As many who follow our social media or who are subscribed to our newsletter know, I hurt my back in a pretty agonizing way packing out the Paris Hill Hook-In on November 2nd. I picked up a heavy tote filled with wool in just the wrong way, having already aggravated my back working on one of our new guest rooms at the Parris House the week before. When it first happened, I knew I had done something pretty awful to a large back muscle, but the event was not yet packed up and toted away, so I kept going. Then I went out to dinner with Heather, then I got home and then…for about a week…I could barely move.
This was a gentle wake up call from the universe, and I say gentle because in the grand scheme of things, this is really no big deal at all. The muscle is healing and the medical professionals say all I need is more strength training and yoga to make myself stronger and more flexible in the future. I’m all for this because I’ve noticed those hive boxes full of honey and the chicken feed bags seeming heavier by the year. So this week will mark my serious return to yoga and my signing up at the gym. And actually going.
Still, as I get older, my own mortality is increasingly in my face. I am fifty four years old. My, and everyone else’s, mortality has been in my face for a long time, though. My brother died thirty three years ago at age thirty one and I have known too many others taken from this life too early. Not to be a complete downer here, but life is impossibly short. Even if you get a hundred years, it’s like the blink of an eye. My own weakening over the past several years and then my literal near-helplessness in the wake of this recent injury have been reminders that time is marching on and that if you’re still having good days, you have to make the most of them.
I came out of this experience remembering in even sharper focus what I’ve come to know at my age: life’s too short for unnecessary unhappiness. I’m delighted to report that the twenty-somethings in my life, my sons, their significant others, and many of their friends, already know these things. I am even more delighted when I see a particularly aware child or teenager, the kind some of their elders might think are a bit “too much” (they aren’t), already valuing themselves, their happiness, and setting boundaries. I wish I had been that kid.
So what is this topic doing on a blog devoted primarily to fiber art and homesteading? I’m writing this here because nothing kills your creativity quite like some of the life sucking things I’m about to talk about. These things can suck your life energy down to nearly nothing, dampen your enthusiasm for living, and damage your confidence. No one is at his or her best when feeling drained. None of these ideas is new or original, nor do they comprise an exhaustive list, but they are fifteen things, all here in one place, that I hope you can consider to protect yourself in order to promote your happiness and your creativity.
OK, so let’s get to it and at the end of the post I’ll offer some resources that also address these issues.
ONE: Do not accept disrespectful or hurtful communication.
I realize that sometimes, in all of our relationships, there are going to be times when things get heated and we say, or someone else says, something we wish we could take back. That’s unfortunately common. What does not have to be common and is not acceptable is this mode of communication becoming the norm. This may have occurred if you find yourself avoiding communication with someone because you know it may lead to some confrontation or drama. If after the problem has been acknowledged at least once, it continues, it’s best to distance yourself or limit your interaction with the perpetrator.
I recently had to ask myself if I’d let someone who’d spoken disrespectfully to me to speak to my sons, my husband, my daughters-in-law, my friends, or anyone I loved in the way he’d spoken to me. The answer was “no.”
You have inherent value and you deserve to be spoken to, written to, and treated as such. Do not accept any less.
TWO: Do not speak negatively to yourself.
If the voice inside your head is hostile to you, it’s time to take some steps toward re-framing those thoughts. After my injury I ended up on the massage/healing table of a dear friend and happened to say, “My left shoulder is a disaster.” She laughed a little and said, “Can we re-frame that statement?” The voice in your head may be responsible for exacerbating your pain, impostor syndrome, self-doubt, self-punishment, or self-sabotage. I do understand that some of us were raised with external voices that shaped our negative internal voice. If that is the case for you, as it was for me, see someone who can help you move toward a loving, self-affirming internal voice.
In other words, don’t speak to yourself in ways you wouldn’t, or shouldn’t, accept from someone else.
THREE: Do not defer your passions.
When I was in high school I played multiple musical instruments, wrote in a journal, wrote long letters to people, did pastel art, and more. I was highly creative. I was also encouraged to do something “sensible” with my life. So I went off to college to study business administration/marketing and after enduring the hazing initiation ritual (it was 1983) of the university marching band seniors, I packed up my musical instruments, it would turn out, even to the present day. I put my creative self mostly away, put my head down, and got on with life.
This is a really unhealthy thing to do. I could write an entire other post on all of the mental and physical manifestations of creativity repressed, but I will tell you in this post right here that that repression is painful and not conducive to happiness or growth.
Maybe for you it’s not music, or writing, or drawing. If you’re reading this perhaps your passion is hooking or knitting or growing your own food. Whatever it is, don’t put it on the back burner. Make time for it, nurture it, and observe how you feel when you do that vs when you don’t.
FOUR: Do not neglect your health.
This is huge. I don’t care how “in your head” you are or how much spiritual strength you have, if your body falls in to sickness and pain, your entire quality of life is changed. For many people, the choice is not theirs. There are a lot of things that can go wrong with the human body that we have very little control over. But there are also things we absolutely can control, or at least help control.
My back failed me after years of me failing my back. As I lifted that tote on November 2nd, my back told me I hadn’t worked out, I hadn’t done yoga and stretching, I hadn’t kept my weight at its optimal level, and that I hadn’t managed my stress levels. It told me I had not earned the right to lift that tote that way because I had not properly cared for the body I was asking the job of. It told me in an excruciatingly loud and clear way and now I have to tell it I’m sorry and take better care of it.
Whatever it is that you have to do to cherish and nourish your body, do it. I know habits and even addictions are extremely difficult to break, but help is available and your life will be the better for it.
FIVE: Put your phone down.
Seriously, limit screen time. There are all kinds of apps for this, for both your cell phone and your computers. I find my relatively screen free days are my happier ones. I know all too well that if you have a business or a job that requires it, screen time is part of making a living. However, limit it as best you can to the making a living part and don’t let it bleed too far over in to the “engaging in pointless drama on the internet” part. I think I can safely say we all feel like garbage when we’ve lost twenty minutes or more to scrolling or online drama and none of us has time for that.
SIX: Do nature.
I realize I live in Maine, which is frankly a natural paradise. I have every possible opportunity to get out in to nature year round, but sometimes I go weeks, or worse, months without really getting much more exposure to it than my daily walks with Wyeth. There are numerous studies that confirm the mental and physical benefits to spending time in nature. As with practicing your creativity, make note of how you feel when you make time for getting out in nature vs when you don’t.
When I lived in suburbia another lifetime ago, I did nature by planting bulbs, getting to parks, and running outdoors, even if outdoors meant sidewalks instead of trails. It’s easier here in Maine, but I believe we can find something of nature almost anywhere.
SEVEN: You’re not a victim.
I want to be clear here. Maybe you have been a victim of something terrible in your life. I am absolutely not saying that no one has been a victim. In my younger years I suffered things that no young person should have to experience or endure. So, in the literal sense of the word, yes, some of us have been victims of something at some time. Perhaps you still are, and if you are, please get the help you need in any way possible.
Here’s what I am saying, though. Our identities, our worth, who we are at the innermost, spiritual level, can not be defined by victimhood. That is not who we are and it is not what defines us. We have intrinsic value and most of us have at least some choices to make about our lives.
I find it helpful to understand myself in the context of any trauma I have experienced in my life, but not to project a sense of victim-as-identity on to new or daily situations that have nothing to do with those traumas. In understanding that victimhood is not who we are, it is easier to move forward in a way that gives us agency.
EIGHT: Choose your friends wisely.
This one is so basic. Life is literally too short to waste any time at all with people who do not lift you up, respect you, cheer you on toward your goals, listen when you need a listener, or encourage you to grow.
Don’t feel guilty if you have to cut ties with anyone who is pejorative, who sabotages your goals, who wants to control you in any way, or who brings unnecessary unhappiness to your life, which includes our next idea…
NINE: Create a no drama zone.
Legitimate drama is a part of the human condition. We and people we love get sick and/or die. Break ups and divorces are sometimes inevitable. Financial crises happen. There is no realistic way to navigate life’s real difficulties without some level of painful drama. How we handle that drama depends on our support systems, our spiritual beliefs, our philosophies, and skill sets. All of that is beyond the scope of this post and certainly I don’t have all, or even many, of the answers on these very difficult experiences.
Illegitimate drama is another story. Create a wall between it and yourself and do not breach it. Examples of needless drama are gossip, catastrophizing, vengefulness, excessive rumination, online bullying or endless online argument threads. If there is someone continually injecting this kind of drama in to your life, you need to create distance and, in doing so, create room for yourself to breathe and be at peace.
TEN: It’s never either/or, black or white, this or that.
A popular tactic in both advertising and political campaigns is the use of the false dichotomy. “If you don’t use Product A, this bad thing will happen.” “If you don’t vote for Candidate B, this bad thing will happen.” “This is the only way to fix problem C.”
No. Just, no.
Whenever anyone or any company or entity tries to tell you your options are limited, be very skeptical. Any problem will have many multiples of solutions, so do not limit your creative thinking in the face of challenges. Brainstorm. Come up with something new or at least novel when you hit a snag. Ask other trusted people in your life for a variety of perspectives.
In essence, life’s too short to limit your possibilities and solutions, especially just because someone or something with an agenda wants you to.
ELEVEN: Keep learning.
Read. Take classes. Listen to podcasts. Try something you think you’re bad at. Do something that scares you. Hang out with someone you think is totally different from you. Start a small business, even if it’s truly tiny. Teach something you know to someone. Listen to an opinion that makes you mad and try to understand how it even exists. Take care of animals and babies even when you think you’ve been there/done that. Travel. Learn a new language. Go to a church service that’s totally not in your tradition. Eat that thing you thought you’d never eat. You get the idea.
Most of what there is to do on this planet, you’ll never have time to do. It’s just a logistical fact. Even if you live a maximum lifespan, there’s just too much to do and too little time. So do as much as you can and watch your perspective evolve.
TWELVE: It’s not enough to look. You have to also see.
I look at things all day. I look at my email. I look at the production work I have to get out the door. I look at my bank account and my Quickbooks file. I check my social media and online shops. I look at the thermometer. I look at what’s in the fridge for breakfast.
On the other hand, it’s only sometimes that I see. My walks with Wyeth are great for seeing. I see the breathtaking ever-changing weather conditions over the mountains, the subtle changes in the seasons-within-seasons with the plants and wildlife, or the way the snow either crunches in to shards or mushes like mashed potatoes under my boots. More importantly, I truly see when I look in to my sons’ eyes during a conversation, or really seek to understand what my dog is trying to tell me with his expression or body language.
It’s easy to look, but the more we see the more profound our lives become and the more inspired our art or every day activities can be.
THIRTEEN: If it’s not a hell-yes, it’s a no.
This is self-explanatory. I have this mantra hanging in a framed graphic in my work studio.
If whatever you’re asked for doesn’t feel like something you really want, or because of deep moral impetus, need, to do, say “no.” Just say “no.” There are endless ways to say “no” politely and compassionately, but you must because, to return to our theme, life is too short and you can not possibly say “yes” to everything.
FOURTEEN: What other people think rarely matters.
I think this is honestly the most important thing on this list because it facilitates all the others. Many of the compromises we make on the previous thirteen ideas are based on worrying about what people will think of us. This is a family-friendly blog so I won’t use the language that immediately comes to mind regarding worrying about what other people think.
You can’t care what other people think most of the time. There are caveats. I care very much what my husband and sons, daughters-in-law, and close friends think. I want their love and respect, of course, and I also want to be a person they can be proud of. I trust them implicitly and if they think something I’m doing is wrong or ill-advised, I’m likely going to pay attention. It is a very small circle of people who have opinions that are truly and deeply significant in my life.
I’m sure that sounds terrible, but I recommend this idea to you even if that means that you don’t give a fig what I think either because I am not in your inner circle of closest humans. That’s as it should be. And this does not mean that you need to be unkind or unyielding or ignore those who might offer an opinion counter to yours or disapprove of what you want to do. It simply means that you can’t care about those things if caring about them compromises what you deeply know are the right choices for you.
FIFTEEN: Don’t backslide or compromise on any of these things.
I do this all the time. I’m writing this post for myself as much as for anyone else. I have my lessons learned, my convictions, my best intentions, and then I backslide and allow some unhealthy choices back in to my life. If we all support one another in these things, we can make the peace and space in our lives to free some of our time and creativity. We can treat ourselves with care in ways that bubble baths, manicures, expensive wines (nice as these things are) can not. Self-care is an inside job, but we can all help one another achieve it in meaningful and lasting ways.
I hope this has been helpful. While writing this I have thought of at least five more things I could include, but this is enough and, as I said, none of this is new. We all need reminders sometimes, though, and hopefully this post has served as a reminder to you to protect and promote your own well being.
Happy reflection and happy hooking. – Beth
Here are a few resources you might enjoy if you find any of these ideas interesting. Please note that while I also have a library of Christian books and use Christian apps because Roman Catholicism is my personal primary faith tradition, I have not included those here because I am trying to keep the list universal. If you have a faith tradition (or no faith tradition, which is equally legitimate) that supports your well being, add books, podcasts, and apps relevant to that to this list.
Big Magic, by Elizabeth Gilbert
The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, by Mark Manson
Walden, by Henry David Thoreau
The Power of Now, by Eckhart Tolle
The Maine Woods, by Henry David Thoreau
Awakening Shakti, by Sally Kempton
Any book by Thich Nhat Hanh
Man’s Search for Meaning, by Viktor Frankl
The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron
The Four Agreements, by Don Miguel Ruiz
10% Happier, by Dan Harris
Wherever You Go, There You Are, by Jon Kabat Zinn
Into the Wild, by Jon Krakauer
Writings of John Muir
Living the Good Life, by Scott and Helen Nearing
10% Happier with Dan Harris
How I Built This
The Ted Radio Hour
Good Life Project
Headspace (meditation training app)
Fitbit (works with your Fitbit device to track health metrics)
My Affirmations (positive re-framing)
StayFree (helps limit social media or other app use)
Keep Notes (list and note maker)
Law of Attraction (meditations, affirmations, vision board maker)
Facebook Feed Eradicator (Chrome plug-in for desktop/laptop – hides feed)