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Monthly Archives: May 2013

It was a joyous day yesterday when my internet advertising company agreed to cancel my contract and refund my payment. Joy, Joy, Joy. I have been released. I learned a lot from the experience, some of it about internet advertising and unhealthy corporate cultures, but most of it about myself.

There is a lot I could say about the ethics of this company, and the sorry process of being tricked into a six months contract for an inappropriate advertising product. It seems that my Account Manager knowingly sold me an internet campaign that would misrepresent my professional organising business as a cleaning service. Either that or he was totally ignorant of what product he was actually selling. I think it was a case of knowing deception, because he failed to respond to polite requests for information and help in the early stages of the process, and my angry complaints in the later stage of the process when I began to realise I had been duped.

I am grateful to the case manager of my complaint because he did eventually agree to cancel my contract. However in the first instance he was extremely resistant to taking on board the specific details of my complaint and tried to bamboozle me into agreeing to cancel the contract after the six months were up, rather than immediately. I had to push my point home every step of the way.

It was alarming to realise that these two young men are working in a corporate culture that encourages them to trick people into inappropriate arrangements they don’t understand, then self-righteously hold that unethically obtained contract over them. I suspect that the fact that every conversation was being recorded “for training purposes” meant that they had to be seen to by trying every trick in the book to catch and keep me as a customer.

For the past week my mental and emotional space has been largely given over to housing a campaign headquarters to resolve this problem. I used journal writing to manage my anger and frustration, which allowed me to calm down and get on with other things during the waiting periods between complaints. I also planned each interaction beforehand, making notes about what I needed to achieve, and what strategies I needed to employ to achieve those objectives.

Since the company was slow to respond and resistant to my complaint, I chunked the process down into very small steps. For example, sending an email to cancel the contract was one step, and making sure they acknowledged receipt of that email was another step. I had to do this because I could not rely on them  to do their own steps such as returning phone calls or reading and responding to emails.

Writing down what I needed to achieve was very helpful in preparing me for when I did get a phone call to discuss my problem. I was clear that the current situation was unacceptable, and they either needed to fix the problem, or cancel the contract.

The main criteria for fixing the problem was that they used an appropriate heading and descriptive text for my ad. The turning point came when I questioned the Complaints Officer on whether in fact it was possible to modify the ad to say “Professional Organiser” rather than “Cleaning Services”. It wasn’t. They don’t have the capacity to customise their ads. Even after this telling admission I still had to fight for cancellation of my contract, but they were on the back foot, and I prevailed.

I don’t like conflict. I hate being angry and frustrated. Although anger served a purpose in getting me to take action, it also made me feel bad about myself, and undermined my credibility. Anger was a necessary step in the process, but dwelling on it was not helping me or my cause. I had to give up the longing that this organisation would care about me or my interests, and the shock that they didn’t.

Instead of focussing on my anger and disappointment, I worked hard at being calm, purpose driven and persistent. Having a laser like focus on the details of the problem and what needed to happen next was a big help in achieving my desired outcome.

Although it wasn’t a pleasant experience it helped me to learn how to better manage my emotions in a challenging situation. It helped me realise that when I am clear about what needs to happen, I do have the capacity to focus the formidable power of my will on protecting my own interests.

A number of bloggers who I greatly respect recommend strategies to build better habits or bring more structure into your day to make sure you give time and attention to your highest priorities. This might mean getting up at 6am to write, or meditate or walk. It might also include commitments about exercise, diet and other healthy activities. This all makes good sense.

So why am I travelling in the opposite direction? The project I am engaged upon is about letting go of  structures and schedules, and avoiding setting up “rules” about what I should be doing at a particular time.

This discrepancy has been bugging me in a quiet, grumbly sort of way. Every now and then I get cross or defensive when I come across a suggestion that I need more structure, more commitments, and more accountability.

On reflection, it occurred to me that building better habits is great, but bad habits were never my main problem. Strategies to build better routines and practicies and use time more wisely are are most useful to address problems to do with bad habits and poor time management.  But that wasn’t my main problem. I tend to be fairly moderate in my habits, and fairly organised, so solutions on building better habits are not addressing my main area of weakness.

I began to wonder if I was kidding myself that I didn’t need advice on dealing with habits, when I remembered something I had come across in the Buddhist literature. The Buddhists talk about Greed, Hatred and Delusion as a source of suffering. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I remember hearing a theory that although we all suffer from all three, we each have a tendency in a particular direction. These manifest as a tendency to Addictions, Anger, and Confusion.

Greed represents the constant desire to have more. The problem of never being satisfied. It relates to habits of excess. This isn’t an exercise in name calling. Its not about saying people are “greedy”. Its about acknowledging this human tendency to feel unsatisfied and try to address that by consuming more and more which can lead to bad habits, such as eating too much junkfood or playing too much Warcraft.

I think strategies that are focussed on creating structure and replacing bad habits with good habits are particularly useful for addressing this particular foible, building good habits that counter balance the desire to consume more and more.

So where do I fit in? Problems of addiction and excess have not been my main battle. That doesn’t mean I haven’t had my battles, but I think they are in a different area. If I were to pick from the three causes of suffering, I’d say my struggles have been in the area of Delusion and Confusion. My problem has not been about going too far in anyone direction; its been about not knowing which direction to take or why.

The strategy I am adopting for my own project is to stop listening to the voice in my head telling what I “should” do because its expected by other people, or my imagining of what other people expect. I have stopped over-structuring my experience, and subjecting myself to self-made rules about what I should do in my day. I am actively resisting the tendency to want to over schedule and over organise myself.  I am making space for the quiet voice of intuition to be heard.

So this is my experiment, my exercise, my practice. To let go of artificially imposed structures and rules and find out who I really am in the quiet of my own heart. Its about building trust in myself, that I can make good decisions on a daily basis, without the need for strict rules or external accountabilities. Having been living this way for over a year, the voice of intuition is beginning to speak more loudly, and I feel happier and more confident than I have ever felt before.

So there is not conflict between Habits and No Habits. We are all in the process of learning, and we need to choose the antidote that best meets our dis-ease. Some of us will choose more structure, some less, but in the end, its all the same project. The project of living more happily and wisely.

This week I have been feeling the need to cut back on ‘Self Help’ and ‘How To’ style reading, whether books or blogs. I need to reduce the level of input and work with what I already have. I know what to do, I just need to keep on with doing it.  What I do like to read is the personal stories of other people who are  getting on with it too, and creating their own unique lifestyles.

One task that has been on the back burner until this week is the Happy Music Project. Last year it was suggested that I listen to more music that makes me happy. You would think that would be easy to do, but I found it difficult to get into. I tend to operate more in the sphere of words and images, and don’t listen to a lot of music. This week I have made a small start and have been on the lookout for music that makes me smile.

At the risk of being uncool, I recommend you get your hands on the Readers Digest Wonderful World of Music For Children and put on Record 2 Side 1. This features guaranteed happy makers such as Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat, A Bushel and a Peck, and the Surry with the Fringe on Top.  Fun songs beautifully sung by an adult male choir. Great while doing the ironing. On a more adult vein, there is the Tom Jones compliationUnforgetable featuring Love is in the Air and Letter to Lucile. Great vocals for cleaning the bathroom. I see now that I am definitely am uncool. But thats the thing about happy music. Its light and fun and silly and makes you smile.

Since getting an iPad and discovering the blogosphere I have switched most of my reading time over to blog reading. However I feel the need for reading matter that is more detailed and weighty.  So another fun thing I am doing is reading Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. I mentioned this as a joke in a comment, but I do actually have it on the shelf, and decided to make a start. Its such a difference reading an old style novel full of detailed description.

Melville has a cheeky sense of humour and inventive turn of phrase. I thought I would pass on his very useful advice that you should not heat your bedroom in winter so that you can get the maximum enjoyment from snuggling under the blanket.

…have nothing but the blanket between you and your snugness and the cold of the outer air. Then there you lie like the one warm spark in the heart of an arctic crystal.

(Moby Dick Chapter 11)

The ship has not yet sailed in my reading of Moby DIck but I will let you know how we get on in with travels. I enjoyed this post from SMART Living 365 titled Love to Travel – Love to Come Home by Kathy Gottberg. She talks about creating the kind of life you enjoy so that coming home from holidays is not met with dread. Heres a quick snippet:

What it comes down to is that my holidays are no longer escapes to take me away from my life—instead they are just alternate journeys of discovery and adventure…. no matter where my home is, no matter what is going on there, whenever I return I feel welcome and glad to be home.http://smartliving365.com/love-to-travel-love-to-come-home/

I went around the world last year, but since returning I don’t really have itchy feet, because I am happy at home. I will probably travel again, but its not a burning need.

On a similar theme Minimalist Joshua Fields Millburn talks about Subtractive Creation in a post called A Well Edited Life. He uses the analogy of a sculptor removing excess stone or clay to reveal an artwork to talk about building a more meaningful life by removing things that are superfluous.

I loved this line from a recent post by Courtney Carver from Be More With Less on the topic Simplify Your Life and Quiet Your Mind:

leaning on simplicity eases the stress of the more complicated things

I have been drawing inspiration from all these sources, particularly leaning on simplicity, as I try to get myself out of a somewhat disastrous internet advertising arrangement that I undertook six weeks ago. I am being presented as a cleaner rather than a professional organiser, and can’t seem to find anyone in the company interested enough to either fix the ad or take it down.

In hindsight I can see that going with a large company for my internet advertising was a mistake. Given the problems I have had so far with calls and emails being ignored, I have decided to push for cancellation, rather than fixing the problem.  Although this means I have to start from scratch with my internet advertising, I don’t want to continue a business relationship with a company that could let me down so badly, and then see no urgency to fix their mistakes.

Solving this internet advertising problem is testing my capacity to keep things in perspective. It drives me crazy that I get no response to my questions and complaints. Nevertheless, I am fighting back for happiness and simplicity making sure that I take time to think, write and blog on constructive topics that represent the direction I want to be heading in.

Valuing things is at the heart of minimalism.

If you have very modest means, you may only own one of everything.

My bowl, my dress, my shoes, my pencil, my notebook.

Each item is treasured, because it was hard to come by.

A new purchase is prioritised, saved for, carefully selected, and eagerly awaited.

A much loved item that wears out or goes missing is sorely lost.

Having less, we see the true value of each item.

How many dinner sets do you need? How many mugs? How many TVs? How many cars? How many houses?

Each new multiple reduces our appreciation of the value of the one, and what it does for us.

Choosing to have fewer things, we become aware again of the value of each individual thing, and what it brings contributes to our lives.

Minimalism is about having less, and appreciating what we have.

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Yesterday it occurred to me how restful it is to be able to embrace a simpler life. I never knew who the Joneses were that we were supposed to be keeping up with, but I did have the sense of needing to scramble to stay in touch.

When I was a teenager the sophisticated magazine for girls was Seventeen. I borrowed it from the library and was struck by the number of products women needed to buy, and routines they needed to follow to be up to date with their grooming. Cleanse, tone and moisturizer. Day and night make-up looks. Hair removal routines. Make up removal routines.

Add to that maintaining a fashionable wardrobe and good shoe selection, regular hair cutting and dyeing, going to the gym, buying a home, furnishing and decorating the home in the latest styles, running a car….In every dimension of life there seemed to be a need to spend time and money on having the right things and maintaining them, and having the right routines and maintaining those.

The advantage of a simpler approach to life is it focuses attention on what is important in each dimension of life, and allows me to cut out the unnecessary complexities. I have decided to keep my hair in a short and simple cut, with natural colour. That saves me time and money at the hairdresser. I don’t run a car. I have a small range of clothes and shoes. The more I apply the simplicity principle, the easier everyday life becomes.

What struck me in my journal writing yesterday was is the benefit if a simpler lifestyle is not just about saving time and money, or having less chores. When I say “this is enough” for me, I am also saying “I am enough”. I don’t need to be running on a never ending treadmill of acquisition and improvement to be OK. I am OK with greying hair. I am OK with second hand furniture. I am OK traveling by bus and train.

As I travel more deeply into this journey I am appreciating that resting in simplicity is about self acceptance, and giving up the race.

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This image was taken at the Botanical Gardens in Niagara Falls Canada. I was taking photos on a rainy grey afternoon which seemed to suit black and white photography.

When I was in the USA last year I stumbled upon and open-mike comedy night at the downstairs bar at my hotel. I joined in with the 30 or so people crowded into the small room to hear the performers. It was a tightknit group who got together on a regular basis to display their comedy skills, with a friendly and jovial atmosphere as you might expect. Gradually I realised that I was one of about five people in the audience who weren’t performing.

One performer was a young woman, who was clearly known to the group. For her few minutes in the spotlight, she talked about a recent experience with abortion and her families reaction to it. It wasn’t funny. She seemed extremely vulnerable, and the audience didn’t know how to react. The experience she was sharing was too recent; too raw; too painful. Whatever happens to transform a personal story into a comedy routine that everyone can laugh at wasn’t happening.

I wanted to grab an overcoat, wrap her up and take her off the stage. I wanted to somehow protect her from her painful experience, and the sharing of it. I wanted to tell her that this wasn’t the place to find the solace she was looking for. I was a stranger in a strange environment, and I didn’t do any of those things. I watched her sit down. It seemed that her story had not connected her more deeply with anyone in the group, and I feared the experience would deepen her sense of isolation.

I have also seen and experienced this type of raw over exposure in writing groups where people read their work aloud, and in sometimes in reading blogs. I have read blog posts that suggest struggles with depression that have not been met by supportive comments. I have stumbled upon one post, months old, that suggested that the person might be suicidal, with no follow up comments or posts. It saddens and frightens me when I find people reaching out for help to the internet, only to be met with silence.

When it works well, the process of creating a song, a poem, a blog post or a joke converts our personal experience into a universal story that others can relate to and understand. This very process can be healing, and create a sense of perspective about the subject matter and a feeling of connection with others. But sometimes, it doesn’t quite happen. Sometimes it comes across as just raw feeling, uncovered and unprotected.

For myself, I try to write about things that I have some perspective on, that might be of help or interest to others. Although some of these topics can be personal, I don’t write about things if I am feeling very shaken up and vulnerable. If I was seriously in need of help, I’d talk to a real person about it.

So by all means, share what is going on for you, if that feels comfortable and helpful. But remember to take care of yourself. Its not necessary to tell the world your troubles if you don’t feel OK about it. You don’t have to bleed your heart onto the stage, or the page. Your sensitive sould needs to be protected, and the best person to do that is you.


You aren’t supposed to be getting two Linking Back posts back to back.  I have been busy this week sorting myself out, so that I can give this blog and other writing projects more attention. The theme for the week has been shifting priorities and making time for what is most important. Some of my reading this week has been on a similar vein.

I enjoyed a guest post on Courtney Carver’s blog Be More With Less by artist Jeane George Weigel. Jeane talks about the courage it took to leave a corporate job to pursue life as an artist, and the personal growth that has resulted. I could relate to her comment about her former life. Indeed, I could have written it myself:

I didn’t make these major changes quickly or easily. I was aware for years that my life didn’t seem to fit me, or I didn’t fit it, but I wasn’t sure what else I was supposed to do. I felt unhappy on a level I wasn’t willing to acknowledge and I used to say that if I knew what I wanted to do I’d go do it.

I am also appreciating CJ and Tammy Renzi’s book The End of Wishing Our Days Away. CJ and Tammy blog about their lifestyle change at The Great Jollyhoombah. Their story is one example of how a health crisis can call into question demanding traditional work roles and unhealthy habits. For the Jolly’s this led to a simpler and more intentional lifestyle. And fun of course. Lots of fun. They bring to mind the (mis)quote “I’ll have what they’re having”.

I had a chance to hear a woman speak who has been working on healthcare and education projects in the islands to the east of New Guinea in Milne Bay Province. When talking about the motivation for her work she described about how the people cried when talking about the lack of healthcare in their remote communities. The expression for crying its “dropping water”. She said “How can you sit and listen to people dropping tears”. A living example of compassion in action.

I have been suffering from “Be careful what you ask for” syndrome, as one quickly made intuitive decision has started a snowball effect.  Having decided to give up trying to sell greeting cards as a money-making exercise, I quickly realised that I no longer needed to maintain a separate photography blog for the purpose of promoting them. I am therefore taking a break from ImageChest Photography. I will include photographic posts here when they fit in with the flow. My final post on the photography blog, for the time being at least, was more pictures of my outing at Luna Park and Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Hot on the heels of that decision came the admission that efforts to promote my Professional Organising business have not been successful and that whole project needs a serious rethink.

These decisions are possible because am starting to feel clearer about the general direction I want to take and developing criteria to by which to judge potential projects. I want to direct my efforts to projects which contribute to my happiness and wellbeing, and stand up to the test of simplicity and lightness. I want to have time for writing and photography. This feels like the right track to be on, although letting go of some activities that were consuming a lot of time has created a gap which is a little spooky. Nevertheless, having cleared away some distractions I think I will be better able to make decisions that take me towards the future I hope to create for myself.

DB27 Side of Path near St Agnes Beacon