Libraries, Lotion, and Lunch

February 22, 2010 at 8:13 pm (February Challenge, Money & Spending) (, , )

It’s been about three weeks since February’s challenge began. The plan was simple: to spend money only on the necessities. No going to the movies, no shopping for new outfits, no eating out… and the list goes on.

One thing I’ve realized so far is that I’ve got it pretty good. Even without spending money, the things I needed were often available. Here are some examples.

Example #1: I’ve been dying to read Seth Godin’s new book, Linchpin. But what to do when I can’t whip out my Visa and order it on Amazon? I sulked for a few days, thinking about the book I’d have to wait a whole month to read, until a strange and novel thought arose: Why don’t I just go to the library?

It suddenly occurred to me how many things are available to us free of charge- the local park can replace our backyard swingsets just as libraries can provide us with access to books, DVDs, newspapers, magazines… even computers. Hell, there’s even a category on Craigslist for “free stuff.” Don’t believe me? Go look for yourself.

Example #2: I have this obsession with body lotion. I know, weird– but I can’t go a day without it or my skin feels really… well, dry. Plus the stuff just smells so good! So imagine my horror one night when my big bottle of lotion ran out. This was during the FIRST WEEK of February. How on earth was I supposed to live without lotion until MARCH??  After a few minutes of contemplation, I decided that I’d be  fine. I could live without it. After all, that was my plan for the month: to go without.

Soon after, I remembered that I had various mini-bottles of lotion in my cabinet, and that was the end of that. How can I have so much stuff?, I thought. Even when I run out of things, it turns out I still have more.

Example #3: I forgot to bring my lunch to work one day, and just as I was wondering how I could keep myself from going hungry without breaking the vows of my challenge, I heard my coworker’s voice through the cubicle wall: “Therese, are you coming to the IIA Luncheon today?” (For all you outsiders, “IIA” stands for “The Institute of Internal Auditors.” Only the coolest of cool may be considered members.) Of course, I had no idea that there was a luncheon that day, but I did end up eating for free– PLUS I learned all about the “fraud triangle.”

I know… those are really stupid examples, which only makes me realize how good most of us have it. If “going without” means not having a book, or some lotion, or lunch for a day, then we’re pretty lucky.  We’re even luckier if we live in a country with public resources like libraries, or if we have an employer who pays for our IIA luncheons (Just sayin’).

That being said, I never claimed to be perfect. Here are a few sidenotes:

1. There were a few times when I felt it was okay (and even necessary) to break the rules. For example: (a) Birthdays and a baby shower for friends of mine. I was going to try to make meaningful handmade gifts, but I ran out of time and ended up buying gifts instead. (March challenge: effective time management?) (b) I had a few informal business meetings at coffee shops, at which time I felt it was only appropriate for me to buy a beverage. (c) I bought breakfast for my boyfriend and me. My only excuse is that I didn’t want this month’s challenge to become my excuse for him to pay all the time. I guess I probably shouldn’t have agreed to go out to eat in the first place, but… oh well. In my opinion, none of these were serious misdeeds because they all involved spending for the sake of another person.

2. Choosing the month of my birthday for this challenge= a stupid idea. I received several gift cards for my birthday. If I had any self-control, I would’ve saved them for next month, but given my self-admitted tendencies to buy “stuff”, do you really think that’s gonna happen? As it turns out, I found myself at the mall… and at my local Starbucks… redeeming the cards for shoes, articles of clothing, and a grande mocha (no whip). I told myself this was justified because I wasn’t actually spending money… but in the end, I think it was against the spirit of my challenge. (Note to self: you suck.)

Here’s the good news, though: Despite the blunders mentioned above, the month’s challenge has not been in vain! The lessons I’ve learned may have been diluted by the gift card extravaganza, but during the weeks that I did practice true spending abstinence (i.e., non-birthday weeks), my view of the world was altered, if only in some small way. Today I only wrote about one of the things I’ve noticed. I still have a week left, so you can bet I’ll check back soon to tell you about the other stuff.

Until then, smile 🙂 🙂

Therese

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Thoughts on Spending

February 6, 2010 at 1:17 pm (February Challenge, Money & Spending) (, , )

I’m not gonna lie- I like to spend money. If I really like something, I’ll usually buy it. Two-hundred dollar jeans? Sure. A four-dollar latte (almost every day)? Why not? Last month I actually bought an $88 tank top. While I don’t usually flinch at my spending, THAT scared me.

But while the financial implications of this spending are obvious, that’s not  what truly scares me. Despite these somewhat ridiculous purchases, my finances are fine- I save and invest a portion of my income every month and I don’t generally spend more than I have (thanks, Ramit!).

Here’s what scares me more: The possibility that in seeking satisfaction from the things I buy, I’m missing out on a much deeper satisfaction. The thought that when I’m in “spending mode,” I’m focusing far too much on the “materiality” of things — at the expense of what really matters.

At least once a year, I clean out my closet and get rid of all the clothes I haven’t worn for awhile. Without fail, I always end up getting rid of something that, just months or years earlier, I absolutely, no-questions-asked, *had* to have. This always makes me think- how can something go so quickly from something I couldn’t live without to something I’m throwing out? The point is, the satisfaction I get from these things doesn’t last long. The feeling I get from a new purchase quickly fades, until months later I finally realize that I never really needed it at all. What value did these shoes, or this purse, or this car truly bring to my life? More importantly, is this happening at the expense of something that truly does matter?

It’s not that material things are bad; it’s just that, at least for me, they’re overshadowing more important things. So although this month’s challenge will certainly have a financial impact, that’s not really what it’s about. It’s not about being cheap or being frugal or about not enjoying life. Instead, it’s about taking away the distractions and seeing what happens, seeing what’s under there. It’s about seeing if I can enjoy life on a different level. Call it a month long  fast if you’d like. I think that I’ll learn a lot about myself.

What about you? What do you have in your life that might be distracting you from what’s real?

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“No Frills February”

February 1, 2010 at 2:55 pm (February Challenge, Money & Spending) (, )

This month, I challenge myself to spend no money. Yes, I said it- I’m going on a money diet.  No Frills February is here.

Of course, certain exceptions apply- I’ll still have to pay my mortgage and my utility bills. I’ll also be allowed to buy food and gas. But that’s it. (And by food, I mean groceries or fast food. Eating out at a real restaurant will be a no-no).

That’s it- short and sweet. I’ll elaborate on my reasons for picking this challenge in the upcoming days, but for now, I must get back to work. I hope you enjoy the rest of your day. I’ll be at work sipping on this cup of lukewarm, not-quite-Starbucks coffee that I just got from my office breakroom. Because, hey, it’s free.

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A Summary of Month One

January 30, 2010 at 7:58 pm (connection, January Challenge) (, , , , )

First off, I am going to apologize for not posting anything for quite some time. However, have no worries- I haven’t forgotten about my resolution 🙂 . In fact, quite the contrary has ocurred. I’ve thought about it every day during almost every encounter I’ve had. Would you like to know what’s happened? Read on.

What has happened is– very little. I know it is disappointing to hear, but I might almost say that I failed at my January resolution. As much as I tried to forge genuine connections with the people I came into contact with, I just couldn’t do it most of the time. Sure, I tried-  I REALLY tried for the first week or so. But I just wasn’t always sure *how* to do it. I tried smiling at the people I came into contact with and really looking them in the eyes. I tried making conversation more than I usually would and expressing more interest than I normally would. I tried giving genuine compliments. Sure, all of these things pulled me out of my comfort zone a little bit, but did they make my interactions with other people any more “real”? Occasionally, yes (I’ll write more about that below). But in general, no. Instead, I just felt like I was “forcing” things. I felt like I was trying too hard, and as a result, my interactions were probably more forced than they were genuine. It was exhausting! After a week or two I got so exhausted that I stopped trying so much. Instead, I just began observing my normal interactions with people. Most of the time, they skimmed on the surface. I saw, over and over again, my tendency to close up, to “stay above the surface” with people. I want to have a different experience, but I’m not sure that my initial tactic of “trying harder” is going to work.

However, the challenge wasn’t a total failure. There were a few times when, without really even trying, I opened up. For example, after an evening out one night I saw a homeless man sitting against the brick holding a cardboard sign. My usual instinct would be to look away and keep walking. Not only do panhandlers generally make me feel uneasy, but I also have never believed in handing out money to these people.  On this particular night, however, without even thinking about it, the strangest thing happened: Instead of passing the man by, I walked up to him and looked him right in the eyes. “How are you doing tonight?” I asked. And I really meant it. I really wanted to know how he was doing. I wanted him to feel acknowledged as a human being, to feel as if he mattered. I even considered giving him some money until I remembered that I had no cash with me. And yet, I somehow felt that maybe this was what he really needed. Just as much as he needed money or food or shelter, maybe he needed to be acknowledged as the human being that he is. Maybe that’s what we all need- just a little bit more compassion from the world around us. In really acknowledging his presence, I felt  twinges of kindness, compassion, and sadness all rolled up into one. “You hang in there, man. You hang in there.” And I went on my way.

It was strange to me how although I’d been trying for the past week to really connect with people, the most genuine and natural interaction that I had was with this man. I’m not sure if my encounter had any effect on him, but it certainly did on me. I was opened. Unexpectedly, I was filled with compassion. I found myself thinking about how it must feel to be in his place, about how many people must walk by him each day without so much as a glance. Indifference, day in and day out. What must it feel like to be so ignored, so invisible, so unworthy in the eyes of your fellow kind? I truly felt for him.

This experience reminded me of a quote I’ve heard: “Be kinder than necessary, for everyone you meet is fighting some sort of battle.” I don’t know this man. I don’t know his story, and I have no idea how he got where he is or what he has been through. I can say the same of almost everyone I meet- I have no idea where they’re coming from or what they’ve been through. Most of us are not homeless, but we are all struggling- or have struggled- with hardships in our lives. In the end, this is one of the things that intertwines us all.

A psychology professor of mine once told this story of the Buddha:

A woman came to the Buddha one day, mourning over her 3-month-old baby who had died. She wouldn’t put it down. She carried it for weeks, even though it was putting everyone off. She said, “Make my baby live.” He said, “I can’t do that. I can give you the seed to finding peace in the midst of this difficulty. Go get a teaspoon of coriander from every family that’s not had a death in the family. Bring back three teaspoons of coriander and we’ll make the elixir. She went to family after family, and in every family she met, there’d been death in the family and tragedy. She comes back and said, “I am not alone after all.” She could finally bury the baby.

My professor said it best: “If we think we are the only ones suffering, that makes us suffer the most. One definition of suffering is “pain without a sense of connection.””  If only we could experience a more true and genuine connection with our friends, with our neighbors, and even with strangers, then there would be so much less suffering in the world. The only question for me now is how to make this happen. As I discovered this month, simply “trying harder” to connect with others doesn’t seem to work. When I truly did feel a connection, it was almost by accident – a moment of grace. All I can say for sure is that January’s resolution does not end now. It’s something that I’ll continue to explore throughout the year. Right now, though, I’m gearing up for February’s resolution. It’s going to be a good one!

Until Feb 1,

Therese 🙂

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Announcing the 2010 Challenge!

January 8, 2010 at 1:49 pm (connection, January Challenge) (, )

Here’s what moves me today: Changing the concept of my blog! That being said, I’ve taken the liberty of changing my blog name from “What Moves Me” to “The 2010 Challenge”. The concept is as simple as this: Rather than having a new year’s resolution for the entire year, I’ll have twelve: one for each month of the year. I once read somewhere that it takes 30 days of consistent practice to develop a new habit or to break an old one. This being said, every month I’ll bring a particular challenge to the table and I’ll commit myself to this challenge for the entire month. Throughout the month, I’ll check in with you to let you know how it’s going, how I’ve changed (or not changed), and what I’ve learned. Ready?

The January Challenge: Make an effort to genuinely connect with the people around me.

Here is the typical conversation that occurs each time I make a purchase at my local grocery store.

Clerk: Hi, how are you doing?
Me: I’m doing well, thanks. How about you?
Clerk: I’m alright. Did you find everything you were looking for today?
Me: Yep; I sure did.
Clerk: That’ll be $32.08.
Me: Ok.
Clerk: Thanks. Have a good day!
Me: You too.

Now, there is nothing at all wrong with this conversation. It is completely polite. It is normal. It is even expected. And yet, what I’ve come to realize is that that is how I interact with a majority of the people that I come into contact with. The words that come out of my mouth are the words that are expected, acceptable. After awhile it’s as if I become like a robot, saying the same things over and over but without any real intention behind them. My interactions begin to occur on the surface instead of coming from within me. Although this habit is comfortable for me, it is not a habit that recognizes or acknowledges the humanity of another.

This January, I challenge myself to break out of this comfort zone. I challenge myself to genuinely connect to those with whom I come into contact. Instead of putting my head down and ignoring the stranger on the street, can I look him in the eyes, smile, and give a genuine “hello”? Instead of staying silent around the people I’m close to, can I tell them that they’re wonderful or that I’ve really appreciated what they’ve done for me? (and can I truly mean it?) Whether I come into contact with strangers, friends, or loved ones, can I open my heart further and truly see them for who they are?

And if I can do this, how will it change my world? (and the worlds of those around me?)

The challenge begins today.

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I Guess I Have a Blog.

January 1, 2010 at 4:16 pm (Uncategorized) (, , )

Here I am, waking up on the first day of a new decade. Two-thousand-and-ten is here, and I’m determined not to let it pass me by. I’m determined to… write a blog?

What an odd thought. I’m not sure where it came from, but it’s here.

And so for some reason, I find myself sitting down at my computer and beginning to tap out sentences.

I have decided that when I have an experience or an idea that moves me, I will post it here, for anyone on the world wide web to see. I will post it as honestly and as openly as I possibly can, in all its raw glory.  (Have I gone crazy?)

Here is what moves me today.

Someone once told me that living a fulfilling life is not about being happy all of the time, as many of us imagine it to be. Of course we’d all like to have more happiness in our lives, and we’d also like to have less pain. And yet, even if we have a generally happy life,  we’ll inevitably wake up one day and find that we’ve been laid off, or the neighbor kid has trampled through our flower garden, or someone close to us has passed away. Most of us are not going to be happy when these things happen.

But when it really comes down to it, living fully is less about being happy than it is about truly opening to this moment, exactly as we are experiencing it right now. Living is not about shielding ourselves from the pain, or running away from it, or drowning it with alcohol or television or the latest gossip on perezhilton.com. Instead, living is about fully experiencing that pain and feeling it freshly and sharply. Yes, it hurts. But the more  we let it in, the more we begin to realize that it’s not nearly as bad as we imagined it to be. We realize that perhaps our fear of feeling that pain is worse than the actual pain itself. And when we are able to stay with that pain, we find that it begins to dissolve before we even know it.

At other times, we’ll feel happiness.  Perhaps it’ll be as simple as sitting on the front porch on a warm  evening and feeling the sun’s warmth against our cheeks. At that moment, life is about breathing that feeling in and basking in it fully.

Can we simply be here– wherever it is that we are? Rather than running on autopilot or  staring mindlesslyat the television screen, can we  be truly present with our experience?

At the end of my life, I’d like to be able to say that I experienced it all. I’d like to be able to say that I was right there with my pain, with my joy, and with my fear– and that I felt it all the way through. I want to have truly lived that bittersweet mystery that is life.

I am now signing out and will be stepping out shortly to enjoy the misty Seattle rain.  May you all have a happy (or thankful… or tearful… or fill-in-the-blank) new year.

Thanks for reading,

*~*~ Therese~*~*  🙂

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