I was talking with a small group of online friends yesterday and I suddenly realized I am more comfortable self-disclosing to them than I am to almost anyone I know in the town where I live. And that got me thinking, “Why is that?”
The group I am speaking of began a few years ago (I have been a member for three years) and it was formed as a private mutual-interest group for people who are creative and also have a chronic situation (medical for most of us) that limits our energy. The guiding challenge of the group is, “If your life is medically demanding, how can you carve out creative time every day, if only a little time, in order to make that life of yours more worth living?”
Each week we meet online, set a timer, and spend the next 20 minutes in silence. During that time we each look at our upcoming week, make a plan, and set two goals. One is a manageable “creative goal”, and the other a “self-care goal”, usually something that might look simple to others, but is crucial to protect each of our energy resources. When the timer rings, we chat for a while, declare each of our latest goals, then go our merry ways. The following week we have a brief check-in to see how everyone got on (no pressure ever!), then set the timer again to plan ways to nudge our creative projects along, a week at a time.
For me, surprisingly, the most important result of my three years’ of work with this group has not been the Tangibles: the three art shows, or starting to teach art locally, or starting to write my memoir, or creating a blog where I can post reflections such as this one.
The most important result for me has been my experience of Progressive Integrity.
We often think of the definition, “the state of being honest and having strong moral principles.” What resonates for me is the additional definition, “the state of being whole and undivided.” From Latin, meaning “intact”.
As you may remember from my last post, I traveled to England in May to visit a woman who is part of this online group. We had never met in person, but we had met weekly online for over two years and I had reason to believe we might get along well enough. In truth, we got along famously, and after ten delightful days with her, I arrived back in New Hampshire energized and eager to weed out all my possessions, to replicate the liberation I felt during my travel experience.
The Clean-Out Project went well enough for a while, but sadly, slowly, in the weeks that followed, the Black Dog of mild depression returned. So familiar, so annoying, so relentless. What to do? I slogged through it for a couple months, and yesterday in our group session, I had an epiphany.
Maybe, just maybe, the outfits in my closet are not the problem. Maybe the behavioral ‘outfits’ I wear are what’s really weighing me down.
I used Marie Kondo’s question, but with a twist.
“Does this situation spark joy?” I ask myself as I survey my datebook.
What clubs /church / etc. do I attend regularly? Do they spark joy, or do I just go to avoid loneliness?
Same goes for volunteer jobs. They may be important and valuable, but is this one a good fit for me, or is it just for my next Girl Scout badge?
Do I say yes to every luncheon invitation I get, just because I don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings?
Do I hang out often with people who are nice enough but not very alive?
Do I ever feel extremely drained after being at a social gathering? Is being in that setting always draining?
Am I so afraid of being judgmental that I won’t even allow myself to be discerning?
What the heck do I really want from the rest of my life?
The Next Step
As a senior citizen, I know for a fact I have very limited time left on the planet. I can’t afford to waste any more of that precious time. So here’s my homework (for you as well if you like):
1- Make a brutally honest list, for my eyes only, of time-killers I want to eliminate
2- Make a list of things I desperately do want to experience
3- Post those two lists in the front of my journal, to reread weekly.
4- Start Week 1 of The Experiment: Get out my datebook, and review my plans for the upcoming week. Keep in mind List 1 and List 2. Give it my best effort, remembering this is a new way of being in the world.
4- At the end of the week, check in with myself, just like I do with my group, and ask, “How did I get on?”
See how it feels to be intact, have deeper integrity for one week.
See how it feels to eliminate all ‘out-fits’ that no longer fit.
If you like it, repeat weekly, knowing you’ll get better and better at it. And as Michael Nobbs says, let us know how you got on.
If you are interested in learning about the roots of this wonderful approach, check out Michael Nobbs on Patreon. A worthy man, humble and inspirational. https://www.patreon.com/gogently/overview