Finding a new home by inverting a laundry list

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If you are reading this  blog then you live in a world where productivity, efficiency and progress rule. We are goal oriented and growth-minded. And to this end we have a whole raft of tools to help us plant a flag in the virgin ground of our futures.
There are algorithms on Amazon suggesting to us things to buy. We have quarterly reports that tell us if we hit certain marks. Plenty of metrics to show us how our website is doing in terms of traffic, hits, sales, conversions etc.
They are all there to use as a fulcrum point to do something. They are all feeding into our TO DO LIST.
“To do” lists are so ever present that we use them as guidelines for relationships…
To Do: get a relationship.
To Do: improve relationship.
To Do: hire lawyer to investigate getting out of relationship.
Sure. There are things that we need to do. No doubt. But often “to do” lists become laundry lists. They are lists constructed to help us avoid pain.
The pain of not having enough money or traffic or sex or spiritual insight or intelligence…something.
It is incredibly easy to describe our lives as the things that we don’t want.
I suppose that is a bit of the framework to understand how the plight of E relates to all of our plights.

E gave the table two strong “What is that?” looks as she was browsing the “Beet the System” and “Avant Gardener” t-shirts at the artist stall next to me.

When she finally parked herself at the table she said

Okay, I would really appreciate a creative approach to this because I need it. But I don’t know what you are going to do – this is tough.

The gauntlet thrown and my resolve steeled I readied myself for something impossible.

E, a brainy Brooklyner in her 50s laid  it out.

Ok, I am looking for a new place to live after 25 years in the same house. But the problem is that I am very, very chemically sensitive and have been for years. I get headaches from new paint, rashes from the glue under carpeting, floor finishes can impair my breathing. You name it and I feel it. And the thing is that every place I am looking has new floors or a new kitchen or new something and it makes me sick. So I need a house that isn’t new, that doesn’t have renovations, that won’t make me sick and isn’t newly painted because that smell takes months to go away.

Do you know Brooklyn? I live in Park Slope and I love it there I have really built inroads in that community with my liberal synagogue and the food co-op – but everything in Park Slope is being renovated somehow. I am barely coming to terms with the fact that I may need to move to another part of Brooklyn.

I thought for a moment about diving down the correlation between diet and chemical sensitivity (inflammation diets) and sort of half heartedly mentioned it but E said

I have been to every naturopath in Brooklyn…

I cut her off and said “Just wondering…”

I told E that there is a an interesting set of homes and old loft spaces on the 700 block on Bergen Street – pretty far from the 2/3 train but they were raw spaces that gentrification and modernization hadn’t hit yet.  I also mentioned moving to Parkchester in the Bronx where it is old, inexpensive and not being built up at a furious rate. She thought these were interesting but I told her that this was just chatting and I hadn’t really got to the creative approach yet.

I looked at E and saw a brainy, liberal Jewish woman who was so in her head about this situation. Her discription was full of tension and she rattled it off as if she had been rehearsing it for months – she probably had been.

I played back what she had said and it was clear that she had a very clear idea of what her new home should not be but she had in no way articulated what her new home should be.

When I revealed this observation she literally smacked her head. I had hit the right spot for the next approach to drop into.

I suggested that E take two weeks and draw, paint, charcoal, crayon (anything) her vision of her ideal home. She would have to go through a number of drafts but in the processshe would find the things that she wanted and visualize the things that were important to her. Because she was so brainy I told her to supplement the picture with some text so she could make up for any artistic inadequacies.

In the process of drafting she would refine her vision. Once the piece was finally done I suggested to E that she hang it on the wall and make a small altar of sorts with candles or anything she needed.

She noted that at one time she was a Pagan Jew and was comfortable making altars.

I told her to then ask the picture every day for a few minutes “Where will I find you? Where should I look?” And then see what the picture says back and be brave enough to try it.

But the catch was that she couldn’t approach the picture as regular, everyday E. She had to come in a slightly different mindset – like the 5 year old who confidently speaks to their invisible friend and hears their friend talk back. E needed to dress differently and carry herself differently to make it click.

During this description my friend @ankerline walked up and he can vouch for the veracity of E’s response.

Yes! Yes! Yes! You have hit the nail exactly on the head. That is exactly what I need to do. That is so brilliant and so creative and so spot on that I can’t believe it. I can’t believe how right you are – you totally have me pegged.

It was so exuberant and funny and heartfelt that  I felt okay writing this. She gave me $6 and her business card and walked off. But I must say that I didn’t feel like I did much. It was her description of her home by negation that had led me to the notion that she needed to create her actual house. I felt like I often do with this experiment – listen closely and then follow what comes up and ask the question “if this is true then what else needs to be there?”

We need to be sensitive enough to see what our internal patterns are and language is about the things that we want. Simply reversing them doesn’t make it all better but it radically changes our perspective and that  can open up doors where we thought there were walls.

What habitual worldview of yours is worth flipping?

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