Today was the first day of school in our neck of the woods. While I mourn the passing of summer (with her promise of long lazy days, nights by the pool, adventure and breaks in the routine) I also relish the return to rhythm and routine that the school year brings. The smell of freshly sharpened pencils and brand new notebooks instills in me a sense of calm and order and new beginnings. Its an opportunity to start fresh, develop new habits and start all over again.

Last night Max and I emptied out his backpack–turned it completely upside down. We clean it out at the end of the school year, but it always seems that there are things we are not quite ready to let go of that somehow linger all summer. Sure enough, there on the floor, were the forgotten notes, cherished book, favorite pencils, stubby erasers and half eaten cookie that showed that second grade was a year well lived. We sorted out a few pencils for the pencil jar in the kitchen, put the book on the shelf and threw the rest away. We shook out whatever crumbs remained clinging and declared a fresh slate as we loaded the backpack with the new pencil box, highlighters and loose leaf paper that his teachers asked us to supply.

I think this time of year is all about just that–permission to let go of whatever is no longer needed in order to really begin again. To start anew, not at the same place but with all the years of wisdom behind us. To carry the accumulated wisdom forward without all the half eaten cookies and stubby broken erasers to weigh us down.

This weekend, I was furiously trying to organize our house to make way for our babysitting coop that uses our house as homebase during the school year. For some reason, I found myself deep into my bedroom closet. I think I had gone there in search of a hanger and decided to donate one thing to Goodwill. It’s no lie when they say that one thing leads to another because an hour and a half later I was still at it. You would be amazed at what I found was still in my closet. Not half-eaten cookies but clothes and boxes of letters and other items that should have been moved long ago. But as I put each item in the appropriate pile, I knew full well why it still lurked all dusty in my closet. I must not have been ready to let that thing go. Its OK. Its going now.

Clearing is an iterative process. I let go and create space. The spaciousness that’s created gives me courage and suddenly find I am able to let go of so much more. And so it goes, every fall, every spring, every time I need some room, every time I need a change. I let go of what no longer serves me to make room for what I need to learn.

I find that this physical tangible exercise of cleaning out my closets and emptying Max’s backpack has a momentum of its own. It’s no lie when they say one thing leads to another. Suddenly I am inspired to leave behind all sorts of things that no longer fit me: old stories, old habits, old fears, and even some old dreams I long ago outgrew.

And you my friend, what are you letting go of, so that you might begin anew? How do you prepare for the new learning that will come your way?

Ten years ago this past July Juan and I moved into our house.  Compared to the one bedroom English basement we shared in Mount Pleasant it was a palace–expansive and huge and wide open.  Of all the things we loved about the house, the most magical were the closets.  In Mount Pleasant we had only one closet in the whole damn place–one closet to store his clothes and mine, the shoeboxes full of memories, the rollerblades and iceskates and winter boots and summer sandals.  Here we could have his and her closets.  A closet for coats.  A closet for out of season clothes.  A closet for linens.

In the front of the house is a den.  The real estate agents call it a bedroom and I suppose it could be one in a pinch.   It is large enough for a desk, a chair, some shelves.  Even though I doubt a twin bed would fit in comfortably, the real estate agents can call it a bedroom because it has a closet.   This closet was most wonderous of all–a deep bonus closet in a bonus room.  I dubbed it “the knitting closet.”

In my younger days I had three or four knitting projects going at once.  The projects were always scattered around the apartment in their half-finished glory, shoved into one basket or another.  And then there was the yarn I would buy at wool festivals or on sale from my favorite shop.  And the yarn that was left over from the projects I had finished–the yarn that was too beautiful to throw away even if I had no idea what to do with it.  It littered our apartment and drove Juan nut–all that wool.

And so, ten years ago, as I stood in my grown-up house, I knew that all the collateral clutter that came with  my creative outlet would finally have a home.  Its own special closet.  A place where I could put all things creative.  The place I would stores the pages and pages of patterns, the unwieldy piles of books, the hooks and the needles and the bags of wool and cotton that would one day become sweaters.

******

A few days ago I found myself on the phone with a friend of a friend.  She is an astrologer and an intuitive and a woman of power.  I had never had my chart done and I thought it would be a fun thing to do–an early birthday present for myself.  I had heard so much about Charlotte from our mutual friend and I had a feeling she was my kind of sister.  The chart reading gave me an excuse to support another mama in her  business and to finally connect with someone I had longed to meet anyway.

An hour into our conversation, I was in tears.  I wanted what she was saying to not be true but deep in my heart I knew she was right and it reduced me to a puddle.  I don’t know if it appeared in my chart, if she felt it as a clairvoyant or if she just figured me out in the first hour of our friendship.    But she nailed me.  She said that I think I am done letting go but I have so much more to do.  She said I want to move on, but I am still stuck.  She said I think I am in touch but I am missing the mark.

She told me that I am the type of person who wants to box things up in neat little packages and declare them finished.  I want to draw bright lines around the events in my life and proclaim them to be done. “whew…what a journey…So glad I learned from THAT experience….so glad I am OVER that…so happy to have crossed the torrential river to have found safe ground.  No looking back now.  Its done. ”  I want things to be tidy and linear.  I want to move forward into a place that is neater and less complicated.    I pack up my experiences in little boxes and shove them into closets.

Now wonder this line from this song has haunted me all summer:

You pass through places, and places they pass through you

and you carry them with you on the soles of your travelin’ shoes…

I box it all up and shove it in a closet.

*************

Yesterday, the three day long migraine started to let up and I was finally able to get up and move about.  I could move but I could not really think or read or look at a computer or even a TV.  I couldn’t stand to sit in bed more more moment and so instead I decided to clean my home office.  Mindless work that would allow me to move my body gently.  All the better if I couldn’t think.

My office has become a junk room.  I never work there anymore, instead dragging my laptop to the dining room table and work here at the end of it.  I know it would be so much more serene if I just had use of the closet.  The knitting closet.

Over the years, the knitting closet has become a cartoon version of itself.  It is so stuffed full of crap that you have to open it only a quarter of the way and shove something in quickly lest the whole mountain of stuff fall out on your head.   Really.  The closet was filled with half-finished knitting projects and half-finished scrapbook pages, bags and bags of yarn, candle making supplies, and paper and toys Max no longer played with.

I have attempted to clean out the closet in years past.   I sometimes made small progress, sorting the yarn into bins and the unfinished projects into piles.  Baby projects, gift projects, things I started for myself but never could complete.  But cleaning out this closet was always a frustrating experience because I could never allow myself to throw anything but a few errant pieces of paper away.

Each unfinished project represented a dream to me.  A small dream, maybe a dream I forgot I had, but each project represented a piece of my history, a piece of my heart.  There were the pillowcases I bought in Mexico and had started to embroider that I swore would one day decorate our marital bed.  There were the girly-baby sweaters that I had abandoned when Max was born, deciding instead to pick them up when I got pregnant again.  There were gifts for friends I had long ago forgotten.  There was yarn I bought when I was poor and ambitious–yarn I had intended to make into things to sell, yarn I had intended to make into things to make the house pretty, yarn I had intended to make into things to make me look sexy when  I lost that 10 pounds.  There was the half completed barnyard animals that I had started for a friends child but kept because maybe Max would someday have a child would appreciate them.  There were the patterns for the jackets I had intended to make as a way to supplement my income.  Each one of them representing hours and hours of hard work I couldn’t dare declare to be in vain.  Each one of the things shoved half finished into the closet reminded me of some unfinished business I might just come back to, a dream that perhaps had not quite come to fruition, but maybe, possibly, one day might.  Better hold onto it, just in case.

*************

There was nothing to do but throw it all out.

Half-finished dreams shoved in a closet, even when they are disguised as trite metaphors, have a way of being sticky.

*************

I went through it all, the yarn, the needles, the projects half knit.  I stopped weighing the hours that had gone into each piece and asked myself instead was I really going to finish it?  The answer to every project but one was no.  And so, I  salvaged what I could, collected the needles and the stitch holders and notions in my tool box.  I saved the most precious, luxurious and wonderful of yarn that had not been made into anything–that had no dream attached and gave away or threw away the rest of it.

As I struggled over throwing away the partially completed projects I realized it was not all my work that I was still attached to but rather whatever the half-finished project represented to me–a sibling for Max,  a Christmas when I would surprise Juan, a life where I knit and designed things for a living.  Dreams I had thought I had let go of, but maybe only half way, dreams that were still half complete and shoved in the back of my heart.

************

I want so badly to be done with loss.  I am really anxious to come to the place on the other side of the river when grieving is not necessary.  I don’t like coming back in circles to the place where I stood before, the place where grief feels raw and fresh.  I want to be Polly Anna and all aglow in gratitude for the life I have made in place of the life I thought I would have.  I want to get to the other side and be DONE WITH IT ALREADY.

But there is no other side.  There is just my life.  With the closets that need emptying, one by one.

I had finished packing the car.  I went over my list one more time, just to be sure.  I was certain I had left a box somewhere in the house.  But as I went down the list it was all there.  The car looked empty compared to years past.  I couldn’t figure it out.  How is it that I had downsized my life to this point, to this place where Max and I would be away for two full weeks and we needed so very little.

 In years past the car was bursting at the seams and it always took creative packing done by an ex-husband coming to say goodbye and hankering to help.  But this year by the  time he pulled into the driveway it was done and I was brushing my hands off on my oh too cute mini-skort.  “All done.”  I told him.  He looked it all over, himself in shock…”Can’t be.”   “Yup,” I said.  Its true. Even now, a week into the trip I can’t believe I brought so much.  Even the few Rubbermaid bins that did make it into the car seemed to be too much.  Did I really need to bring all EIGHT books?  I mean really…I will be lucky to make it through two or three.  And did we need all three flashlights?  But we are definitely not without.  We have everything we need.  And more.  In the past what did I need all that other stuff for? Packing for this trip for the last three years I have noticed how I am slowly letting go of my attachments to material things.  I don’t say it to gloat, as I know it is very much in fashion these days to lose ones attachment to stuff.  I say it because it really is a milestone for me, personally.  I feel so light and giddy and I want to get rid of even more—throw a few of these boxes off to the side of the road. As a young adult, stuff was a measure of success.  When the days of poverty ended I set about accumulating stuff.  The beautiful teapots I admired in the windows of Crate and Barrell, mine.  Three sets of sheets for the bed.  Mine again.  Beer glasses, wine glasses, good knives, books, prints and picture frames, vases and furniture, journals and fancy pens.  I could afford them all and therefore there was no reason for me not to bring them home. It was an issue of contention between Juan and I.  I would run into Target for diapers and leave him in the car with the baby.  I would come out with my arms full of throw pillows, cat dishes, and fancy dishcloths.  “How much did that cost?” he would ask suspiciously.  I would huff and puff and exclaim that we “NEEDED IT”, justifying my purchases by the fact that they were on sale, or very very cheap.  The scorn in his eyes burned so I just looked away.  I knew he was right but this was my comfort now that I had somehow arrived, that I some how grew up. I had moments, all too telling, of sitting and flipping through catalogs, dreaming of the new stuff I would buy when I could—some day when I had made it to some new level of fullness and wealth.  It was as though I was convinced that if I filled up my house I would somehow fill up the empty places in my heart. But life has a funny way of coming full circle and since Juan left me, so much of my energy has been about letting go…letting go of him, letting go of my vision for how my life was going to play out, letting go of fear and my illusion of control….well…letting go of the stuff,  the need for things just came along as part of the bargain.  Afterall, after you lose love, suddenly losing things just seems so small. Whatever it is that has got me to this place, I am finding that I am now anxious to do more of it.  To consume less, to take up only a small space on this planet.  To use less things, to take only what I need.  I have heard of those experiments where people vow to not buy stuff for a year.  I wonder if I am up for that? Or if I can do something of a half step—make even more conscious choices about what I buy.  Eliminate things that aren’t needed at all.   What would my car look like next year after spending 12 months doing that?  How would our life look different.  I am just curious enough to try it.  Stay tuned here.

08.08.08

The boys were running around on the soccer field and Marcy and I were wrapped in a blanket, trying to stave off the New Hampshire chill that had settled over the area even though it was the beginning of August.  The boys were participating in a camp.  Marcy had been nice enough to sign Max up so he could participate with her son, get a real feel for small town New Hampshire life, and so Marcy and I could have a couple of hours each day to visit really visit.  “Tomorrow” Marcy remarked “the Olympics start”.  We were talking about TV and how much or little to let the kids watch.  We both agreed that the opening ceremonies were a must see and that we would relax whatever rules we had established so we could all gather around the TV and watch the spectacle.  And then, it dawned on us.  Yes it made so much sense.  The Olympics started on August 8.  08.08.08.  The most auspicious of dates for the Chinese.  Triple 8. For reasons I can’t explain, 8 is a magical number in Chinese culture.  The #8 star brings with it the best of energy.  Eight is lucky and good and holds all sorts of beneficial qualities.  Marcy and I agreed right then and there.  Tomorrow we needed to mark the day with magic and drama—celebrate its luckiness and hold it as special. And so the morning bloomed and found us scampering through a moss-covered elfin forest, Max and Marcy’s son running up ahead of us, stopping only to munch on wild blueberries and to point out trees that had been marked by bears.  The forest on Mt. Cardigan seemed like something out of a dream, or a fairy tale, wildflowers and wild waterfalls, gigantic mushrooms and old fashioned bridges that sprang out of nowhere, taking us over fairy filled streams.  Birch trees were filled with song birds.  We stopped often to re-fill the kids pockets with trail mix and take long drinks of water.  To take in long drinks of the view, busting as it was with magic.As we approached the top, the landscape changed looking more and more mysterious.  We had entered a cloud and the mist filled everything.  The soft moss covered forest floor became more and more gray and hard and slippery beneath our fear and then suddenly we were climbing up a slope of granite. So many different shades of gray–the rocks, the clouds, the sky.  Silver streaked, dull and grainy, dark and light and gray.  By the time we reached the top, we needed to put on our raincoats and huddle together to protect ourselves not from rain but from the wet of being inside a cloud.

At the top of the mountain, a lake had sprung—rainwater filling a hole created by a glacier or perhaps from years and years of falling water.  While the children, skipped rocks on the shores of their own private pool, Marcy and I were on a mission of our own, finding a quiet place for our ritual to mark the day.   We found a tiny crevice—somewhat protected from the breeze that was blowing the clouds around.  And we gathered all the children around.

I pulled our precious cargo out of my backpack.  The wishes we had made.  Each of us had written or drawn our most precious wishes (no telling!) and folded them up tight.  We placed each of them into the tiny space between the rocks and all leaned in tight.  Marcy and I instructed the kids to think about their wishes with all of their might.  And then she and I pulled out a book of matches.

  It took almost the entire book before we got the wishes to catch fire.  It was as though the wind and rain were testing our seriousness of purpose.   Max was particularly concerned about the burning ritual.  He was afraid that if we lit the papers on fire that it would destroy his cherished dream.  Marcy and I had to explain that the Chinese regularly constructed elaborate things out of paper—only to burn them—sending the good wishes and blessings and prayers off to God, to their ancestors, to the Universe.  That was what we were doing.  By lighting our wishes on fire we were sending the smoke up to God so that He or She could hear our prayers.   And then, as he finally was willing to let his wish go, as though his assent gave the mountain permission to allow it, the wind cooperated and the clouds lifted enough and we were able to get a tiny contained fire going.  Marcy and I held hands, the children wrapped their arms around us, our heads all touching over our tiny mini bonfire to the Gods.  And our wishes carried off Mt Cardigan to someplace magical—to be part of the air around us, to join the clouds. On our way down the mountain, Marcy and I realized that without intending to, our little ceremony was performed with all the elements present.  The earthen granite floor where we built our fire, was just inches away from the metal fire tower.  The cedar and pine trees were not far below and indeed it was the green pine needles from our pockets that ultimately helped us light the pieces of paper, made themselves from trees.  And finally the clouds which sat on our shoulders brought the water to our ceremony.As we hiked down, twice as fast as our assent, there was much chatter about the wishes.  But we all agreed not to whisper our wishes out loud.  While we had shared the ceremony, our wishes were our own, between us and our God.On the way home their would be a stop for ice cream and a visit to the playground.  A brief stop home, a trip to an old orchard that made hard cider and then the last day of soccer camp.  That night we all sat watching the Olympics as we had planned, cuddled together against the chill of night with blankets spread out over us.   “Do you think” Max asked me “that our wishes will come true?”  I held that precious child on my lap.  “I don’t know honey if they will come true exactly as we want them to.”  I replied.  “But I know our prayers –they will be answered.  That the magic of the day will not be lost”

Since that night I have dreamt of nothing but magic.  Wild, Technicolor dreams of flying and knitting needles turned into magic wands.  I have dreamed of great love of my child and of bright yellow gingerbread homes and the dear friends who live in them.  I have dreamt of healers, and teachers and loved ones all doing amazing things in my little dream world.  I have woken to find myself sure, as I have ever been, that Max and I are living a magical life—a life full of wonder and joy and surprises.  Whether or not our wishes come true I am sure that I have been blessed by the magical day of 8. 

Kuan Yin

Kuan Yin

This morning I woke up at 7am.  I stumbled to the bathroom, still exhausted from a late night of giggling and horribly executed pool with a group of women friends.  I climbed into the shower, turned on the water and soaked in the warmth.  After drying off with one of the fabulous Egyptian cotton towels Juan and I had acquired as newlyweds, I put on my favorite brown pants, my favorite green tee, my favorite dzi beaded necklace.  I then threw open all the windows in the house and propped the doors open wide and waited for Pat.

After the whole racoon incident this spring, Pat and I agreed that I needed to do some sort of space clearing.  But between our mutually crazy schedules, a house that was far too chaotic to bless, and my lack of focus on my feng shui studies this summer we couldn’t get it together.  After much back and forth over the last two months Pat and I had finally arrived on today as the perfect day to do it.

With Max out of the house on a sleepover, my dear housemate, my friend Pat and I were able to work together.  We lit candles in each room and went through the ancient Chinese ritual with seriousness of purpose, lightness of spirit and a great deal of laughter.  We rang bells that boomed and chimed, announcing to all the neighborhood that something sacred or blessed was happening at our place this early Sunday morn. 

I am leaning heavily on ritual this month.  Chinese rituals, Jewish rituals, Jen Lemen rituals…you name it,  I am all over it.

As a girl without much of an organized church, I am craving things that help me make meaning out of our world–out of this transitional space I am in.  To make some sense out of the waiting place where I sit.

With my divorce agreement signed, but the court date not yet set I am in divorce limbo.  I have decided I want to date again, and maybe even fall in love, but I have no idea of how this will happen and so my heart is in limbo there too.   

I can’t help but think that I am a traveler, hanging out at the airport, waiting for my connection, with no idea when it will arrive.  The longer that I sit in this place, the more I anticipate getting to my final destination & the more anxious I become.  I know that I will not always be in this space but this feeling of being stuck somewhere along the journey is maddening. 

So the rituals are soothing.  They remind me that all is as it should be.  They keep me calm.  They also give me a sense that by asking for help I have some sort of control over whether and when my journey will get moving again and I will move out of the in between place. 

Its as though I am wandering over to the ticket counter to check on the status of the delayed connecting flight–and to remind people who have the power to help that I really do want to leave this spot.  I know my ritual of checking doesn’t make it happen any sooner but it gives me a sense of control AND because I ask so gently and politely I may just win over the staff who can actually do something nice for me.  And having gone through the ritual-I can rest and relax some–talk to the people next to me, wander off to the bookstore, get a chair massage, take a nap and make the most of limbo. 

And this relief, this permission to keep living, keep exploring even when forward motion seems virtually impossible…isn’t that what it’s all really about, ritual anyway?  Its the thing you do to give you the freedom to find the most unexpected magical chocolate shop, the one you would never have known was there but for a long long layover on your way to sweet sweet dreams.

Water Garden at Blarney

Water Garden at Blarney

This week I have started in at my new job.  Its exciting to start something new and comforting to return to work with my mentor and good friend and a team who knows and loves me.  After two years out on my own, it feels like coming home.

I have a new office to call my own and have been thinking this time around about setting it up deliberately.  Too often my workspace just looks like a big table covered with papers–all chaos, no calm.  Its no wonder that some days I can barely think.  This time I am vowing to use good habits–to keep my space clutter free and to decorate it with peace of mind in mind.  This new office, this beautiful blank canvas is a perfect opportunity to pull out my feng shui books and focus on how to create and environment that will support me.

The East is the direction of new beginnings, of family harmony and of health.  Because of where I am in my life it is the part of my office where I am focused.    I love the idea of placing objects with intention.  This thing here is here for a reason.  Its a little subconscious reminder of what you want from life. 

The energy in the east is associated with wood, with growing things, with new life, new beginnings.  It is the direction of the dragon, my all time favorite mythical creature.  

Here is a little list of things to use to activate the chi in the eastern part of a home of office

to welcome and celebrate new beginnings.  Its what I plan to do.  Not all these things need to be done–in fact, less is more.   This is more a menu to pick from, a list of all the lovely possibilities. 

  • Green green green.  My favorite color.  The color of growth, of trees, of spring.  So so lovely.  Get green color on the walls, green pictures, green items.  Some green in the east to generate growth.
  • Blues too.  Water helps nourish plants and water energy helps nourish the wood energy of the east.  Maybe a picture of still water.
  • Live healthy plants.  Young spring like plants.  Broad leaved plants.  Ferns or peace lilies.  Any kind of plant.
  • Things in groups of threes.  Three is the number the Chinese associate with the east.  Three plants would be lovely.  Hmmm…
  • A dragon.  A picture, a statue, a small jade little guy.  Any kind of dragon–it doesn’t have to be a Chinese dragon. 

My mind is a flutter with all the exciting ideas for how to decorate my eastern wall.  How I can look east and celebrate each new day and every new beginning in my new exciting job.

I have been so grumpy lately.  I have been banging-around-the-house grumpy.  I think if only he knew how to spell, Max would be hanging out signs–WANTED: NICE MOM- interviewing for my replacement.

Getting rid of the foul odor in the house helped alot.  Lighting my candle has helped too.  Waking up to find that the couple of flies that had gotten in through the hole in the screen door had had wild nights of love that led to babies did not help.  I am sick of being a nursemaid to the natural world.  I grabbed the vacuum and the Raid.

After vacuuming up the wormy pre-flies and dropping Max off at the babysitter I drove directly to Pat’s.  It was time for an emergency intervention.  I had the morning off.  I hadn’t seen Pat in a long while and had been feeling a need to seek her wisdom, hear about her new projects, soak up some of what she has learned.  She is wise and kind and exudes love and acceptance.  And she is fun to boot!

Tea time

Tea time

There is nothing like being nourished to soothe a grouchy soul.  She made delicious green tea, a juicy fruit salad and homemade lemonade with crushed mint.  We talked for hours about feng shui, Myers Briggs, the Enneagram.  She told me about her latest class with Joey Yap.  We dissected a project I had worked on, talked about science and spirituality, Chinese metaphysics.  We pulled out books and papers and poured over them together.  Compared notes, nodded alot, furrowed our brows and then said “Aha!”.  Sitting with Pat it all seemed to be true and real and of course! and why not?

Pat's yummy fruit salad

Pat’s yummy fruit salad

And then the big OF COURSE hit me.  I am happiest when I am being nourished in community.  A big long table loaded with potluck foods.  A lovely community loaded with ideas and concepts to share.  Working together with someone wise on something mutually loved is nothing short of bliss. 

I left feeling energized.  Something in my soul shifted a little and made room for possibilities and for hope.  I realized what I  been seeking all these days that I have been mopey.  I am in need of the company of wise women & conspirators in creativity.  I have been going at my projects alone these days, trying to figure it out on my own.  Its become a way of life really, proving to myself that I can do it all my own.  I know I can now but I don’t always need to do so.  The self sufficiency and independence I have achieved is rewarding but as Winnie the Pooh says, “Its so much friendlier with two”.   

So much friendlier with two indeed!

I was left  in my “how did it get this bad?” disaster of a home.  Clutter is the number one no-no if you are trying to practice feng shui or even if you are just trying to live a sane and normal life.   I had two hours to myself, nothing pressing so I told myself I would do nothing else until I had made some headway. 

Despite my devotion to feng shui, clutter continues to be the constant struggle for me.  Its a relentless uphill battle, all this stuff that piles up in our home.  It sucks my energy and stresses me out.  I get on top of it only to slip and slide back down again.

There are so many reasons, so many excuses for why and how it happens.  I am a single mom who works at a full-time job.  I have a boy who frequently impersonates a hurricane.  We have a small(ish) house.  There are a lot (too many) toys.  There are not enough hours in the day.  I am not a naturally organized person.

Back in 2005, when I was in the midst of my feng shui rescue mission, I read everything I could get my hands on about getting rid of clutter.  Perhaps, I thought, if I just studied it enough, I would know exactly how to get a handle on this, the house would just magically clean itself, a fairy godmother would come in and show me the way.  Needless to say that never happened, but I do remember a Body and Soul magazine article I read that has stuck with me. 

It said something along these lines.  When you are faced with persistent clutter, don’t just rush to clear it but rather stop and really look at it.  Then ask yourself, “What is my clutter trying to tell me?  What is it telling me about my life?  About lessons I need to learn?  About things I need to pay attention to?  About what’s going on with me?”  The idea was that persistent clutter was really just a symptom of being stuck in another way in your life and by treating clutter as a teacher we could correct the real problem.

It was a fascinating exercise.  Today, overwhelmed by the mess all around and sick of the constant batte I decided to repeat it.  Here is what my clutter said when I actually decided to listen:

–I am having a hard time  finishing things.  Lately I am feeling a bit restless and am easily distracted.  I get 90% of the way through a project then get up for just a moment–only to be sidelined for weeks on end.  I assume I will wander back after I (get a drink, make this phone call, deal with the laundry, kiss the hurt) but somehow the project seems much less interesting once I have moved on.  However, I believe with all my heart and soul that if I just leave all my tools out (whether its a journal, knitting needles and yarn, bills, screw driver, sewing kit) I will be motivated to come back and finish, any minute now, but instead I am just bored.

–When I am feeling guilty about my inability to get back out there and finish a project I start something new which I am certain will hold my attention longer and make me feel better.    Its a cyclical process as I feel guilty I create more and more activity.

–I have become rather loosey-goosey and inconsistent.  I am not enforcing rules around where toys go (or for that matter shoes and wine glasses) and am not insisting on regular pick-ups even though I know we both need these rules.  I am avoiding the struggles with my son (and my own inner child) because  I just don’t have the energy for the effort.

–I am moving way too fast and not alloting the proper amount of time for me to complete certain tasks.  Groceries aren’t getting completely put away, dishes aren’t entirely washed, folded laundry not being put away because I am not giving myself enough time.

What’s interesting to me is that this is so different from what my clutter told me back in 2005.  Back then I was drowning in the abundance of things–things I couldn’t let go of and things I bought to fill the void that Juan had left.  I was clinging to things as a way to resist the loss of my marriage and my partner, hording new things to avoid feeling empty.  I remember that day back in the spring of 2005 when I realized what was so obviously going on in my weary heart.  It was a moment of earth shattering clarity.  It enabled to me to move forward

I suppose this is another one of these moments but with new lessons, new challenges for growth. 

Thank you messy house for showing me what I needed to see today:  That I need to slow down and protect that which is sacred.  I need to restore my energy and my will to protect my own boundaries.  Thank you for giving me this new found awareness of a most uncomfortable restlessness, a searching for something, a yearning for newness.  I don’t know what is behind it yet, but it’s worth peeking underneath it to see.   To be honest, tonight as I sit in my straightened up home I am not entirely sure exactly how to tackle all of this but I believe a little compassion and gentleness is probably a good start.

On Sunday I woke up at 6 am to paint my front door.  It was glorious to be up so early on a Sunday–alone all alone–not a soul in the neighborhood was stirring.  The air was still cool, the light still soft. A gentle breeze made music in the trees.  I took out my paint brush and turned to the big pine door that I had sealed last month, then primed last weekend.  I opened the can of rich semi-gloss black paint and began to lay down three coats with slow gentle strokes. 

Front Door MidPaint 6:20 am Sunday

Front Door MidPaint 6:20 am Sunday

There is something about being up so early on a brilliant sunny Sunday morning that makes even the most mundane household chore a holy act.  But this particular chore felt for me like a perfect prayer of thanksgiving, a milestone, a turning point.

     Two and a half years ago, when Juan moved, out the house felt claustrophobic, still and heavy.  The sadness and tension of the last year still hung thick in the air.  I could barely breathe.  Once upon a time I had read something about feng shui, an ancient Chinese method of improving the energy in a home.  I was desperate enough for change to give it a try. 

    That is when the universe delivered my now dear friend Pat Lee to my door.   And when she got to my door she practically fell down in horror.  My door was a problem-and it was just the beginning.  The house was a feng shui disaster area–cluttered and chaotic,–elements going in all the wrong directions.   A perfect reflection of my life at the time.

     Pat gave me a long list of things to-do, baby steps I could take to bring harmony to the house.  She came by often and helped me out.  I loved feng shui because unlike my personal situation which left me feeling helpless and paralyzed, feng shui offered simple solutions, things I could do.  I had no idea how to mend my broken heart  but I did know how to change the lightbulbs, to move the furniture, to elimate clutter, to light a candle.  Each night when I woke at 1:30 am unable to sleep, mournful and sad, I got up and turned that energy into creating harmony in the house instead of weeping in a heap on the couch.  Bit by bit the house became cheerier and felt lighter. Max and I motivated by the progress grew a bit lighter too.   But try as I might, there was one task on Pat’s list that I could not quite tackle–that damned front door.

     For practioners of feng shui, the front door is one of the most important elements of a house.  It is an important gateway where the chi enters the heart of the home. And my front door–well it was a feng shui nightmare.   The wood was split, the paint faded and cracked and dirty.  The trim around the door was peeling.  The storm door was broken in three places, creaked and was missing its screen.  Juan still had the key to the door.   Fixing it all just seemed too complicated, too expensive, too overwhelming. It was too difflicult a task for a single mom just trying to get her sea legs.

      But if I am also completely honest I will admit that that the door felt right to me, awful as it was.  My front door looked like I felt.  A mirror, a  metaphor for my broken heart–a little worse for wear. It served as a little warning to all those who visit–“Enter gently. A storm has passed through here”.

       But that was two years ago.  As 2006 turned to 2007, I looked around and felt incredibly blessed.  Our life was populated by wonderful new friends, I was beginning to connect with creative women.  A deep spiritual and creative force inside was beginning to emerge.  I started to trust myself in a way I never had.  I woke up one morning and realized the door no longer matched the home.  It was time to tackle the door.

       Fixing my door, like fixing a heart is indeed not a linear process.  Unlike the simple feng shui fixes of 2005 it couldn’t be completed in one or even two sittings.  There were several aborted trips to various retailers.  Seemingly endless indecision about what kind of door (wood, fiberglass?).   Appointments with installers that were cancelled for snow days, because the right weather stripping hadn’t arrived.   Going back to the beginning all over again.  I was convinced it was my destiny to be stuck with my old front door.  It was 8, maybe 10 full weeks after my decision to fix it when the door itself was replaced.  A lovely perfect simple six paneled pine door.  At last.

       Excited by the progress I ran to the store to buy paint.  I didn’t know anything about protecting wooden doors.  Looking at all the varieties on the shelf I wondered what type of paint do I buy?  I skipped up to the counter and asked the kindest looking man for advice.  He told me to buy Thompson’s Water Seal, seal the door, wait 4 weeks and then buy oil paint which they didn’t sell there. 

      Downhearted and disappointed I slunked away, dutifully carrying the sealer.   The directions on the sealer told me I would be stalled again–I needed 48 hours of warm dry weather to successfully complete the task.  March turned to April.  The weather and my schedule could not coordinate.  Weekends full of cold wet rains cursed me.  Grumpiness settled in.  A few nights I woke up dreaming of my old life with Juan and sat on the couch in a heap weeping.  My door and my heart were stuck in process. 

      My frustrated eye turned to the peeling trim around my door.  It looked even more offensive now that it framed a precious new (though naked) door.  I considered scraping and powerwashing it myself.  I agonized over when to do it.  I made long to do lists that were supposed to get me moving but only made the task feel insurmountable.  It pulled on me each time I brought the groceries through the door.  In a fit of desperation one Sunday in late April, I just picked up the phone and called a reliable handyman.  He was out that afternoon to give me a quote.  The next day my trim was painted and fresh.  Nothing like asking for help…

     Then May offered the gift of a sunny afternoon.  Max was on a playdate–I had nothing to do.  I pulled out a rag and I sealed the door.  It took 20 minutes.  All that waiting for 20 minutes of work. I breathed a sigh of relief and then felt a sudden rush of frustration. One more month of waiting.  

     I went to Ireland.  I came home.  Max finished school.  Before I knew it, more than one month had passed.  Two weekends ago I sauntered to the paint store where they sold the supplies I needed.  Purchased a can of oil primer.  A can of rich black paint, a color Pat and I selected after consulting the compass.  Perfect for an east facing door.  I primed the door a week ago Sunday.  Let it rest for a week and then woke up at 6 am.

     I wish I could express the joy and exhilaration I felt looking at my new smart door, all shiny and black.  Suddenly all the things in my life that seemed so difficut, so impossible seemed not only possible but probable.  I put together my new people-powered push lawn mower and mowed my lawn for the first time in two years.   I began to install a new post for my mailbox.  I spontaneously invited the neighbors over for salmon and threw my first dinner party in over a year.  I dreamed of falling in love again.

      And Sunday evening as each family arrived, carrying ice, brownies, chocolate and the makings of mojitos they passed through a door, not yet perfect but more together than the day before, bright and hopeful offering a promise of better days to come.  Instead of a issuing its warning, my door told the guests that we who lived there were mending, progress was being made.  Sure I still need to remove the awful storm door, and install this guardian I have been coveting since January.    There is still work to do on the entrance and then the rest of my house:  the lawn that looks like the setting for a Stephen King novel, the garage that needs to be emptied.  As my father says of home ownership, “It never ends”.  Thats OK. 

     Its like that with hearts too.

I have nothing brilliant to say tonight and yet I find myself  lingering here.  I feel I need to write something moving, or say something splashy, witty or deep.  But tonight–I got nothing. 

I am not very good with nothing.  Negative space was a concept that always threw me off in high school art class.  Noise could be my middle name.  I have always been a more more more kind of girl.  More stuff, more papers, more books, more coffee, more ice cream.  I have learned to live in clutter, justifying it as the product of an active creative mind.  I stuffed my brain full of endless chatter, my house full of momentos, my office full of papers.  Nothing (and her twin sister silence) scared the bejezus out of me.

But over the last few years something has shifted  and I am beginning to learn to welcome them in.  When Juan moved out I wanted to change the environment in the house and give myself space to grieve and move on.  I sought the advice of my friend Pat, a feng shui diva.  She pointed out that there was no room for me to rest mentally or emotionally in my house.  My eyes were always falling on something and all that something was tripping me up. 

Slowly but surely  I have been getting rid of the clutter.  Not just in the house, but my life.  I am giving or throwing away things I don’t love or use.  Making hard choices on how to spend my time and money.  Saying no more often, chosing only things that will feed my soul.  Driving means driving–not cell phone calls, knitting at red lights or NPR (well maybe a little NPR) 

But that means there is suddenly a whole lot of nothing in my life–wide open expanses.  And silence.

And just because I welcome the nothing and the silence doesn’t mean I am completely comfortable with them.  Like tonight I sit and try to will something to come and fill the void.  But I have to resist the temptation to fill these spaces.  I need to learn to breathe into them.  To let go.

Growth will not happen without nothing.  A bumper crop of strawberries cannot grow in a field choked with weeds.  So turn the soil I must, let the field lay fallow and wait here in silence.  

A summer will soon arrive and my fields will be full to brimming with sweet fruit.  But for now–I will settle for nothing.