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my first yoga retreat

I spent two days over Easter at a yoga retreat at the studio where I practice, train and teach.

We did many hours of yoga, grilled our teacher, Nat, about yoga matters, and did walking and sitting meditations – a lovely way to melt into the Easter break.

I fought with a lot of my own personal demons to stay on the mat for two whole days: defiance, resistance, self-sabotage, not to mention a bit of laziness! but amongst all the mental wrangling were many moments of peace, rest and deep enjoyment.

I love Zing Studio – the building is so lovely and characterful. It is over a hundred years old and has been a Salvation Army citadel, a brothel and a swanky restaurant in it’s time.

Here is the room (at Nat’s house in the country) where I slept – a lilac room under steep eaves:

Here’s a sneak peek at the studio:

And here are some patches on sun on the studio wall at 7.30am on day two:

Namaste!


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the garage sale

All summer, as I went through the house room by room, cupboard by cupboard, this corner was full of a growing pile of stuff for a garage sale.

It grew and grew and sat there in the corner – reminding me to keep clearing out and to try not to accumulate so much in the future.

Sometimes I would put things on the pile, and then take them off again. Usually I returned them to the pile. The strings of attachment – tugging, twanging.

On Saturday we had the garage sale. The finale for the summer of decluttering.

We sold heaps and made just over $300. Given the most expensive thing was $30 and most things were priced at $1, this might give you some idea of how much stuff we got rid of.

Without wanting to sound ungrateful to the people who came along and bought our stuff, lining our pockets…some of them were very eccentric! Firstly, we had people door-knocking the night before – wanting to get a first look. We politely told them to come back in the morning.

Then in the morning, although we advertised the garage sale as starting at 8am, people starting arrive just after 7 and many of them stood, in the fairly brisk windy weather, at the gate while we set up, waiting and calling out to us to let them in. Now, that’s keen.

There were the two women who had a physical fight over a rusting enamel jug, whacking me in the chest in the process, because I got in their way.

There were the record collecting people – who were all great, actually, but quirky as anything. Especially the older guys who reminded me very much of Harvey Pekar, in his comic strips about collecting ‘sides’.

There were the hard-core hagglers, who pick up five things costing a dollar and say – ‘Would you take $2? How about $3?’

But like I say – we are grateful they came! And spent their hard-earned money on our unwanted possessions.

I sold a lot of my records. It was a big decision to sell my records and I thought I would feel quite pained to see them go, but the morning was mostly pain-free – the only pang I felt was when someone bought my Velvet Underground record. Pang! Pang! Bye, bye iconic Andy Warhol banana. Then off it went down the driveway and I was $5 richer.

Now the corner, which had started to ressemble the trash-heap from Fraggle Rock is clean and clear and empty. I mopped the floor and placed this chair in the corner and a deep sense of peace came over me.

All around the city are people pleased as punch with their bargains while here at my house, I am happy about my empty corner, my lightened load.

 

 

 


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things organised neatly

I am doing a lot of clearing out / decluttering / space clearing – whatever you like to call it – lately.

Because it is the school holidays and I am doing it whilst parenting – I am doing it very, very slowly. Drawer by drawer, cupboard by cupboard, dusty neglected corner by dusty neglected corner.

There is a lot of space on the internet devoted to decluttering. You can do e-courses, read blogs, books, motivational videos. (The cynical part of me thinks – sure, you could do that, OR you could get up and start tidying! Ha ha!)

I was talking to my friend Emma Barnes the other day about decluttering and she said something like ‘I don’t like to give too much head space to decluttering, because I think it is just another thing to mess with our heads and make us feel not good enough’. (Tell me if I am grossly misquoting you, Emma.)

(Tangentially, Emma put me on to a tumblr called ‘things organized neatly’ – which is photographs of things organised neatly and is fabulous and funny and compelling.)

& I know what she means – decluttering, space-clearing, purging does seem tied in with some weird moral superiority thing. ‘If I have clear clean spaces, then I am clean and clear. The way I treat my belongings defines me.’

How aligned/tied we are to ‘stuff’!

It’s a messy old ball of ideas that goes with the decluttering phenom.

There is the practical angle - sure. ‘If I can’t find anything and there is piles of stuff everywhere….well, it is annoying and life would be easier if I were more organised.’

Then there is the weird capitalist yo-yo: ‘I am being told I need new stuff everywhere I turn and I have been trained to believe that getting new stuff makes me feel good. But then that good feeling goes, and then I feel bad that I have wasted my money and now I have to deal with those objects and quickly I will want to ‘purge’ them, or other things to make room for them.’ In/out, in/out the stuff goes. (This one is very complex and ties into appetites generally, and can be linked to how we view our bodies, as well…) Tied into the capitalist yo-yo is the environmental angle – we should all be doing more with less, recycling, repurposing, trying not to buy. The environmental angle is also linked to the spiritual and moral angle – to reuse/reduce/recycle can give us feelings of spiritual and moral superiority.

Then there is the (quasi?) spiritual angle. ‘In order to be more spiritually evolved, I need to transcend my stuff and belongings and to organise them like a zen monk would. My domination over stuff belies my spiritual superiority.’

Then there is the issue of sentimentality and nostalgia, which is partially connected to the spiritual angle AND the appetites angle. People have varying levels of sentimentality attached to stuff. Sometimes it can overwhelm them, they can’t even throw out a shopping list or an ancient Christmas card. Sometimes they have zero sentimentality and those who love them read this as being cold and unloving. I am somewhere in the middle, although far more sentimental about ‘stuff’ than my partner, much to his chagrin.

….

The last three months of last year, I totally over-committed myself on the work front, plus I was working to get my book out, plus I have two kids, I had booked a stall at a Craft Fair (why did I do that? That was dumb!) plus all the other things that happen day to day, plus I had to move all my studio inside because we were having it repaired….well, I was running to keep up with my crazy life and my house-keeping systems fell away and things got into quite a state.

I felt out of control.

I felt overwhelmed.

I felt grumpy, a lot of the time.

Mostly, I didn’t feel very much, except tired and bad, bad and tired, because I was so busy and disorganised.

……

So, now it is  this year and the busy summer holiday/visiting period is over and I am claiming my house back, thing by thing. I am getting my systems up and running again – a little more each day.

I am looking at all the stuff we own.

So much stuff.

…….

For two years when I went on my OE, I lived out of a backpack and I loved it.

…….

For many years I have been an obsessive op-shopper. I justified my op-shopping because it is cheap, affordable, second hand – my money going to charities, my purchases keeping things out of landfills. Recently, my appetite for op-shopping has diminished. I see that it is still just buying stuff, despite the reasons above. Most of the stuff I don’t need. I avoid emotions of loneliness, creative frustration and general blah by buying op-shop things. (Except for the times when I just op-shopped for the joy of it and genuinely loved the things I found – because that happened too – because human experiences are never simple.) I think this ties into appetites and my hunger for creativity. (Do you like how I am being my own therapist?)

I will still op-shop (and new-shop.) I am just observing how my habits are changing.

I think I’d rather explore the depths of my uncomfortable emotions than op-shop them away.

I still love op-shops.

…..

Children bring ‘stuff’ into your life. First a plethora of baby equipment and then they soon begin to accumulate their own stuff, their own tastes and obsessions, their sentimentality about random junk. You find yourself as a parent having to deal, not only with your own ‘stuff’ but your children’s as well – because if you don’t model for them some boundaries around ‘stuff’ they will attain and attain like little pack rats, because that’s what kids do. (Who ever heard of a zen child?)

(Of course, you might have sentimentality around stuff which came with the kids, which the kids do not have. I have baby clothes and early drawings which Willoughby rolls his eyes when I show him, but I can’t bear to part with.)

…..

We are afraid if we throw out our sentimental objects we are throwing out the memory and experience.

Is it wrong to want to archive parts of our lives? Is it ‘unspiritual’?

Why is less always more? What about traditions, shared memories and family history?

…….

I don’t know the answer to these questions.

…..

My hallway is piled with towers of art and craft materials and books I haven’t read. (The contents of the   sleepout undergoing renovation.) These piles make me feel tired when I see them.

I am changing the way I think about creativity.

I was creatively-starved as a child. As an adult I have stock-piled art and craft materials so that I can turn my hand to any creative whim at a moment’s notice. From creative famine to feast….or is it gluttony? Is it binge? (See? Appetites.)

I am getting clear about what I do and don’t want to do in my creative life. I do want to write, garden (I think gardening is creative) and sew. I don’t want to draw, paint, knit, crochet, print-make etc.

I had a great conversation on twitter with Soft Like Kittens. She said she’d gotten rid of a heap of art/craft supplies from ‘failed hobbies’ and things she didn’t actually like to do and said it cleared her of ‘guilt she didn’t even know she’d had’.

That notion immediately resonated with me: ‘Guilt I didn’t even know I had.’

Yes!

What if – instead of representing creative POTENTIAL, the stuff represented creative GUILT?

….

I am giving up knitting. I suck at knitting and I am never happy with stuff I’ve knitted. Oh the sweet relief.

…..

What is the point of this blog post?

I’m not sure.

Our ‘stuff’ owns us, it’s true. But isn’t that part of being human? Humans are messy, acquisitive and greedy. We have appetites. We LOVE – people and things. We get attached. (Even if we are Buddhist!)

Clear white surfaces do not make you more spiritually evolved. It makes you a minimalist. This is a style, not a spirituality.

Declutter if it will make you happy. If it will bring you clarity and help you get through your day in a more organised fashion. If you happily exist knee-deep in old newspapers and fluff, I’m not going to judge you. To each their own.

My current decluttering, at its considered snail-pace, feels more significant to me than just moving stuff around. I’m interested in why, I’m curious as to what it means, but I don’t know yet.

A lot of self-help around this area seems to me to be overly simplistic and moralistic and punitive.

I think stuff and our relationship to it is non-linear. We will attain and let go, attain and let go until our dying day, the trick is to find some peace with that.


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the trail is not a trail

One of my favourite poets is American poet Gary Snyder. He is described as the ‘poet laureate of deep ecology’ by some and I would agree with that. I guess he is a natural fit for me – he studied Zen Buddhism in Japan for years and writes a lot about the human spirit and nature.

I have to defend his work from most of my poet friends who think his stuff is ‘obvious’ or romanticises nature or whatever – but I think a) the simplicity of his work often echoes that of the Zen Koan (short poems or spiritual conundrums) he is obviously schooled in.

You could say this very famous poem by seventeenth century Japanese poet Masahide is ‘obvious’ and yet in its simplicity it also contains multitudes of meaning:

Barn’s burnt down-

now I can see

the moon.

*

And b) I don’t find his nature writing to be ‘romantic’. I find it to be frank and direct. However, it is hard to write ANYTHING about nature in the 21st century and not be accused of being ‘romantic’ and Wordsworthian. Nature poetry has an undeserved bad rap, I think.

Anyway, here is my current favourite Gary Snyder poem. Like a Zen koan, it is deceptively simple and yet depending on your reading of it can blow out and up and be a big existential gesture. As well as enjoying it aesthetically, I am returning to it lately as a reminder of mindfulness…because the trail is not a trail, there is no destination, ….or if there is it is only death – hence the pressing need to be present in the moment!

Here it is:

The Trail is Not A Trail

by Gary Snyder

(from Left Out In The Rain, North Point Press, 1986)

I drove down the Freeway
And turned off at an exit
And went along a highway
Til it came to a sideroad
Drove up the sideroad
Til it turned to a dirt road
Full of bumps, and stopped.
Walked up a trail
But the trail got rough
And it faded away—
Out in the open,
Everywhere to go.


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forgetting and remembering

I’ve had a week of battling my ‘monkey mind’ – that part of the mind that is unsettled and dissatisfied, busy and graceless. This week my monkey mind has been a place of impatience and regret – both fairly useless emotions.

It’s the school holidays, I’ve got far too much work on my plate (which I can’t get to, because it’s the school holidays) and I’m burning, itching, yearning to get to some creative work -writing and making- which is coming waaaaay last at the moment, because of the aforementioned kids, work.

Cue the negative internal brain loops.

The good thing is, I see it, I notice it for what it is – useless thoughts, pointless mental torture – and so as they arise, I work (and boy, does it feel like work) to let them go.

Feel it, notice it, let it go. Feel it, wrangle with it, notice it, let it go. Feel it, watch it flare, notice it, let it go.

When I’m wrestling with my demons, the best thing for me to do is to go outside. Be with my plants. They bring me solace. I can get perspective out in the garden, also nothing soothes a restless mind like a bit of weed pulling.

All over the garden, forget-me-nots have self-seeded. They are growing all over the place, occasionally in an actual garden bed. I didn’t bring them to this yard, so they are an inheritance from the gardeners who lived here before me. I love the self-seeded flowers best of all – staunch, self-sufficient little fellas.

Bright blue flares of tiny flowers everywhere – they’ve come in just the right week, when I need reminding what is worth remembering and what to forget.

 

 

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