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Sparking Joy in the Mundane
Have you ever noticed how many hours of our lives we spend on the mundane? Loading the dishwasher. Cooking uninspired meals that feed our bodies but not our souls. The whole production required to make dirty clothes clean. Dusting. Every day we either dedicate hours to these tasks, or don’t… and suffer the consequences.
What I find most interesting about these mundane tasks is that when drinking, I am often drinking to avoid them… and when not drinking, I am often focused on just how mundane they are and, by extension, my life is. I guess I could say that “the mundane” is one of my triggers… if I didn’t already know for a fact that my mind can create a trigger out of literally any activity or emotion.
I read a book a while back called Spark Joy by Marie Kondo. It was one of those unplanned book purchases that anyone else who likes to browse through bookstores will understand. I was wandering through the store feeling thoroughly disenchanted with my life and came upon the book. Given my state of mind, it seemed like a sign.
Now to be clear this wasn’t my first dalliance into the gentle art of “tidying up.” Thirty years ago I was fascinated with Feng Shui and over the years I’ve spent more than a little time exploring the notion of a connection between clutter and our state of mind. As someone who is, as I put it, “a little bit OCD” I figured out through these explorations that, for me at least, there is a direct connection between clutter in my home and feeling overwhelmed by anxiety, raised stress levels, and hopelessness.
The thing that was different about Spark Joy was it’s heavy focus on creating beauty WHILE tidying. This was a new twist on an old message for me – the idea that we should focus not on how much we need to get rid of but rather on keeping only that which… sparks joy.
Further there was an emphasis on making an effort to display these things in ways that allow us to connect to them. If something is precious to us we should be able to see it – no hiding treasures. If we love something it should be a visible part of our life – something to spark joy each time we lay eyes on, or touch it.
Conversely those everyday things we need for their valuable functional purpose, should be valued for this and kept in ways that bring us joy when we open the cupboard or draw. Marie Kondo takes this particular one to an extreme, deeming that objects have feelings and that rolling socks or keeping things just in case we need them, are acts of cruelty.
I may not think my knickers resent me for rolling rather than folding them, or that there is a rebellion brewing in my messy kitchen utensil draw, but I do take her point – how we treat and arrange the things around us, reflects back upon us and affects us in ways we don’t fully, consciously, comprehend.
So what does this impromptu book review have to do with my alcohol problem or my opening diatribe about the mundaneness of life? I guess I have been thinking lately about the reasons why I drink. That is of course what we are told to do – examine our motivations. One of mine is that life feels… well… boring.
Now to be clear I know that this isn’t true… logically. In fact, I could argue… terribly logically… that there is a great deal in my life to be excited about. I do two jobs I enjoy. I am involved in community work that I find fulfilling. I am a parent to a child with a beautiful soul. I’m adored by three cats. I love where I live. I have beautiful friends who have become my family. What about that could be seen as boring?
The thing is that any of us could, if we chose to, find logical reasons to deem our life “exciting” every bit as easily as we can deem our life mundane. For me the tipping point is those aforementioned mundane tasks. I can feel excited about a project at work, or a community endeavour, or an achievement my child has made. But before I know it that moment has passed and there I am stacking the dishwasher… washing the clothes… making a nutritious but boring meal… dusting… and once again the disillusion starts to take hold.
This morning, as I carefully positioned the plates for maximum dishwasher potential, I was thinking about Marie Kondo and her notion of “sparking joy.” Is my disenchantment simply a state of mind? Self-indulgence? Lack of gratitude? An obsession with “first world” problems? An immature need for something bright and shiny to be ever-present in my view? Am I THAT shallow?
Maybe I am. But then maybe I’m not. Is it completely unreasonable to desire my life to be filled with joy? I think not. However I also think that creating that joy in my life is no one’s responsibility but my own. I know how to do it. It actually isn’t hard. Have you ever cleaned out a cupboard, or rearranged a room, or tidied your desk and found yourself, for hours or days after, wandering back to take another look at that achievement and feel good about it? I do it all the time.
Perhaps the truth here is neither that my life is mundane nor that I am profoundly self-indulgent, but rather that I have spent so many years of my life pouring alcohol over the “every day” events in life, that I have lost the ability to see or appreciate them for what they are.
I mean when I say I’m a little bit OCD and that there is a connection between mess and my mental state, I mean that, in all honesty, if I can’t find my desk for the mess, or there are no clean plates, or all my knickers are in the dirty washing basket, I damn near lose my mind. Put all three together in one day and I can start to feel like my brain is trying to metaphorically jump off a high place.
The truth then is that these tasks are not mundane simply by virtue of their unending repetition, but rather because I have lost my ability to see them for what they are – important rituals which, when completed and appreciated for their true value, pave the way for beauty and positivity in my life… and prevent my brain from taking a mental running leap off a 40 storey building.
At the end of the day, our approach to life and everything in it, after all, is a matter of perspective. We can, if we put our minds to it, make anything into an excuse to drink, or not to. We can, if we put our minds to it, either seek joy in a sober life or seek to hide from life at the bottom of a bottle.
As I walk away from my desk today and begin the daily chores, I will focus on how they contribute to the joy and beauty in my life. And if I find that difficult, maybe I’ll take a leaf out of Marie Kondo’s book and find ways to make them more beautiful. After all. I think my washing powder could spark far more joy if I stored it in a beautiful jar, rather than it’s original cardboard box.
Be the change you want in your life.
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