Monday, April 27, 2015

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up (Book Review)

Letting go of things you no longer need or that don't make you happy can create valuable physical and emotional space around you. In her bestselling book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up (Ten Speed Press, 2014), Japanese master organizer Marie Kondo illuminates some strategies for living the life you want by getting your environment unstuck and free of clutter. When we put our house in order it gives clarity on what else in our lives we need to put in order or take action on. It's empowering.

How we care for the place we live and the place we work in is a reflection of our self-esteem. A cluttered, messy house can make people anxious, depressed or overwhelmed. Kondo suggests that she has seen big emotional, career and family improvements as she helps her clients weed through their belongings and houses. Perhaps by identifying what in our houses, closets and bookshelves really inspires us and makes us happy we can cut to the core of our truest self.

Marie Kondo suggests we don't make "tidying up" an everyday occurrence. If we do it right and eliminate the places where stuff gathers and reduce the amount of stuff we have, we may be able to create a home for needed and loved items and only "tidy up" a time or two each year. It's a special event. How do we transform our lives through clearing space? Here are a few of her practical suggestions:

1. Start with your clothes. Gather them all up. Put them into categories: coats, jackets, shirts, pants, dresses, shorts, sweaters, socks, shoes, etc. Go through one category at a time.

2. Discard first.

3. Discard alone. Family members may want to deter you or steer you off course.

4. Sort through all like items at the same time by gathering them all together in one room with you.

5. For selection criteria: Does it spark joy? (If yes, save. If no, discard.) Is it broken or beyond repair?
 ( If yes, discard.)

6. Don't start with mementos, it will slow you down.

7. With your books, identify those that go in your hall of fame. These books really mean something to you. Donate the rest.

8.  Keep all papers only in one spot. Categorize into: currently use, needed for a limited period of time and keep indefinitely. Consider shredding and letting go of old paperwork you really don't need.

9. Miscellaneous items: keep only if you love them. This includes CDs, DVDs, accessories, skincare and grooming products, makeup. household cleaning products, kitchen items and food items, electrical appliances, loose change and valuables like passports and credit cards.

10. Save photos for last.

11. Make a place or home for each thing you are saving.

12. Floor space is valuable. Don't take up floor space with things that can be neatly housed in a closet.

I liked The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up very much. It helps the reader to reflect on our home and office and think of it as sacred space. Honoring yourself with breathing space is a great beginning to step to moving through any life transition. It can help you to have clarity about what's really important and feel empowered to focus on the most essential things.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Seymour: An Introduction (Film Review)

A few years ago, actor Ethan Hawke attended a dinner party with friends and was introduced to virtuoso pianist and composer Seymour Bernstein. They had a wonderful evening with conversation about stage fright, career success vs. success in life as a whole, developing and sharing your creative gifts, hard work and craft. Hawke was so intrigued with the 88 year-old Goldstein that he made him the subject of his first documentary film. I'm glad he did, because the sensitively constructed portrait and interviews with Bernstein and his current and former piano students of different ages has many valuable life lessons in it that don't require any knowledge of music.

Seymour: An Introduction (2014) is out in limited release in theatres now. It debuted at the Telluride Film Festival last summer and won an award at the Toronto International Film Festival. It's noteworthy that Seymour is a classical pianist who toured internationally as a younger man, and then abandoned his rising career at age 50 to retreat to a quieter life where he teaches piano from his one-room apartment in New York city.

In the film, we can see the mentoring relationship that Seymour develops with his students and former students, as well as with Hawke. Bernstein has wisdom, and he has his own ideas about creative gifts and talent.

Bernstein says in the film that he believes music is an important part of becoming a complete person. He suggests having children take piano lessons and having them practice while you supervise. Practicing a musical instrument is a great metaphor for others things in life which necessitate our continued effort, patience and tenacity. One of Bernstein's former students who is now a professional concert pianist himself laughs about how often people will comment after his concerts that they wish they could just sit down and play the beautiful classical pieces that he does. He reminds them that every song takes uncountable hours of practice. The craft is part of the art of music. It takes focus and discipline, which builds character.

Bernstein and Hawke engage in an interesting dialogue about professional success. Both agree that you don't always earn money for the things you most need to create, but you need to create them anyway. Hawke shares about making far more money on big films he doesn't care as much for, while some of his smaller projects (like this documentary film) mean much more. They both reflect on how the ego can get in the way of great art, music, film or theatre.

I especially liked the part of the film where Bernstein shares how he deals with questions about why he chose to stop performing publically after age 50. He says he feels he had done it, and proved he could do it. Since then, for the last 38 years, "he pours all of that out" in what he gives to his students.

In music, like in life, Bernstein says, we need harmony, conflict, and resolution.

Great music, like great art of all kinds, evokes deeply felt emotion that touches us at a very deep level. This thought resonated with me, as I reflected on hospice work with terminally ill patients years ago, and a gifted music therapist who could draw out emotion and responsiveness with her
harpsichord at the bedside. Music can transport us to another place, time or emotional state.

Hawke had confided in Bernstein about the stage fright he had developed in his 40's, and Bernstein reassures him that is normal in good performances. He had experienced it, too. Bernstein quips that maybe a few more (overly-confident artists) should feel some trepidation as well.

Seymour: An Introduction is a charming little independent film you will enjoy. It's chock full of his sage advice and reflections about living with passion and speaking honestly from your heart rather than saying what others expect. It is refreshing to have films that question what creative success really is and challenge the popular notion of easy success without sustained work at your craft. (Think The Voice or American Idol) Seymour has a lot to say about not only music, but about living life your own way. Now that's a life well lived.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Before 'I Do' : The Case For Pre-Marital Counseling

Is pre-marital counseling a good idea for most couples? Absolutely. It's very easy to get caught up planning the details of the wedding, reception and honeymoon. Many couples don't ever get to some of the tough issues that couples need to discuss about building their life together after the wedding is over. The wedding is really just the starting line for your relationship.

It can also really help to have an objective and professional person whose job it is to focus on all the potential areas for conflict and guide you on how to handle them. You can learn in pre-marital counseling how to set a foundation to work through future concerns in an empathic, mature and open way. We know all couples have conflict, so learning how you can work through them in a calm, respectful way before you walk down the aisle is a huge benefit. The counselor's office can be the best and safest place to identify and learn how to work with your differences as a couple.

Sometimes couples are "so in love" that they are not looking at challenges and differences in a realistic way. Each partner was raised in their own family, and bring their own unique style of expressing affection, ways to work through or avoid conflict, partner roles, and the balance of separateness/togetherness. Whatever you saw happen in your family feels 'normal' to you. Being able to identify the strengths and weaknesses in each of the families you grew up in with help you illuminate the differences between you in a non-defensive setting. You may or may not want the relationship your parents had, and your partner had their own experiences.

Couples who marry in their 20's or 30's may not be fully individuated from their own families. Couples who remarry later can underestimate what it takes in emotional maturity to blend a family together and be a stepparent to their partner's children. Being pushed hard by a therapist on how you will handle conflicts over in-laws, parenting, money, debt, affection/sex, religion/spirituality, holidays and other pivotal issues is very helpful so that you have a plan. Think of pre-marital counseling like a preemptive strike. You will have different wants and needs, so having a safe way to discuss them is so important. Your partner may be very loving, but will never read your mind.

In last summer's findings in the National Marriage Project, they found that couples who've had pre-marital counseling do better. The odds of having a happy marriage are linked to how people functioned in their relationships before marriage.

Taking the time to address how you will handle difficult topics, like personal boundaries, jealousy, intimacy, work stress, family demands, feelings about having children, and limits you will put on distractions to couples time (cellphones, tablets, television) is time well invested in your happiness as a couple. In short, counseling before you get married helps you keep the emphasis on the life you are building together, rather than just one, big eventful day. Successful marriages take loving, honoring,
communicating respectfully, listening, negotiating and seeing the other person's perspective. Pre-marital counseling can help you get there.