Posts Tagged ‘living the dream’

Don’t Die With New Underwear in Your Dresser Drawer

October 13, 2008

New underwear. That’s what I found when I went through one of my mother’s dresser drawers after she died. The underwear she wore on a daily basis was old and stretched out. This was pristine, new underwear. She had saved it for trips to the doctor, the rare night out, and other special occasions.

I was not completely surprised to find the new underwear. It was consistent with her depression era mindset that the good things in life were in short supply and needed to be doled out carefully.

Some months before her death, I gave her the most beautiful flannel sheets I could find. Those last years of her life, she got cold easily. Some part of me knew that this could be her last winter. I bought the sheets for her birthday, but gave them to her when fall turned chilly, instead of waiting her birthday on December 23rd. The sheets were thick and elegant. The top sheet and pillow cases had scalloped edges and beautiful embroidery.

I mailed them off to her in October or early November. I wanted her to enjoy them as soon as the smell of winter was in the air, not wait for her birthday.

She called when they arrived. She loved them. She was surprised by the early gift and thought they were the most beautiful sheets she had ever seen. Was she going to put them on her bed immediately? No. She wanted to wait until Christmas. One of my sisters planned to come for the holidays and my mother intended to put them on the guest room bed for her to enjoy.

I think I screeched. Then I begged her to put them on her own bed. I think she waited until after Christmas to do that.

She died the following April.

My mother did not hold off on her enjoyment of everything . . . and thank the gods for that! But that new underwear in the dresser drawer and the memory of her waiting to enjoy the sheets intended only for her have been a lasting gift from her, a reminder to not follow in those particular footsteps.

I was quite young—six or seven, perhaps—when I had my first reminder to savor the day. Memory is a home invader who rearranges the furniture of the mind while you are not paying attention. I can only piece together the details.

I was watching television while visiting my aunt and uncle at their farm. The Loretta Young Show was on and in this particular episode, a wealthy woman from the city had stopped at a farm to buy apples. While there, she encouraged the farm wife to put aside her chores and bake her family an apple pie. The farm woman could scarcely imagine such a use of time during picking season, but the city woman reminded her that baking an apple pie for your family can sometimes be the most important thing you do in a day.

This episode of The Loretta Young Show just might encapsulate the overarching mindset towards women in the 1950s and we have surely come a long way since then. Or have we, men and women alike?

I am not going to itemize what we have gained over the past fifty or more years. It would be a long list. I am also not going to itemize what we might have lost. That list might be long, too. Ponderously long. But that first reminder to treat every day as important, a reminder I received when I was six or seven and which has stood me in good stead for over fifty years, tells me that even in the 1950s, we needed such reminders. I think we need them even more today.

If I admonish my readers—and myself—not to die with new underwear in the dresser drawer, I am not suggesting we abandon good sense and our current lives for some fantasy of a life in Tahiti or Timbuktu. I am suggesting, though, that we not put ourselves after the long list of what must be accomplished before the day is out and I am suggesting that we appreciate this day and this moment in some very simple ways.

Like what?

When the weather is fine, I take a vintage tablecloth and the everyday china down to my lower deck. There my husband and I take our evening meal. And, yes, I have prepared that meal myself. It has come neither from a box on the pantry shelf or from some outstretched hand through a fast food window.

What else?

Well, I can only speak for myself and I know there are legions of entrepreneurs and wishful would-be entrepreneurs who seem to like the idea of working in their bathrobes. But I am not one of them. I dress to please myself, but I do dress most days before sitting down at my computer. There is something wasteful about treating any day as one that can be lived sloppily. So I dress for the occasion of the day. My habits regarding underwear are my own, but let’s just say that you can count on the fact that I’m not wearing old, worn out underwear.

I also write thank you notes on note paper and send them out in the mail, read good books before falling asleep, celebrate the accomplishments of my friends and colleagues, lift weights as if I planned to live to be a hundred, meditate for the pleasure of it, get to know store clerks, tend to my flowers with tenderness, and otherwise conduct my daily life as if it mattered . . . and as if it cannot wait.

Because, you see, it really cannot. I want to live life full throttle. That does not mean collecting experiences and things at breakneck speed. It means savoring moments.

I don’t plan to die with new underwear in the dresser drawer.

Note: I would love to hear about your own experiences. What things do you savor? How do you make room for life?

copyright 2008 by Melanie Mulhall

How Does Any of This Relate to Use of Time?

May 19, 2008

Helena Mariposa posted a comment on my “Life is Four-Part Harmony” post that inspired me to think about how we use our time and how that fits with living the dream and being in harmony with body, mind, spirit, and emotions.  And because there is really only one of us in the room anyway (as Marianne Williamson has been known to say), I received my weekly inspirational message from my friend, Tom LaRotonda (, within minutes of seeing Helena’s post and thinking about some of the issues with how we use time. Tom’s email inspiration was complementary to my thinking.

I have set and accomplished goals in my life and have found goal setting to be a useful practice, particularly when I keep my energy open to possibilities not originally part of the goal or planning around it. And, as the author of the book Helena has referred to seems to suggest, goals and use of time are–or should be–related. For instance, when I had the goal of writing my first book (Living the Dream–A Guidebook For Job Seekers And Career Explorers), accomplishing it required me to think of that goal and include it when I thought about how best to use my time. While my writing style is not as regimented as some authors I know (many, actually), linking the goal to the use of my time helped me actually finish and publish the book.

It did not, however, take over my life. And that is the risk in over-planning the use of time. Now I know that many people would not make it through the day and retain their sanity if they did not have their time planned out with some discipline, and even precision. And I have enormous sympathy for what the pace of life today does to us. But I don’t want to forget how important the simple daily encounters and frequent disruptions to my plans can be when it comes to living my own dream, helping others live theirs, and making a difference in the lives of people I may never know I have touched.

And that is where my friend, Tom LaRotonda, comes in. Tom wrote, in his piece titled “Your Life Makes a Difference,” that whenever we touch another’s life by listening to them and telling them we appreciate them, we are making a difference in the world. We are, in fact, changing the world, he purports. I not only agree with him, I have seen it operate in my own life.

Two days ago, I received a call from a woman I hadn’t heard from in several years. I knew her in a former (corporate) life and reconnected with her several years after stepping out of that life. I helped her with some career matters at that time and stayed in touch as I could. She was calling me to tell me how important all of that had been to her and, in fact, continued to be. I remember when we reconnected, years earlier, and if I had not been paying attention (not just with my eyes and ears, but with my heart), I might have exchanged a few words with her and that would have been the end of it. In fact, I was busy at the time and easily could have let my own concerns distract me from the heart message. I’m sure I have actually done that, again and againg, and I’m happy I didn’t do it that day.

And this all reminds me of one of the most riveting experiences I have ever had as I have attempted to navigate living the dream, living in harmony, and how I use time. I was at the Carmelite monastery in Crestone, Colorado–Nada Hermitage and the Spiritual Life Institute. It is one of my favorite places (and one I am feeling pulled to again, of late). I checked out some tapes from the monastery’s considerable library and one of the tape sets was the monastery’s own Sister Sharon Doyle speaking on leisure. (That’s leisure in the medieval sense of the word, meaning “stillness.”)

Sister Sharon commented on how busy the lives of the monks at the hermitage was and how often they were so wrapped up in getting things done that they did not take the time to just be with one another. Wasting time with one another was how she put it and it was a good way to say it because we are so enculturated in our society to not waste time. She believed that taking the time to waste time with one another was important.

I was stunned by her comments because my rather innocent image of monks and monastery life at the time was one of simplicity, unrushed doing, plenty of time for being, a healthy dose of communing with nature, and, of course, plenty of time to be with the Divine. And I thought to myself that if the monks at this (and other) monasteries were having as much trouble with time as the rest of us, the world was surely going to you-know-where in a handbasket.

I am still stunned by the thought, though I have a great deal more understanding about the issues than I did then. (Sister Sharon’s reference to Walter Kerr’s wonderful book, The Decline of Pleasure, and Peeper’s great work sent me off on a delicious inquiry that has never really ended.)

As we explore what it means to live the dream and live life with four-part harmony, as we explore how we set goals and use time as part of that, I, for one, am going to remind myself–frequently–that we make a difference in simple ways that have profound impact and taking the time to listen, be with another, and really be present with life matters as much as the pursuit of any goal.

Harmony? Where do I Start?

May 7, 2008

Life is definitely a four-part harmony built on mind, body, spirit, and emotions, but if your life feels anything but harmonious at the moment, where do you start? Many of us are over-stressed, over-burdened, over-committed, overweight . . . and too overwhelmed to know how to get over all those things.

I’m going to suggest something so radical it’s simplicity might get lost in the tsunami of emotions it is likely to evoke in the reader: start by getting more sleep. Why start with sleep? Because it impacts almost everything else.

Before I say one more word, I want to insert a caveat. If you are the parent of a newborn child, I know you’re already groaning and throwing things at the computer. On the other hand, if you’re the parent of a newborn child, you’re probably not reading this anyway! If you actually are reading this blog, you get a buy on this one. Someday you may get a good night’s sleep again, but it might not be anytime soon and the smell of your baby’s skin probably brings you back into harmony faster than most people can pull off with a week of meditation. I’m not talking about you.

The rest of us, though, may need a reminder to get a decent night’s sleep.

Science is finally catching up with what many of us have known experientially for years: we eat more and we eat less healthfully if we don’t get enough sleep. Ever had a craving for junk food after pulling an all-nighter in college or at the office? If so, you know what I mean. If you are out of harmony with your body and one part of that is food related, you are not easily going to find that harmony if you are routinely sleep deprived.

Want a clear head and emotions that don’t careen all over the highway of your inner being? Get enough sleep. Executives and entrepreneurs just might be the worst perpetrators of self-inflicted sleep deficit (excepting those new parents) and it is scary to think about the effects. Even Harvard Business Review is hip to this problem. The October, 2006 issue featured an insightful article titled “Sleep Deficit: The Performance Killer.” That article was the result of a conversation with Harvard Medical School professor, Charles A. Czeisler, who is one of the world’s leading experts on the biology of sleep. Czeisler had a great many things to say on the subject of sleep deprivation, but one of the most rivetting was his belief that the level of sleep deprivation endorsed by and even expected of companies for their people (particularly managers) impairs those people, over time, every bit as much as intoxication would. Yikes! What are we doing to ourselves?

Want spiritual harmony? Well, one thing I advocate (and practice) to help get there is meditation. But if you are falling asleep every time you sit down to meditate–because you are too sleep deprived to do anything else–you are not going to reap the benefits for which you sat down to meditate in the first place. 

The folks are legion who will argue that they just plain have too much going on in their lives to get more sleep. But both efficiency and effectiveness suffer if you are sleep deprived. Getting enough sleep is foundational to amassing the energy you need to live life at full throttle. 

Think you get enough sleep? Many people who are sleep deprived do. You might not be one of them but, then again, you just might be. Here is a question to help you determine where you fall on this. It may not be the acid test, but it will provide some clues. Do you need an alarm clock to awaken?

If so, consider the possibility that you might need more sleep. Start there and you will be striking the right chord to play a four-part harmony life.