Web Camel Transport 30

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?

Web Camel Transport 29

Assembling Happiness

Sunday, May 15, 2016

In The Stone Soup story, a group of hungry gypsies place a pot of water over a roaring fire in the middle of a village square.  As villagers pass by with interest in the undertaking, the travelers ask for a single contribution to make the “soup” tastier.  When everyone in the village has added a carrot, a celery stalk, an onion, a marrow bone, some peas, garlic and so on, there is, finally, a savory soup, a “stone’s throw” from mere boiling water and a pebble.

This is the melting pot, the cauldron, the collective village happiness, the assembly.  In the United States, the right of assembly is a First Amendment Right:  groups of peaceful citizens can come together in a public forum to advance their cause.  In the story the cause is the most fundamental:  feed primal hunger.  Everyone contributes.  Everyone eats from the common pot, the collective good.

Scientific discoveries, movements in art, architecture and fashion, cultural norms and social etiquette all evolve from the assembly, over time, of multiple contributions.  Wholes, whether of people in workplaces and families, or of ideas, are greater than the sum of their parts, because of the complex and various ways in which parts interact and co-influence each other within assemblages.  Synergistic and evolving, living systems exist within other meta- systems, and attach to other “galaxies.”

On Mother’s Day my family and my family of origin assembled at my house to break bread together, to share news and upcoming events, to laugh and hug and enjoy the new babies in the family–those actively moving parts who were happily integrated into this matrix of love and devotion.  Although I could barely stand at the end of the evening, having marinated, sliced, diced, stirred, poured, heated, chilled, served, washed, and dried the entire day, I felt incredibly happy and deeply satisfied.

As human beings we are constantly assembling and disassembling; then reassembling.  Even caring is something requiring assembly. Sometimes instructions are needed.  The Thursday before Mother’s Day I cared for my 11 month old granddaughter.  We laughed and smiled and clapped and danced and walked around and ate and went for a walk and tapped on toys and explored each others’ faces and hugged and I rocked her and she slept.  I watched how our attunement resulted from an assembly of rhythms, pressures, temperatures, expressions, interpersonal distances; a complex dance that can change from moment to moment.  One moment we gazed into each others’ eyes and she put her forehead to mine; I cradled her tired head on my shoulder, rocking in comfort-time.  Each response and counter response an expressive piece of caring.  This level of attunement seems rare on an adult-to-adult level because it requires masterful presence, focus, effort, flexibility, observation, and endurance, as well as the capacity to put someone else’s needs before one’s own (while not losing sight of one’s own needs entirely).

Each response to another is a piece of caring. Taken together, the expressive details amount to lovely nurturing.  We can use language simply to say we care about someone.  While this may provide a heartwarming moment, it, like ‘I love you,’ is fairly generic.  Without specific actions, including verbalizations, the credibility of such a blanket statement may wane over time, in the absence of particular expressions that reveal a high emotional IQ about the person for whom such caring is intended.  As a metaphor, the garden of a relationship thrives when given enough sun, shade for a respite, water, enriched soil picked clean of weeds, and so on.  Simply throwing a bunch of seeds out the front door and expecting the garden to develop and thrive on its own will not work.

Pieces of ourselves assemble to form a whole.  One of my clients, Molly, recently returned from a rehabilitative experience with a new and more workable narrative about herself and the compulsive behaviors about which she had so harshly berated herself in the past. To access a part of herself that could understand and forgive formed a crucial part of her further healing, as well as the development of healthier coping mechanisms.

We all have younger selves, and each of our subparts understood our lives and the contexts in which we lived them, from different perspectives. The perceptions of your adolescent self, or that of your child self, have cognitive, experiential and emotional limitations that do not have to continue into young and middle adulthood.  Yet sometimes those earlier perspectives entrench us in unhelpful beliefs about ourselves and others that do not get replaced until we bring the light of our current reflections upon them. For example, understanding one’s addiction from a disease model perspective as opposed to a paradigm of poor moral character can relieve one of guilt and shame, and thus provide the empowerment needed to seek beneficial treatments.

Whether we assemble a village soup or the multiple stories within ourselves, we thrive when we engage in the creative enterprise of exercising and utilizing the many parts and perspectives on any situation.  Little seems absolutely impossible when we act in resourceful ways as part of a group, a work team, a community, or as our own “whole.”  The multiple lines of synergistic communication between parts makes the whole far greater than a mere sum of parts.

Guest Saddle:  In what group or assembly do you feel the best, the most productive, the most part of a whole bigger than yourself?  What assembly puts wind in your sails?  And what parts of yourself need greater nurturing and understanding from you so they can grow and thrive and feel honored for their contributions?

Web Camel Transport 28

Cultivating Happiness

For Monday February 29, 2016 (written Wednesday, May 4, 2016)

The word on my office calendar is cultivate.  Cultivate a long row of crops, or your long career path or you long commitment to friends and family.  The quote says the words ‘improvement,’ ‘achievement’, and ‘success,’ have no meaning without the continuing development and growth that cultivation brings.

I often think of the garden as a metaphor for a relationship or project.  It must be tended:  thinned, pruned, watered, supplied with sun, kept free from pests but inviting to bees, the soil enriched and tilled as needed.  The seeds having lovingly been planted and now enjoyed in their flourishing.

At home with our partners and children, and at work with our coworkers, we have gardens to tend, and we have to tend them all the time, surprising as that might seem at first blush.  Families have lots to do and this busy life with all of its mundane and ubiquitous duties like washing dishes, doing laundry, shopping for and preparing food, bathing small beings, taking out trash, paying the bills, chauffeuring the children back and forth to friends’ houses and to lessons, changing the oil in the cars, and so on, can easily usurp the joy.  We do not commit to another human being long term, or commit to children we bring into the world without understanding the responsibilities involved.  But how worthwhile would all of this incredibly endless and daily set of tasks and routines seem without enjoying one another.  We do not seek more work just for the sake of working.  But we must feel willing to do the work in order to reap the harvest.

So at home and at work we do both the business at hand and cultivate relationships with those in our boat.  One will not get very far if everyone is rowing in a different direction. Nor will we feel the joy and confluence of moving almost effortlessly along the water. In the book, The Speed of Trust, by Stephen Covey Jr (his father writes the introduction– Stephen Covey Sr and author of the renowned, ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’) we learn that trust—whether between two people in a couple or friendship, or between an employer and employees or a company and its customers and vendors—greases the wheel of success.  Mistrust bogs down businesses and families alike, because when people work at cross purposes and undercut each other, or pull sneaky stunts, or lie or keep secrets, these hurdles prevent operations from running smoothly.  And morale goes down.  People who operate with honesty, transparently, fairness, and take an interest in the welfare and success of others, make more money and win more friends.  When you are as good as your word, everyone learns your word is gold and deals get made quickly.  Trust is efficient.  What is efficient is graceful—smooth, agile even with twists and turns, seamless, and strong.

We cultivate trust at both of its ends:  We speak and act in trustworthiness; and we give the gift of our trust to others.  Most importantly, we trust ourselves to show up for our commitments, to offer our undivided attention, to do the best we can to secure our own interests as well as the interests of others in honest and mutually beneficial ways.

Cultivation in rich soil is a lot easier than trying to cultivate sandy or barren soil.  Many people live in dire circumstances whether materially, or psychologically.  And many people, even the “lucky” ones who have enjoyed material comfort and opportunities for education and employment and freedom of movement, may endure painful assaults to health or grievous losses.  But no matter how we have suffered, there is cultivation work to be done if we are to move beyond survival to enjoyment and satisfaction in life.

I recently spoke with an 88 year old relative who had had multiple joint surgeries which required massive operations and long times to heal.  And yet this woman suffered most from recently having her teeth pulled.  Although she had adjusted to the dentures and could physically eat in relative comfort, she could no longer taste the food she ate.  It seemed to her that because the dentures covered her own palate, she experienced not only reduced contact with food, but a great reduction in taste. Food could well have been cardboard; except for dark chocolate.  And we all know dark chocolate has magic.  The loss in taste, the lost in enjoyment of food, and the loss of her teeth hit her much harder than the joint replacement surgeries even though mobility was still limited.  Even the dentures, soaking at night in a glass of solution, and looking in the mirror at the sunken mouth that didn’t feel like her mouth any more, took a psychological toll.

We want to feel like ourselves.  What a huge disconnect to lose a leg, to lose one’s teeth, to lose a breast or any part of oneself because of illness or accident.  And what a huge project to reconfigure, within our innermost beings, these altered bodies which no longer feel like us.  In the Boston marathon, even young people ran with prosthetic limbs.  Amazing and awe inspiring. These brave and determined persons have gone beyond adaptation to cultivating excellence in the face of enormous odds. It is difficult to even imagine the dedicated work required to enable the incorporation, within one’s locus of action and being, an alternate part of one’s body.

And yet to incorporate, to integrate into one’s body and mind a formerly unrelated part of the body, consideration of the mind or occupant of the heart, is necessary for the continuing cultivation of our lives.  We are all composites of parts, recipes full of ingredients—and changing ingredients at that.

Sometimes, whether in conversation with a friend or family member, or in a therapeutic process, or while practicing a sport or an art with a teacher or coach, we turn and till the soil in which our deepest desires nestle.  Sometimes we can even dig deep enough to feel the bedrock underneath, holding up all this cultivation.

Guest saddle:  What is it you most want to cultivate within yourself?  What garden needs tending between you and another person?  What tools, practices and strategies do you use in cultivating your life?