive new information, which is a great thing.
I remember painting class in college, enjoying and prospering from being there with "beginners mind". Recently, I've taken up drawing and painting again. My teacher, Bárbara generously offered to come to my house to see the work I've been doing prior to our first class in her studio so that she could see what I'm working on and producing and where and how she might be most helpful to my development.
She considered each piece silently with much consideration and finally would offer some suggestions in a complimentary and respectful way. One of her suggestions had to do with her perception that certain parts of a couple of the paintings stood out in ways that separated them from the rest of the piece. She advised me to lower the tone in these parts so that the colors were more equal in intensity compared to the rest of the piece.
With my background in graphic design, I found this surprising and counter to my training, whose instructions were around the importance of being aware of and creating visual hierarchy in each piece. I told Bárbara this, but she disagreed and I agreed to comply with each of her suggestions - this was "art" after all, not graphic design.
On a visit to my grandparents in Miami Beach, I opened a drawer that was full of pill containers. I counted seventy. Having listened to their medical complaints for years, I understood that one medication would create symptoms requiring another medication, which would create more side effects, necesitating a new medication, and so on. I saw my grandparents not getting better but getting worse through medical care. When I shared opinions like this with my dad, who was a General Practitioner, he reacted spitefully.
Today I am inspired to share with you an article which one one level, challenges us to rethink vitamins. On another level, it brings up many questions and deeper issues, which share as an invitation to re-claim or claim for the first time - our power and validity as decision-makers for our own health and wellness.
Let’s first read these excerpts from a controversial article by functional and integrative medicine, leader Chris Kessler, entitled, “Throw away your multivitamins and antioxidants!”
Today I want to share about something that I have fought most of my life and yet have just experienced how subject to it I am: The Power of the Word.
When I was fifteen, I had an awakening on many levels. One of these was a keen awareness and anger towards modern medicine. In particular, the power it asserts and takes from those in need.
The left brain scientific approach to health seemed limited and arrogant to me. The patriarchal, “I know and you don’t” attitude hurt my sensibilities and angered me. “What about intution and other ways of knowing?” I raged.
At night there was an insect buzzing around me. I felt irritated and tried to spot it to kill it if it was a mosquito without success. Fortunately I was able to fall asleep. In the morning I awoke and heard it again. Where was it? Still no sight of the annoyance. Before doing my yoga I opened the curtain and window hoping to tempt the little insect to the screen where mosquitos like to sit when daylight comes. If the bug were to rest there it would be easy to smash it with my hand.
After yoga I sat for my meditation and prayer. Midway through I heard the annoying high pitched noise and thought to pause, open my eyes, get up and see if it was indeed on the screen where I could kill it, stopping it’s annoying noise once and for all. I actually decided not to get up and kill the insect, choosing to forgo the momentary satisfaction of the kill, followed by the momentary sense of ill-conscience that I had mercilessly killed a being, which would be followed by moving on to the next thing. I returned to focusing on my practice, which started to go well with a new sense of peacefulness. I finished my session. Standing up to put the mat, blocks and candle away I noticed a darkish spot on the rug by the window. Leaning closer I saw it was a fly. The fly. It had been a fly not a mosquito all along. It was dead.
There was something bothering me so much I wanted to kill it to make it go away.
I saw this and chose not to act on it as would be my habit.
The annoyance ceased and died a natural death without me annhilating it.
How do you like that? Things which disturb us really do pass on their own, even if we don’t do anything to make that happen.
Meditation is life.
I got home and while putting things away decided to keep the door open, although I knew it meant flies could enter, whose tone I find irritating. A noisy fly entered and bounced its buzz all around and I got up to close the door. Immediately I felt a calm. “Now I’m contained.” And that’s when I realized: a house is a womb.
For the past two years I have been spending half the year in the states to be near my elderly mother. Going between places is trying for me. As much as I don’t want to and am not aware of attaching myself to the reality of wherever I am, I must do it, because changing places is both frightening and unsettling for me. Especially coming home to México. Odd because it’s the place I love, yet it’s been difficult to return each time.
Going between the States and México is like landing on different planets. It’s not funny, it’s hard. I seem to do okay upon arriving en el Norte, but coming back home is ironically conflictual.
Why would coming back to the place I love be anything but joyful? There are different sensibilities in each country which challenge my beliefs. In México, I work constantly to let go and flow, as that is the primary energy of the place. In the U.S. I enter the flow of information, resources, answers and help. As my time to return to México approaches I find myself fearful and furiously investigating supplements and other items not available where I live. I become increasingly unhappy, tense, exhausted and edging into a percieved state of
Neuroanatomist Jill Bolte Taylor had a massive stroke, temporarily losing function of the left hemisphere of her brain, and experienced it consciously. She now shares her experience of the silence, connection and hope for ourselves and the planet that the right brain permits. “Peace is just a breath away,” she says in her inspiring and illuminating interview with Oprah.
Note what trying to have, seeking to get, feels like. It's insatiable, a hungry ghost.
I am consumed with how to live a good life, with the question: what makes a good life?
I am re-searching what is my core passion and desire in terms of making a positive diference in the world.
I’ll tell you something: helping people who want to take better care of themselves is a cover for something.
Robin Rainbow Gate
I help people midlife and beyond to find their inner power, health and well being through slow living
Ready to live Your True Life?