sex, money, and miscellany: talking about what matters

breathing room

In Uncategorized on March 2, 2010 at 11:03 am

Here in Maine, woodstoves are a major part of life. Either you have one, or you know someone who does. By the time you’ve been here a year you probably know how to use one, or you’ve spent some very cold nights. We develop close relationships with our woodstoves. We coddle them, we know them by name, by make, by model, by vintage. We can debate the merits of this one versus that one, and tell stories of the amazing one we saw once that heated a five bedroom unheated “cottage” to eighty degrees in below-zero weather with three sticks of pine and a single match. I love wood heat. It has psychological benefits that can’t be measured, and it actually keeps a house warm. So I think I’m lucky, because there are two woodstoves in my life.

And they’re very different. Neither is very old, both are good basic stoves, and both are well-suited to their spaces. But there, the similarities end. The first one, outfitted with reburners and an external air intake, is hell-bent on efficiency. The best way to light it is to lay a fire with lots of tinder so it draws well, shut the door after the first few minutes, and let it take off. If you wait too long to shut the door the heat never builds up inside, the bricks and the airspace in the double-wall stay cool, and it never quite works. The second is more of a traditionalist, with a flue shutter and single-wall construction, and it requires a different strategy: feed it a little of this and a little of that, lots of kindling, warm it up, get it going, all with the door ajar. When it’s really going well, shut the door and watch the house heat up.

Both require air. Leaving the door ajar lets it breathe better. Stacking the logs too tightly can suffocate the whole thing. And sometimes when either one of them is sluggish, a strategic piece of wood that lets air flow under the logs makes all the difference.

Why do I think you care about woodstoves? Do I think you’re all moving to Maine? No. Even though I think this is the best place in the world to live, no. But I think you care about warmth and heat and sparks and aliveness, and I think you care about breathing room. Breathing room matters. Sometimes the best thing to get yourself going is not more wood and more wood and tighter faster harder, but a little space.

When was the last time you piled more on your plate because you were trying to get yourself going? Maybe it looked like this,

Let’s see, I’m feeling sad and sluggish and overwhelmed because I’m supposed to be in seventeen places next week but all I really want to do is go to bed. I know! I’ll ignore my bills because they’re scary and take on another three major projects because they seem exciting instead.

In my experience this works out pretty well for about three days, or until you revise your to-do list. It’s what our culture tells us to do. It’s what employment with limited sick leave and intense supervision engenders. But there’s a choice.

In fact, we’re all at choice. We can choose instead:
Yuck, I feel awful. Okay. I’m going to make a few lists: everything I must do right now, everything that can wait a few days, and everything that can wait until I’m good and ready. Once my lists are done, I’m going for a long walk/swim/bike ride. When I get back, I’m doing the first two things, and then I’m going to call two friends and invite them over for a potluck dinner with good music and simple food and a relaxing movie.

Notice your response to option #2. Are you making a list of excuses? Lots of us would: the weather is bad, I’m at work, my list items are huge and will take days, my friends are all busy…

That’s your choice. You can be trapped if you like.

When I say that you might get angry and a little resentful. You don’t know what it’s like! I’d like to see you make it in my life! Here’s the hard truth: I don’t have to make it in your life. I have to make it in mine. You have more control than anyone else over your life: your emotions, your hopes, your dreams, your fears, your future.

You are creative. You are resourceful. You can find answers for yourself. You just have to believe they exist. You have to take off the cloak of panic and breathe a little.

Really breathe.

Which things are “don’t wanna” and which things are really, truly impossible? Impossible: human unassisted flight. Impossible: traveling to Pluto (at least with current technology). Don’t wanna: buy groceries, go into debt, pay off debt, live without my ex who dumped me last week, write a paper on worldwide economics for tomorrow.

Wait a minute, you’re saying. I can’t pay off my debt. There’s no way I can write a paper for tomorrow.

Let me tell you a story. I am managing the annual stewardship (fundraising) drive for my church this year. As part of my preparation, I am talking to lots of people about the situation: what we need to raise, who we have to raise it from, how I’m hoping to go about it. I’m not an expert, but I believe firmly in the power of collective wisdom. One of the people I talked to has been really hurting for money. When I gave her the lowdown I expected her to flinch. I almost apologized in advance–but I really believe in this congregation, and I really believe we can do it. I believe the money is out there, and I really believe that who we are matters that much in our community…so I didn’t apologize. I just said it.

What she said was unprintable and perfect. She had no doubt that the fundraising goal was both reasonable and achievable.

No one said that the economics paper you write will be a masterpiece, or that you won’t have to eat ramen for a year to pay down your debt. But those are choices about what is more important: perfection or completion? Sometimes good enough is good enough, and sometimes you get to decide what matters most. When you decide what matters and what can give, you make a little space. You slow down a little. Your shoulders come down from around your ears, and things begin to shift.

Pick something. Make it matter. Love yourself enough to make room to do it. Actually do it. The rest will follow.

  1. Beautiful article, Leela. Thanks 🙂

  2. ’tis a gift to be simple
    ’tis a gift to be free
    you have a gift for reminding me that choice is just that simple…not easy – life’s not easy, but the decision to chose what to do next is simple. And now availing myself of your daily pearls goes right to the top of my first list – what I must do next – in anticipation of comin’ down where I ought to be – trundle on over to Leila’s with a steamy cuppa, open the page and breathe. Blessings…

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