This is going to be long. And there may be some tortured metaphors by the time I’m done, but I need to get it down somewhere, and that somewhere is here.
As we return to the “New Normal” and I get more distance from the pain and suffering of the COVID years, I’ve had a chance to reflect on some of the great gifts that time gave me. That compulsory turning inwards has borne some interesting fruits, one of which is my commitment to finally seek formal diagnosis for my ADHD. Then there is my discovery of Mindfulness and Meditation, and a rebirth of my sense of myself as a spiritual person, which had fallen by the wayside a bit after ten years of living with a relentlessly agnostic, logical engineer.
To be absolutely fair, there were some less great fruits. As I discovered new interests and passions (Cycling, Watercolours) and lost my way with old ones, I developed an egregious addiction to the “See-Want-Have” immediacy that is Amazon, and it all got pretty squirrelly in Kaleidoscope Towers for a bit. It still is, despite fairly substantial efforts to the contrary. And it weighs on me, combined with the cold of winter, and the sheer amount of Stuff there is to do until I can feel what little Executive Function I have dribbling out my ears in a combination of doom-scrolling and exhausted funk and any last vestiges of my creativity with it. It’s been hard. I’ve lost my Mojo, and fought to get it back several times, but what remains is an overwhelming sense of myself as a creative person. A Su who cannot create is an unhappy, and unwell Su.
I’m working from home, which impacts one of my craft rooms, and the other one turned into the place where things I couldn’t deal with now got shoved. And of course, every time I found either a new interest, or rebooted an old one, there were new supplies, as I convinced myself that this time it was going to be great. If you have or know someone with ADHD, this is a familiar pattern.
Now I had tried Mindfulness earlier in the Pandemic and acquired some basic skills in it, but it didn’t sit right with me, and it fell by the wayside. Part of that was the particular brand of mindfulness training I tried. I just couldn’t relate to the “British White Dude, has some problems, buggers off to a Tibetan Monastery for a few years, and returns to open up a practice in Harley Street, where his privileged clients convince him to take it to LA, and found a million dollar App” school of mindfulness. I’m sure they are all very sincere, but it just felt a bit smug, and a trillion miles away from my messy life.
Enter one Tara Brach, an American Psychologist and Mindfulness Teacher. Here was a woman who knew what it was to have a messy life, and had figured it out, one step at a time. ( This Guardian Article explains it pretty well.) And she was teaching it, on the Internet, for Free! (She does accept donations. I fully intend to make one when I can). I started working through her free Mindfulness Daily Programme about six months ago, and most of the things about Mindfulness that I was struggling with started to make sense.
Now a day when I do not meditate is just like a day when I don’t create, all out of whack somehow.
Tara teaches self-compassion, and the radical importance of being right here, right now. If something is getting in the way of being right here, right now, rather than trying to ignore or “rise above” it, it needs to be acknowledged, as part of the reality of existence, and, if necessary dealt with with compassion, only then can the energy flow through, like a wave in the ocean. The other part that really resonates with me is that the ocean is not the wave, and that we are ocean not wave.
And yet, with all this, I’m still out of whack. I’m compassionate with myself about all the stuff, the piles of Doom bags, making trip hazards in my spaces, the WIP basket in the fireplace, the more recent one behind the arm of my chair, the dust, the clutter, the grot, but this particular wave seems to loom above me, and the surfer girl in me tells me it’s going to be a dumper when it breaks. Worse, there is a perfect storm of other things I don’t have the Executive Function to do behind that one, and I’m scared.
Add that to the recent cold snap, and the SAD, and all the extra stuff in the house for Christmas, and it all added up to a good old case of ADHD Paralysis. And something had to give.
One of the things I really like about Tara’s style of mindfulness is that she gives some great tools for unpacking feelings like this compassionately. One I’m using a lot at the moment is “Calling on your Future Self”. (You can use Higher Self, or Goddess Within, or anything you find helpful, but Future Self really works for me.)
So, you imagine them, where they are living, the look in their eyes when they greet you, and have a little conversation with them, where you tell them what it’s like to be you now, and they give you compassion, reassurance and a few words of wisdom, and then you are supposed to realise that they are already there, just maybe not fully manifested. I know it sounds like New Age bollocks, but you kind of have to be there.
But one thing I can tell you about my Future Self is that she has a LOT less stuff, a much better relationship with what she does have, and she looks like someone I would really like to be. A creator, a teacher, and wise woman.
Now I AM a hoarder. I have a lot of interests, and a lot of interests means a lot of stuff. My ADHD comes with a side serving of impulsivity, as well as time-blindness, and it took me a good long run up to realise that if I started creating with the stuff I have, and kept at it for ten years or so, (about the lead time I gave myself for becoming my awesome Future Self) I probably wouldn’t use it all up. And even if I did, IT WOULD STILL TAKE UP THE SAME AMOUNT OF SPACE, pretty much, and my house is full!
And there are some things like that pile of WIPs in the fire-place that I probably still wouldn’t touch, because art and creativity moves on, and some things you start aren’t meant to be finished.
There is a certain type of Stuff, that I call Sticky Stuff. There are several different types of it. WIPs, are definitely one, as is anything you have invested a lot of time, emotion or money in, like craft materials. And Gifts are a whole category of Sticky Stuff on their own.
Worse, many of my friends are also hoarders, and I have therefore become a sort of Guardian of Other People’s Stuff. There is a particularly insidious type of Sticky Stuff which gets passed around between us hoarders, because we can only bear to part with it, if someone else is going to “appreciate it”.
Yup, just read that again! I have Stuff I don’t want and can’t use, because someone else valued it too much to throw away or donate anonymously and gave it to me to “appreciate”, and I accepted it, so now I’m sort of responsible for it. Worse, I’ve done it to other people, for which I am truly, truly sorry.
And I’m stuck and overwhelmed with the sheer magnitude of it all, and there are times when I really just want to torch the lot and start again, and this is what, after some prevarication, I told Future Me.
And after she had given me a hug, and told me “You are so close, my lovely,” she said something that really set my mind racing, and it was both simple, and inestimably profound at the same time.
Now you may think it’s obvious, but it is the first time I have really understood that. I always thought stuff had value, in and of itself, even as I threw it in the bin, because it’s utility no longer kept pace with it’s value. And the thing about value is that it kind of implies that it is kept, invested, hoarded. No wonder I was stuck and overwhelmed.
So Sticky Stuff is stuck energy, piling up in heaps around my creative life. Not enabling it, but stopping it.
But the fact that Stuff is Energy is also behind the generous impulse of my friends to give me their treasured items that have outgrown their utility where they are, and my impulse to only ever part with stuff where it will be valued and appreciated. But there is a difference between value and utility. I’m pretty sure that if my generous friends realised the weight that their well intentioned gifts had come to acquire, they would be appalled, and the first people to tell me to donate it, or otherwise move it on.
Marie Kondo and the “Sparking Joy” business is going in the same direction. If it is NOT Beautiful, Useful, or sparkling with Joy, it is Sticky Stuff. Or even if it IS beautiful or useful, but you can’t see or use it because you have too much other stuff in the way. And if, as we have established, stuff is energy, then piling it up in heaps is not serving anyone, not the donor, not the owner, and not the energy trapped in the stuff itself.
So if I have ever given, or even sold you a piece of “Sticky Stuff” that does not serve you, set it free, and release it’s energy. Sell it, donate it, hell, torch it if you have to, at least it will keep you warm for a minute or two!
As a bit of an aside here, I have a long established hangup of confusing value with monetary worth. It took me forever both as a worker and as an artist to see that my work had value in itself, though the joy or benefit it gave others, however fleeting, entirely independent of the hourly rate that could be charged for it. This, as well as a lot of my attitude to possessions and things dates back to childhood, when my Mum, who had grown up during the war hoarded everything, even down to washing and reusing plastic bags, and my Dad would subconsciously assess any new social contact of teenage me by how much money they had, and their social position. “They don’t have a lot of money” was virtuous if you were a struggling PhD student, less so if you worked in a Supermarket or Garage.
Now, my Dad was of his time, and even he doesn’t really believe this anymore, but while this is a gross oversimplification, young me internalised it. Having undiagnosed ADHD meant money was never going to stick to me like stuff did, (theres a whole other blog post here) and not having a PhD either meant a lifetime of imposter syndrome and feelings of worthlessness I’m only just starting to unpack.
But once we start looking at stuff as energy, it all starts to make a kind of sense. Because work is energy, creativity is energy, emotion is energy, even money is energy, and none of them serve their true purposes if they don’t flow. And to flow, they either need to be moved in space, or transformed into something new. Stuff into money, or good will, or simply transient beauty. Tara is also very big on the concept of impermanence.
So now me hoarding stuff because I have invested time, money and work into it is revealed as the utter dead end it is. Even if it is beautiful, or useful, because it is stopping me creating and sharing more art.
Creativity is my energy. My purpose, my currency, the primary thing I have of value in this world, and I have buried its flow under a mountain of stuff.
Stuff doesn’t have feelings. Only people do. So when I give this stuff these feelings, this value, this emotion that stops me from creating, I am serving neither it, nor me.
It is time to transform or release it into the world.
The beautiful elaborate costumes that were made and worn by a different woman. The corsets. The materials for projects I will never make. The funny little bits lurking in Doom Bags that I don’t want to throw away because I’m sure I will find a use for it some day.
Some will be sold, but now I am free of any idea that the money obtained for them in any way relates to their worth, or mine as an artist, it will hopefully be easier.
Some things, mostly materials, will be transformed, and moved on that way, freeing up my creativity to flow again.
I have more fibre than I can ever transform into finished garments. So some will be transformed into more creative materials like batts, dyed top, or yarn, and allowed to move in the world. Some to be sold, but selling stuff itself takes energy, so some will be gifted or donated.
Now that I understand that stuff is energy, I can begin to release these things where their energy is wanted and needed, trusting that what I need will be returned to me, because energy needs to flow, and it can’t flow into a dead end.
It will take a longish time, but Future Me believes in me. And I’ve got ten years!