Let Go of Survival Mode!

Originally published May 2013

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We live in tough times.  So, we do whatever we can, to keep the “security” of a steady income.

We’re in survival mode.

Survival mode justifies a dog-eat-dog mentality, that puts what we perceive to be necessary for our family’s survival, above the common good.

Survival mode justifies throwing innocent people under the bus, so that we might draw attention away from ourselves.

When we’re in survival mode, we compromise what we believe to be right, because it might cause us to lose that income.

We think we’re protecting our children.  We think we’re being sensible and doing what must be done.  We think we have no choice.

But we do have a choice.

The notion of survival mode is fake.

What happens if we lose that income?  Is our family really going to starve?  Do we not have it within ourselves to find a way, to meet the challenge?  Are we really in danger of not surviving?

And if we’re not being true to ourselves, if we’re deliberately doing what we know to be wrong, in order to “survive,” are we really living?  If we’re sacrificing our dreams and passions, for “security” that really isn’t there, is that a life?

We need to have more faith in ourselves, in our place, and our purpose.  We need to believe that we were put on this earth to do more than sell-out, be miserable, in order to have some level of material security.

The right thing to do is to do right things.

We need to believe that if we do what is right, the rest will be there.  That there is more to life than “earning a living” and looking out for number one.  It is NOT the human “race,” and we have a much larger role to play, than survival.

Are you working toward a simpler lifestyle?  Then I would love to share your story!  Please submit your original (not published anywhere else) story about how you are simplifying your life.  You don’t have to be an extreme minimalist–I would love to share stories of people who are just starting out of their journey.  If your story is selected to be featured, you will receive 50% off the the Simple Living Basics E-Course, after any other discounts.  Send your story to brosselit@gmail.com . 

New to Simple Living?  Then check out our Simple Living Basics e-course.  There are plenty of discounts available, and it will be an investment in a lower-stress more focused lifestyle!

Why I Gave Up “Positive Thinking”

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In my first teaching job, we always began the year by setting a goal.  We would write this goal on an index card and place it in an envelope.  Midway through the year, this goal would turn up in our mailbox, so that we could monitor our own progress.

This was kind of an inside joke between my aide and me, because we always had the same goal: to be more positive.

It wasn’t that we didn’t take our goal seriously or try to be positive.  It’s just that those pesky “negative” thoughts and words always crept in.

And it wasn’t only at work that this was happening.  I noticed negativity in my conversations, in my self-talk, and in my mood, in all aspects of my life.  And during my last winter living in the house in Michigan, I launched an all-out effort to change it.

How did I change it?  I got up early and recited a positive poem to begin my day.  I wrote a gratitude list.  I watched subliminal videos with positive affirmations on You Tube.  I read books about positive thinking.  I recited mantras throughout my day.  I wrote a list of everything I hated about myself and turned it all into the positive, opposite. 

I sought to bombard my mind with positive messages, multiple times a day, so that there would be no room for the negative.  And when I did have negative thoughts, I worked to replace them with positive thoughts, right away.  I worked as hard as I could to fight against that toxic negativity.

And I failed, miserably.  Changing my thoughts was never, could never be so simple. 

After I abandoned my journey toward “positive thinking,” I began a new journey–the journey toward truly understanding my mind.

I learned that in my effort to only think positive thoughts, I was rejecting my own mind.  Negative thoughts are an effort of the mind to communicate something, a cry for help.  And I was attacking my mind for its cries, because they were “negative.”

The alternative course of action is to make peace with these cries for help, and to answer them.

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This is what I learned in my journey to pursue that course:

1.  Negative thoughts are often based on misunderstandings.  When I attacked myself with my thoughts–when I called myself fat, stupid, or a failure–I was misunderstanding myself.  There was something about me that I needed to look at more closely, a misunderstanding that I needed to clear up.  Now, when I think poorly about myself or someone else, I gently ask my mind “why.”  Why am I thinking that?  In looking at the answer and clearing up the misunderstanding, I am able to stop a lot more of those thoughts than I was through “positive thinking.”

2.  Negative thoughts can stem from neglecting our own needs.  If I’m crabby about doing something, helping somebody, or going somewhere, I’ve found that it’s usually because I need to spend some time doing something I want.  In some way, it’s because I need to spend time meeting one of my needs.  Martyrdom and overextension breed such “negative” thoughts, which are really just the mind’s cries for help.

3.  Hopelessness comes from misunderstandings and exhaustion.  “It will never get better; why do I try?” is the mind’s way of saying, “I don’t know what to do, and I need a NAP!”  Learning to relax, then think calmly about a situation has done a lot more to open up my creativity, than any positive affirmations ever did.  And learning to ask for what I need, when I need it, has worked wonders toward stopping that feeling of overwhelm.

In the end, I learned that every negative thought has a purpose, and that simply trying to override them can never work in the long-term.  By abandoning “positive thinking” and moving toward understanding, I have found my outlook to be sunnier and my mind to be calmer.

True Power Lies Beyond Vulnerability

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I remember the first time I experienced a “vulnerability hangover.”

I remember the exact date, to be exact.  It was January 1, 2013.

I had been blogging for nearly 2 years, sharing our adventures in sailing and minimalism.  I had quit Facebook and started corresponding with friends via e-mail.  These interactions were a huge part of my journey, and each of these friends pushed me to break away from the script given to us by society and realize the life that I actually wanted to live.

As these friends encouraged me, I began to see how the impressions I had of myself–the beliefs I had about who I was and what I was capable of–were severely limiting me.  I wrote one friend a long e-mail about what I thought to be the source of my self-doubts, and with their encouragement, turned it into my “New Year’s Eve post.

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And it was after writing this post that the hangover came.

I was afraid of what people would say after reading my post.  How would they judge me?  I was convinced that I was secretly a head case, and if those around me agreed, wouldn’t that mean what I was?

I was afraid to go back to work, after growing and changing so much on break.  I wanted to live life differently, but that would mean taking more risks, and risking losing the security that I thought I had.

I was afraid of how much I trusted my e-mail friends.  They believed in me, and I was addicted to their attention.  If they stopped writing me, if they decided I was a headcase, if they decided I was too clingy–what would that mean about me?

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I was vulnerable in so many ways.

It was during this time that one of my friends e-mailed me a link to Brene Brown’s TED talk, “The Power of Vulnerability.”  I watched it and responded with, “How did this lady get inside my head?”

Brown told of her own journey through perceived unworthiness, and in the end she asserted that the way to find our own worthiness is by being willing to be vulnerable.  And, to be true, vulnerability was an important part of my journey at that time.  I stopped hiding in the shadows, and made some bold choices to share, to risk judgement, and to break free from the seemingly “secure” life I had been living for 10 years.

Like Brown, my journey involved two years of therapy (and counting!  Because I want to continue to grow).  But rather than learning to embrace my vulnerability, I learned to grow beyond it, to see that I was only vulnerable BECAUSE I did not understand my own worth.  The reality is that nobody can hurt us, even if they do “judge.”  Judgements show truth about the judge and their insecurities, not about us.  When we perceive ourselves as lacking, then we use other people’s words as evidence to support our limiting beliefs.    Everything is interpreted as being about us.  This is what causes us to think that we are vulnerable at all.

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As my journey continued, I saw that I was not vulnerable.  That even actions that seemed to be about me, were not.

  • Nobody acted any differently toward me.  But if they had, that wouldn’t mean there was something wrong with me, or that I was a headcase.  It would mean that sometime from my experience triggered a fear in the other person, that they were misunderstanding.
  • There has been a natural ebb and flow in my online friendships, just like there is with friendships in “real life.”  And some of this has even been initiated by me, because I’m not needing that constant positive feedback anymore.  I rejoined Facebook, so we could stay in touch without spending time writing lengthy e-mails.  All of that is fine, and I understand that if people are choosing to spend more time doing other activities, it means nothing about me.
  • Some friends have chosen not to stay in touch.  In fact, some of the people I confided the most to, who gave me the most support during the most difficult times, have drifted away.  And yet, I understand that this means nothing about me.  They are on their own journey and always have been.
  • In not “needing” anything from those around me, I also do not “need” them to be a certain way or choose to do or say anything in particular.  They are free to be as they are, and I no longer try manipulate my relationships in an effort to meet my own needs.
  • I am slowly working my way away from the illusion of security.  I am learning that I don’t need my life to be a certain way either.  As I have discovered my own worth, I am learning that everyone and everything can be how it is.

So what does this all mean?  It means that you should embrace your vulnerability.  Be willing to step out there and take risks.

But then, look around and start to see that you are not taking a risk at all.

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Breaking Through the Loneliness

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I am willing to wager that you have a secret.

Your secret is a story–or many stories–that culminate in a shameful “truth” about yourself and who you think you are.  You go through life hoping that nobody discovers this truth.  It would all fall apart if everyone figured out who you “really” are.

Or maybe you’re trying to bend reality, to make the most out of a difficult situation.  Maybe if you can be strong, brave, and inspiring, then you won’t come across as hurt, damaged, and unstable.

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Am I right?  Because if I am, then I have another secret to share.  Everybody has the same secret that you have.  And it’s all an illusion.  Every last bit of it.

I used to sit in loneliness, trying to hide “who I really was.”  I had a history of fear, of sadness, of anxiety, and of desperation.  Caught in the fog of perceived unworthiness, I did not understand why I had the thoughts I had, why I acted the way I acted, and why I made myself both distant and clingy in my relationships.  

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Fear leads to more fear, and we become convinced that we are alone in our experience.  We don’t talk about it, because we fear judgment.  We are certain that we are defective, that something is wrong with us.

But the more people I’ve talked to, the more I’ve realized that this seemingly private journey through fear is the journey of all humanity.  We all have a “story.”  We have all had experiences that have left us feeling confused and broken.  Many–and I’d venture to say most–of us at some point in time have been given labels, to try and describe fear’s manifestations in our lives.

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And yet those labels are not who we really are.  The story of how we came to feel broken, is not our real story.  We don’t need to be courageous or inspiring.  There is nothing we need to overcome.

Our journey through the confusion of fear and the fog of unworthiness does not separate us from the rest of humanity, it connects us.  We are not alone in our quest to understand and to see reality–everyone is on the same journey.

So take a moment today to see beyond the loneliness.

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Lesson #12: The Big Picture

Note:  This is one of my 35 Lessons in 35 Years.

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I used to be someone who easily became defensive.  I could often amass the courage to “stand up for myself,” and I felt good when I did.  In many of my interactions, especially when they involved differing viewpoints, there was something I needed to defend, to protect.

But what was it that I needed to defend?  What needed protecting?

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I’ve learned that I can have great Friends Who Have Lots of Stuff, and the way I live is in no way being threatened.  Most of my friends even live in *gasp* houses!  And here I am, on Breaking Tradition, as happy as a clam, not threatened at all.

Most of my friends vote differently than I do, and yet my views are not being threatened.

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If someone has different views spiritually or religiously, that is in no way a threat to what I think to be true.

When we feel defensive, we need to realize that there is nothing there to defend.  Our freedom to explore the world and live our lives is not being threatened.

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In fact, think about it.  We love by default.  We like each other, until there is “reason” not to.

But what is that “reason”?  Often, it is nothing more than fear and misunderstanding.  Deep down, we all want to love each other.

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Our stories are similar.  We all have faced fear, we all have misunderstood, and we all are doing the best we can, with the tools we have.

We might be living in a way that differs from the norm, but that doesn’t make us any less a part of it all.  There is no way to not be a part of humanity.  We teach each other, whether we realize it or not.  We impact and are impacted by everyone we encounter.

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I used to worry that I didn’t “matter.”  I used to feel like I had to find something to do, to earn my place amongst humanity.  A lot of us feel that way.

But the truth is, we don’t need to try and do something grand in order to earn our place.  We have a place, and we all belong.  We are all a part of something larger than ourselves, just by being here and teaching the lessons that we have to teach, through sharing our joys and struggles, offering a shoulder, and inviting those around us to see us without our masks and facades.

Life.  It’s amazing, it’s larger than all of us, and we are all a part of it.

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A Tribute to the Path

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When we were without Internet access, a friend of mine tagged me in a Facebook post, sharing this article. When I was finally able to take a look at it, I wasn’t sure how to respond.

First off, I thought, this is silly.  I have no need to defend the choices I’ve made.  Would I be happier if I just said “forget it,” moved into a house, and bought all the things we do without (you know, like an oven or private shower)?  Of course not!  Not at this point.

So that’s my choice.  And there is no need to defend it at all.  But my friend shared the article with me because she was curious about my choices, not because she wanted to start a debate.  In that spirit, I had so many thoughts about the article (and no, I did not disagree with all of the points they made!), that I thought I would write a blog post in response.  I thought I might address every point they brought up, and give my thoughts on it.

But first, I thought I would pick some of my friends’ brains and find out their thoughts on the article.  What followed was a great discussion, neither a debate nor an echo chamber.  And this ever-so-slightly snarky response from a long-time blogging friend of mine.

I thought of the discussion on and off throughout my day and realized how fortunate I am to have friends who challenge me, yet in such a gentle way.  My friend who shared the article reminded me to think for myself rather than blindly following a doctrine.  My friend who wrote the blog post reminded me to balance my time and notice the life happening around me.

Which led me to think about minimalism–as well as the other choices I have made.  And thinking of that led me to change my approach in this response.

Minimalism does not need any further debate, defense or explanation.  There is no need for me to re-hash what has already been written.  Everyone makes great points, but they are all missing one concept.

And that it the concept of the path.

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Life, and all that it entails–be it minimalism, materialism, sustainable living, spirituality/religious beliefs, thoughts and assumptions–is a journey.  Whatever paths we choose are just that, paths.  We need to be willing to follow the curves and bends in the path, and to choose when it forks.

For me, minimalism was a path that I traversed.  Yes, there was a time when I was a little too obsessed with physical decluttering.  There was a time when I purged possessions obsessively, to the point where my *stuff* got all the attention.  There was a time when I looked down on those who chose to have more possessions.  There was a time when I took things to a crazy level, so that I could say I belonged to this group.

Notice that I didn’t say that I’m ashamed to admit any of that.

Because, for me, it was all necessary.  It was all a part of the process–it was my path.  I began my journey into minimalism, because I wanted less stress.  I wanted to stop worrying and living in fear.  I wanted to feel like I was living correctly, like I was doing the right thing.  And, so desperately, I wanted to belong to something.

Minimalism gave me none of those things, directly.  But it was the path that led me to all of that and more.

Through my writing about minimalism, I became connected to a community who challenged me to question the way we were “supposed” to live, and led me to realize that my potential was more than I could have imagined.  Through questioning the possessions we are “supposed” to have, I began questioning the entire script for life we were supposed to follow.

As I began to question the script, I began to question all the assumptions I had been holding, about life.  I saw that the world open to me, and that I could create any life that I could imagine.  But I also saw that peace and the end to fear, worry, and stress could come from nowhere except within myself.  I could see that there is no “wrong” way to do life, and that it isn’t a test.  Kindness doesn’t come from a philosophy on possessions; it comes from increasing understanding–of ourselves, and our place in the world and in life.

As far as belonging, I came to see that we are the only ones holding ourselves back from belonging to all humanity.

I no longer count my possessions.  I live in a small space and do without a lot.  I am still happier living with less.

But the real reward of minimalism has been the path that it has led me along.  Rather than being the quick answer, it has led me to a life of looking deeper and working toward finding the real answers.

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Texas Women Bloggers

Believe in Happily Ever After

There are two things to aim at in life: first, to get what you want; and, after that, to enjoy it. Only the wisest of mankind achieve the second.
Logan Pearsall Smith

But Charlie, don’t forget what happened to the man who suddenly got everything he wanted…He lived happily ever after.
Willy Wonka

Last winter, a friend of mine wrote about having “survivor’s guilt,” because her life was going so well, while so many other people were struggling.  She couldn’t enjoy herself, because she was constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop.  And it did, weeks after she wrote that.  She ended up facing some horrible struggles, that nobody should ever have to endure in their lifetime.

The tragedy, however, is that waiting for bad times to come, did not make them any easier.  It did nothing to prepare her, for what was around the corner.  Instead, it only deprived her of happiness, when all was going well.

We don’t like to be blindsided.  We want to be prepared for whatever will come our way.  But is the shock of being blindsided really worse than the inability to be happy, because we’re always worrying about what lies around the corner?  Does worrying really prepare us for anything at all?

I was blindsided last January.  It happened immediately after we returned from our trip to Madison.  Do I wish that I would have seen it coming?  The weekend in Madison was one of the best trips I have ever been on.  It brought Rob and me a lot closer, and, through the conversations we had that weekend, we discovered some earth-shattering things about each other.  I am very glad that I didn’t worry about what was to come.

Right here, right now, my life is perfect.  I live somewhere with palm trees and sunshine, my daughter is doing well in school, and I have a job that I love and many good friends.  I’m trying new things with my writing, and I’m pleased with the direction my blog is taking.

However, until yesterday, I was not happy.  I was not able to stop trying to peek around the corner.  Last winter was horribly difficult, and I have been trying to prepare myself, in case something like that happened again.

Accepting “happily ever after” is difficult.  We all know that life is about change, and that more challenges will come our way.  But I know that last winter, I was provided with the resources, friends, and supports that I needed to get through it.  We need to trust that the supports we need will be there, when we need them. 

Right now, I’m living happily ever after.  There is no longer any need for me to create problems where there are none.   I understand that life is about change, but I am not going to waste my time worrying about when and what that change will be.  Right now, things are good, and my only responsibility is to accept and enjoy this new reality.

What is keeping you from finding your “happily ever after”?

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Note: Please check out my post on Katy’s new blog: Liteskip Consulting.  You may remember Katy’s previous blog, Big Little Living.  Like many bloggers, Katy is trying a new creative venture, so let’s all head over and check it out!