four

The other night I realized I had mistyped myself on the Enneagram. This, after I just linked to the “One” description in my previous blog post, indicating that I identified as such. This lead me to read this description, extensive, and written by scholars of the Enneagram Institute, and I could not see myself in it. Only a shadow of who I was trying to be or how I thought others saw me.

This is a poem I wrote about this process. It’s unclear, but I guess that’s a nod to this whole self-discovery thing… or whatever. Also because Type Fours are said to be the most complex number on the Enneagram. Go figure.

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Find this here.

 

“four”

 

I’ve been drinking copious amounts of coffee these days

I blame it on the peppermint taste

and the nights up late

laundry sits unfolded but clean

and I come up for air in between

between the kids’ naps and those loads and our arrivals and his departures and contacts on this reject-phone

I do, I do

I do see beauty in this mess

but I recognize my tendency to be

thoroughly drenched in tragedy

swinging back and forth, yes, in between again

in between the lines of these pages with a borrowed pen

but in between the delirious highs and the moody lows

there is a deep-seeded part of my heart that knows

I have been hiding from who I’ve always been

and pushing past and away from the people who knew me when

It’s easier and far more beautiful

to stand behind a well-written metaphor

but each time I hear a song I once knew by heart

my eyes fill with rain and I play my old part

the one listed in dusty playbills, burned cds, and poetry written on gum wrappers found in worn coat pockets in my childhood closet…

what is it? I can’t make out this role…

it’s my soul

I don’t chew gum anymore, or act on stage

but poetry cuts in deep during this “melancholic” rage

maybe I am hiding behind this extended metaphor

maybe my heart needs to break to be sure

this, here, this mess upon my sleeve is proof

of what I’m not sure, but it feels like truth

I’ve been drinking copious amounts of water these days

gulping down tears for fears (and the cure, and alkaline…)

I don’t believe I’ve ever really been one to pretend that I’m fine.

my year of less

woman sitting on wooden planks

Photo by Keenan Constance on Pexels.com

It’s twelve days into the month. They tell me that by this time, most people have already broken their new year’s resolutions.

I’ve tried the resolution thing before. It’s been these etherial statements like, “get in shape”, or “stop being negative”; but like, what on earth does that even mean and how the heck would I even measure that?

Then I stumbled across this whole “One Word” thing, and that was pretty great. I did really feel God lead me to a single word during a single season. The “problem” was that it was never within the confines of a single year. Case and point, I started my One Words in 2014, and I’ve only had 4 words since then. It seems God needed far more time for me to learn tough words like “surrender” or “journey” than one little neatly-packaged year.

In fact, I think I’m still learning all of them–slow, surrender, journey, and grace–and I’m sure I’ll keep circling back to these little words with their powerful lessons on a more-than-annual basis.

But this year I did feel a release from my last word, which was “grace“, and it came right before Thanksgiving.

I’ll spare you the details, mostly because they are pretty private, but I’ll tell you that I finally learned how to forgive someone major in my life, and it was an eye-opening experience for me.

Letting go of “grace” isn’t really letting go of “grace”, but I think I’ve learned it well enough to loosen my grip of focus on it for the time being.

God has given me another word to turn round and round like a prism in my hand, examining it and asking “what are you? what do you need to teach me?”

The word is very simple, and almost painfully vague. It’s “less”.

Less? Less of what? you might ask. Good question.

As my former blog title/alias once stated, I’m a “wannabe minimalist” with the tagline, “less stuff; more freedom”. So the “less stuff” part is truly on my heart, for sure. But the truth is there is a lot more in my life that I think I need less of than just tangible “stuff” (though I guess it all is just “stuff” isn’t it?)

I’m a list person, so here is a list of things I want less of in 2020:

less spending

less coveting

less consuming

less stress

less idols

less selfishness

less striving

less preoccupation

less anger

less exhaustion

less bitterness

Part of this pursuit of less has lead me to take a shopping ban a la Cait Flanders’ “A Year of Less”, which, as she points out in her book, is also very much a browsing ban. See, I like to spend my time looking at things on Amazon, price comparing, reading reviews, adding items to my wish list, or my kids’ wish list, or searching the lightning deals for gift ideas. It reaches a fever pitch at Christmastime, which it probably why this year’s word hits right at the New Year this go round. Browsing often leads to purchasing things I don’t need (I did say I was a wannabe minimalist– did you catch that?). I would feel a little giddy rush getting items in the mail. Even if the items were not for me, but for someone else. This made me concerned that “retail therapy” was actually becoming a thing in my life, and that thing is actually, in reality, just a funny way of saying idolatry.

Online shopping was becoming an idol, and that was no good.

Another part of this pursuit of less has lead me to officially delete my Facebook account. This is the reason most anyone who might possibly have read this, probably won’t. But Facebook made it so easy to compare myself to other people and be preoccupied with basically nothing at all, and it was a temptation to check out and not be present to my actual life. So it’s gone, at least for the year, but probably forever. I’m really over social media you guys, and I’ll probably never be an established blogger for this reason. I think I’m okay with that.

And probably the most etherial of the bunch, I want less stress.

I remember in high school–flippin’ high school guys!–I was stage managing this show and the director said to me, “Claire, you always seem stressed. You should like, smoke or something.” (This was a college student director for a summer project, not a teacher telling me to go smoke some weed, which, for the record, I didn’t. Smoking is not one of my vices, though I’ve got plenty others.) And then, this past July, I went to get a massage. The masseuse who worked on me didn’t remember me from the last time I was there until she felt my shoulders, which were completely riddled with knots. “Oh yes, she said, I remember this tension. I don’t want to upset you, but yeah girl, this kind of stress is pretty rare.”

This, this is true about a gal who’s been trained in the Alexander Technique and used to teach Yoga? This, also is true about a very entrenched Enneagram Type One, desperately hoping that there is an actual way to achieve perfection (yes, I am aware there is not, but I am also not one to give up on my dreams so easily, it seems).

So yeah, yeah, I’m trying to be less stressed. Trying to let go of striving for the elusive perfection, trying to be everything to everybody. Trying to make sure that everyone and their mom likes me, like, really likes me. Trying to say “no” more often because too much on my calendar makes me absolutely crazy. Trying to leave early so I’m not stressed about being late. Trying to…. trying to… trying to….

Aye, there’s the rub. All this “trying” stresses me out. And here we come to my word again.

Less.

Less trying. Less striving. Less working at it. Less taking care of it. Less fixing it. Less “I’ll get it together, don’t worry; I’m on it.”

Less doing. 

More being.

Because, in reality, when there’s less of something, it leaves room for more of something else. Something better.

Less spending leads to more saving.

Less coveting leads to more contentment.

Less consuming leads to more creating.

Less stress leads to more joy.

Less idols leads to more freedom.

Less selfishness leads to more sacrifice.

Less striving leads to more stillness.

Less preoccupation leads to more presence.

Less anger leads to more connection.

Less exhaustion leads to more energy.

Less bitterness leads to more forgiveness, yes, more grace.

…   …   …   …   …   …   …

So, although this year of “less” will also be a year of “more”, the “less” is what I feel led to focus on. Less stuff, less time commitments, less stress, less worry, less striving, less to-do’s… When faced with a choice to add an unnecessary “more” to my life, I will consciously choose less

3 Things to Let Go of this Fall

3 things to let go of

These trees are about to show us how lovey it is to let the dead things go.” -Anonymous

I felt the cool wind rustling my wispy bangs and wondered why it was I always seemed to cut off my hair when any big life changes occurred.

It was September, and instead of preparing to go back to work as a high school teacher, I was sitting outside of a tiny cabin at a Catholic Hermitage retreat center. It was my last night there, and my last chance to contemplate this new step I was taking, or was it an old step that I simply wasn’t taking? I wasn’t sure what direction I was headed, only where I no longer was.

Looking up at the sky, I saw more stars than I normally could from my home in Chicago. A million tiny white sprinkles in a blue orb framed by the dark shadows of trees shedding their leaves. Out here, away from the smog of the city, the stars were clearer. I wanted more than the stars to be clearer. Silently I prayed that these swirling questions in my life would be answered. That things really would become clearer.

It was then that I noticed the trees. These giants above me, stretching towards the clear sky, their branches shaking in the wind while their roots stood firm. And their leaves were swirling all around me, making the stars even clearer as they did so. They didn’t hold on, grasping for what once was but never could be again. They knew it in their bones; now was the season to let the dead things go.

Stars peeked out behind where those leaves had once been, and precious light shown through what once was. I also had to let the dead things go. Not just of who I was or what my career used to be, but of all the unfulfilled hopes and expectations that I had for my life. It was no use holding onto them. They were blocking the light. They were blocking clarity…

It’s been almost four years since I quit my job and let go of all the expectation I had for my life as an inner city teacher. I now have a new life and things are much clearer, at least when it comes to most things. But I am finding that now is still the season to let go.

This fall, here are 3 things I want to let go of–let go, and never look back–let go, and let the light shine down brighter–let go, and know that I can practice minimalism, even in my own needs…

1- The Need to Look Good

We’ve all done it– slipped on the ice in the parking lot and immediately looked around to see if anyone noticed, all the while silently praying that no one did. We have this desire to always look composed and like we’ve got it all together. As a woman, I have often felt the pressure to look a certain way and maintain a certain image so as to “look good”.

But what if I let that all go? What if I didn’t need to look good every moment of the day? Would the shame of tired and eyes and messy hair at the 3:30pm trip to the grocery store go away? Would I feel freed up to wear what’s comfortable rather than what’s cute? Would I stop comparing my lack of makeup skills to that of my friend at MOPS? Would I stop obsessing over my skin and eyelashes and weird postpartum hair loss/regrowth?

And what about the need to look good, as in to look composed, smart, funny, and morally “good”? If I let that go, would I feel less embarrassed when I misspell a word in a text message (yes, even despite autocorrect)? Would I be unafraid to ask a question about a word I don’t know in my Bible study class? Would I cease to feel insecure when I’m out with my husband at a party where all of his actor friends are discussing the shows and films they’ve worked on? Would I stop feeling like a failure when I hurt someone’s feelings by accident and simply seek forgiveness and genuinely try to make it right?

The need to look good can never be met.

The beauty of youth fades, bodies change, and lack of sleep or time to shower while caring for a newborn… well, it happens. I don’t always have to look good.

Instagram isn’t real life. I make mistakes. I am not always hilarious nor do I always understand the jokes of those who actually are hilarious. What I consider a successful day in my life isn’t what everyone else may consider success at all. My house will get messy. I’ll forget to put my daughter’s sippy-cup or wipes or her bib in the diaper bag and then I won’t look like a “good mom”. Yes, I will sometimes look silly and dumb. Sometimes I actually am silly and dumb. But that’s okay.

I want to let go of the need to look good so I can focus on what is already good in my life. Trying to be perceived a certain way is never fulfilling or fun. I want to let it go.

2- The Need to Feel Good

I began my journey towards minimalism in part because I realized that comfort had become an idol in certain areas of my life. I wanted to feel good rather than do the hard things. Sometimes I wouldn’t even do the very things I actually wanted to, because they would require some sacrifice or suffering. Can you relate?

No one enjoys suffering, and it is human nature to avoid it. But sacrifice is necessary to achieve our goals and make progress in our own character, families, relationships, careers, and lives at large.

The need to feel good is actually extremely temporary. It’s the need to own modern conveniences and comforts that make us feel like we’re worthwhile, even though “stuff” can never define who we are. It’s the need to relieve stress with retail therapy, which only lasts as long as it takes to remove the price tag. It’s the need to be comfortable and have an “easy” lifestyle that is actually wasteful and irresponsible in the long run. It’s the need to play it “safe” and not go the extra mile for someone, even if that someone is our own selves.

Mandy Arioto of MOPS International recently said this: “We resist the suffering we need to do to get what we want, but then we stuffer just the same.” This is exactly what happens when the need to feel good outweighs our deepest desires, hopes, goals, and convictions. We cannot accomplish much of anything if we refuse to feel uncomfortable, vulnerable, and press into the hard feelings of life.

And this is why I’m letting go of the need to feel good. It’s overrated.

3- The Need to Be Right

If Facebook has taught me anything, it is that the human brain is trained to seek out information that we agree with–that makes us right. The articles that I and my friends, family, and acquaintances all post on social media are rarely objective. The news we tend to watch is probably the same. It all has a slant to it which we are already inclined to agree with.

I want to let go of the need to be right. I want to approach people and places and news articles and conversations with curiosity, not assumption. I want to be open to other people’s opinions and when I disagree, because sometimes I genuinely will, I want to be okay with that person thinking I’m wrong. I want to let go of the need to defend my case, to explain myself, to feebly attempt to control the way I am perceived by other people.

Being an Enneagram Type One, this is especially challenging for me. Type Ones are always seeking out what is good and right and true in the world, which is positively noble. But we also have an insatiable desire to be right and also, to be perceived by everyone else as right.

Being in relationship is messy. People misunderstand one another. Apologies are necessary. Some conflicts cannot be reconciled. Agreeing to disagree rarely comes peacefully or easily. But being in relationship with people who think differently than I do is more important than being right and needing to express all of the reasons why I am.

This will be humbling, but if my “One Word” for the year has taught me anything, it’s that I cannot hope to keep stumbling towards wholeness without letting go of some things. 

So let’s start with these three.