Operation Hoik: A Farewell to Stuff

We’ve been getting rid of a lot of Stuff, lately.

So much Stuff, in fact, that it requires a capital letter to write about it — and explains, in part, my hiatus from writing this blog.

I’d love to tell you that my latest purge was inspired by something grand like re-reading Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, but no…lately I’ve been feeling like we have too much clutter in our home, that we are struggling to keep our house in order.

As any introvert could tell you (if they were actually speaking to other human beings that day), the thought of escaping to the woods near Walden Pond to live in silence and solitude definitely has its appeal.  But in this era of massive population growth and urban sprawl, it’s hard to find anywhere that could be described as silent or solitary…except Antarctica, maybe…and the climate there is not quite as hospitable as it is here in Sydney…

That said, Thoreau’s words have been rattling around in my head a lot lately:

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Not so much the bits about fronting the essential facts of life and learning what it had to teach, because having kids around gets you to do those things on a daily basis (and without needing to retreat to an isolated cabin and risk being mistaken for the next Unabomber).

No, the bit that has been reverberating in my brain has been I wished to live deliberately.

Because I do want that. And I want my children to understand what it means, too.

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The Bloke and I have been talking a lot lately about how basic items of food are starting to cost more than other…Stuff. (Yep, there’s that word again.) It seems it’s becoming cheaper to buy a bunch of kitchen gadgets or a pile of kids’ clothes than it is to get groceries. And it feels like we’re being encouraged to buy things — any things — faster than we can say “credit card debt”.

Inadvertently, and more than a little haphazardly, as the…ahem…shall we say “eventful” year that was 2016 rolled slowly but surely into 2017, I found myself borrowing a copy of Marie Kondo’s book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up (though, to be truthful, I dipped in and out of that one) and being drawn into watching movies like Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things. As January approached, it felt like there was something about the transition from one year to the next that required me to take a different approach this time around, particularly in the lead-up to Inauguration Day in the US, when I strenously avoided any kind of news coverage — despite the fact that American politics has little impact on me personally.

Except that maybe American politics do impact on me, and on my family, despite the fact that we are living quietly here in the Antipodes…not least because I suspect that the election of Donald Trump, along with Brexit and any number of other things that reared their heads last year, has thrown into sharp relief the differences between the haves and the have-nots across the globe. Obviously, the situation (both internationally and domestically) is far more complicated than that — and even to describe the dichotomy in such terms is, at best, reductive and, at worst, risks deliberately misunderstanding the precursory events of the past decades.

But, that said, I can’t ignore the overriding sense I have in response to all of this political…Stuff …that something has to be done, and done differently. And the following words from Juliet Schor (who I first saw on the Minimalism movie) probably go further than most to summing up my current feeling about the state of the planet:

I agree that justice requires a vastly more equal society, in terms of income and wealth. The question is whether we should also aim for a society in which our relationship to consuming changes, a society in which we consume differently.

So that’s what we’ve been doing: consuming differently.

As a family, we’ve been discarding and donating, clearing and cleaning, reusing and recycling, simplifying and stripping back, and — perhaps, most importantly — letting go. All four of us have been part of Operation Hoik, our plan to get ourselves and our home back on track and living more mindfully and meaningfully.

thoreau-2The Stuff in our lives is disappearing and, in its place, we’ve found the space to discuss what we really need, what we really want out of life. We’re making deliberate choices, and have snapped out of the trap of mindless consumerism.

It’s not going to fix the geopolitical problems of our age, change who is governing a foreign country, or stop a war.

But attempting to live deliberately does invite us to be more thoughtful, more considered, and — hopefully — more compassionate. And I think that I, and my family, and possibly the whole world, could do with a whole lot more of that in 2017.

And with that in mind, even though it is belatedly, I wish you a truly Happy New Year.

BJx

 

Head Full of Elsewhere…

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Oh, that Grey Cat…if I actually had a cat like this one, I would have to call it Cillian (for obvious reasons).

Restlessness.

The untamable bane of my existence.

I’m not talking about physical restlessness.

Generally speaking, I’m not the fidgety, twitchy, can’t-sit-still type — unless I’m having a Squirrel Week, of course, and then I’m virtually incapable of staying put for two seconds together.

No, my Restlessness (and it definitely has a capital letter) is the mental kind.

For as long as I can remember, I have been a day dreamer and a night thinker…a girl with a head full of Elsewhere.

It’s not that my life is boring, or incomplete, or something from which I am constantly seeking to escape.  And I am not always away with the pixies.

But it does creep in, my Restlessness, like a sleek grey cat prowling after its prey, sharp-clawed and stealthy, yet as insubstantial as smoke. And try as I might to capture this evasive creature, or to pinpoint the source from which it springs, it forever eludes me: just as I reach out to snatch its silken ruff it will suddenly vanish —  leaving me, at best, with a wisp of a glimpse of its silvery tailtip disappearing from the corner of my eye.

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The Grey Cat appears when you least expect it, on paws as silent as smoke.

In the past I fought that Grey Cat, seeking to stem the restlessness by studying (literature, history, remedial massage, law — anything), because I was not comfortable with how unsettled it made me feel. But I found that filling my head with knowledge does not take away the all-pervading sense of Elsewhere, when its steps with soft paws into your mind — nor does it diminish its allure.

So I travelled, following in the footsteps of my veritable gypsy of a grandmother whose wanderings criss-crossed the globe as she flitted from this country to that continent, living one endless summer after another. But I discovered that I was as easy with that lifestyle as she was, as happy a traveller, as content with my own company, and as ready to roll with the rhythms of life on the road. Elsewhere, it seemed, was still Elsewhere.

And I also found that no matter where I went, the Grey Cat came too.

Ah, Restlessness.

How I wrestled with it, struggled to make sense of it. I tried to tame it by writing it out, knowing and longing for the clarity of thought I possessed when it wasn’t taunting me:

My mind is unfettered, my thoughts unchained,
springing fully formed from my head
like Pallas Athena,
soaring skyward into the boundless blue,
blessed and bountiful,
arrows searing, sure and true.

 

But the Grey Cat — like many things made of shadows — is a wild creature, and it won’t be tamed by words or wishes.

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It’s all a matter of perspective, really…

So I learned to live with my Restlessness. And, over time, I made peace with that mysterious Grey Cat and all its slippery ways.

I learned that having a head full of Elsewhere is a valuable thing when you need to consider something from a wide variety of perspectives.

I learned that all that day dreaming and night thinking can be a veritable gift when it inspires you to create an entire fictional world, fill it with characters, and bring them to life on the page.

And the Grey Cat?

Yes, it still stalks me, and pounces when I least expect it. But lately I have found that when it does, that elusive creature sometimes let me sit with it, in silvery silence, and allows me to meet its luminous, blue-eyed gaze.

 

The Other Side of Silence

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These woods are lovely, dark and deep…

I am — quietly — counting my blessings today.

Here in Sydneytown we are experiencing a gloriously golden run of autumn weather: blue-skied and sun-filled by day, crisp and starlit by night.

This morning I was fortunate enough to spend time with a dear friend, to enjoy quiet conversation, a couple of coffees and good company.

And now, back at home, I am taking time to dive deep into silence that surrounds me, knowing that when I resurface it will be with a sense of renewal.

I have written before about the importance of solitude in my life, of taking time out to make sense of all that is in my head and of separating my self from my mad mental chatter. But lately, I have come to realise (yet again) just how essential it is for me to spend time in quiet contemplation. I have learned that if I don’t permit myself the time and space to be silent and still, I end up feeling a little like the poet Emily Dickinson — “out with Lanterns, looking for myself”.

For me, contemplation is linked, as ever, to my First Principles: words, music and food. There is something akin to healing for me in the act of writing, of making sense of my thoughts by creating something with words on a page. Similarly, I find solace in listening to music and to the timeless rituals of preparing food for my family — in both of these things I rediscover the rhythms that make my life more manageable, more meaningful.

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Anne Lamott, telling it how it is.

Our lives these days are lived at such a frenetic pace, are filled with so many activities and events that it is easy to forget to unwind. To unplug.

We know that just about any electronic device we possess that suddenly stops working effectively will probably start working again if we reboot it, or let it recharge. But do we allow our selves this simple measure? Are we so focused on the future and driven by fear of missing out that we are forgetting to hit the refresh button on our lives? Do we remember to allocate time in our busy schedules for renewal? For revival?

The philosopher Alain de Botton suggests that “anxiety grows from thoughts we haven’t given ourselves time to have”, and I suspect he is right. He also speaks of “our disrespect for thinking: someone sitting in a chair, gazing out of a window, always described as ‘doing nothing’.”

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Ahhh yes…the shiny things…

When did we all become human doings instead of human beings, to the point that appearing to be doing nothing is frowned upon or even scorned? And when will we come to treat quiet contemplation as being essential to our wellbeing?

When will we make space for silence?

Because it is on the other side of silence that I find my place in this world, my moral compass, and — more often than not — I manage to catch a glimpse of whatever shiny thing I might otherwise have missed.

On the other side of silence, I find my self.

 

 

Beyond the Bends

 

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Pittwater and the Peninsula

This afternoon I took a lazy drive with my girls, wending our way up the Northern Beaches, heading beyond the Bends.

The sun is finally shining in Sydneytown after a week of relentless rain, and the temperature is on the rise too. Today we had no plans — just a vague idea about hopping in the car and driving north. And with The Bloke back at work and several more weeks of glorious summer ahead of us, that’s just what we did.

We cruised up the road, reveling in the beauty of the blue of the skies and the sea, taking it easy. One of the best things about summer holidays is not having to rush…

We stopped for lunch — burgers, because another great thing about the long summer break is getting to eat your main meal in the middle of the day if you feel like it — and then poked our heads into various shops before getting back into the car.

This time we headed briefly west, making the short trip across the peninsula from the beaches to Pittwater.  For me, it’s like taking a trip down Memory Lane…particularly when we drove past the holiday house that had once belonged to family friends when I was growing up. I found myself telling the kids that the first place I ever saw a koala in the wild was in their front yard, and then lost myself in a reverie of recollections as the road meandered down towards Clareville.

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Summer skies…

The water was welcoming when we arrived, and the shade beneath the huge eucalpyts at the sand’s edge was deep.  We sat for a while, listening to the lapping water, watching the clustering cumulonimbus clouds on the horizon, searching for giant seed pods beneath the ancient trees. Time slows down during those moments…those lazy summer afternoons that new memories are made of…

Miss Malaprop fell asleep as we made our steady southbound journey home, while Marvel Girl stared dreamily out the window. And even now, as the first raindrops of that summer storm begin to fall, I still have a smile on my face.

Today, we had no plans…and it was wonderful…

On Solitude

Solitude 1Solitude.

To sit, in silence — sometimes to think, or to read, or to listen. And other times just to simply sit.

Today the skies are grey and the room around me is filled with the soft sounds of rain on the windowpane and the gusting of wind through the trees. My cabin-fevered children have finally chosen to occupy themselves with a quiet activity, and are painting ceramic plates together at their tiny table in the kitchen. The music of Ludovico Einaudi is providing a beautifully contemplative soundtrack from the stereo.

And yet I still crave that greatest and most elusive of gifts, solitude.

The American poet, novelist and memoirist May Sarton once wrote that “Loneliness is the poverty of self; solitude is the richness of self.”

I agree.

C7kf3I1451964902Not just because in a life filled with the raucous laughs and hot-throated shouts of children I seek silence. And not because I fail to delight in my girls’ crazy, imaginative games, their freewheeling play, their lightsaber battles, their inevitably chaotic interactions.

I crave solitude because it is in that sublime and oft-missed state that I have time to listen to the universe and right the troubles of my soul.

Without the opportunity “to walk inside yourself and meet no one for hours”, as Rainer Maria Rilke put it, my life and my head can feel far too full.

But after time spent cultivating that inner vastness: then…then I can breathe again. It is as though I need to separate myself out from all that engages and entwines me to feel that I belong to it again — but on my own terms.

We live lives today characterised by an interconnectedness and immediacy that would have utterly baffled our ancestors, attuned as they were to far more organic, seasonal rhythms. The information age has provided us with a profusion of knowledge that can be accessed at speeds we once never dreamt possible. But what of true connection with the steady stillness within ourselves?

For me, some of the most powerful words written about solitude I have ever encountered were not found online, but between the worn and time-stained pages of a book I first picked up in Galway, Ireland during my first solo adventure around the world: a Blessing of Solitude written by John O’Donohue in his beautiful volume entitled Anam Cara.

Perhaps they will resonate for you, too…

Solitude 2May you recognise in your life the presence, power and light of your soul.

May you realise that you are never alone and that your soul in its brightness and belonging connects you intimately with the rhythm of the universe.

May you have respect for your own individuality and difference.

May you realise that the shape of your soul is unique,

that you have a special destiny here

that behind the facade of your life there is something beautiful, good and eternal happening.

May you learn to see yourself with the same delight, pride and expectation with which God sees you in every moment.