Melissa Ann Goodwin

Melissa Ann Goodwin

Sunday, August 2, 2015

A Work of Art

"I think everything in life is art. What you do. How you dress. The way you love someone, and how you talk. Your smile and your personality. What you believe in and all your dreams. The way you drink your tea. How you decorate your home. Or party. Your grocery list. The food you make. How your writing looks. And the way you feel. Life is art."
                                                                                            ~ Helena Bonham Carter

In my last post, I mentioned that I'd been teaching a workshop series on the yamas, which are the ethical principles of yoga that guide how we conduct ourselves in the world. (Non-harming, Honesty, Non-stealing, Moderation and Non-possessiveness or Greed). We wrapped up our discussions with the understanding that these principles provide us with a set of guidelines that can help us lead happier lives. How does that work, you ask? Here's how:

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If, when we got up each morning, we said to ourselves, I think I'll try to live by those yama - thingys today, at the end of each day we would likely find ourselves with fewer regrets about what we wish we had said -- or not said; less second guessing of how we handled situations that arose; less often feeling that we have something to apologize for; less guilt; less fear of repercussions for our behavior. Less anxiety.

Let's talk about karma for a minute. We tend to think of karma as something that is "gonna get us" for the naughty things we do. We use the phrase "karma's a bitch" to console ourselves that an invisible force will exact revenge on people who have done us wrong.

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But karma isn't punishment, it's action and reaction, action and result; an exchange of like energy. You do this and the result is that. You create a certain kind of energy and that same kind of energy will be returned to you. Living by the yamas assures that the karma you generate will be positive.

Understanding karma this way takes us from being victims to being empowered. Instead of being at the mercy of this vicious karma that is out to get us, we actually have the power to create our own good karma and, with time and dedication, we can even negate bad karma from our past actions! So if we believe that karma is a real thing, then it means that we actually have the power to create our own lives!

What an idea ....

I thought that the Helena Bonham Carter quote was a nice complement to the yama discussion because it's another way of expressing this idea that we are the creators of our own lives, and the quality of those lives, every single day.

What if, as Carter suggests, we thought of everything about our lives, everything we do and say, as ART? What if every day we got up and said, My life is a canvas, I am an artist, and today I will try to make my life a Work of Art?

Would we really choose to create a life that resembles Edvard Munch's The Scream?

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Or would we create something more like Monet's Water Lilies?

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If this idea that our lives are a Work of Art were forefront in our minds, wouldn't we: Think more before we spoke; act with more kindness; be more forgiving of ourselves and others; speak our truth; be grateful for all that we have and not begrudge others their good fortune: nourish ourselves with good food and rest; follow our dreams; be more generous? I think we might.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Lightening the Load

This week I finish up teaching a five-week yoga workshop series on the Yamas. In yogic philosophy, the Yamas are the ethical/moral guidelines for how we interact with other people and our environment. This week we are discussing aparigraha, or non-hoarding; not being greedy; sharing what you have.

This topic has been in the forefront of my own life lately, as we recently moved our belongings from Santa Fe, New Mexico, where they have been in storage for three years. Some of you know that we sold our home there, bought an RV and lived and traveled in it throughout 2012. We settled here in Florida, where we rented for two years and just recently moved into our newly built home.

Before we left Santa Fe, we gave away a great deal of what we owned. What went into storage was furniture that we liked and thought we would use again, along with things that we weren't ready to part with for sentimental reasons or to which we were just still attached. Three years later, we honestly felt that if the storage unit had blown up, we wouldn't miss a thing that was in there! In fact, it would be a relief.

Despite having gotten rid of so much already, that 10' by 10' by 10' storage unit was still pretty full. This is how it looked when we opened it up last month after not having seen it for three years:


After living in an RV, you realize how little you need. The idea of bringing all that stuff to our new home felt overwhelming and suffocating. So we kept the pieces of furniture that we knew would fit here and gave away the rest. That included a beautiful antique church pew and a lovely chair that had been my grandmother's. I gave away my parents' wedding china and my mother's tea cups. I gave away my collection of dolls and all my books except my yoga and poetry books and a few books I have from my childhood, like Winnie the Pooh and Mary Poppins.

We went through as many boxes as we could open before moving day and ruthlessly purged. We were able to give most of it to an appreciative family and the rest was donated to charity. By the time the mover came, we had given away at least half of what was in storage - stuff that three years ago we just couldn't let go.

This is how it looked after we we purged:

And this is how we felt at the end of move day - no more albatross of stuff in storage 2000 miles away; no more $150 a month to store STUFF....

We didn't have the time (or the energy!) to go through all the boxes, so we knew that there would be more to get rid of when the moving truck arrived here in Florida. The idea of filling up our cabinets and closets actually made me feel depressed - I just couldn't do it. So when everything arrived here, we purged again.

There are some things we are delighted to have back and there are a few that we got rid of that we wished we hadn't - I was especially ruthless about purging and gave away our salad spinner, some bowls and a few other items that we actually had to go out and buy again. Oops!

The moral of the story is that we don't need all this stuff to be happy and it may even contribute to our unhappiness. We don't need two or three of everything. We don't need closets full of clothes we don't wear. We don't need every gizmo and gadget under the sun.

Throughout my life, I accumulated. I think most of us do. But eventually we realize (hopefully) that our value is not judged by how much stuff we have, or how much it is worth in monetary terms.

Letting go of things with sentimental value can be hard, but I realized that my mother's tea cups are not my mother. They have been in boxes for years. I don't even drink from tea cups, but maybe someone else would like to, or would just like to appreciate them for their beauty. Mom would like that.

Living with less made me realize how little I need - or want. Stuff weighs you down, it really does.

Aparigraha refers to this dynamic: that, when we let go of excess baggage, the space created is like a vacuum into which what we really need can flow to us. Over the last few years, I let go of defining myself, my worth, by my home and my stuff. It was tremendously freeing! I didn't even know if we'd ever own a home again, and that was all right. And when I let all that go, we were suddenly blessed with the unexpected opportunity to buy a lovely new home that beautifully suits our needs now. During this same time frame I also let go of friendships that no longer felt good and into that vacuum came new friendships that feel healthy and easy. I let go of what dragged me down, and suddenly lots of things that lifted me up came my way.

I know from personal experience that this phenomenon of opening our hands and letting go results in much better things coming our way, so I wonder why it is so difficult for us to let go - of anything. We hold on, we hoard, we cling - to stuff, to people, to places, to ways of living and doing things. Maybe we're afraid that if we let go of something we have, we'll never get anything as good again; that we'll never get what we want. We seem to have this idea that the bounty of the universe is limited and we won't get our share - like in the game of musical chairs, we'll end up the odd man out. But it isn't true. It's really a very abundant world. And the things of true value, like the beauty of nature, the ocean, a sunset, flowers and birds, love and friendship - those can be found everywhere, in vast abundance.