I park next to the ocean, and by “next to” I mean, “beside the ten foot stack of lobster traps.” My car gets a better view than my office does, but that means that every morning and every evening that I go to the office I get a tangy-salty-lungful of reminders that there is more to life than work.
I love my work. That makes everything work better. But it’s easy to forget that there are other things in life.
Or it would be easy, if the ocean didn’t remind me.
There’s an image going around Facebook right now, with a quote: “The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears, or the sea.”
When I first saw that, I didn’t believe the sweat part, but the other two made sense.
Since then I have learned how my body needs to be hydrated and had the pleasure of spending a number of evenings in a wood-fired sauna. Indeed. Sweat, tears, or the sea.
And when all else fails, just the sea. Go to the ocean, go on it, get into it if you can. Let it surround you. It is visceral and immersive in the most complete and literal of ways. It will indeed wash you clean, draw out the toxins of your blood, body, and soul, lull you, cradle you, make you laugh despite yourself, and force you to stay on your toes.
One of the most embodied people I know was almost killed in it. One minute she was wild, alive, in her element. The next she was fighting rocks and salt for her life.
She made it. Just.
We all have times when we make it. Just.
And we all have times when if not for magical timing and incredible, beautiful human intervention, we wouldn’t have had that extra fraction of a toehold that made the difference between life and death.
But if you want to remember that you are alive, if you want something big enough to hold everything, all of it, even the feelings you think you will drown in, the sea is your answer. Go to the sea. Not a giant lake, not the rivers; for this you need the biggest thing there is. Go to the sea and let it hold you.
The answers will seep into your bones as you float, leave your toes wrinkled, drop sand on your carpets when you go home.
The answers are in the salt water.
Go and find them.
Several years ago, I discovered (via Christine Kane) that there were alternatives to making resolutions. This was good, because I have a terrible track record with resolutions.
If you ask me to do something unpleasant I am instantly a thousand-million times less likely to do it than if you had just left me alone. I like to feel like I’m giving gifts, not completing obligations. If you don’t ask me to do it, it’s a gift. Once you’ve asked (or worse, told) then I hafeta. Only I donwanna. Iguana.
(If you, too, are rules-resistant but still have goals you want to approach, supportively and easefully, I can help).
So you can imagine how I respond to resolutions, turning exciting possibilities into RULES OF DOOM.
AT WHICH ONE CAN ONLY FAIL.
Right, so fast forward to 2009 or so. And I discover the idea of a word of the year. Not at all like a resolution. More like a conversation. A theme. An idea. A focus. A lens.
I can do that. In spades. Metaphor! It’s almost like poetry! I like poetry.
I don’t remember what my first word of the year was, but it was kind of amazing to see what happened. So I did it again. And again.
This last year (2011) was prosperity. Can I tell you? I never knew how much shit I had around money and prosperity until I made it my word of the year. Also? How much was possible.
It’s a learning framework. It’s not like, “oh, my word is work, now I’m going to have as much work as I want!” It’s more like, “oh, I wonder what my relationship is to work? Let’s find out, shall we? Oh my god, I had no idea THAT was in there! And my missing sock!”
Now when I go looking for a word of the year, I don’t exactly look, because it’s kind of like rules. The more stiff I am, the harder and more awkward it gets. More flexibility = more ease.
So I plant a seed and go on about my business, and the word pops up, and then again, and then again, and then I say, “hi! looks like you’re it!”
And this year’s word? Snuck up on me as usual.
Well yes, like magic. But the word is also magic.
There’s some here-you-see-it-here-you-don’t.
There’s some poof!
There’s also some interesting stuff. I resisted magic because oy, how much pink-unicorn-i’s-dotted-with-hearts can one year take?
But then I thought…what are the rules you have about magic?
What do you think you know about magic?
And I discovered it’s like pink.
Apparently some part of my brain thinks that magical thinking is a bad thing.
Apparently magic is for Other People. And it is Not To Be Trusted.
Apparently it is also a gateway of sorts.
And a secret door.
And when I did some drawing and writing about 2012 before I picked my word, apparently this is the year of the Tolkienesque quest, complete with words like wend and tools like wand. And lots of trees.
So who knows where this is going?
here we come!
My favorite used car salesman is barely a salesman at all.
His name…well, let’s call him M. He works for a local dealership. And he spends a lot of time talking, a lot of time listening, and a lot of time smiling.
He has never pushed me into a purchase.
I have never felt rushed.
I have never felt hurried.
And I will willingly go back to that dealership over and over again.
I’ve learned my lesson.
I’ve decided I’m against urgency.
This is a radically unpopular stand in some circles, including what appears to be the whole internet. Even people who sell stuff and experiment with not-urgent eventually decide that urgency is the way to go.
It makes people make a choice. Yes or no, but not the endless maybe.
Only four spots left!
In other words, hurry up!
I don’t like to make fast decisions, although I’m capable of it. I prefer to think things through, check in with my brain and with my gut, and go from there.
I am, as I type, in the midst of trying to make an urgent decision.
It feels, predictably, icky.
My gut says yes. But my brain can’t figure out why, or if it’s on the verge of having a much better idea.
Urgency can make us shit or get off the pot. But urgency can also make us leap without knowing where we’re going.
And I think urgency is inherently extroverted, favoring process-out-loud over process-and-then-talk.
Now there’s some urgency that’s real: house burning down, urgent agenda is to leave. Well, yes. Obviously urgent. Good reason to hurry. But if you know you’re going to do something by x day, say release a product for a week’s worth of selling, give me a month notice. Or two. More if it costs a lot. I can make a decision nice and fast, but my budget can’t keep up with my brain all the time. I like to know where my money is coming from and where it’s going. Instant demands for large chunks of cash can turn a possible sale into an impossibility, no matter how much I want it.
Give me a heads up. Let me save. Let me plan. Half of why we’re having so much trouble with credit these days is that urgency built into every purchase we make. Hurry! Order yours today!
Gone are the days of peering in the toy store window, longing for a bicycle for a month or a year. If you don’t buy it this week it will be gone, sold, replaced with a newer and more expensive model. Saving up becomes this Sisyphean task because the price is always just a little out of reach, so we learn not to try. Better to just buy now on credit and pay forever.
What a mess.
So, my dear colleagues in the internet world:
If your thing costs more than $75–or heck, more than $50–
please don’t act like everyone is rich. Instead, be like my car salesman.
Announce the thing well in advance of any deadlines, and don’t expect sales right away. Say the price right up front, and the timetable.
I will be selling Magic Widget X starting now, for two months. It will cost $437.21. Here’s a permalink for your toolbar. I will email you to remind you about the deadline if you sign up for this list right here.
Now when I get your email I am happy to hear from you, because I didn’t want the Magic Widget X deal to slip away without making a conscious choice about it. I will have had the chance to try to save up the money. I am less likely to spend what I don’t have.
And if I do spend it because I saved it, I’m likely to feel a whole lot better about that, too.
So here it is, as promised, as I did it–my Dadi would be proud:
Salmon in thai curry squash soup
Make yourself some soup: take a big soup pot, add butter, heat it gently; when it’s melted add two medium onions, sliced. Sprinkle with sea salt. Chop two cloves of garlic into several chunks each. Saute until the onions are about halfway to translucent, plus or minus. Chop your butternut squash (you have one handy, right?) into large chunks and peel them. Put the chunks into the pot, add more salt and water to cover them. Cover the pot and bring to a boil. When the water is hot, add concentrated fish base if you have it. Otherwise check the salt levels. In fact, check them anyway. After it’s simmered long enough that the squash is soft, turn the heat off and stir in two cans of coconut milk and a substantial amount of red curry paste (YMMV, I put about two heaping tsp). At this point I raided the Indian spice cupboard: a healthy sprinkle of turmeric, not-insignificant amounts of red chili powder, a dash of mango powder, a dash of asafoetida, a very small number of cumin seeds. And salt to taste.
Insert stick blender and blend until smooth.
More simmering, gently.
Add the fish: Meanwhile, take about 1.8 lbs of salmon fillets with skin on. Slice them into portion-sized pieces. Sear them with salt in hot olive oil. Then drop them gently into the soup and simmer until they are just cooked.
Turn off the TV; take your time. Eat. Enjoy.
This is a post about a little thing that’s a big thing.
I need to start by saying this: I’m not a therapist. I’m not a doctor. If you need a therapist or a doctor, I am in no way meaning to contravene the advice and guidance you get from them or from other professionals.
And years ago (finally, it’s years ago) I lived with depression. I lived with it every single day. I woke up with it; I went to sleep with it; it stalked me down the halls and sat with me at dinner.
I had never known anything else; it is likely that I lived with it from childhood onward.
So I didn’t know what it was like to wake up without anxiety. I didn’t realize most people felt relaxed and happy when they left the house in the morning. Hell, I didn’t even know what happy really felt like.
I was born in the seventies. It was 2001 before I saw through the grey mist for the first time.
And when I did–when the clouds parted and I got a glimpse into something larger–it was like getting new glasses. I understood so much more about people, about the world, about my own life, and I had tools! I could actually use what I knew to learn to respond differently to the world around me.
I began retraining my brain.
Anyone who knows brains will tell you: your brain changes according to stimuli.
But it isn’t just the stimuli around you; it’s also the stimuli inside you. When you are depressed for an extended period, it changes the architecture of your brain. Your brain is a different shape because it’s been depressed. (Or anxious, or exhausted, or whatever). It actually adapts to that way of being and makes it easier to be that way in the future, and harder to be a different way.
So for example, if you’re living with depression, it’s easier to continue to be depressed–biologically–than it is to begin to be happy.
And if you are bringing yourself out of a depression, your brain will need support and help and patience as you reshape it. It’s like physical therapy. Day one, you can barely get out of bed; day 100, maybe you can walk to the end of the hall; day 365 you go for a gentle run around the block every day.
People who are depressed often have trouble experiencing pleasure. So it seems odd to suggest that pleasure could be a path out of depression. But it is, in fact, part of the picture.
Sometimes the antidepressants can do a good job of tricking your brain into trying a different path for long enough that you can start to build new habits. And sometimes they do other things. We don’t really know how or why they work (for some people and not for others, for some time and then they stop, once but not before or after) but for some people they do. And anything that helps with depression is, well, help. A step in the right direction. That’s a good thing.
But even if you’re like me, and the drugs just don’t seem to help (brain fog is miserable. Utterly, completely miserable.) there are ways to get there.
One of those ways is ease–doing the easeful thing.
One of those ways is grace–being graceful with your own limitations.
One of those ways is distraction and surprise–and not feeling guilty because you’re supposed to be miserable is a practice. You get better at it with time.
There are more: companionship. Abundance. Touch. Food. Motion.
And accessing them is a skill. Using them is a skill.
A learnable skill.
Harder to learn in the midst of a depression? Yes. But even then, not impossible.
Repeat from above: this is not a substitute for medical care or therapy. Not.
But it is a way to make it more effective.
The more you access pleasure, the easier it gets.
So yes, pleasure practices are for you, too.
I have an old piece where I wrote about some of the toehold things I did to get some traction. Depression is a many-colored thing. Your mileage will almost certainly vary. But if changing your habits around pleasure interests you, get on my list (the form is over on the right). There’s more coming.
Have you ever been working on a project and something just won’t click? You wrestle and struggle and beat your head against it and it comes out okay, and everyone says it’s fine, but it really hasn’t gelled yet?
And you know it’s in there and so you keep moving, keep going, keep writing and creating and talking to your people…
and then you go away and concentrate on something totally different.
And the answer comes.
The 30 Day Pleasure Project brings me so much joy. Every day, people join, get excited, get intrigued, get changed, get reminded of important things.
And I knew there was more, and so I began taking the material deeper. I started by thinking I was going to do video, and then maybe audio, and email…
but none of those media felt right.
And so I kept going and kept working and told you about the project, because it is awesome stuff; it changed my life. I want to share. I love the feedback I get from the 30 Day Pleasure Project–LOVE it. I know I’m headed in the right direction.
But even as I moved into the creation phase, something didn’t click.
And then I had to get ready because my parents were coming for a visit.
Go ahead, laugh, I know you’ve been there. Clean the house! Think about food! Be nervous! Run around and make sure everything is right! Well, okay, most of everything. Or perhaps just the everythings that are reasonable to change.
Total distraction. Immersion in tidying and dishes and menus and all the rest of it.
But I needed to launch. It was time. And the Lived Pleasure material was basically ready. So I launched.
My parents arrived last night. We had dinner. It was a success. No crisis, no disaster.
And this morning, I realized: the focus of the work is internal, but the magic happens in the interactions between people. This is about the creative interchange that Henry Nelson Wieman wrote about–that inexplicable inspiration that comes when authentic spirits come together.
And the light bulb clicked on.
And lots of things I did without knowing why suddenly made sense.
This course is not about the written word, although there will be reflective writings and there will be stuff you can do on your own.
This course is about the conversations.
Because laying foundations, transforming your way of being in the world, is, in fact, work best done in community. In connection. In challenge and grace and love and encouragement and curiosity. Especially curiosity.
Come, be part of the the curious. Make pleasure a place you live, and make it work in the real world, with real concerns and real life and real you. Sit with the paradoxes and among friends.
You get to do it the easy way.
I know it’s crazy, revolutionary, really even bizarre to think about it, but there is NOTHING wrong with doing things the easy way.
For example: I write. I write as part of my personal practice, and I write as part of my work. I write poems and newsletter articles and the occasional mini work of fiction. And yes, of course I have an idea for a book floating around in my head. I will write that, too…someday.
But writing is as integral to my life as breathing.
And sometimes, I’m completely stupid about it.
I’m a morning person. Six to ten AM are my peak hours. Best thoughts, most brilliant inspirations, sweetest energy and writing just flows. I can almost guarantee that it will be smooth as silk if it happens before nine.
After that? Not so much. Stops, starts, mechanical difficulties–much more like a rusty train on rusty tracks than a clear mountain spring after the first thaw.
So why would I write in the afternoons?
yeah. No good reason. It’s like choosing to drag a ten ton sled across rocky ground rather than putting it on wheels.
Charlie Gilkey talks about heatmapping your day; this is a similar idea. Do it when it’s easiest. But also, do it how it’s easiest. Instead of having a system and forcing yourself to fit into it, have a YOU and build a system around it.
Learning to do this is a process of undoing a lifetime’s worth of learning. If you went to school and if you work for someone else, huge parts of your life have been built around fitting you into someone else’s system. In the homeschooling community they talk about “deschooling” — basically, learning to think outside the box of “school” and “education” so you can actually create your own optimal education.
Creating your own optimal life can be much the same.
For example, laundry.
Perhaps you have a laundry system that works. YAY!
But if you’re like me, there are places in the house where you’re always picking up dirty clothes after the fact and putting them in hampers. In my old house, it was the living room. Because of the house’s configuration, the washing machine, the living room, and the bathroom were all right next to each other. In the winter, the woodstove made it much nicer to undress in the living room (the bathroom floor was cold). Ergo, pile of clothes in the living room.
Then the laundry would get piled in the living room (right in front of the washing machine).
I had this big story that the laundry had to be in the bathroom.
And finally I figured it out: covered hampers in the living room. What I needed was hampers that looked good enough to be in the living room. Problem solved.
Ease is not ignoring things. Ease is this: don’t try to fight what happens. Just change the system so it works.
Which systems will you change to make your life easier? Tell me in the comments.
Motion should feel good.
I think we forget. I know I forget.
It’s complicated, after all. Most people I know do workouts. Do you ever do a playout? The closest we get is sports:
What are you doing for your workout today?
Oh, I’m going to play a game of tennis.
I’ve got a friend who just arrived in Australia for a year. She rows, so she signed on with a crew team. That is awesome. She loves to row. So pleasure+movement=yay.
She had to start somewhere. She started rowing when she was 30. But she has a long relationship with sports, and she knows she likes them.
Me, I’m competition-resistant. In fact, I think I’m allergic. I just don’t want to win badly enough to make it a motivator.
For years, I thought that meant I wasn’t an athlete. Athletes were Other People. And I wasn’t particularly graceful, so dancers were Other People, too. In fact, motion was for Other People. End of story.
Except, you know, not.
The story didn’t end there because there’s something else that motivates me.
Pleasure. (come on, you knew it was coming.)
Pleasure motivates me. A lot. And there are all kinds of ways that pleasure interacts with bodies in motion. Sex, of course. Touch, more broadly. My world cracked open the day I discovered hugs. Puppy piles at camp, at church, at drama club saved my life.
But I still didn’t think I was into athletics or exercise.
Then I discovered rock climbing. It’s a kinesthetic puzzle–a brain-bender in motion.
And contra dancing. And swing dancing. And tai chi chuan. Cross-country skiing. Hiking. Kayaking. Horseback riding.
It’s not that I don’t like using my body. It’s that I don’t like being bored. When I’m enjoying myself, I will push my body harder than I ever would at a gym.
I like to play. I just don’t like competition.
And then one day last spring, I wrote myself a big fat permission slip to play some more. I was living in Portugal. Walking a lot. Walking everywhere. Splashing in the surf. Getting daily exercise that wasn’t working out. And I had started having urges to run–you know, the way kids do when they’re four and sprinting circles around the living room?
So I gave myself permission to just run. Until it felt icky. And then stop. No rules about getting to this many minutes or that milepost, just, you know, for the pleasure of running.
And so I ran.
Unbelievable. Totally different from all my previous experiences of running, because it wasn’t about ignoring my body, it was about listening to it. Go when it feels good. Stop when it doesn’t.
What kinds of motion give you pleasure?
Your body will tell you what it needs. It’s talking right now.
To practice listening, join the 30 Days, 30 Things project.
Want to continue the conversation? Sign up here to stay in touch.
it feels like you are Persephone,
always refusing my offers of food and wine,
playing by some other rules.
Myself, I am a
I mean what I say
and offer only
what I mean to freely give.
You are a mystery to me.
I see your longing
you say no.
I want to say,
What harm will come?
I want to say,
if not twelve then six,
if not six
at least a tropical three,
a little respite
from your Puritan jaw.
But who am I
to know better?
Who am I
to name the glint and shimmer
in your eye?