This Saturday’s blog share goes to GIRLS AND THEIR CATS. GATC is a photo series created by Brooklyn-based photographer BriAnne Wills as a way to showcase cat-owning women in a positive context.
I love her beautiful photography and stories of professional women and their cats. If you are a cat-lover and/or just enjoy a unique take on people who love animals and care about their fur children, check it out.
This month I was invited to participate as a guest writer in the “Making More Meaning” blog by Stephanie. I love her idea to invite several reflections from fellow bloggers on how we find meaning and I am honored to write on this topic.
The minimalists have led the way in our understanding that collecting more possessions is not what gives our lives meaning. I got a reference a few weeks ago to the book “Stuffocation: Living More with Less” from Lisa at the Simple Life Experiment podcast. James Wallman makes a compelling case for an experiential approach over materialism in the way we live our lives, and traces the history of this change in perspective.
Wallman helped me see how collecting things to show one’s status may have arisen from and evolutionary fitness marker display, which helps me have more empathy with this human impulse. At the same time, we have an ecological imperative to evolve away from this way of living, given worldwide population growth. Left unchecked, the manufacture, packaging and waste generated in making more “stuff” could lead to massive problems in the earth’s ecosystems.
I consider how I personally find meaning daily life. During my 20’s and early 30’s, my career was sometimes more about earning income to pay my bills, while I found true meaning in my volunteer activities. I am fortunate today to work for a company that has a meaningful mission to me: “alleviate pain, restore health, and extend life.” When focus on the patients we serve, and stay committed to the mission, I find a great deal of meaning in the clinical research that my team does every day in Latin America.
On the other hand, when a focus on short-term profit clouds leadership judgment on what is best for the long-term health of our department, it is much more difficult to be propelled by the mission. I believe people can profit from their work and add value to the world simultaneously. There is nothing wrong with making a fair profit. We can re-invest profit into further innovations. Profit and start-up capital are often required to develop new solutions for patients in a sustainable way.
Finding meaning and purpose is about making a contribution that aligns with our values and allows us to use our strengths and talents often. I like Brene Brown’s definition of spirituality (from her work in Rising Strong) to explain how meaning, purpose and spirituality intersect for me. She sees spirituality as something not reliant on religion, theology or dogma, but rather a belief in our interconnected-ness and in a loving force that is greater than ourselves. It is in this way we complete our connection to spirit, living as interconnected beings. We fully acknowledge everything we do has effects on other people, on animals, and on other life on our planet.
We must do some inner work on ourselves, to be sure that our intentions are not coming from a place of needing to “prove our worthiness” to anyone. We are inherently worthy of love and belonging, just by being born. But the gratitude that flows from this realization gives us generosity of spirit that feeds our energy and our commitment.
We are also wired to be in relationships with people, animals and other living organisms. Research shows that we benefit from being in nature, though there is some controversy on whether it is nature itself, or being in community with others that really boosts our well-being. Healthy relationships have been shown to decrease your chances of dying prematurely by 50%. Support offered by caring friends can buffer the effects of stress. In older adults, loneliness is a significant predictor of poor health.
Note that it is about quality and not quantity of your relationships. Even if you have 500+ facebook friends, this does not substitute for 2-3 close friends (or family) in your life that you know you can truly count on when you need support. As an introvert, I know that it takes a lot of energy to maintain many relationships, and so I cultivate them selectively, and in a deeper way.
Is it possible that the “meaning” of friendship gets diluted if you have too many friends?
I will leave you to ponder that one, while I get back to some work I must complete this week. I would love your thoughts or comments.
I just read a most lovely post by a blogger who writes so beautifully about the experiences she has had with precious pets in her life in “love lives on.” The photos she posts of her dear spirit guides melt my heart sometimes. If you are a dog lover, or a pet lover in general, check out her blog.
In honor of the fact that my big fat cat Calvin has his arm tucked into my left arm, making it a little difficult for me to type today, and he is purring so loud & contentedly, I will dedicate this post to him and keep it short today.
Another blogger I enjoy, Jessie Brown, (aka Hoosier Mystic) talks about loneliness this week and the things she has learned. She has a cat also, and she wrote a post that resonated with me as well about loneliness, the value of touch and of connections, human and otherwise.
We are wired for connection, and we are also wired for courage. Though it may be hard for us to show our vulnerabilities sometimes, it is necessary for us to be vulnerable to truly experience love. What a gift it is when we can experience any difficult emotion, be it loneliness or grief, and know we can sit with it and sit with ourselves quietly. It will pass, as all emotions do, but being true to what we feel and allowing it, perhaps naming it, rather than running is a balm for the soul.
Thanks for reading. Hope you have a lovely weekend.
This is a question my mother-in-law asked me once, thinking perhaps that I would answer “Bemidji” where my grandparents had lived, where I spent my summers growing up, where my parents had retired.
But I did not answer, and had to think about that question.
I moved once a year from 2010 to 2014, pulling up my lightly rooted self, trying yet another location to see what might feel more like where I belonged.
I have lived in Neillsville, Wisconsin, Delavan (WI), Swarthmore (PA), Bemidji (MN), Mountain View (CA), San Francisco, Minneapolis, Saint Paul, Roseville (MN), New Brighton (MN), Eden Prairie (MN). Now I live in White Bear Lake, where we moved three years ago when my now-husband was leaving Mankato, to join me in the Twin Cities. I lived in St. Paul at the time and we wanted to compromise on living in the city, or a more “small town” type of environment.
Our rented townhome adjoins a lovely wooded park area where we often see deer, turkeys, and some type of pre-historic sounding large bird which we have not yet conclusively identified.
It has been home to us for over 3 years now, and we comfortable here, but someday we would like to buy our own home, so that we do not have to answer to a homeowners association, and to have a bigger garage that my husband can use for a workshop.
Delavan felt like home to me from age 2 to age 18 when I lived there. My parents and sister and I lived in a two bedroom townhome apartment in this small town, in a safe neighborhood. But during the summers (my parents were teachers) we would go north to Bemidji, where my grandparents lived, and we spent time on the lake. So during my childhood, we was fortunate to have an escape from being close to our neighbors.
When I left for college, I wanted to spread my wings and get outside the Midwest, even though I almost chose Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota. I’m a Wellstonian politically, and I had an affinity for Carleton after spending a summer there at a Writing Camp.
Fortunately I had enough financial aid to be able to go to Swarthmore College, and I loved the four years I was there. The final one I struggled with some depression, and I understand this is not so uncommon for college seniors about to embark on the “real world” and trying to figure out their true identity outside of being students. I had the help of a wonderful counselor in the student health center, who got me through changing my major, and some fairly big struggles with eating issues and identity questions.
When I left college I moved to the Bay Area of California for a while. I had read Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City, and I had also spent a summer doing research at Stanford in Palo Alto, and I’d fallen in love with California. I truly enjoyed the two years I lived there, riding my bike everywhere, taking public transportation every where else and embarking on “grown up” work and life. I rented my first apartment (since I had lived in dorms in college) and met a man who would become my husband (for about 8 years, the remainder of my 20’s).
I had many friends who lived in the area as well, most of them who I knew from college, and we had many good times. I had worked in a lab at Stanford on the good graces of my research professor for a while, but without a graduate degree, work in the sciences did not seem like the most interesting option at the time. I had no trouble finding temp offices jobs (it was the 90’s). They were plentiful but not lucrative, so I found myself going into debt while trying to live well and keep up with the lifestyles of my friends, who were mostly techies, so had disposable income.
When my grandma got sick and had heart surgery in 1998 I decided that I had spent enough time away from the Midwest of my youth, so my husband and I opted to move to the Twin Cities. It is a 4-hour drive to Bemidji, close enough to family, but with a buffer of privacy which I always seem to crave.
After only two years of saving aggressively and living in a cheap, garden-level apartment we were able to wipe out our debt and buy our first home in Saint Paul. I fell in love with Saint Paul and got very involved with political campaigns there, where I met neighbors and made a lot of friends. I started graduate school because work bored me. Working toward a Master of Liberal Studies degree part-time while working full-time was a way to keep learning while paying the mortgage.
When my marriage broke up in 2005, I bought myself my own town home in Saint Paul, a cute little Spanish-style end unit in a 4-plex in Highland Park. I probably ought to have rented for a while instead of buying on the high side of the real estate boom. But I loved the place while I was there, and I relished being happily single again.
So back to the question (asked in 2016): Where is home for you?
I had only one answer. Home is where my fiance (at the time) and kitties are. I have lived so many places and had the luxury of traveling and visiting many countries in my life. I will say that I feel at home in some ways when I am in Mexico, but it is not MY home. The photo at the beginning of this post is the beautiful courtyard of family in Mexico, and I certainly felt at home when I visited in July of 2014.
Minnesota is my home now, and where I see myself living for the foreseeable future. I have lived here more permanently since 1998 and that is nearly 20 years now. I made some bold pronouncements during the Trump campaign when I declared that, if he builds a wall, I will go live SOUTH of it.
As a daughter of an immigrant parent and a parent who lived in Minnesota and Wisconsin in her life, I feel freedom and privilege to declare my home as anywhere I feel loved and safe. The world is my home. It is our home. I have clean air to breathe and clean water to drink.
Home right now is Minnesota. Even though I am not the biggest fan of winter, I love the change of seasons. Summers are lovely and Spring and Fall make my heart sing. I often dream of retiring to Mexico, or perhaps living half the year there, and living on the North Shore of Lake Superior in the Spring/Summer/Fall. I am trying to convince my husband this would be a good idea; he does not argue too much, though he would like to find an expat community in Mexico, since he is not fluent in Spanish as I am.
I realize this reflects the privilege I enjoy as an American, and as a person with enough means to be able to live where I choose. And I am deeply grateful for this. I am always home. I will always be loved. I am grateful to be safe in this place.