Warning: Disturbing photos included in this post. Beware. Neatniks everywhere, please choose a soothing beverage and do some deep breathing before you being to read this.
Here’s a little metaphor I use with my clients who ‘do too much’, those people who come to me because they suddenly find they cannot manage all the requirements they believe their lives impose upon them. This visual image is born of my worst nightmare: being on a cruise ship, faced with all the food they reputedly offer up at each and every meal, and probably between meals, too. So many choices!! It makes me want to run screaming. The visual image goes something like this:
Imagine life is like eating on a cruise ship, except that the buffet line stretches off into infinity. You cannot see the end of the line, all the foods are set out before you. There are salads, meats, vegetables, breads, puddings, cakes and pastries, sauces and creams. There are smoked oysters and cracked crabs. Everyone gets one plate and everyone has to keep moving down the line. No stopping for long. You must eat as you go. You begin putting foods on the plate, and because you are a conscientious soul, you make sure to put steamed vegetables and other tasteless fare on the plate along with your devil’s food cake because you know what’s ‘good’ for you, right?
At first, you can eat fast enough to keep up with the line, and your plate never really gets over crowded. You can keep the broccoli from touching the roast beef. But as the line progresses you begin to feel full and your plate is looking a bit crowded. You would like to stop now and digest, perhaps take a nap, except that the rules of the cruise ship are that you must keep choosing foods. You don’t get to stop. Your choices slow down, but eventually, somewhere around mid-line (or maybe earlier if you have a lot of kids and a high pressure job), you notice that you cannot keep up and the mashed potatoes are hanging dangerously, tenuously, over the side of your plate. If you add that helping of bread pudding, it’s going to push lots of things over the edge, no matter how good it tastes. Or it’s going to get all nasty with broccoli juice on it, destroying the essence of pudding that it is. You look ahead and realize you still cannot see the end of the line.
At this point, poised with burgeoning plate, you begin to panic. How can you do this thing? You end up making an appointment with me. And I totally understand your nightmare. I completely capiche your almost-adolescent angst. Oh yes. I get it. Oh client of my nightmare, you are me.
You’ve got to make space on the plate in order to move forward in the line, in order for happiness to be restored so you can enjoy the cruise. You really do want to at least taste the strawberry cheesecake but there is simply too much steamed cauliflower without butter or salt on your plate. Everything you have already put on your plate is taking up all the room. What to do, what to do, what to do? The rule is you have to keep going. You have to continue to eat what is on your plate. There is only one thing to do. Break the rule. And you can do this in one of two ways.
You can keep overloading the plate until everything just sort of falls apart onto the floor; rule-breaking by ommission. It’s a valid choice, but you won’t be in control of the triage attempt. Or you can do rule-breaking by commission. You can do it with malice and forethought. You can practice a little of what I like to call ‘Nancy Reagan’ therapy on your rules. You can ‘Just Say NO!’ to stupid rules. I like to choose the latter. I like to actively break rules that suck.
All that stuff on your plate? It’s keeping you stuck in the line. You can’t move forward, and you can’t move back. It’s taking up space that is mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual. How can you invite yourself to partake of the cheesecake, or even the nicely aged cheese, if you don’t get rid of some of that other stuff on the plate? You must find a way to surreptitiously dump your plate without actually eating the food. You simply have to make room on the plate another way, a way that your internal rule-maker has not thought of before or won’t notice. Or maybe could actually get used to!
Looking around, you notice no one looking your way. The time is now. You let your plate droop like a woman with southern charm. You let the food slide quietly down under the table, concealed by the table cloth. You keep moving. No one gives a crap that you did this, and this is a revelation to you. You just broke the rule and the ship didn’t sink? What the what???
Your plate now almost completely clean, you begin again; moving more slowly, thinking carefully about the choices you make. Taking only small portions where before you would have overloaded. You are mindful of the process and the plate stays in balance. You have perfect proportions of protein, carbohydrates, vegetables, and desserts and because you eat and move through the line thoughtfully and slowly, things work better. And you remember the plate-dumping and how easy it turned out to be.
The energy of life is not infinite. We have X amount of energy; mental, emotional, physical, spiritual, that we can expend on living our lives. And anything that takes up too much room on one part of our life plate is impinging on all the other things, no matter how small the ‘thing’ is. People many times do not understand this concept. Just because something seems like a ‘small thing’ doesn’t mean that it doesn’t take up energetic space. And that means it’s harder for something new and terrific to come into our lives.
So all of this is to say that ever since we moved the date up for our Little Cunning Departure, we’ve been in overdrive trying to relinquish some of our food onto the floor of our cruise ship so we can have more space for chocolate cake. You know? We are running into our own internal rules all the time and having to challenge them. For instance, until now Mike’s ‘rule’ was, “I will work until I am 57.” He dumped that rule on the floor. People cheered the decision. He felt free of a rule.
The hardest rules for me revolve around our family home. These are extraordinarily difficult rules for me to challenge. For instance, I have a ‘rule’ about wanting to maintain a land-based home in case we want or need it, or in case our kids need it. That’s one big, heavy rule and it’s really based on fear, like most internal rules. Fear that we will never be in a position to own this nice a home again. Fear that once the family home is disposed of, the diaspora of the children will be complete and finite. They will never be home again because the home will be gone. Fear that I will miss my home more than I can bear. So many fears. I have to work through them one at a time. At the end of the day, the tie to the home represents a huge investment of time, money, energy, and emotional space that I could be using for being excited about our big transformation into world travelers.
Some of our internal rules are just too solidly attached to the plate to budge. For instance this week we came smack up against the reality that is getting our home ready for either sale or rent. There is a long list of projects that need to be finished at home and these projects are taking up space for us that could be used other ways. We need to get them done. So we got out the paper calender and began making goals about accomplishing those tasks in a timely way, metering it out over the course of a few months.
One of our rules as a couple has been ‘we can do it ourselves. Why pay someone else?’. We have learned with Galapagos that sometimes it is just a relief to pay others to do work that, while you could do it yourself, is not your best use of time. Thinking we would make faster progress if we paid someone to help us, we had someone come out and give us a bid for getting the mess in those photos above cleared away. There is a small structure to tear down and dispose of, left over from Andrew’s ‘building things in the yard’ days. There is a pile of old wood to go, and a huge pile of tree branches; victims of recent stormy weather. We have two areas of the yard that are holding space that needs to be freed up. We were dead excited to be getting some help with this stuff.
But oy! Now we remember why we’ve always been ‘do it yourself’ types. The bid was 1200$, plus, of course, the dumping fee. Um. Hmmm. Damn. For some people that’s not a lot of money. For us, right now, it is. That’s a new sail for the boat, or a radar system, or half a fridge. Our rule solidified. The fee, when measured against the work of three men for a day, seems reasonable. But we cannot pay it with a glad heart. So we will have to do it ourselves. Of course, this attitude has made us into people who will consider living off the grid on a boat almost exclusively when the time comes. So there’s that benefit.
On the Galapagos front, we are creating lots of space in Mike’s workshop. Our friend Larry Simmons is a talented and experienced wood worker. Mike has engaged Larry to refurbish his workshop area on Galapagos so that it will more efficiently hold the hardware store we have on board, currently taking up the v-berth. The money we spend on this kind of thing feels good. We cannot do that work ourselves as it requires skills we will not have in this lifetime and Galapagos is worth it.
This letting go, this challenging of the internal rules we live by, is not a thing to take lightly or for granted. These are the rules that have allowed us feel in some semblance of control over our lives. Many times they are so dyed in our wool, feel so much like ‘laws’ instead of ‘rules’, that we forget that we chose them. We made them up. We can unchoose them and make space for other things. Letting them go is challenging and fearful work. But, you know, I really really like cheesecake. So … onward!
If you are cruising or living on your boat and you remember some rules you let go of in order to get from that life to this one, please stop by the comments section and tell us about it.