The man on the bench

Mornings in this city are busy and loud. The rush starts at about 8 a.m. as thousands of commuters descend on the downtown core in an army of city buses and vehicles thundering through intersections, and dodging in an out of the gaps in traffic. There are also a good number of people on foot and bicycles weaving in and out of, and around that chaos – until 9 a.m. when the noise dulls to what sounds more like an organized hum, pierced only by the occasional ambulance siren.

There’s a man who sits on a black metal bench almost every morning on one of the busiest blocks in rush hour. He’s dressed like a business man, in a beige trench coat, pressed slacks, polished shoes, and groomed snowy white hair. While the rest of us have our eyes on the ground, trying as hard as we can to get from “point a” to “point b”, he sits on his bench slowly eating breakfast out of a small brown paper bag from McDonalds.

Amidst the visual turmoil, the man’s hand slowly moves from the bag to his mouth as though he has all the time in the world. He looks completely at peace, almost as though that bench of his is a recharging station that is boosting his internal battery with all of the downtown core’s energy. This man is an example of someone who remains centred and at peace, even when faced with an uncertain and ever-changing environment or situation.

The man on the bench reminds me of this Collective Soul music video, which starts out sad but turns a corner at the three minute mark. Just for fun, here are two more videos (Gob) (Zerbin) with the same theme.

The lesson of the man on the bench, for me at least, is that peace is not something we find outside ourselves – it’s always within us, no matter what our circumstances are.

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Abandoning ‘Perfect’

Grit. It’s a word I’ve been thinking a lot about lately.

The folks at Meriam Webster say grit means “very small pieces of sand or stone” and “mental toughness and courage”. Grit is a personality trait I value in others – and also look for in my surroundings. Gritty attitudes and ideas inspire and motivate me, and more importantly, keep it real.

Let me explain…

One of my regular running routes takes me through an industrial area of downtown and, normally, I plod my way through those streets focused on not much more than making it back home. But, I recently noticed a graffiti wall on that run that was so colourful and so gritty – it was stunning! That’s made me think about how beauty can be found in some of the most imperfect places.

Plain and simple, gritty beauty isn’t faking it. It can’t. Beauty that comes from grit requires us to acknowledge how something that at first looks imperfect is really quite perfect after all, and brave and courageous – just as it is. The art on that graffiti wall was haphazardly painted, tucked away in a wild urban setting, just above the gravel shoulder on a two-lane road. I loved it.

Discovering beauty in gritty people and places flips the narrative, from negative to positive. Another example of this idea is where I live. Our home is in a neighbourhood some might consider to be on the “other side of the tracks”. But it’s that grit, and the area’s visual diversity and realness that is so appealing to me.

Our neighbourhood doesn’t pretend to be what it’s not. You’ll see any number of fun characters here on any given day, like the man who takes his parrot for daily walks and odd assortments of people stumbling home from the pub – and I love them, grit and all.

So often, there is beauty hiding in plain sight in our lives.  The cliché for this is “diamond in the rough”. The Japanese call it “wabi-sabi”, an aesthetic view that is centred on the acceptance of imperfection.  Derived from Buddhist teachings, characteristics of the wabi-sabi aesthetic include asymmetry, asperity, and simplicity. Wabi-sabi abandons the search for perfection.

This is an idea I’m now keeping in mind as I find ways to simplify my life. Abandoning the search for perfection is freeing. So, this week as I continue to downsize my belongings and streamline my daily routine, I will also focus on looking for more examples of gritty beauty, just like that graffiti wall, because I’m certain it’s there.

Wabi-sabi your life: six strategies for embracing imperfection. 

Five characteristics of grit – how many do you have?

The key to success? Grit. 

Letting go

This was supposed to be a recap of my weekend keeping up with the 30-day minimalist challenge. But life very often has other plans for us.

My maternal grandma is dying – there’s no less blunt way to put it. She’s 93 years old, stubborn as heck, and has decided that it’s time to go. It’s something she’s been wishing for, for some time now, as her mind has slowly started slipping away from her over the past year.

My daughter and I visited her today, to say good bye. There was so much about the short 10 or 15 minutes we were there that surprised me. We’d been warned that she was very sleepy and not making much sense. Yet, when she realized I was there, she said my name very clearly and smiled. She did the same for my daughter. Grandma was a loving woman, but not ever particularly very warm and I was fascinated that in her final moments, she seems so much more connected with us…with everyone.

Looking at her, her body frail and preparing to leave this world, I began to think about how important our flesh is to who we are. For much of my life, I’ve struggled with body image – sometimes viciously. But today, I am grateful for every ounce of my body and especially my fleshier parts.  They are proof that I am alive and living. Death and the process of dying takes this from us, sometimes quickly. Sometimes naturally over years as we age. I am thankful for this body of mine today, that carries my grandma’s DNA.

Somehow she knew it was time to go. Weeks ago she started talking about it, earnestly. Then about a week ago she became sick with a cold, stopped eating and drinking, and announced that she would be gone soon. This has given the family comfort – we know it’s what she wants. She’s been so uncomfortable in her own skin for such a long time that this really feels as though her suffering is coming to an end.

I have been terrified of death. About ten years ago I found a lump on my thyroid that my doctors monitor every year or so. And every year or so, my mortality slaps me in the face and I lose my shit. Now that I have kids and so much to live for, the thought of being sick and dying, and losing my kids, can bring me to my knees any time anywhere. And let me tell you, having one lump in your body (even if it’s benign) leaves you worrying about every other lump that could be hiding in you somewhere. Like a bomb.

But seeing how peaceful my grandma was, and is, as she lets go of her own mortality – and willingly doing so – is amazing. Even beautiful. So this woman who I’ve struggled to feel close to throughout my life has given me this gift in her final days: the wisdom that there is peace in death.

Day Two – Meditate

So, about yesterday…ew.

Decluttering your digital life is harder than I thought it would be. And can I be honest? I spent most of the time judging myself – was I keeping too many digital files? Not enough? Were my new folders labeled properly? Did I delete enough emails?

I did not feel good after that process was over. Plus, there are still twenty gazillion pictures in twenty gazillion folders on my home computer to go through…which never used to bother me, until yesterday. I don’t think this “minimalist” stuff is supposed to make me feel this way.

I did make some headway though. My work desktop looks better, at least. I guess you can call that progress.

Today the challenge is to meditate for 15 minutes. Love it. I’m already doing this almost daily anyway now. So today I’m going to really challenge myself and try meditating without any guided audio. This will definitely be challenging because I’m a thinker, to the extreme. Plus, my ears ring all the time and the high-pitched sound drives me crazy when there’s no background noise. But, they say meditation takes practice – so I figure it’s worth a try.

Now, about this weekend…chocoholics unite!  My kids are beyond excited because the bunny is coming, as is my husband because, like most loving parents, we sometimes help ourselves to their candy stash. Ssssssshhhhh.

This year, I’ve got a game plan in place to keep my chocolate binging to a minimum.  Here are some of my favourite “almost tastes like chocolate” chocolate treats:

Healthy Chocolate Chia Pudding

Five ingredient avocado pudding

Sweet potato brownies

And one more I really want to try:

Coconut Fudge

Have a peaceful Easter weekend.

Day One – 30 Days of Minimalism

So, it’s 8:00 a.m. on April 1st and that means it’s time to start Into Mind’s 30-Day Minimalism Challenge.

I need to switch the order up a bit in the first week, as does my friend who is doing this with me (she’s going to keep me honest and accountable through this), due to work and family needs. So today, my challenge is to “declutter my digital life”. According to Anuschka’s guidelines, I am to take care of my digital clutter today by Spring-cleaning my desktop, delete any files I don’t need anymore, and set up a simple, no-fuss folder structure.

I have to be upfront and say that this particular challenge will be easy for me, for the most part. As I mentioned yesterday, I hate stuff and that includes unneeded digital stuff. But there’s always room for improvement in everything that we do in life, so it will be interesting to approach this with a focused mind.

Since I don’t really use a desktop computer at home, I’ll be attacking the digital clutter on my work computer and also my social media. I actually started some of this yesterday – I brought the number people I follow on twitter down to 213 from 237, and I purged another 50 or so folks last week.

There is one area of my digital life that needs some attention though: email. Anuschka doesn’t mention cleaning up our email, but this is probably because she doesn’t get 200+ emails a day like some of us do (seriously, it’s madness). This is where I’ll focus most of my efforts today and I’m dreading this a little bit…which is a sign that it needs to be done.

I’m pretty good about staying on top of it all, but I have email that needs to be sorted going back to early February right now. And I’ve already received/deleted 60 emails this morning. Gah! Clearly, this is a source of stress for me. But I can’t simply stop it – because mommy needs her paycheque. So I have to find a way to manage it.

Wish me luck.