Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Mental Sustainability

I spent four hours Sunday stripping leaves off branches and cutting branches into kindling.

Why? Because I could!

After spending week after week sitting still and not able to do anything in the yard or garden, I worked slowly, at a task that would not hurt me, at an enjoyable pace, and I discovered something about myself: this is what I could do every day.  Gardening, yard work, housekeeping, cooking, canning, all of it.  Every day.

In the past, when I thought of being sustainable – I would think of the basics: food, clothing, shelter, water, safety, etc.  When I sat for a while – I discovered that there is another aspect to sustainability that I didn’t fully understand:  Mental sustainability. There are things that are individual to each of us that we require to have a mental wellness.  For me:  the relationships around me of family, friends, neighbors, gardening and nature, contributing to a community, cultivating beauty and creativity, writing, music, seeing a value in the day to day work that I do and playing games and having fun.

For example, there is a happiness that occurs when I complete a task I enjoy:  huge stick pile + empty bucket + stripping the leaves and cutting up sticks = full bucket. Full bucket of kindling + Winter weather = fire starter for cooking and heat. The value of the small amounts of work equal a greater value in the end and result in comfort, heat and food for family and friends and a warm shelter during the storms, as well as a mental comfort and warmth that recharges me and helps me deal with the harshness that sometimes occurs in the world. There is something magical that happens around a hearth.

Another realization came to me this week.  Although there are some projects that need to be done around the house and garden, I need nothing. I was surprised to find that the mental wish list of random things has disappeared. I have enough.  I am not excluding the dream of one day owning more land and being able to have animals and a much larger garden. That is a family dream. For me, personally, I’m done. I have everything I need and, in fact, actually need less than I have.  The few things I do plan to buy in the next year are related to living with less and being sustainable. (bike, hiking shoes, some plants and gardening supplies, and books. Books to read and learn and pass on.)  In the past, when October hit, I would start the frenzy of holiday wish lists and shopping. I really love to give gifts and encourage people, but a lot of the time it seems to just add to a pile of things they already don’t have the time to use. I really enjoy giving and receiving gifts of consumable such as candles, wine, a meal, traveling together, something handmade. Something to create a memory and show another person they are remembered and loved. I am looking forward to being creative with these new ideas for the holidays this year. If we could only change our minds and habits, and instead give of ourselves and our time.

As I rode the bus to work today, I overheard a conversation between an older man and a younger mom with her child. Their discussion was about where they would be sleeping tonight. He would be behind a dumpster downtown, in a friend’s hallway, maybe a shelter, and the woman had a hotel room that she and her child were staying in for a little while to keep them off the streets.  Neither knew what they would be doing for the winter.

This conversation brought what matters most into very clear focus. The chaos of 8-5, which really means 7:15 -5:45 some days with the bus commute, traffic screaming around school buses, around corners and everything screaming around me, the pushing around of papers for 8 hours and the same chaotic trip home. Time passes quickly, without much meaning in a failing economy and goals that can’t be met.  I like my job and most of the people I work with, but at the end of the day – where is the full bucket? I am grateful to have work, when so many people don’t, but where is the cultivation of beauty and creativity?  The money I make is useful for providing for our family and things we need…but what if we just didn’t need all those things anymore? In the evenings I walk or sit in the garden and wish for a day of hard work that contributes to the world to make it better. We’re all in this together and we need each other and in the evenings I am often too tired to spend time the way I would choose. I do my best to make the experience of my job useful to the accounts I deal with and I believe that I get paid to contribute something of value to the company every day. I do this for myself, so I can look at myself in a mirror and be satisfied that – even if I am not living what I dream  – I am giving my best to this day and what I am doing now. I know now that this way is not mentally or physically sustainable for me.

However, the wind is changing, the fog is lifting, and my mind is clearer than it has ever been.

There is something in motion here that will take me to a new place. It already has begun to change me. I don’t know the exact path or where it will lead, but the direction I am facing now looks very different and it feels like home...

and home is a great place to be...

A Small Harvest

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