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How I’m Freeing Myself from the Trap of Stuff I Don’t Need

“In the marketing society, we seek fulfillment but settle for abundance. Prisoners of plenty, we have the freedom to consume instead of the freedom to find our place in the world.” ~Clive Hamilton, Growth Fetish

I come from a time where passbook savings accounts were the norm.

I can recall skipping along to the bank, aged eight, with one pudgy hand enveloped in my dad’s and the other clutching a little booklet.

I’d wait my turn in line with butterflies in my belly. The teller was always so far away. But once I got to her, it was magical. She’d open a hidden drawer, extract the exact notes, and scribble the remaining balance into my passbook. Et voilà—cash in hand!

Everything about this performance was concrete and transparent: Whenever I withdrew money, I immediately saw my bank balance decline. And without the risk of it nosediving into overdraft, it’s how I understood money was a finite entity. It’s how my parents taught me to not spend beyond my means, to only buy stuff I needed or had saved up for.

Having a passbook savings account in my childhood and adolescence protected me from buying stuff carelessly.

Fast-forward to 2018, now living in Australia—which equates to residing in opulence for those living in developing nations—I’m not only thirty-six years apart from my eight-year-old self, but also thirty-six worlds away. In this world my eight-year-old self would throw a tantrum if she didn’t get the Barbie doll she wanted. I blame credit cards for that.

What also saw me come out on top all those years ago was the absence of the advertising glut that now penetrates an eight-year-old’s sphere.

In 1982 Fiji, TV did not exist. I played outside. I read Enid Blyton. I didn’t read the newspaper. And I can’t bring to mind any specific billboards of that time, even though I’m sure there were a few in the city, where I did not live.

Today, at forty-four years of age living in the era of affluenza and having a disposable income, advertisers know my attention is priceless. Yet, they get it on the cheap. This is despite my creating an anti-advertising bubble to cushion me: In 2014, I deleted my Facebook account. In 2017, my Twitter account. While I have Instagram, I do not use it. And I rarely watch commercial TV.

The ads for stuff don’t just infiltrate this bubble—they gush in. Into my inbox, even when I didn’t sign up for the next celebrity’s latest self-help book because I am something to be fixed. On my phone, when I receive a text promoting a sale of 15 percent off TVs all day today (and today only!). On trams, trains, buses, buildings, freeways…

The humble bus shelter does not escape from being turned into a billboard either. When I walk my dogs, I pass one that is currently telling me I can “drive away in a Polo Urban for only $16,990.” (Do I need a new car? After all my current one is nine years old, although it is running smoothly. Hmmm…) The posters on this shelter change weekly. It does not allow me the grace to become immune.

Even if I could construct an impenetrable bubble, it’d be pointless. The Internet and its cookies would see to that.

These cookies know—and remember with unfailing memory—what I desire (printed yoga leggings!). And they flaunt my desires by dangling carrots in front of me, whether I’m reading an online article, watching a video on YouTube, or searching on Google.

And if the Internet tempts with its cookies, then it decidedly seduces with its availability. I can now stare at the blue light on my ever-ready smartphone and make decisions to buy yoga leggings whenever I want.

The perfect time to do just that is before I flop into bed, after a long day’s hard work, cooking dinner, washing dishes, and watching an episode or two of my favorite show on Netflix. I should feel elated when I hit the buy button, but I find myself getting into bed not only with my husband, but also with guilt and a larger credit card debt.

The grab for my attention and time under the guise of convenience and a better life is, however, simply the tip of the iceberg. What no one can see is that I am waging a war against myself—with the monkey-mind chatter that jumps from one justifying thought to another, convincing me that something is a need not a want. This is an example of what the Buddhists call suffering.

About two years ago, my husband and I moved into the new house we built. It’s much bigger than one we’ve ever lived in. And as we prepared to move into it months beforehand, the justifications began:

We need new furniture to match the modern feel of the house. (Danish style, as we had been subconsciously brainwashed by Instagram with everything that was hip in interior design.) And we need a bigger TV for the bigger living space. A new fridge because our old one won’t neatly slide into its allocated spot of the spacious kitchen. And more paintings, since we now have more walls…

Not only did we ‘need’ all this stuff, but we also had to choose stuff that was ‘us.’ And it all had to look ‘just so’ when put together. So we researched online. Visited furniture, home, and electrical stores each weekend. Read reviews. Let the cookies take our minds into a rabbit hole of stuff we didn’t realize we needed.

Just thinking about all the time, money, and energy we invested to get it ‘right’ sets my heart aflutter and raises a sweat. It was gruelling—the number of choices, the number of decisions (Did you know that an eight-year-old now has hundreds of different Barbie dolls to choose from?). Luckily my husband and I have similar tastes; otherwise, I’m afraid, adding a number of arguments into the mix might have broken us entirely.

The evidence continues to pile up in favor of stuff even after the purchases have been made. After decking out our new house, I soon learned that not only did I possess things, but they also possessed me.

I worried about scuffing the freshly painted walls, staining the white kitchen benchtop with turmeric while making a curry, and my nephews scratching the wooden dining table by racing their toy cars on it. (What’s that saying? Is it “Stuff is meant to be used and people loved”?)

If I didn’t feel the compulsion to fill in the space, to make everything perfect, simply because the world presents me with the choices and pressures to do so, what would—what could—I do with all that extra time and energy, not to mention money? Read, write, hang out with my mum? See another part of the world? And, more importantly, who would I be? A happier, more relaxed person? The irony.

So, with the odds stacked completely against me, how do I even stand a chance of coming out on top of all this stuff? (How does anyone?)

I don’t believe the answer is to cut up my credit cards and get a passbook savings account, or to become a Luddite. The answer lies in cultivating awareness. By becoming aware of my thoughts and feelings, I can regain my power. Asking questions is paramount:

Will it give my life meaning? Make my life easier, better? Why do I really want it? Is it only because I am chasing a feeling? Or because I want to squelch one? What would happen if I didn’t buy it?

Failing this, I can always remind myself that almost everything material is optional.

About Lesh Karan

Lesh Karan is a former pharmacist turned writer. While she’s worn a few different work hats, including editing, food coaching and health writing, one thing has always remained consistent: harnessing words to help her process life. Learn more about Lesh at leshkaran.com.

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This Weekend I Fell Apart, and That’s Okay

“Look for something positive each day, even if some days you have to look a little harder.” ~Unknown

This weekend I hurt more than I have in a very long time.

It all started on Friday, when my boyfriend and I headed out to spend the weekend with friends—two couples, both with babies in tow.

I’ve been trying, unsuccessfully, to get pregnant since the start of the year, yet I didn’t anticipate that it would be emotionally taxing for me to be around two little families. I was just excited to see our friends, who live in the Bay Area, hours away from our home near LA.

A little backstory: I’m less than three weeks away from my thirty-ninth birthday, which means I’m now in the category of “high risk pregnancy,” if I’m even able to get pregnant at all.

My boyfriend and I first discussed having a baby five years ago, but we kept pushing it off because our families live on opposite coasts, and neither of us was able to agree to live on the other’s coast full-time for the long-term.

We finally decided, at the beginning of this year, that I would be the one to visit my family—as often as I feel I need to, with our kid(s), for the foreseeable future—and we’d commit to staying in LA, which makes sense, since we’re working toward a career in film.

But biology doesn’t just fall in line because you finally get over your fears and decide to make a compromise. We’re both open to the idea of adoption, but there are other personal issues—that my fiercely private boyfriend would not want disclosed—that have complicated matters.

So there I was, on Friday, with our friends and their adorable babies—one actually a toddler, since he recently turned two.

We toasted our get-together around 5:00 with our first glass of wine, and the wine continued flowing throughout dinner. After, we all moved to the deck to partake in an at-home wine tasting.

The ladies and I discussed my road to pregnancy, and though I was discouraged, for the most part I was fine—until I wasn’t.

Having lost track of the amount of wine I was drinking, I eventually hit that emotional place I remember from my twenties—when alcohol eventually led to histrionics and tears. It is literally a depressant, after all, and generally not great to imbibe when you’re already feeling fragile.

I don’t remember all the details of that night, but I know I cried about my fears about not being able to have a family (which, as I mentioned, is an issue complicated by many factors).

I woke up at 4:00 in the morning and picked a fight with my boyfriend about our relationship. Then I woke at 8:00 with two things: a hangover and a shame-over. I was absolutely mortified.

I’d gotten drunk, turned a fun night with friends into something heavy and emotional, and had caused my boyfriend a lot of pain and embarrassment. It gave me a little comfort to realize everyone had drunk too much. But I still felt deeply ashamed of having lost control.

Ironically, I received an email that morning that I’d been waiting on for almost a month. My film mentor had just read the second draft of my first feature screenplay, and she said she was blown away by the massive improvement from the first draft.

I had never in my life simultaneously felt immense pride and deep shame, but I did right then.

Fortunately, the friend I cried to was extremely kind and empathetic. And no one judged me or put me down, as good friends never do.

But that day was pretty rough for me, physically and emotionally. And the next day, it got worse.

That night I noticed that a few people had commented on a meme I’d shared on Friday, using clipart with a hyper-sexualized female silhouette. They mentioned that it was demeaning to women to use what essentially appeared to be Barbie to represent the female form. One person called it “offensive.”

Though there were only a few critical comments, juxtaposed against 12,000 shares, I immediately realized I agreed with them. As someone who once struggled with an eating disorder, I’d like to represent women as more than a busty, high-pony-tailed caricature.

This didn’t fully or accurately represent my values or the message I’d like to convey. And I didn’t like the idea of young girls seeing it and concluding, as I may have as an adolescent, that this was what a woman is supposed to look like, even if some women actually look like this. So I decided to take it down.

With a mind still foggy I decided to write something on Facebook, as I wanted the community to know I felt I’d made an error in judgment. I didn’t want to just delete it. I want to make it clear I don’t agree with a society that puts pressure on women to be femme bots and suggests that our sexuality is our most valuable contribution.

I mentioned in my post that some people had pointed out that the image was offensive, and I agreed that it was triggering—and the backlash was swift and harsh.

In retrospect, I don’t think I accurately communicated why I decided to remove this image, since I didn’t address the cultural issue of how women are portrayed in the media, and the fact that I’d like to be part of the solution, not the problem. But I’m not sure if would have mattered if I did, since I’d used the word “offensive.”

I forgot that people often get offended by other people getting offended.

Over the next day, hundreds of comments came in, many attacking me on a personal level.

People called me spineless for catering to “snowflakes.” People said they lost respect for me and questioned my aptitude for even doing the work I do, since I clearly have no sense of conviction or belief in my own decisions. Even more alarming, many people mocked the idea of being “triggered,” and essentially belittled anyone with emotional or mental health issues.

I felt misunderstood, judged, and condescended.

I hid or deleted many of the worst comments, and resisted the urge to defend myself, deciding instead to leave one clarifying comment a couple hours in. But I’m not going to lie; this affected me deeply.

While on the one hand, I reminded myself that my power was in my response, and publicly, I only responded in one calm, clear comment, I also obsessively monitored the feed.

By this time my boyfriend and I were at his parents’ house in Nevada, where we planned to stay for a few days, and I wasn’t even close to present. I didn’t want to delete this new post, since I believed I’d done the right thing, but it pained me to see so much vitriol in a space that I hold sacred.

Then came another blow: I’d noticed a while back that since the start of the year, someone had been sharing every single challenge from my book Tiny Buddha’s 365 Tiny Love Challenges, on Facebook. Though this person tagged my page, none of the posts included the book’s title or a link—and some people actually assumed she was writing these posts, or getting them from my Facebook page.

I’d emailed my publisher a few weeks back to ask their thoughts on this, and they told me they could send an email asking her to stop. At the time, this seemed warranted.

Her Facebook friends didn’t see it that way. After she posted the letter from my publisher’s legal department, tagging my page, once again, the comments turned nasty.

F— you, Tiny Buddha.

You suck, Tiny Buddha.

More like “Greedy Buddha.”

Unbelievable! She should thank you for the free marketing!

For a while, I felt completely numb. And I knew I was doing the “wrong” things by obsessively monitoring my phone and letting these comments get to me.

I knew it wasn’t serving me to dwell in my self-righteousness and how wrong I believed it was for this woman, who enjoyed my work enough to share it, to like comments that attacked me on a personal level. But I did it anyways.

I was angry with the people who were angry. I was triggered by the people who were triggered.

And then something occurred to me: This whole weekend was an opportunity. It was a chance to practice some of the lessons that are much easier to practice when everything is going well.

This weekend was a chance to remember that:

I need compassion most when I think I deserve it the least.

Initially, I beat myself up over several things this weekend: drinking to excess, exploding emotionally, hurting my boyfriend, choosing clipart that I wished I hadn’t chosen, letting my publisher speak for me instead of reaching out to the woman personally, and obsessing over the various challenges I was facing instead of being present.

I told myself I shouldn’t have made any of those mistakes. I should have been beyond this. I was a fraud.

Then I realized something: I was being as mean to myself as the people online. And not a single blow of self-flagellation was helping me move on. In fact, each self-judgmental thought cemented me further into the hole. Because telling myself I was sucking at life made it awfully hard to find the strength to do better.

Every time I criticized myself, I weakened myself, and a weakened person is far less equipped to reframe difficult circumstances and respond wisely.

The only way out was to cut myself some slack. I needed to stop fighting with myself and let go, as if melting into a hug from someone who had finally forgiven me. I needed my own love and compassion.

So I drank too much and cried. I was hurting. It’s been a long journey toward starting a family, and it’s been hard. It’s okay to hurt.

So I made mistakes in my work—who hasn’t? I owned them and publically admitted them. What matters isn’t the fact that I messed up but that I acknowledged it and committed to doing better.

I don’t have to be perfect. Sometimes I will make mistakes, some public, and sometimes I’ll make many that compound. The only way to stop the cycle is to stop obsessing about having done things wrong. The only way to move into the future is to fully accept the past. Once I did this, I felt freer, and better able to be present.

The approval that matters most is my own.

It bothered me that people believed I removed the image because I needed approval from the “complainers,” as opposed to having made a decision based on my own beliefs and values.

But ironically, once the flood of negative comments came in, I did start feeling a need for approval. I wanted people to understand and honor my positive intentions.

It took me a day, but I was finally able to accept that some people were simply committed to judging me, and this wasn’t something to change; it was something to accept.

It didn’t matter if some people derided me or questioned me if I felt in my heart I’d done the right thing.

I eventually deleted the second post because I wanted to put an end to the negativity. There’s far too much of that on Facebook already. But I’m proud I waited and resisted the urge to remove all criticism immediately. For a recovering approval addict, allowing a public character assassination requires immense strength. And I give myself a lot of credit for that.

It’s rarely personal.

Intellectually, I knew this when people were insulting me in both places on Facebook.

I knew that the people who were angry with me for catering to “snowflakes” were really projecting their feelings about what they perceive to be an oversensitive culture. It wasn’t just about this one image. It was about every time someone’s ever said they were offended, and their complex feelings about what that means to them.

I also knew that the people defending the woman who’d been sharing my book online were acting from a place of allegiance to their friend. They were more pro-her than anti-me. Many didn’t even have all the information—they didn’t realize she’d been sharing from a book. So really, I couldn’t take that personally either.

This wasn’t immediately comforting to me because the attacks were so public, but when I was able to fully absorb this, it did give me some peace.

Not everyone will see my side, and that’s okay.

I believe one of our deepest desires is to feel understood—to know that other people get where we’re coming from and that they may even have done the same thing if they were in our shoes.

I didn’t feel that way when people judged me personally based on the letter from my publisher’s legal department.

I left a few comments on that post, trying my best to respond from a place of calm, but I know there are some people who will forever think I am greedy and soulless because I didn’t want my book’s content republished online.

I’ve decided that this is okay. Not everyone has to get me, understand me, support me, be considerate of me, or treat me kindly—so long as I do those things for myself.

Pain can be useful if you share it to help someone else.

I decided to share this post for two reasons:

First, I thought it would be cathartic for me. I felt ashamed for a lot of this weekend, and I wanted to be able to reframe this experience in a way that felt empowering. As I said when I first launched this site, when we recycle our pain into something useful for others, we’re able to turn shame into pride.

And that brings me to the second reason: I thought it might be helpful for someone else to realize that even someone who runs a site like Tiny Buddha can fall into so many self-destructive traps.

If you’ve ever drank too much and fell apart emotionally, know that you’re not alone.

If you’ve ever obsessed over comments online and allowed something as trivial as a Facebook feud to get the better of you, know that you’re not alone.

If you’ve ever failed to apply what you know and regressed to the least evolved version of yourself, know that you’re not alone.

And know that all of these things are okay. They don’t mean anything about you as a person. They don’t define you. And they certainly don’t have to dictate the future.

This is what I needed to hear this weekend when I was despondent and numb, so today it’s my gift to you. I hope someone benefits from something in my experience, but I suppose no matter what, someone has—me.

About Lori Deschene

Lori Deschene is the founder of Tiny Buddha and Recreate Your Life Story, an online course that helps you let go of the past and live a life you love. Her latest book, Tiny Buddha’s Worry Journal, which includes 15 coloring pages, is now available. For daily wisdom, follow Tiny Buddha on Twitter, Facebook & Instagram.

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When Life Hurts: 3 Tips for Hard Times

“When you come to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on.” ~Franklin D. Roosevelt

Life is an unpredictable experience filled with peaks and plateaus. One thing is certain, at some point on this wild ride you will find yourself in hard times. Not everyone experiences the same kind, but life does offer each person struggle in some way. When you find yourself in this situation be gentle with yourself.

There is no true way to ever be fully prepared for hard times. Similar to a hurricane, you can have an understanding that they will happen, but until you live through the experience of the storm and the aftermath there is no way to truly know how these events will impact you and your life.

I have experienced many hard times, but my father’s death in January was absolutely devastating to me. My relationship with him had ebbs and flows just like any relationship does. He had been sick and when I moved closer to home three years ago we used to spend our Fridays together.

We would go on drives through the country, looking at the scenery from the car windows. He would tell me stories about his friends when they were younger, living in California during the sixties, the things he had been reading about, and his newfound interest in going back to church after fifty years since being an altar boy.

These drives were so special to me. I think I miss them the most.

I knew that death was inevitable, but I didn’t know when it would happen. Preparation for this situation was impossible. There were overwhelming feelings of grief as I was pushed into basic survival mode.

By slowing down, I found some ways to help process this situation so I could eventually feel my feet on the ground again. Hopefully you will be able to pull some ideas from here to help you process as well.

Take a step back.

When faced with life changing events it’s okay to take a step back from things. One step, two steps, as many steps as you think you might need. Our lives are always in constant movement. Families, jobs, and social events are just a few things that fill up and demand our time. At any given moment, there is always something to be taken care of.

During hard times you may benefit from taking a step back from all of these heavy demands of life to focus on basic survival. Even the most mundane task may seem overwhelming when your body and mind are processing a situation. Be mindful of how you feel and begin to focus on your own healing.

My father died in January. He went into the hospital the day after Christmas, died six days into the New Year, and was gone twelve days before his sixty-ninth birthday. He was sick and we knew we would eventually lose him, but we didn’t know when, and it was earth shattering when he left us. This year turned into a time of grieving and a transitional period.

When someone leaves you are left to rebuild a new life without them in it. At the same time, I was going through a job transition. I was leaving a job, taking two weeks of training and moving into a different job. I had the dates planned out perfectly for this life change. The loss of my father was so great that I became physically, emotionally, and mentally drained. I stopped going to work, was unable to execute new ideas from the training, and had to move into my new job at a snail’s pace.

During this period of time I had to do whatever I could to keep my feet on the ground and find my focus. While being constantly pulled in so many directions there were still bills to be paid. Know there is only so much energy to go around, my energy was focused on what I needed to do to get by. I was not climbing mountains and reaching peaks at this point in my life. I was walking plateaus as best I could.

Evaluating what was most important to me at this time helped me keep focus on where my energy needed to be. It was very clear to me what I needed to do and what I needed to take a step back from.

I spent as many minutes with him at the end of his life as I could. I spent as much time with my family as I could. I also continued showing up to teach yoga classes on the day he died as well as on the day of his services to be able to meet basic needs. Determining my focus helped me realize where my energy needed to be. I was able to take a step back so I was able to take a step forward with best intentions.

I had to slow down to process. I took a step back from it all. Even to this day, I am still processing and I know I will again step forward but I am simply not ready at this point. At this point, I survive.

All hands on deck.

Surround yourself with loving and supportive people during hard times. These are your people, they will be the ones to help you through this difficult period and help you find yourself back in the world again.  They will be there for you as you navigate your way through this period into your new self and new life. They are your people.

Allow these people to be there for you. They want to be there for you. They want to show up for you. Allow them in. It may be hard when you want to isolate into pain, but connection is so important to healing.

Connecting with others may mean watching movies together, sending texts when you feel alone or meeting for coffee and talking about anything and everything. These people love you so much. They want you to feel it.

For me, a Facebook post began an outpouring of love and support. I am grateful for each person who liked, commented, messaged, called, texted, showed up, cooked me dinner, let me shower at their house and simply lay on the couch.

They were there for everything. They were the wall to hold me up and a soft place to land at the same time. They wanted to be there for me. They had no idea what I needed and had no idea what to say, but they showed up and I got through it. Allow people to show up for you, lean on them, they will support you.

All hands on deck can mean people who you have known forever or people you are just inviting into your life. The feelings we experience are universal. You might be feeling something and the stranger sitting next to you might be experiencing the same feeling.

Sometimes finding connection with someone can be a difficult struggle. When feeling such deep emotions it can be hard to figure out who to turn to for support during these times.

There are so many routes to go—people we know, support groups, community forums, counselors, doctors, religious environments, blogs to read, or social media are just a few places to find support systems to help you through hard times.

Even reading books about topics similar to what you are going through can offer some clarity. Try out different things and see what works best for you. You may find someone going through the same thing in the most unusual place. Keep yourself open to it.

Take all the time you need.

Hard times guarantee a change in life’s rhythm. Great changes are happening as one part of life ends and another begins. Hearts and minds are evolving from this experience and that is transforming how we see the world around us.

During this period of time, be gentle with yourself. Give yourself all the time you need. Listen to others’ stories, but know that you are in your own story and you know what’s best for you. If you need sleep, then sleep. If you need to cry, then pour. Listen to your body and give yourself what you need. There is no rule book or time limit for healing.

Right after my father’s death, I thought I would go back to being myself and fall back into my regular rhythm in no time. I didn’t realize these hard times would shake me up and change who I was and the way I saw life, but they did.

Walking in the woods, watching movies, and reading in bed are just some ways that I have been taking my time to absorb this situation. I have cried everyday and I’m not sure if that is going to ever stop. I just keep giving myself more time.

Each day I fall back into the rhythm of this wonderful life that I live. Then some days I fall back out. It is a process that I am fiercely trying to honor. I am trying to be gentle, to be in it, to always keep moving forward.

When you find yourself experiencing hard times, soften into these sharp edges in life. Step back from the pressures of the everyday, feel the love and support around you, and take all the time you need. You will come to trust in the magic of life again.

About Audrey Wociechowski

Audrey Wojciechowski loves finding inspiration in moments, conversations, nature and the world around her. Being a strong believer in the sensory experience of life she hopes to be fully engaged in every experience and to connect with others along the way. Connect with her on Facebook and Instagram.

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