What Do You Really Want To Do?

That is the question.

It is a question I grapple with a lot.

It sounds simple at first. Of course you know what you want to do. But do you, really? Can you separate what you really want from what you think you should want? Or more to the point, what other people think you should want and since you want other people to approve of you, you adopt that as your wish? Yes, you might have to read that through one more time.

My backyard Hammock

Complicated as it is, I would say that what most people want is for other people to approve of them. And there lies the problem. This is often something people are not consciously aware of. It’s so ingrained to want approval that we often make choices based on what we think others’ reaction will be, without questioning whether it’s something we deeply desire.

I haven’t written a blog post in months. I’ve thought about it often. Various topics have run through my mind. But I’ve been too busy. The nagging feeling that I “should” write a blog post has continued to bother me. Why? Because when you begin engaging with people online you “should” keep it up on a regular basis. And I admit, I have let things slip. The truth is, I’ve been trying to do too many things. I know I have to cut some things out and I’ve been at a loss.

So this question: What do you really want to do? This has been hanging over my head. Every day. For months.

The underlying topic of pretty much all my blog posts has been self-care. I love this topic. The importance of self-care never goes away. You never get finished with self-care, just like you never get finished eating or sleeping. It’s an essential part of life. There are so many layers to it. It comes up in big and small ways around everything we do.

It fascinates me because I am always craving more self-care. I fantasize about taking myself to the coast, going for a walk in the woods, lying in my hammock reading a book. But all too often, I put these things off because I’m trying to get other stuff done. And I’ll tell you, there is an endless amount of other stuff to get done. When I am exhausted, worn out, overwhelmed, even burned out, the question always comes up. What can I do to take care of myself? What do I really want to do?

The quiet spot in my driveway

One of my projects is writing a book on self-care. That’s one of the reasons I haven’t had time to write blog posts. My previous posts inspired the book. There’s a lot to this topic. It’s important for our health, for our well-being, our sanity. It’s so important to take care of ourselves because it’s so easy to get worn out and have nothing left to give. You are no good to anyone when you are burned out, including yourself. Especially yourself.

My favorite books are about people’s journeys. I love memoirs and self-help books. These books help me feel less alone when I realize how other people have struggled and how they coped. They give me ideas and inspiration. And they inspire me to write my own stories. It is why I am writing a book on self-care, as I spend every day and every week exploring the issues around this. I am also writing a memoir about two very difficult years of my life when I attempted a career change that was not right for me. It was the ultimate in doing something that everyone approved of but was not a good match. There were some big realizations I had that I want to write about as I tell the story. It was quite a journey and I will someday finish that book. But I have put it aside for the time being to focus on the self-care book. This is how I end up with too many projects.

Relaxing on my patio

The more I write about self-care, I keep seeing an underlying issue. And that is, we get very strong messages about what we’re supposed to do, how we’re supposed to look, what we’re supposed to want, what our families should look like, what the progression of our careers should be. These messages affect our choices. Whether the messages come from our parents, our teachers or even our close friends, everyone has an opinion on this. Whether the message is to conform or to be a rebel, people have very strong opinions. One only needs to take a quick look at social media, to the abundance of selfies to see how important it is for most people, to have approval. “Look at me! And for God’s sake, like this post!”

So, what happens when you want to do something that perhaps no one understands?

First off, it’s not necessary to tell people everything you’re doing. It’s perfectly okay to keep parts of your life private. In fact, it’s a good idea to have privacy around some of the things you do, just so you don’t have to think in terms of how you will be judged.

Here’s the thing. You are totally okay exactly the way you are. No matter where you are in your process, it’s okay. Whether you are on your way to developing a new skill, a new career, creating something, or choosing to take it easy and not do anything new, it’s perfectly acceptable. It’s your right as a human being to be however you want to be.

As long as you’re not hurting anyone, you have a right to living the way you want to live.

I have a lot of difficulty allowing myself unproductive time. Wherever I got those messages that I should be getting things done, they are very deeply ingrained. One of my biggest self-care practices is to allow myself to do nothing. To simply rest. I have set up a number of resting areas around my house because this is so essential to me. Yet, I struggle to take advantage of them. I have a hammock strung up in my backyard, a chaise lounge on my porch and another chaise lounge under a tree, down my driveway. These are all very attractive places to relax. I am embarrassed to admit how rarely I take advantage of them. My goal is to spend some time relaxing in one of these spots every day, but honestly, I am doing well if I do so once or twice a week. Everywhere I look, I see things that need to get done. The garden always needs weeding. I’m always behind on my writing projects. There are too many papers on my desk than need sorting and discarding. My closets need to be cleaned out. My emails have not all been read. On and on it goes. I cannot wait until everything is done to relax. Otherwise I will wait forever.

What do I really want? Honestly, it’s to feel less pressure. And that pressure comes primarily from within me.

When I realized I didn’t feel like writing a blog post I gave myself permission not to write posts for a while. The world would not come to an end if I did not write a blog post. Instead I focused on the book when I had time to write. I have a great critique group where I get wonderful feedback. The process of crafting a good book fascinates me so this is clearly a project I want to keep.

All the books I have about writing say that you need to have a writing routine, so you can get so many thousands of words written every day. I do not have a writing routine. I don’t want one. I just want to write when I feel moved to. So that’s what I do. Maybe I will never finish my book. It’s okay. I am not depending on my writing to support me, so these things really don’t matter. Even though I can see the ghosts of writers shaking their fingers at me, telling me I won’t amount to anything if I don’t get my writing done, I know ultimately it doesn’t matter. I am not living to gain their approval. They are, in fact, my own spooky creation. I am not living to gain anyone’s approval. How freeing it is to say that! I am not living to gain anyone’s approval! I needed to say it again!

Each day that blooms is fresh. Each day is an opportunity to do what I really want. Or to not do things I don’t want. Regardless of the expectations.

My work schedule provides a little structure for which I am grateful. I am someone who needs a little structure. But beyond that structure I get overwhelmed trying to do way too much. My biggest challenge with time is narrowing the list down so I can spend more time lying on the chaise lounges, and rocking in the hammock.

What is your challenge? What do you really want to do that you have not yet made room for?

Staying Sane During Insane Times

You can’t go crazy right now, tempting as that may be. Now, more than ever, we need to be vigilant about our emotional state. I don’t know about you, but I’ve been feeling torn into pieces as I am watching events in our country unfold. I find myself going through a wild cycle of feelings, none of them good. Fear, anxiety, anger, disgust, despair all take turns occupying my psyche.

Take the sane road

Take the sane road

It’s been hard to go about the usual activities in my life without talking about it all the time. But, honestly, I can’t talk about it all the time. When I do bring up the state of the world, because that’s what’s on my mind, people nod and I see that same stressed out look on their faces that I see in the mirror. They are reading the same articles I’m reading, the same news stories. They are feeling much of what I’m feeling.

This gets exhausting very quickly. After the big Women’s March I said, somewhat flippantly, “We should March every Saturday!” Now I realize that wasn’t just a random remark. We probably WILL march or protest every Saturday. The Saturday after the Women’s March people were protesting at airports around the country because of the outrageous and chaotic ban on immigrants that was suddenly imposed out of the blue. I saw people’s rights being violated. I saw the Constitution being violated. I wondered about our system of checks and balances. I wondered if this was still the United States of America.

So, given that the assault on our rights and way of life is not going to stop, and aware that being in this debilitating state of mind is not any way to live, I had to figure out how to get a grip if I was to be of any use at all. One of the strategies of the people who are currently in power is to wear us out, so after a while we have no energy to fight back. Here’s how NOT to let that happen.

I am always telling people, “In order to have the energy to take care of others, you need to take care of yourself, first.”

That has never been more true than right now.

All things considered, these are my thoughts regarding the best way to manage right now. Although a great deal is happening beyond our control, make the most of situations where you are in charge. Start by being present in your own life. Often, we can get so wrapped up with anxiety about the future or about things happening beyond our reach that we lose sight of beneficial things that exist right here, right now. We tend to focus on the things that need fixing, rather than on what’s working. And even though we are watching our democracy getting smashed like a beautiful piece of pottery, we mustn’t lose sight of those things we do have that make our lives worthwhile.

Say a silent prayer of gratitude for everything you love about your life, throughout the day, as often as possible. For instance, I love the beautiful Northern California community where I live. I love the work I do for a living, being a massage therapist, helping people feel better in their bodies and their hearts. I love the people in my life and hug them as often as possible. I love watching the patterns that are made with light when the sun casts shadows on everything. I love when the sun comes out and warms everything up. I love when it rains and the cool water soaks into the earth and cleanses the air. I love watching the clouds move. I love eating squares of dark chocolate and almonds. I love eating apple slices with cheddar cheese. I love my new writing class, Creative Unbootcamp 2017. I love cuddling with my whippet, Spencer. I love taking all three of my dogs for a walk. I love going for walks while listening to my latest audiobook. Throughout the day, whatever else I’m doing, I give thanks for everything about my life that I treasure. I suggest you start doing that as a regular practice. Focus on everything you can be grateful for.

Take time to disconnect from the world every so often, to give yourself a break from the constant bombardment of information. News sites, social media sites, TV, email. There is so much info coming at us all the time it gets overwhelming very fast. The other day someone was saying, “What did we do with our time before there was Facebook and Twitter and Instagram?” We lived, that’s what. We had time to ourselves to quietly relax and enjoy life in the moment. We got together and talked face to face. We did more in person. We relaxed more. Try giving up your connection to electronic devices for brief periods. Or not such brief periods. Not permanently, but for sufficient chunks of time. Maybe only check-in a couple of times each day. Notice the difference. It’s called breathing space.

I stopped checking Facebook first thing in the morning and last thing in the evening, as had been my habit. It makes a big difference to start my day without immediately reacting to the latest news. And at night, switching from the media to reading a book before bed helps me sleep a lot better. I have begun limiting my attention there to just a couple of times a day. I’m not missing much, and I’m not in an emotional state of constant reaction. That reaction button? That was my heart that kept getting pushed.

Make a point of scheduling quality time every week (or every day) to do things that make you feel good. Whether it’s getting together with a friend, going for a walk in nature, finding a quiet place to read a good book, give yourself some respite from engagement. Because only when you leave the constant madness, to recharge your soul, can you come back to it and be effective in whatever you’re trying to do. We will figure this thing out as we feel the growing pains of shaping a new world. We are smart, capable people and there are huge numbers of us. But this is going to be a long haul, so we need to maintain our energy wisely.

We all need reminders of how to maintain our balance. Me, too, which is why I wrote this.

A Fresh Start for 2017

How are you feeling about entering the New Year?

The turning of the year has always been an opportunity for a fresh start. Whether last year was the best year or the worst year, it is now over. Time to let it go and embrace the new, whatever that may be.

Hello 2017. Female hands holding movie clapper.

Hello 2017. Female hands holding movie clapper.

I like to use this as a time to reflect and evaluate things. What is working? What is not? What do I need to release in order to make room for something better? What is missing from my life? What annoying things do I need to get rid of? Are there bad habits I need to stop? Good habits I need to foster? It’s time for a change, so what needs to be different?

Winter is a time that calls us to go inward and reflect. It’s cold outside. It’s dark. It’s comforting to curl up with a nice, hot cup of lemon, ginger tea, lean back against some cushions and think about how we want to go forward with our lives.

In 2017 there is a huge change coming and I don’t know what exactly it will be but it has me unsettled. When things are beyond our control, and so much of life is, it’s helpful to take charge of the things we can. The best way I know to channel that anxiety into something positive is to create my own landscape for what I would like to see. It is my form of prayer.

Every New Year’s I have a ritual that I do. I have a special journal set aside for this purpose where I write my aspirations. Here’s how it goes.

First, on a piece of scrap paper I write down everything I want to let go of and I put GOODBYE at the top of the page. It can be anything. Bad attitudes. Five pounds. Clothes I never wear. Feeling guilty. Anything that is not serving me that I can actually let go of. I write these things down and then as an act of release I burn the paper. Goodbye.

Next I look at my list of things from the previous year that I asked for. Always fun to do this part. I love to see what I wanted that actually happened. I check all of these things off. It’s amazing how many things I ask for do happen. Intention is powerful. It’s not magic. It’s being clear and focused, so that when the opportunity comes up to bring in something I want I act, rather than let the moment pass.

The first list I write down in the journal is also part of reflection. “Thank you for…” I write down everything that I’m grateful for that happened in the past year, whether it’s something I specifically asked for or not. It’s interesting to realize that great things happened that I didn’t see coming. I published a book. I met some wonderful people at a writing retreat. I found a fitness program that has transformed my body and my health. I am reminded that life is full of possibility. It’s so important not to forget this.

And finally…”2017 Hello…” and the big list begins.

I frequently like to do this at a quiet restaurant, where I can get a glass of wine or champagne, order something special from the menu and have my precious, solo time to write and reflect. (I don’t do the burning part in the restaurant. I save that scrap of paper for later.) There’s something about whisking myself away from my family that gives me the peace of mind and uninterrupted time to treasure this practice.

Later in the month, I make a collage for the year. This is another practice I have been doing for over 30 years. I love creating collages for important things I want to see in my life. I have done them for career, for love relationships and I even made one when I was looking for a house to buy so I could find just the right place. They work! Again, it’s not magic. Spending time paying close attention to what you want and taking the steps to visualize it helps you recognize it when it’s in front of you. Make sure you have the right magazines to find the images and words that you want to put in the collage. I have been known to buy a particular magazine just to cut up for this purpose.

This year I’m going to make two collages. One will be personal, for my life. The other will be for our country and the world. I don’t have a lot of control over the future, but I can voice my hope, with cut out pictures and words. This is my positive vision for the world.

No one can take away our dreams and our visions.

Or our sense of humor.

Happy 2017!

Body Tweaking

My latest self-care practice, I’m almost embarrassed to admit, is that I signed up for a fitness program. Yes, the kind that you pay for. I was determined that my nemesis, those stubborn ten pounds, were not going to get the best of me. They have slowly creeped up over the past few years and I have dismissed them, excused them, helped hide them and accepted them as a new normal. Ten pounds may not seem like a lot to some people, but when you’re 5’ 2” it’s quite a bit.

Image: By Carole Raddato from FRANKFURT, Germany CC BY-SA 2.0  via Wikimedia Commons

Image: By Carole Raddato from FRANKFURT, Germany CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

I’m not fat shaming myself or being obsessed with a certain look. I could feel it dragging me down. I was losing my juice. I could see how easily we gradually succumb to sluggishness. As we age we need to take care of these little things before they become big and turn us into lethargic sloths.

I was about ready to find the tree limb on which to crawl and spend the rest of my days when this program popped out at me. I checked it out and it seemed healthy, in line with the way I live so I decided to give it a try. Clearly I was not succeeding on my own.

I signed up for the 8Fit app because it both includes meal plans, fitness workouts and the shining crown – a Personal Trainer. Yes! A real human with whom I can email and ask questions! There are short video workouts to do as many times a week as I can.  You grade each one as easy, perfect or difficult and they keep tweaking what they give you by your feedback. It’s pretty cool. The rest of the time I walk until I reach at least 8,000 steps, as the app has a built in pedometer.

I like the idea of a trainer I can actually work with. Reaching goals is so much easier when I have someone to be accountable to. It seemed worth a try for $79/year. They offer a money back guarantee during the first week, so I figured I didn’t have much to lose. Except hopefully a bit of blubber. I can squeeze that roll on my stomach with my fingers and I say nasty things to it, as I try to drive it away. Hopefully this will be more effective than that.

So, the plunge is taken and I am diving in and giving it my all. Everyone who knows me will think I already eat healthy, but one thing I’ve already learned is that I eat too much fruit and the excess glucose turns to fat. Who knew? Those sweet, heavenly mangoes, and my precious homegrown raspberries, turning to ugly fat? I shivered in horror. No, please don’t take my favorite foods away!

I learned that sugars, even natural sweets found in fruit, need to be balanced by protein in order to be used by the body. Otherwise they will turn to fat. That was quite a revelation! At night I frequently grab a handful of figs or an apple, thinking I’m staving off hunger responsibly. Now I balance fruit with nuts or cheese.

I thought I was doing a good job tracking my calories with the MyFitnessPal app on my phone, but I cheated. I did not track all my fruit. Or that occasional piece of dark chocolate, or the slice of cheese and cracker that I ate in a ravenous stupor when I came home from work famished. I was definitely having an affair with undocumented foods.

By The Numbers

My delightful 8Fit coach, Alice tells me not to focus on the numbers but to pay attention to how I feel. Is she serious? I know she means well, but I have so many feelings going on at any given time, all I can say, is that they are extremely unreliable. Bloated, blubbery, excited, hopeful, disappointed, frustrated, exhausted, despairing, fierce, resilient, hopeful (again), grateful, alarmed, worried, relieved, elated, sleek, fat, acceptable, unacceptable, fit, hippo. Basically every body image and emotion possible, depending on my mood. Each of these feelings takes only a second to come and go, meaning that in any given minute I can cycle through 60 of them. They are highly unreliable.

When I turn a certain way I can look at myself in the mirror and my waist looks positively thin. And at 26 inches it’s not bad. But right above that is a roll of blubber, which I never had before, an unwanted guest in my body that has definitely overstayed its welcome.

Whereas the numbers are scientific. The number on the scale gives me a data point. It can be 128 pounds of fat or 128 pounds of muscle, but it tells me what I weigh and over time I can watch those numbers go up or down.

Same with food. I track my calories and I have used the 8Fit meals as a guideline, but being fiercely independent I ultimately design my own. The program has given me some new ideas, like blending Greek yogurt with uncooked rolled oats at breakfast, something I never thought of before. I like that I get oatmeal combined with protein. I add some fresh fruit to that for sweetness, chia seeds, flax seeds, and some chopped almonds. Nine almonds. 63 calories of almonds.

If I walk at least 8,000 steps the app tells me I burn 250 calories,. This is in addition to the calories it takes for me to run my basic bodily aliveness. Since there are 3500 calories to a pound, if that’s all I manage I will at least lose ½ pound per week, or eight pounds by New Year’s. The app’s brief workouts also burn a couple hundred calories so that will help, too. What I love about the workouts is the strength training. I’m using muscles that I normally do not challenge and I realize how weak I’ve allowed myself to become. I don’t really like standard exercises. I would rather walk or dance. But it feels incredibly good to be getting stronger and fit.

The really rewarding thing about this? It’s something I have control over. There are so many things I have put effort into that did not yield the results I was hoping for. Most of my creative endeavors are like that, especially the ones where I tried selling something I made. But this is something where it’s scientifically laid out. If I take in a certain number of calories and burn a specific number of them I ought to get results.

Without a clear plan we fool ourselves.

We tell ourselves lies. We sweet-talk ourselves into falling in love with our fantasies, into those things we want to be true. Especially when we feel lost and don’t have the energy to make changes. We know exactly how to turn our heads and not look at the parts we don’t want to see.

But now I have Alice. I even sent her a photo (I took “before” photos as another motivator to keep on track) so she knows just what that belly roll of fat that I want to get rid of looks like. She is incredibly supportive and helpful and we are slowly getting to know each other.

So we shall see.

Radical Self-Care Step Ten – Creativity

Follow the Juice of Your Curiosity

Radical Self-Care Step Ten – Creativity

What do you love to do so much that the hours go by and you hardly notice? What absorbs your imagination so completely that you forget about the 24-hour news cycle, your to-do list and the fact that you really should lose ten pounds? What is that thing that you get so wrapped up in that you are wondering what you can give up so that you can do it more?

Molly Weaving

Molly Weaving

That is your creative passion. So, tell me. How often do you do it?

In the past nine steps I have talked about various elements, which I consider to be essential for a true recharge of your body, mind and soul. Most of these are part of the first order of survival needs, such as rest, financial security, and nourishment. Others are important for emotional health, such as journaling, de-cluttering and honoring your authenticity.

This step is a little different. This is the one that really makes life worth living. This is the shine. The glitter on the forehead. The thing that makes you forget to look at the clock. Where you get so absorbed that everything else disappears.

Having a creative outlet is a very important way of channeling your energy into something that lights you up inside. When I talk about creativity, I don’t mean, necessarily being an artist, a writer, painter, sculptor or craftsperson, although there are many avenues in the arts in which to pour creative energy.

I have never been able to draw well. My drawings still look like a five year old

made them.

It’s just not where my talent lies. And my very first semester of college was at an art school! But I still can’t draw. I went there because I was fascinated with fiber and weaving and wanted to be a fiber artist. I learned how to weave and made my first loom when I was 15. A couple of years later, when I was first living on my own I discovered a weaving studio and was introduced to complex floor loom weaving. Weaving, crocheting and sewing clothes are creative outlets for me. It also helps that I hate clothes shopping, which has motivated me to make many of my own clothes.

Open Studio Show

Open Studio Show

Writing has also been a creative outlet since my earliest years. It has been second nature to pour my thoughts and feelings into poetry and essays.

I love music but have never learned to play an instrument and I cannot carry a tune to save my life. Much as I love music, it is not someplace I can pour my creative energy. I am very envious of people who have those talents because making music looks so satisfying.

We often think of creativity as applied to the arts. But there are so many other ways to express our inventiveness. Decorating your house, designing a garden, planning a party, creating a photo album, making videos, putting together music mixes. Even starting a

Open studio show

Open studio show

business is a very creative endeavor.

Cooking is a great opportunity to let your experimental energy flow. Instead of using a recipe, just experiment with ingredients that sound good. If it doesn’t work out, then try something else. I am always fooling around with new ideas in the kitchen. Some of the things I make are flops. But I don’t mind. It’s fun to play around and see what happens.

One of the important aspects of creativity is knowing that it’s

totally okay to screw up. Yes, that’s right. Embracing the fact that some of the things we make will be failures gives us the permission to experiment. Anyone who has ever made anything that you admire has had plenty of failures. That’s the whole nature of experimentation. It’s fun to play around and try things, whether or not they end up panning out. Our failures are where we learn. We learn so much from our mistakes. If you don’t have a few failures it means you’re no

Wallet detail

Wallet detail

t really reaching very far.

“What happens if I do this?” is one of my favorite questions. I am trying new things all the time and many of the things I try to do don’t work out. But a few of them do. And the thing is, I learn so much from experimenting and trying new things.

It’s really engaging.

It’s always disappointing to spend time cooking something that turns out unappetizing or writing something that my critique group politely shakes their head at, but it just inspires me to try something else. There is no shame in trying something new, whether or not it ends up working out.

I repeat: There Is No Shame In Trying Something New

This is the only reason that anything was ever invented. Somebody got an idea and decided to try it. Some things worked out. Some didn’t, but if people didn’t experiment, nothing would exist!

Green evening bag

Green evening bag

The reason that channeling your creativity is such an important part of self-care is that it makes you feel alive. Creativity is the juice of the Universe!

Think of something you’ve made that you were very proud of. Remember how, when you were figuring it all out that all of your focus was on that moment. While you were working on your project, it became your whole world for a while. Time stopped. Or it flew by. When you are caught up in a creative project time does not even exist. Only putting your ideas into productivity matters.

Another reason that this is an important part of self-care is that you don’t need anybody else to make this happen.

Leaf design hanbag

Leaf design handbag

The point of these self-care steps is that they are all things that are easily within your power. They are all ways to make your life better. Nobody else is necessary in order for you to do any of these things. When you decide to repaint your kitchen, or put in a rose garden, or whip something up to use up the leftovers in the fridge, it is your own personal inspired moment.

Just go for it. Incorporate more creativity into your life.

 

Radical Self-Care Step Eight – Balance

Finding the Balance or Managing the Feel-Good Meter

On one of my trips out of town, I was overcome with the feeling that helping others is what life’s all about. In big ways. In small ways. Offering to give a hand to a friend whom you know is struggling. Tipping the person who prepares your coffee. Helping a confused person find their way. Being friendly to strangers when you’re out running your errands. Being helpful whenever you can. Meeting a person’s eye and smiling. Or just holding their gaze for a moment so they know they have been seen. There are a thousand ways big and small to help other people.

Society Hotel, Portland. The lobby cafe

Society Hotel, Portland. The lobby cafe

Thinking about things like gratitude practices, I wanted to promote the practice of kindness and helping others. Whether it’s doing something practical like helping someone get something done or doing something that lifts a person’s spirits, spreading helpfulness is one of the most powerful spiritual practices we can do.

Giving doesn’t only make the other person feel good but it makes your own heart feel good.

I went to Portland a few months ago for a writing retreat and every place I went I encountered helpful, friendly people who made me feel good to be alive and happy about humanity. I met many strangers who were extremely kind to me and helped me with directions, when I was walking through the city, because I’m terrible at finding my way in new places. I’m famous among my friends for getting lost or taking the wrong turn. They took the time to explain to me where things were, and how the city was laid out (numerically and alphabetically) so I could figure out how to find the address I was looking for.

Society Hotel, Portland. Lobby fireplace.

Society Hotel, Portland. Lobby fireplace.

The women at the writing workshop shared their fears and vulnerabilities in words and tears and exquisite pieces of writing that made me feel less alone and not so different. I went to this writing retreat hoping to become a better writer but really, what it did was open my heart. I saw so many ways that people were doing what they could to help other people. The presenters gave us all books from writers they knew, whom they were supporting by sharing their books. They said they take a percentage of what they bring in from the workshop to help upcoming writers. A beautiful practice of Helping.

At the hostel-like Society Hotel, where I was staying, the staff were very friendly and chatty. They greeted me with smiles every time I entered the lobby/lounge/café area. They had a little take-out bar where they made healthy breakfasts and lunches and they remembered each day that I wanted yogurt with their homemade granola and a fresh orange for breakfast.

The people at the front desk were patient in explaining how to find places in town and how to navigate the neighborhood. And in order to get a good night’s sleep they gave me a quiet room on a top floor away from the street noise.

I was so overcome by the openness and friendliness of the people I was meeting in this city, where I arrived alone, discovering the fresh, artistic nature of Portland. My heart was blasted open.

On the flight home, as I reflected on my four-day excursion I thought about how delightful it was to go to a place where the people were so forthcoming and inviting. Life is all about helping each other and being good to one another, I decided.

But then I had another thought. Being an open, giving person is all very well, but we need to take care of ourselves, too. We need to have a balance between giving and receiving. When we talk about balance between giving and receiving, how much is too much?

One of the reasons we are here – or if I want to get all pompous about it – one of the meanings of life, is to find the balance between helping others and taking care of ourselves. When people go too far to the extreme in either direction, devastating things can happen.

Society Hotel, Portland. Coffee bar.

Society Hotel, Portland. Coffee bar.

When taking care of oneself obliterates everything else it turns to greed, which can become meanness or even war, at the extreme level. And giving too much of oneself, without taking time to recharge, can result in a state of severe depletion, or become an addiction to being needed at its worst.

Finding that balance between helping others and helping oneself is a tricky dance. Like any balancing act it is easy to tip to one side or the other. It feels so good to do something for someone else where you can immediately see that your action is making a difference. It also feels good to unplug, slow down, and indulge in some self-care. When tackling anything big, the best thing to do is take small bites. Go back and forth. Find the comfort zone between manageable acts of kindness and bite sized treats of self-care.

Radical Self-Care Step Seven – Happy Finances

Mindful Money Management – Or The Zen of Budgeting

Taking care of yourself so that you are not stressing about money is the ultimate in self-care. It is number one in Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs – survival. Creative art expression, indulgences, rest…these are all secondary to making sure that your basic needs for financial security are met.

Steps on the ocean - 3D renderInterestingly, this has very little to do with how much money you make.

You can be a millionaire and still be broke because you bought too many cars, houses, or tropical islands. Or you could be an average person accumulating a slew of credit cards in lieu of actual cash in order to fund the things you want. It really doesn’t matter how much you have, but how you go about allocating it.

This principle is especially important because many people hate to think about it. I have known people in every economic bracket who don’t want to take a realistic look at their finances.

Since I have been self-employed my entire life I have never felt a certainty about how much money I could count on. Not having a set salary, I never felt I had the luxury of accumulating debt because I couldn’t count on being able to pay it back. So rather than rely on credit cards and loans, I have mainly lived on a cash basis.

The guiding principle: Keep your irreducible expenses low. Here are some tips I have developed over the years.

There are many ways to live comfortably while still keeping your outflow at a minimum. I happen to live in a part of the country where housing is quite expensive, but I have managed to find inexpensive solutions. I’ve found places on the outskirts of town that had small inexpensive rentals on rural property where the housing itself was very basic but in the midst of beautiful surroundings. I once even lived in a converted chicken coop. Outfitting and decorating a simple home to appear beautiful and exotic can be very creative and fun. Other options include living in a shared community house with a group. Once I got my massage business launched and stable I was able to buy a house in a sweet older neighborhood, but it is fun to remember my early roots.

Beyond housing, which is generally our biggest expense, there are a wide array of options regarding transportation, food, clothes and everything else. My father used to have a saying that went, “Scrimp on necessities so you can splurge on luxuries.” As I write this I am thinking that perhaps this is where I adopted this attitude at a very young age, because in a sense, that is exactly what I do.

For instance, for the past year I have been taking 3-4 days each month to drive off to a little cabin on the coast where I find the quiet ocean setting very peaceful and relaxing. Friends have said they wish they could afford to do this. However, these same people spend money on eating out and purchasing coffees whereas I almost always prepare my own food from scratch and am not a coffee drinker. I figure the cost of a take-out sandwich and a beverage 5 days a week is the same as the amount I spend on my getaways. It’s all a matter of tradeoffs.

I have one friend who lives on a fixed disability income and she is an expert at all the free entertainment we have in our community as well as how to live well very cheaply. She turned me on to the publication Freecycle, where people post things they want to get rid of and are giving away. You can sign up for the edition in your locality.

Budgeting can be very creative. Sometimes it involves more time, such as harvesting seeds from plants to grow new ones, instead of making a trip to a nursery, or making your own food instead of getting take-out, but there is also a great pleasure in taking charge of these things and not feeling helplessly at the mercy of high costs. There is a great sense of peace that comes from spending less than you earn and having a sense of plenty and abundance.

One of my tricks is that I have a number of savings accounts, all for different purposes. One is for taxes, one is where I save for getaways and I have an envelope where I tuck bits of cash to save up to get massages. In addition, I have an emergency account for whatever crazy unexpected thing comes up.

The point is, regardless of your income, if you spend as much or more than you are bringing in, you will always feel strapped and little problems start to become big problems. But if you work at ways to keep your costs down reserving enough to occasionally splurge on pleasure you will feel abundant. This is key in truly taking good care of yourself.