Friday, October 17, 2008

The hard stuff

In the past year or so, I made a conscious decision to live according to my values.

This doesn't seem like such a stretch: I was proud of who I was/am, and I don't lie, cheat, or I had a head start.

But I made the vow to myself in a decision to live life more deliberately, and consciously. Unlike Thoreau, I do not have the luxury of giving up everything to try life, but I do like what he says:

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the eesential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.

This sums it up. I wish to live fully and completely, and in thinking about what that looked like for me, I decided that it meant identifying my values and then living according to those values, even at a cost of high inconvenience.

The green living comes from that. As long as I can remember, I've cared about my environment, and I've spent more time than most out in nature, particularly hiking the mountains and valleys of the Pacific Northwest. I grew up hiking and camping, and it is engrained in me to love the smell of a campfire, the feeling of a boot on a pine-needle trail, the splash of glacial melt from a small stream upon my face to cool off. By stating my commitment to go green, and by taking steps every day to do so, I'm living a value that I hadn't been true to. I had always cared, but I hadn't always taken steps to avoid the path of least resistance, which is often NOT green but simply old habits.

My spiritual quest comes from that, too. I've always considered myself a deeply spiritual person, but in hindsight, that was more of a hopeful label than a true one, because I wasn't doing much in the way of spiritual growth. It's not just my commitment to WSUU that makes me a more spiritual person these days (though that is a big part of it), it's committing my leisure hours to reading books about spirituality, and it's meditation, and it's deeper introspection, and it's discussion with other spiritual types about what it is we're doing and where we're trying to go. It's little things like having a little spiritual center in my house (with candles, a cross, a Buddha statuette, a picture of the Dalai Lama, a "Believe in Miracles" plaque from Caley, and some beautiful stones from nature, one of which is painted with a chalice) to remind me of what I'm striving for; it's bigger things, like attending church every weekend and becoming part of the RE council and dedicating my time to a covenant group.

My volunteering comes from this, too. The 3-Day taught me, again, how essential it is to my well being to give something of myself to my community and to the greater world. Sometimes these days I feel like I'm doing too much volunteering, some days I feel like I'm doing too little, but always I know that I'm striving in the right direction, and that taking action to make the world a slightly better place, even in the smallest of ways, is a part of my value system.

Those things are not behind me, but I still count them as successes in my life: they are my true self, and I'm proud of them, and despite my imperfections, I know I'm giving them my best and I'm happy with that even as I try to grow in those areas.

But I can't sit still, I can't believe that I have simply arrived. Those things might be the easier things.

My marriage. I have to advise anyone not yet married, that marriage is much harder than it sounds. First, you meet, find interests together, learn to have fun together, and fall in love....and that is the easy part (even though I didn't think so in my early twenties when everyone else was falling in love and I was single and wondering what I was doing wrong). The hard part is what comes after "I do," when life hands you things you've never expected, like cancer, and lay-offs, and depression, and ten surgeries in three years, and you're broke and frustrated and disconnected from one another and wondering how on earth you got so far from where you started. Anyone who has been married a decade or more is certain to nod their heads - it is a very small number of individuals who do not survive a decade of marriage without some pretty serious interruptions, despite the good intentions of both parties.

So, marriage wasn't exactly what I expected, but I have recommitted to it, over and over, and I'm striving to be the partner that I ought to be, that I want to be. Ryan has also been recommitting, and together we are making stupendous progress with one another, and I am so grateful for that that I barely know where to begin with it. It amazes me to think that holding on to marriage is a value....I thought love held marriages together, but I am learning that love isn't enough, not nearly. Love for another person is so much, true, but when the world is upside down and nothing is as you expected, I think that its ones values that keep a marriage together.

(Note: I am fortunate, I have not experienced abuse or infidelity of any sort in my marriage. I am NOT extolling the virtue of sticking it out in an abusive relationship, ever. I'm talking about a different kind of marriage than that. What is true of my marriage commitment perhaps should NOT be true of all marriages, and I recognize the need for gray in that spectrum.)

And the other big

Oh, money. Frankly, if you'll pardon my language, money is a giant pain in the you-know-what. (Okay, I'll keep this PG, but you get my point.) Money is so stressful!

But I'm determined to live according to my values with money, too, and I'm slowly ocming to the realization that I haven't been doing that, not at all.

No, I'm not in bankruptcy, and I haven't been forging checks, and I haven't taken out multiple mortgages on the house....nothing like that. It's much more subtle than that (fortunately).

I think that I had just been telling myself that I deserved certain things, and despite my scorn for those who try to keep up with the Jones', I think I'd been doing it in some ways. Not in cars (our 8 year old Subie probably isn't going to win any luxury car contests), but in other, smaller things. Like eating out at nice resturants, like ordering take-out when I didn't feel like cooking, like too many lattes and pastries (what's with the food theme?!), like too many trips to Target and Marshall's to buy things that I don't need.

This week I, once again, took a trip to Goodwill. I filled up almost the entire Subie - how ridiculous! Some of it is explainable - Tessa outgrows clothes, shoes, and toys - but some of it is just embarrassing. These are things that we had purchased, that we now dispose of....not into a landfill, but that means that we wasted good money.

I am fortunate, I do not have much "need." I don't "need" new furniture, dishes, books, house....I have enough, and even more than enough. I don't "need" new clothes or shoes, because my closet is overflowing. Our house is full of music, books, and the small pleasures in life.

So now I'm trying to live according to my financial values, and it's hard....harder than carrying a bag so I don't take plastic bags, harder than "no impulse shopping" even when that's part of it.

Now, our family has to cut back so that we can get out of debt, and live according to our financial values. We're going to have to really watch our budgets, eating more lentils than steak (well, at least that's good for the environment and our bodies!), in order to get ahead.

Living according to my financial values would look like this:
- debt free
- at least 10% contributions to retirement 401(k) and IRA
- regular contributions to Tessa's college fund (529)
- save for items before buying them
- "vote with my dollar" for ethical purchases (e.g. organic cotton)
- not buying disposable items (stuff destined for a landfill)
- regular contributions to charity and church and political beliefs/candidates
- keeping a sizable emergency fund

We have a long way to go to check off the items on that list. First, we have to work hard starting where we're at. But I'm identifying these values, and I'm determined to make it work, balancing all the other values.

It's hard. It's not even a little bit easy. But I'm trying.

Living deliberatly, or as Oprah says, living consciously. I think that there is something to it.


Anna Banana said...

It is hard, but please don't be hard on yourself. An English major told me Thoreau's mom did his laundry while he spent time in the woods.

*susan* said...

Mom also cooked him dinner every single night. Being independently wealthy allowed Thoreau to be eccentric, spending time contemplating the woods while mere mortals actually had to work for a living.