Thursday, January 9, 2014

Becoming a better person

That sounds unbelievably trite, but I'm not sure how else to phrase it without new agey 'self improvement' language. At its heart, the issue is that at 40, I'm so sick of the things I'm not good at. I'm tired of making the same mistakes, over and over. I know what my big failings are - or at least I have a good idea of the things I keep tripping over, repeatedly, and the things that always seem to be standing in my way.

Every few years I do this sort of life-level spring cleaning. I use Freemind to map out all of my shortcomings, and then I have "branches" and "clouds" to group them and form solutions. I seek help from professionals for those failings that seem fixable with help, and I work diligently on my own to fix the things that only I can come to terms with.

Not body image. Not "becoming a better housekeeper" or "learning harmonica, once and for all" - but the big things in life. Developing friendships. Giving energy to the people who matter to me the most. Giving my own needs equal weight in decisions. Being warmer, more open, less shuttered in my heart. Following through when I start to reach a place that makes me happy, or gives me peace. Allowing good things to happen with open acceptance. Communicating. Admitting to myself what I truly want, what honestly brings me peace and happiness, rather than assessing my life choices from the perspective of an ex boyfriend, my mother, a coworker who barely knows me. 

I feel like I fill my life up with jobs, work, extra interests, travel, planning travel, planning jobs, planning out ways to enhance my extra interests, and even to some extent running - all to avoid sitting quietly and looking at each of my weaknesses. Thinking about their impact on my life. Deciding to change things, or to accept them. 

During the years when I do my "spring cleaning" I often use my love of hard work as a way to, strangely, avoid the hard work of sitting still with my thoughts. I come from a blue collar family. There is hardly a higher compliment than to call someone a hard worker. And hard work, to my family, means constant tangible busy-ness. Looking at two options for how to spend your next hour and choosing the least sedentary. Often this means choosing the least appealing option. 

When I have the chance to sit still and look at my thoughts, my failings, my feelings about my failings, and tracing them to how they affected my life and evaluating whether I can live with those effects - or, alternatively - to make lists, source self-help books and counselors, create a task list of things to do that can solve each problem in turn, then download productivity software that allows me to track my progress and remain accountable on each area... well, I always opt for the latter course of action. 

I once spent an entire Saturday installing black foam board panels in a checkerboard line marching around my bedroom walls, each with a pinned on title: SELF, HOME, WORK, COMMUNICATION, TO-DO, and then under each title, an ongoing list of action items that were either on the "complete" side or "incomplete", so that each morning my first view would be of the progress I'd made (or had not made) and an instant check-in with myself to start my day. This resulted in stomach aches each morning and averting my eyes so they would never, ever hit one of the boards on my bedroom wall - then complete avoidance of my bedroom as a whole. 

But the act of buying the foam boards and nailing them up onto the wall and writing out the cards was very satisfying, and made me feel like I was "working hard" to fix myself. I was hammering, I was running errands, I was taking charge. Only I really wasn't.

For the rest of this month I'd like to work on "becoming a better person" by allowing myself time to sit and think about the things I'm struggling with. I don't completely discount talking to professionals if that's what seems the best course, or writing lists if I should find myself needing to do more than one thing, but that I'll do that only after some serious, quiet contemplation of the place I find myself, and where I'd like to find myself instead. 

(I wrote that and immediately felt myself getting excited about finding the perfect place to sit and quietly contemplate, what I might use to help me relax [pillow? blanket? yoga pants? candle?] ---- no no no. Just sitting still. Just whenever I have time, just in a quiet place and just in whatever I'm wearing, feeling and smelling at the moment.)


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