I thought today was the perfect day for starting my blog after procrastinating for a year. Today marks the beginning of a new moon phase, which I always feel is a good time to start something new. Today is also Candlemas, which marks winter’s “half way” point here in the Northern Hemisphere. So it can also be a good time for planting seeds (literally and metaphorically) for Spring and the new year. I love the idea of New Year being now, as in the Chinese tradition where they follow the moon cycle rather than the sun cycle, as we do here in the West.
But this blog isn’t about me getting off my bum and finally writing. It is about Life-Editing. Initially, the name was going to be Wabi Sabi Living, but it all got lost in translation with Japanese semantics and when I spoke to people about it, they got very confused. And worse, they started calling it Feng Shui, which it is not. Wabi stems from the word wa, which refers to harmony, peace, balance and tranquility. The word wabi has evolved from describing something as sad and desolate to describing someone or something as humble and in tune with nature. Sabi refers to the natural process of aging and decay. It is the understanding that all things grow old and become less beautiful in conventional eyes. However, things that are sabi hold their age with dignity and grace. Imagine that in over-airbrushed Hollywood!
So what does Wabi Sabi have to do with Life-Editing? The idea of harmony and balance has been lost in our society where more is more. We all seem to want to find harmony and balance in our lives and yet we are bombarded with things we can do, pills we can take and stuff we can buy to create harmony and balance. Look at all the things we add to our lives to decrease stress: books, cd’s anti-stress creams (yes, its true!), classes and even something called a Snuggy. So we end up buying more stuff and adding more “to dos” to our diaries, thinking that they will bring us harmony and balance. But in reality, they add to our stress. The fact is, it is often not what we add to our lives that creates a state of balance, but what we hone away. What happens when we whittle away the unnecessary? Instead of hanging on to those things we “might” use in future such as clothes that no longer fit, sports equipment we haven’t used in years and books we’ve already read, we are free to create space for what is real now. We can live more in the moment.
Think of a Zen painting. Now, I realize we all have differences in artistic taste, so you may not like this kind of art. But what is the big deal? What makes it so beautiful? It is what is not there that makes it beautiful. It is the simplicity. The lack of contrast in colors creates a sense of tranqulity that is easy on the eye. And notice that the lines are rarely perfectly straight. There is a humbleness to that, which we are not used to in media driven societies where everyone and everything is expected to look perfect.
All of these concepts are completely contrary to what I was brought up with here in the US. I grew up in Southern California during the 80′s when more was definitely more and perfection was highly regarded. We were surrounded by fancy cars doning license plate frames that said, “University of Nordstrom” and “The One Who Dies with the Most Clothes Wins”. And they weren’t kidding! My family made weekly trips to the local warehouse store to buy six tubes of toothpaste, two dozen bagels and laundry detergent too heavy for any of us to carry. It was cheaper, thus it was better. And anyway, we had a large enough house to store all of this stuff. And God forbid, we run out of something!!!
Ironically, I was also told that I could never be too skinny or too rich by the media and my peers. So with all this stuff around me and enough food in the house to feed a small village in Africa, I starved myself and spent a good portion of my free time exercising. I bought into the low-calorie, low-fat diet idea that was so popular at the time and refrained from putting anything in my mouth that contained fat. This came back to haunt me later…..
After completing my BA in English and a teaching credential, I moved to London, for what I thought would be six months (turned out to be 12+ years). I was blown away. Space was limited and every day items like toothpaste were expensive. Shops were not huge warehouses or supermarkets with tons of choices. I had a closet the size of an armoire. I had no car. I wasn’t earning a lot of money and there were no parents around to spot me some cash every now and then. I learned to do with less…..and I had the time of my life. I felt so free. I also felt more at home in London than in the US.
While in London, I met a very handsome, charming New Zealander. After my visa ran out, meaning I could not longer work in the UK, I moved back to California. After a long distance, on-off three-year romance, I married my handsome Kiwi. He was on a major upswing in his career and we were in accumulation mode. BIG TIME! We bought three houses on three continents in an eighteen-month period. We had four cars, three wardrobes, enough major appliances to fill a Best Buy, art, multiple mobile phones, gadgets, and the list goes on…. We were flying long-haul at least once a month between Europe, the US and New Zealand. I have never felt more overwhelmed and stressed in my entire life. My mind was full just trying to keep track of everything. A little voice inside of me was screaming, “I don’t like this. It is too much!”. But a louder voice was saying, “Are you crazy?? This is your life’s dream – to travel the world! You are SO lucky!”.
The little voice won and it took me down. I became sick. Very sick. Mid-way between one of our trips, I became home bound with incredible abdominal pains and other disgusting symptoms I would rather not mention. Fortunately, I’d made a stop here in California en-route from London to Sydney. After three weeks of my idea of hell and worrying my family to death, I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease. Now, looking back, I realise that Crohn’s came along as a handbrake for me. It still serves as a handbrake for me in life, and as weird as it sounds, I am grateful for it. Whenever I am doing too much, going to much, or not letting my “little voice” have a big voice, it lets me know. I also know that the low-fat diet I was is most likely the culprit for this disease. I recently went to see a fantastic nurse practioner named Pam McDonald here in Northern California, who ran a gamut of tests on me including an APO-e gene test. I am not a likely candidate for Crohn’s on the genetic level and on paper I look very healthy. She feels strongly that Crohn’s is an environmental issue for me. It was all due to excess. Excessive dieting, excessive accumulation, travel, running.
Since then, I have discovered yoga, an organic, whole foods diet, meditation, journaling and most importantly, my voice.
I am still guilty of too much. I find myself slipping into my old ways. Over-buying so I don’t run out. My son needed trousers recently. So what did I do? I bought six pair. He wears a uniform to school! At most he needs two pairs. So I ended up sending most of them back. I find myself going through times, like now, when every cupboard seems full. Every closet is overflowing. The books have taken over. I start to go into a dark place and I feel overwhelmed. My not-so-little voice starts warning me to get my house in order. Take time to whittle away and breathe. And not just my house, but my car, my diary, my refrigerator, commitments, etc. Do you ever look at your diary on a Sunday night and think, “So when do I exercise?” “When do I get time to breathe?”. It takes real discipline to create space in our lives, especially in our society where we are under so much pressure to have more, be more, do more.
So today marks the beginning of a journey. A Life-Editing journey. Even if I only spend five minutes life-editing a day, I plan on taking one unnecessary thing out of my life on a daily basis. Even it is just an old magazine. This concept can be applied to any area of life: food, house, wardrobe, relationships, health, media, raising children, etc.. And anything that I feel needs to be added to my life will come under strict scrutiny. Do I really need another tea? Another pair of shoes? Another book? Take a deep breath, walk away and enjoy what is already in my life.
I know that with two children and a love of fashion, I will never have one of those minimalist homes you see in Wallpaper, but I can certainly work toward a life that is not bulging at the edges.