The Happiness of Organizing
Saturday, May 21, 2016
On a recent bright and beautiful day I started by vacuuming the rugs and doing a bit of washing of the baseboards and floor boards in my office. At first I had to override some resistance, but then the action made me feel good, as well as reducing the inevitable influx of cosmic and planetary dust. There is a lot of dust in the world and it merely migrates from place to place, being moved by a wet rag from floors to drains and incorporated into the water table ultimately to be re-filtered into the environment so that it will ultimately rise again and circulate somewhere else.
There is organizational work to perform in the world, at many levels: to make a nice nest for oneself, to harmonize one’s brain and body functions, to participate in an orderly and functional workplace, and so forth. Part of organizing involves tasks of clearing and cleaning, both internally and externally. Even the brain’s detritus is cleared by a flush of cerebrospinal fluid.
Cleaning, clearing and organizing have multiple purposes which enhance happiness: They promote a sense of safety (as in Feng Shui). Nothing can topple on one’s head, trip one up, or leave one suffocating and overwhelmed. A lot of stuff lying around or misplaced can result in the feeling of overstimulation which prolongs the stress one might bring home after a rough day at work or having had to deal with some frustrating circumstance.
When our nervous systems try to function on overload we get distracted from clear and pointed thinking. A clean and clear desk top or craft table or workbench makes it easier to focus with greater acuity and intensity on what we want to accomplish. We want to get into the flow, and experience a oneness with the task at hand, undeterred by anything getting into our way, mentally and physically/logistically.
Cleaning, clearing and organizing also manifest an important component of creativity. By manipulating our surrounding spaces we, in effect, decorate, arrange, compose, orchestrate, harmonize, contain, and fit.
Even animals take time organizing their nests, dens, and burrows. In an article by the National Wildlife Federation I found the following paragraph about Groundhogs, for which I have a real fondness, as there is one on whose property my house sits:
“Groundhogs have both summer and winter dens, or burrows. The winter dens are usually built in dry, wooded areas and are two to four feet deep. It is here that the groundhog hibernates. Summer dens are built near grassy areas where food is plentiful. Dens typically have two entrances or more, one main entrance and one “peep hole” or escape route which offers protection from predators. There are separate areas for sleeping, nursing, and potty facilities. Groundhogs line their dens with leaves and grasses and keep them clean.”
Parents of children who become successful adults have multiple traits (in this article 13 parenting traits are mentioned) including directing children to do chores. From online Tech Insider (By Rachel Gillett and Drake Baer; May 6, 2016 issue): “If kids aren’t doing the dishes, it means someone else is doing that for them,” Julie Lythcott-Haims, former Dean of Freshmen at Stanford University and author of “How to Raise an Adult” said during a TED Talks Live event.
“And so they’re absolved of not only the work, but of learning that work has to be done and that each one of us must contribute for the betterment of the whole,” she said. Lythcott-Haims believes kids raised on chores go on to become employees who collaborate well with their coworkers, are more empathetic because they know firsthand what struggling looks like, and are able to take on tasks independently.
She bases this on the Harvard Grant Study, the longest longitudinal study ever conducted. “By making them do chores — taking out the garbage, doing their own laundry — they realize I have to do the work of life in order to be part of life,” she tells Tech Insider.
The “work of life” may involve chores and tasks that reduce cosmic dust, physical chaos and promote a sense of hominess and relaxation, but the organizational work of life also includes one’s mind and nervous system. Each organ in the body has a purpose and the arrangement of the organs and the interplay between them describes the perfection of functioning. Form and function, as is talked about in architecture, furniture making, or ceramics, when seamlessly organized, support and inform one another with the utmost grace (grace being a combination of efficiency and beauty).
Meditating this morning, which I have not done for years, involved organizing my body for comfortable aligned cross-legged seating. My back felt straight but supported by the backrest of the couch. My fingers moved in simple pincer motion to connect with my thumb– the anchor for hand movements–as I repeated a series of sounds sublingually.
According to neuroscience research, meditation involving mantras and body movement (or hand movement) reorganizes the brain beneficially by slowing down the amygdala (a major player in generating fear) and activating the anterior cingulate (involved in empathy and intuition), as well as improving overall emotional and physical health. I’m in!
When I was a college student, Transcendental Meditation was being taught across the country on campuses and I employed this kind of meditation for around 3 years in a fairly consistent way. After the first year my chronic headaches (these were not as bad as migraines but required a lot of Tylenol) had ceased, something that I suddenly realized one day, and could only attribute to the meditation–the only add-on or major life change during those years of intense study, self-reflection and social interaction.
When I first got out of bed this morning my body felt heavy on my feet, my whole being sodden. But after the meditation I experienced my body and my being as lighter and more optimistic, while my modestly proportioned surroundings seemed more spacious.
The Merriam Webster dictionary online says that the word “organization” came into our collective vocabulary around 1949. That surprised me when I hunted for an etymology I assumed had something to do with organs in the body. In business as in individual and community life, teams and departments have functions and purposes that, when harmoniously connected to each other, move products and services forward unimpeded by chaos in the pipelines. Both strength and flexibility are assets in a body or an industrial corpus.
Guest saddle: What beauty have you recently created from chaos? What dust have you settled or cleared lately? What kinds of chaos overwhelm you? What are the most important aspects of your life for which organizing produces the most benefit?