Sunday, September 6, 2009

Clutter, Distraction, Fear and Song

One of the things about paying attention (see posting of August 23, 2009) is that you begin to notice things. Duh. So in this last week or so, I've begun to notice things around my house: the piles of paper on my desk, the magazines and catalogs on the stairs by the front door, the extra jars of applesauce and salsa on the kitchen counter, the bag of books I packed for my weekend away that I didn't read, the new CDs that haven't found their way into the CD rack because it's full, the bushes in the front that really need to be pruned, the grass that is overgrown on the curb...

I've also begun to acknowledge my feelings about this time of transition: no longer in seminary, seeking a call, taking steps toward ordination, changes in my current job and new people to supervise at my workplace, state and national economic uncertainties, friends and colleagues with undiagnosed illnesses, and my daughter starting high school. Most of those changes are scary, although some are scary with potential for joy.

And I made the not so amazing leap that perhaps the clutter and mess has a strong connection to my fears. Serendipitously, yesterday morning I read this poem by Wendell Berry from Sabbaths (San Francisco, CA: North Point Press, 1987). (This volume is out of print--I found it at a used book store in North Adams, MA while on vacation.)
1979: I
I go among the trees and sit still.
All my stirring becomes quiet
around me like circles on water.
My tasks lie in their places
where I left them, asleep like cattle.

Then what is afraid of me comes
and lives a while in my sight.
What it fears in me leaves me,
and the fear of me leaves it.
It sings, and I hear its song.

Then what I am afraid of comes.
I live for a while in its sight.
What I fear in it leaves it,
and the fear of it leaves me.
It sings, and I hear its song.

After days of labor,
mute in my consternations,
I hear my song at last,
and I sing it. As we sing
the day turns, the trees move.

Now the mess and clutter also has something to do with having been in seminary for the past five years while working full-time. Housekeeping, beyond levels necessary for general health and sanitation, has been low on my list. So, my lack of energy for and interest in housekeeping stem from habit and frankly from the need for rest after pushing through the last few years. But this poem was to the point: I need to sit with my fears until I don't fear them and then I'll find my song.

A couple of weeks ago at work at staff meeting we had a time management discussion using the PBS produced DVD by Julie Morgenstern, Time Management from the Inside Out. I've taken time management seminars and taught time management seminars, so I was a bit skeptical that I would learn much. Morgenstern's first premise is that you have to find and have life balance and identify your big picture goals in each area of your life, and that time management is about living your life in the way that's best for you. In order to figure out what's blocking you in doing that, she has a three-level diagnostic: that there are technical errors, external realities, and psychological obstacles. A one-hour video didn't give me enough time to think about and apply the diagnostics, so I borrowed the book. One clue that this book is not designed to make you merely more efficient: an exercise called "keep a joy journal."
(p. 145) If you've been so focused on taking care of other people that you've lost touch with what makes you happy, try keeping a "joy journal" for a month or so. Start paying attention [note to self, a recurrent theme?] to what delights you. … Whenever you notice you have just done something you've enjoyed, jot it down in your journal. … Give yourself permission to love what you love, whether it is cleaning out your refrigerator, reading poetry, or painting your kitchen.
I also noticed that she first wrote a book Organizing from the Inside Out. Since clutter issues seemed to be more troubling than time management at the moment, I thought this might be a better place to start. So on the way home I stopped at the library and checked it out.

Highlights of what I've learned so far in using her diagnostics about my clutter.
Biggest technical error for me, and #1 on her list: "Items have no home." See list above of things I noticed about clutter in my house. [Where do you put your magazines?]

Most prominent External reality #3: In Transition. Say amen to that one.

Psychological Obstacle #1: Need for Abundance [Otherwise, why would I have extra jars of applesauce and salsa?—I just think it's part of being hospitable. My friends vote my house the best place to visit in case of an emergency.] Her solution: find ways to organize rather than reduce. See technical error #1 again—where is the home for those extra jars?

Psychological Obstacle #7: Need for Distraction
(p. 32) Disorganization can serve as a convenient preoccupation to help you avoid issues or tasks you don't want to deal with or face. To put it another way, as long as you have a closet to clean or a stack of papers to sort, your mind remains distracted, leaving no room for weightier concerns you find uncomfortable or difficult to think about.
Oh, is that what this clutter is about? Is it a way not to think about my fears about the changes in my life? If I clean up the clutter, will I have time and room to deal with the feelings I'm not wanting to feel? Eek! Morgenstern suggests that you need to think and analyze using the diagnostics, then strategize about what to do and then attack. So I'm still analyzing and strategizing.

Nonetheless, I cleaned off the table between the recliners in the living room yesterday. I pruned the bushes and trimmed the edges. I took the books out of the bag and designated a shelf for those not yet read. I recognized that the magazines need a home.

Just those little things created some space to reflect and feel. So, yesterday afternoon I sat down and began to write a song. It's not done, still needs work, but in song I begin to capture what is important for me, and I noted writing does bring me joy, whether in blog essays, lyrics, or music.

"After days of labor, mute in my consternations, I hear my song at last, and I sing it."

May your labors on this Labor Day weekend also bring you to song.

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