Note: This is PART 3 in a series.
Closets and relationships are hardly the same animal, but closet cleaning principles can help me when it comes to “cleaning up” my intimate relationship.
(If you haven’t read the first blogs, for sure read them.)
So far, we know that the first step in closet cleaning is to take everything out of your closet and become aware of what you have now.
This step translates well to relationships — notice what you do and say now.
During noticing, you’re not trying to change anything in your relationship yet, you’re simply becoming aware of what’s there. You’re paying attention to what’s currently in your “closet.”
Because this step is pivotal, today we address more about it, including the importance of starting at the beginning, which is with me, not my partner. I’m going to tidy my own relationship closet, not my partner’s.
WHAT DOES “CLEANING MY OWN CLOSET” MEAN?
I begin by Observing myself.
Observing myself means I’m simultaneously being myself (doing, saying, thinking) AND I’m standing outside myself, observing me doing, saying or thinking.
I’m the one watching myself talk over the fence with my neighbor as I’m having the conversation.
Later, I’m the sweeper and the one watching me sweep.
I sweep my floor and at the same time, I’m noticing what’s going on with me while I sweep — how the broom rests in my hands, what I hear as I sweep, what I see gathering in the pile I’m making, and especially — what I’m thinking about.
A little later in the day, I’m delayed leaving the house for an appointment, causing the possibility that I’ll be late.
I’m the driver, and I’m the observer of the driver, noticing my emotions and thoughts as I move through traffic.
I’m on vacation in Paris, and I’m the observer of the tourist that I am.
On the streets of Paris, I’m wearing a comfortable and beautiful outfit, feeling good and strong as I walk. I notice what I think about the people passing by, and how similar or different it is from home. I walk by a chocolate shop and a restaurant and notice my thoughts. That evening, there is a classical concert in the street. I feel the enthusiasm of the crowd, I hear the beautiful music, I feel the breeze ruffling my hair.
Back home now, I am a swimmer and the one watching a swimmer.
Approaching morning laps, I notice my body as I enter the cool water. As I swim, I notice my thoughts as I do the front crawl, the breath required to move my body through the water, how the water feels passing over my skin. I notice the person swimming next to me, how strong she is, how the water moves over her shoulders.
All of this is simple practice in being an Observer of myself relating to my environment.
This is a key skill in a relationship, the ability to observe myself in action. It’s crucial to learn to be a watcher of myself, while I do, say, feel or think.
I’m not a judge, though, I’m an observer. There’s a big difference. As an observer, I note facts only — I’m a fact collector. I don’t come to conclusions about the facts, or judge them.
All of these situations are practice Observing myself in action.
HOW DO I PRACTICE OBSERVING MYSELF?
Below are more examples of me learning about myself. I am hoping to improve my relationship with others, my husband for instance, by beginning with me. I’m conducting simple observational experiments — of me, not him — in order to learn about myself.
Experiment #1: I decide to Observe myself watching the evening news. I’m sure the news will provide grist for the mill, and I’m not married to the politicians I’ll be hearing about, so it will be easier to be an observer of my reactions, attitudes, or whatever comes up.
Why am I watching the news?
To see what’s now hanging in my relationship closet.
(Remember the hint that if you want to improve your relationship with your partner, don’t start by practicing with your partner, start with someone you don’t know. That’s what I’m doing here. I’m learning about myself by practicing with strangers, with animals/pets, or simply with myself.)
OK, the news on TV begins. I’m in “observer mode.” I’m collecting facts about me. That’s my only job.
- I welcome my thinking — while observing and noting.
- I welcome my attitudes or points of view — while observing and making notes.
- I welcome my emotions — while observing what they are.
My reaction to the news begins almost immediately during a lead story about a Washington politician. First I notice my reaction — it’s disgust and it’s pretty strong.
Disgust is obviously in my closet of options. Good to know.
OK, let me see how disgust feels. Where does it show up in my body?
Well, I must say, I don’t usually stop to notice how disgust feels in my body!
FEEL: Disgust feels pretty bad, actually. My heart tightens. My lungs are a bit scrunched. My stomach doesn’t feel relaxed.
THINK: I wonder to myself if this has anything to do with the development of health issues such as high blood pressure, heart issues, or indigestion…yeah, probably…
DO: The only thing I do about what I’m noticing is that I make notes. No need to change anything, just notice. Pay attention. There is nothing wrong here. There is only me noting what I’m doing and the results of what I’m doing. I’m becoming aware of what’s in my “closet.”
I don’t get on Facebook and say, “Did you hear that so and so did such and such…” I don’t email my friend who would agree with me. I don’t mull it over, fume about it, wondering how to combat this politician who is clearly doing everything wrong, according to me.
I’m just noticing. That’s my only assignment. I’m at the hub of my wheel of life and my job is to notice what’s happening at the hub.
As I continue to watch the news, I also experience fear, frustration, skepticism, worry, suspicion and a little flare of anger. The final story is a happy one, and I experience joy and hope.
I make notes in my little notebook. “Evening news. Disgust toward ____(certain decision). Fear about ___. Frustration toward ___.”
And so on. I list them. All of these things are hanging in my closet.
Experiment #2: Now I’m at the grocery store. I can’t seem to find my list. I was so sure I put it in my purse. What were those things I wanted? Gosh, I know I need at least five pantry items for guests coming. I don’t have time to make two trips to the store.
I begin to feel frustrated, slightly bad, with a little extra judgment and self-criticism. When things aren’t going efficiently, I see that I react (even momentarily) with negative emotion.
The short story? I spend time feeling bad when I think I’ve done something wrong.
OK, I get it. I make an entry in the little notebook I’m carrying in my purse. “Lost grocery list. I’m wrong. Frustration, self-criticism, worry.”
Experiment #3: The next morning, I’m at my computer, writing. I open the window to hear the birds outside in early morning. The chorus is beautiful. Many sounds, many birds. The wood thrush is having a heyday with his song, and other song birds are joining in. Along comes a flock of noisy crows — caw, caw, caw. It’s not my favorite sound and I hope the crows go away soon.
Ahh! Another reaction, isn’t it? It’s teeny tiny, but good for me, I noticed it. I noticed that I’m playing god, really, thinking that I know better than the birds what the birds should be doing.
In my notebook: “Crows cawing. I know better. They should stop.”
Managing the bird universe seems to be hanging in my closet. More generally, what’s hanging in my closet is “managing others” or “knowing what’s best for others.” Again, good to know.
I’VE OBSERVED. NOW WHAT?
Eventually, I may be able to remove a response from my repertoire. And maybe as I learn and change, I’ll feel more naturally confident, loving, and authentic. I’ll get there. Right now I’m on step one. I’m learning about myself and where I am now.
In the coming days, I spend many moments in observation, and I see so much about myself! What I think (about myself or others), how I react (to a homeless person asking for money), how I feel (as I walk up the hill, what I typically think about as I walk).
That’s my starting gate to great love, fun love, happier love — I observe myself.
What do I notice? What do I Observe about me? How does it feel?
When I make notes about what’s now in my closet, I realize “I have that” but I AM NOT THAT. It’s just something that’s hanging in my closet now. Soon, I can focus on what to keep and what to give away.