Saturday, 25 June 2016

Minimalism and mental process.

If I think about how my mind works, I picture it as a series of parallel channels (like tubes or cables), capable between them of holding an aggregate amount of traffic – whether input, output or processing. I see the channels as separate and coloured – blue, green, yellow, red – like stripes against a white ground, within a fixed grid. The fixed grid is my capacity, the amount I can take on mentally, beyond which I overload and crash the system.

The channels can each carry different types of traffic, such as social interaction, focusing on an idea/concept/subject of interest, administration (whether household or professional), project work (editing or writing a book, creating a funeral ceremony, preparing liturgy and a sermon, carrying out household tasks, or processing emotional response to significant stressors).

In my mind’s eye, the channels (stripes) expand or shrink in width according to how demanding is the throughput. This does not necessarily have anything to do with how much time something takes. For example, weeding the garden can be time-consuming, but is calm non-stressful work, so it doesn’t absorb much mental wattage. The channel (stripe) that correlates to gardening is therefore only narrow, leaving much more of the fixed grid available to have other channels running.

Writing fiction, social interaction and preaching take up huge wattage. If I am writing a book I may actually forget that people close to me even exist, and social interaction is so stressful to me that its channel widens until it fills the entire grid to capacity – and sometimes beyond, crashing the system.

Recent events – national, international and within our home and family – have loomed so large, appeared of such significance, that thinking about them expanded the channel they ran through to the point where my being could accommodate nothing else. Days went by when the only occupation possible, apart from processing everything going on, was playing solitaire or carrying out the smallest routine tasks – washing, washing up, putting out the garbage, chopping vegetables. Cooking would have occupied too wide a mental channel; I stuck with ready meals.

Even when I suspended as much other mental traffic as I could eliminate, I was still finding the throughput threatened to overwhelm capacity and crash everything.
Because of this, I’ve had to work hard at minimizing other sources of mental traffic in order to process all that was happening without blowing a fuse (as it were).

This is where the minimalism comes in.

I’ve explored in a previous post the curious phenomenon that my possessions all continuously speak to me – loud or quiet, all of them call to my attention all the time. The only way to silence them is to get rid of them. This means that owning things occupies one of my mental channels.

I’ve found that the less I own, the more available for other considerations is my mind.

So in the recent highly stressful passage through the mountains, I found it essential to ditch belongings in order to free up the mental capacity I required to address everything going on.

I have a strict limit on clothes – ten hangers in the wardrobe (no bright-coloured garments, a box of sweaters, a short row of shoes, a small compartmentalized drawer of underwear, hats, gloves, scarves etc).

I also have

  • a Japanese teaset
  • three handbags
  • a shopping bag
  • a laptop
  • a Kindle
  • an umbrella
  • toiletries
  • a small case (like a pencil case) storing electronic kit
  • reading glasses
  • two wooden stools
  • a stack of books waiting to be read then passed on
  • a stack of books and stationery for keeping
  • about three files associated with business finance
  • earrings
  • a prayer shawl
  • a blanket
  • a cushion
  • a camping mattress + duvet and pillows

I think that’s all. Even that is too much, really.

I have found that I have to keep to only one category of clothing. In the past, at different times, that’s been saris, Plain dress, skirts and blouses. But those categories all had other considerations – Plain dress had hats, aprons, tights, petticoats, and needed a iron. Saris do need petticoats, shawls and cholis, but are actually one of the best categories for accommodating little space. Problematic in cold, wet weather and snow, though. Shirts and blouses need tights or leggings to go with, plus vests (chemises/undershirts) for modesty – and you have to own an iron.

All those items continually talk to me, and the ones in bright or light colours shout – even in the wardrobe with the curtain drawn across so I can’t see them. The only light colour that doesn’t shout is white/cream. Unless I have very few garments in dark, solid colour, their continual chatter occupies too broad a channel so I can’t think about anything else. If I had nothing else to think about, I wouldn’t mind because I like clothes. But there’s been so much going down – the Brexit vote, the awful complications of relating with my mother, the constant worry of climate change, refugees, economic and political horrors, fracking, trying to eat sensibly, budgeting money, the mind of God – that unless I keep the clothes to the smallest darkest simplest minimum, they expand to occupy too broad a channel and crash the system. So now I have dark trousers and dark socks, dark tops, sweaters and jackets – all fitting on the ten hangers and in the box and compartmentalized drawer. I check frequently to see if I can minimize further, to further quieten my mind.

Actually I’m worried about preaching tomorrow. I’m going to a church whose minister I once was. About a fortnight after my previous husband died (I was their minister then), their senior steward came to see me to tell me they didn’t like the way I dressed, the way I preached, or the way I led Bible study. I found them someone else for the Bible study, and always wore robes to preach after that, but they did have to put up with my preaching and crafting of liturgy. That was a long time ago. When I came back to Methodist preaching, I asked not to be sent to them unless they specifically invited me, as I don’t want to inflict myself on people who’d rather I wasn’t there. Well, they asked me to preach for their chapel anniversary, so I said yes – but I’m worried they won’t like my sermon or my clothes. I’ve stuck to just exposition of the set lectionary texts, but I don’t know why they didn’t like my clothes in the first place. I’ll just have plain black trousers, a cream vest top (sleeveless t-shirt) and dark grey jacket, so nothing eye-catching, just a dark plain person if you see what I mean. Like a stick figure (but fatter). But I don’t know . . . they’ll probably have a problem with it.

However, there’s nothing I can do about it, because if I start adding in tights and a skirt and shoes that go with skirts to my wardrobe categories, the mental channel then doubles and crashes the system because the other channels have gotten so wide with all this stuff going on with my mother.

Sorry that’s so long and rambling – in summary, the point is, the more extremely minimalist I can manage to be, the more mind I have available to process difficult aspects of life without becoming so traumatised I go into overwhelm and cannot function. This is an aspect of minimalism I thought worth recording.

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PS The things in the photo that you can see, other than in the wardrobe, all belong to my husband because we share this room.


Nearly Martha said...

Praying that tomorrow will be a fantastic morning - lightening your load rather than adding to it.

Pen Wilcock said...


Thank you!


Ganeida said...

This is why I leave politics mostly alone. It crashes my system even when nothing extreme is happening. I said to my hubby yesterday that it doesn't matter who we vote for in our coming election, the devil will get in ~ so yeah, I am shutting down as many systems as possible.

Pen Wilcock said...

Gosh, where to begin? Politics is the organisation of human society. To me, it is about how we get together to consider how best we might, as a human community, find the strategies we need to care for people when they are sick, work for the common good, lift people out of poverty, establish justice and minimise inequality. For some years when I was a church pastor, two of the most committed members of our congregation were our MP and his wife. She had a special pastoral care for our many members with profound learning difficulties. He, the son of a single mother in the Salvation Army, had spent his life working to defend people in poverty and improve conditions for them. I don't think he was the devil.
As Desmond Tutu put it: "I am puzzled by which Bible people are reading when they suggest that religion and politics don’t mix."
I'd far rather minimise my personal needs as best I can, to keep my mind free for larger social concerns, than give up because the mental effort is considerable.

Deborah said...

Be who God created you to be, preach what God tells you and if they don't like your clothes that's their hard look out! :-D

Deborah said...

And in other news...I just got rid of a few more tops. I'm only keeping the ones I like wearing. I have made a new skirt as one of mine can no longer be worn in polite company as it has literally worn out and has some rips in it, so it is going in the bin :-D

gretchen said...

bless you, pen. i do understand completely about the need to minimise distractions when all about life is in chaos. it's the only way to slow things down enough to breathe! it's the middle of the night where you are but know that i am praying that all goes well with the preaching. just be your own lovely self and speak the word that God sends. you'll be just fine. you ARE just fine.

Ganeida said...

I didn't say I'd given up ~ though I think politics out here has very little to do with people ~ & I know there are good individuals in politics, but the policies of both our major parties at present suck. It is a lose/lose situation. Your view seems rather idealistic & does not reflect the reality out here which seems to have a lot to do with bad mouthing each other & nothing to do with actually governing our country ~ & that, after all, is what they have been elected to do. We have now gone through 3 leaders & 2 parties in 2 years who have done nothing! I am working my way through how I am going to vote & the only way to do that is to shut down everything non essential. It is exhausting & I have very little hope that whoever gets in will improve the average person's prospects, let alone those most in need.

Pen Wilcock said...

Debs ~ that's one of the great things about your minimalist wardrobe - it's so simple to monitor and replace because you haven't got a big muddle of stuff.

Gretchen ~ thank you!

Ganeida ~ difficult, isn't it? I find this helpful:

Suze said...

Pen I truly felt for you as you wrote about clothing screaming at you through closed doors. I have not experienced that but I think I understand. Having less appeals to me and I am striving. Recently I have gained cupboard space for the first time in six years. I am horrified at how much I have as before bits were in different rooms. Personally I like to exclude things that make me uncomfortable and some people around me find it odd.

God bless you.

Pen Wilcock said...

Hi Suze - waving! x

Anonymous said...

Choruses from the Rock. Thank you for pointing me to this! Mairin.

Pen Wilcock said...

:0) xx

Stevie said...

Praying for your overload to be carried by the One who carries our burdens.

Pen Wilcock said...

:0) xx

Jenna said...

Thanks for this one, Pen. My husband died (lung and brain cancer--the last 10 months have been brutal) just a couple of days before this was posted so I didn't catch it--because I've been, as you say, lacking "wattage" to be able to do much more than sit, keep up with paperwork surrounding his care and decease, and here and then get some groceries in the house for the visiting granddaughter. I so appreciate the images of channels and bandwidth. It's helping, I think. (And now I must think where to move so it's my golden opportunity to divest of things.) Blessings!

Pen Wilcock said...

Oh, Jenna! May you find the comfort and support you need in adjusting to this huge loss. May you find some spaces of peace and quiet; may you be upheld. May you find the right home to settle in and the strength to make the move. Thinking of you. xx

Stevie said...

I've been thinking/praying about this more -- overwhelm -- I'm wrestling one of my characters through that right now. When we feel out of control, we increase control over what we can control. And simplifying something to make it work better feels so good!!!

Bless you, Pen. May you find God in all of this and through all of this and despite all of this.

Pen Wilcock said...

I agree with what you say about control, though that isn't the issue for me - it's not about simplifying in order to make a situation more controllable rather than chaotic; it's more about overwhelm in the sphere of attention - that too much input crashes my system, not because I have to do anything about it or obtain control over it, but just the overwhelming stimulus of so much to process and think about.

Anonymous said...

Goodness, do let us know the name of your erstwhile church (so that we can avoid it). What an uncaring bunch they sound. Your husband has just died, so they send someone around to criticise your clothes(!!!) and style of preaching. I am sure that was a great help and comfort to you in time of need. You are a lot nicer than me, I doubt I would have ever gone back again. Frances.

Pen Wilcock said...