May 17, 2010

Imagining Expansiveness

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print by William Dohman on Etsy

I am learning how to decorate, and it’s not skill that comes naturally. For someone so drawn to beautiful things, with strong opinions about lighting and furniture shapes, you’d think this would be a snap. But there’s some aesthetic intelligence that’s not native to me. It’s related to the way my dad could pack the trunk on a camping trip so compactly, but with a dash of the artistic eye thrown in. It’s about putting disparate pieces together in space and making them cohere. And then somehow, also managing to make it beautiful. People who have this intelligence astonish and inspire (and, okay, intimidate) me.

When I was in IKEA recenlty, getting pulled in 1,000 different pretty directions, my mom offered up some helpful advice. “What’s the mood you’re trying to create?” Spatial relationships might not be my forte, but moods I get. Knowing that I wanted my bedroom to be airy and relaxing helped me nix items that, though beautiful, didn’t jive with the feeling I was after.

This is not unlike my friend’s Alison’s advice to shop for clothes with code words in mind. Instead of feeling utterly overwhelmed at Anthropologie, I now go through a somewhat ridiculous-feeling yet effective mental exercise as I hold up an item. Is this chic? Does it seem like something Anna Karina would wear? Is it a little tough? Does it have a vintage vibe?

And this leads me to the real topic at hand: envisioning one’s ideal life. This is a daydream game I have long loved to play, but I consider it to be more vital than idle imaginings. Because if you don’t know what your ideal life looks like, how will you begin to create it? And how will you recognize your own triumphs when you get important pieces to fall into place?

Here are some pieces of mine: I imagine sunlight and white bedding, mornings spent writing, colorful latte bowls, and dinners with friends. By many accounts, I have a lot of what I have always been after. But something is also amiss.

There’s a feeling that infuses my vision, and it’s one I’m still trying to create. It’s a feeling I pin down into one word and come back to again and again. I want a feeling of expansiveness: in my home, in my days, and most of all, in my mind. In the past week, I’ve shared this word with confidants in a basement bar and small, sunny second-story office. Each time, the word gets a deep exhale or intake of breath: what a great word, they say.

In the same way that I could eschew dark, playful fabrics at IKEA when I realized they didn’t fit my desired bedroom mood, I feel kind of liberated by my word (as grand and otherworldly as the word itself may sound). We talked last week about expectations — how sometimes when you get what you want it doesn’t always look how you thought it would. But maybe if we set out after a feeling, community or creativity or even expansiveness, we could better fulfill our expectations. If we were to cater the details in our life — the people, places, activities and things — to achieve a mood rather than a look, maybe we’d be creating a more meaningful vision of our ideal lives, one that we could feel and sense as we live inside it.

I asked myself last week what brings me that feeling of expansiveness. Writing, being in nature, and sitting quietly all do it. Sometimes, even, rhapsodizing with a friend in a basement bar does it. And the reason I’m going on and on about this is that I really take this creation-of-the-ideal-life business seriously. I really believe in the power of looking at our lives, seeing what’s working, making alterations, and looking again. In other words, I want to spend more time doing the things that make my life feel expansive, and less time occupied with what leaves me anxious, harried, and defeated. And I’m not entirely sure why I feel the need to share this here, if nothing other than to be able to ask you the very same thing: Do you dream up visions of your ideal life? Do you write them out or use visuals? Do you have a mood that you’re after, like my expansiveness? And how do you go about creating it?

Big questions for a Monday afternoon, I know. But let’s roll with it.

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Comments

  • Margarita: I absolutely love this. It’s cleared my head immensely – I have been doing a whole life changing thing this past year – with everything from things I do, habits, eating and movement – but I really want to create a life and have been struggling and grasping with words and images trying to figure out what I’m really trying to create.

    A MOOD.

    I think as long as I keep going with the feeling or mood that I want, I’ll be okay. Perfect!4 years ago

  • Samantha Angela @ Bikini Birthday: I am trying to redecorate my basement and am overwhelmed by all the looks I could possibly create.

    I like your mom’s tip of picking a mood that you want for the room.

    Now, if only I can decide on a mood . . .4 years ago

  • Julia (Color Me Green): this is such a thoughtful post. i really love your inquiries into ideal life lately. i’m having trouble figuring out what my ideal life would be and whether i am close or far from it…i can’t tell if i am bored with my life or if i really do like it after all; if it only needs small adjustments or grand leaps to fix it.

    in any case, it would be ideal to design a life that minimizes anxieties as you say!4 years ago

  • Sasa: Sarah, what a beautiful and insightful post! I love this re mood: “one that we could feel and sense as we live inside it.”
    I agree with your friends, “expansive” is a great mood to aim for…I think my ideal life involves a lot of the same things as yours: a lovely calm bedroom, friends at dinner and writing. It also has the sea, walking in the forest and love and security in that love.
    I’m not sure what the word that encapsulates the mood is but I’m going to keep thinking about it.
    This year I wrote a few things I want to achieve on a virtual post-it (it’s a Mac widget) and put it on my computer screen and lo! so many of the things have been achieved. Writing and revisiting your writing really is a great tool to help create the life you want.4 years ago

  • Kim: I’ve been going for cozy and simple, eclectic. I want to have a home filled with things that are meaningful, useful and reflect the fullness of my life so far. Walls full of pictures of my children, a kitchen full of hand-me-down gear, baskets of toys that encourage creativity in my kids, a yard brimming with clusters and varieties, a wilderness.

    That’s to say I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately, too, and I seem to be drawn to the opposite of expansiveness right now. But I do love your visions.4 years ago

  • Ruth@GraceLaced: I like to listen to the words I say most. What things come out of my mouth most often. What I say most often reflects the condition of my heart, so I like to take inventory. So, in terms of making goals, I find that I think about what I want to be speaking or thinking, rather than what I’ll be doing in 10 years. I want to BE someone I admire in 10 years, and that may or may include my big list of hopes and dreams. Does any of that make sense?4 years ago

  • Christine: I was pleasantly surprised when reading this to see that I am not the only person who spends time “visualizing” her ideal life. I too believe that its important to take a step back every once in a while to reflect on the state of my life: does my vision for my ideal life still make sense for where I am right now? Am I living in a way that will help me achieve all I want to?

    For me I think this comes from a) being an intensive planner by nature and b) being young I am always looking ahead.

    I once read something (the name of the author escapes me), but it had to do with creating a “vision board” (I think that was the name), which is like an inspiration board. You collect images of places, occupations, clothing, food, homes etc that reflect what you imagine you ideal life to be like. Once complete it becomes a source of inspiration you can look at every day to remind yourself of what you are striving for.

    A little cheesy, but I’m often tempted to do something like this. I bet it would work for trying to capture the look you are going for in decorating a room as well. :) 4 years ago

  • BB: I love the idea of holding onto a vision or mood as you develop your wardrobe or decorate a room. It’s so easy to get distracted in a store full of pretty things and forget how you will piece it together into something cohesive and beautiful.

    Now if I could just figure out how to integrate my husband’s ugly couch into that vision…4 years ago

  • Margaret: It’s from Barbara Sher and she is fantastic! She’s great for doing exactly what Sarah is already doing- visualizing, taking stock, and taking steps to achive what you really need to love your life. I should revisit her book Wishcraft, come to think of it.4 years ago

  • Poppy: Sarah. This is helpful to the utmost. In a career workshop recently, I was asked to browse magazines and make a collage reflecting my ideal work setting or job. I made an explosion of gardens, nature and cloud scapes, work benches, jars of homemade pickles and threw in smiling people that looked like family. It was most definitely a response to what I DON’T get in my current job, but also about what I don’t get in my current city. Chicago is not any kind of place for a forest lover. But it seemed so fanciful, and out of reach.
    What I came up with when I read your word, which is a great word, was Earnest, direct effect. I have recently been given a paper shuffling set of duties that my bosses believe is a step up. But it seems each step up to them is a step away from actually doing work. I want the time I spend at work to FEEL like work. The same way I want meaningful tangible products of my down time too!
    Making that collage helped (it’s right here in my office), but your piece, just phrasing the question how you did, is a kick in the keester. In a place of transition, it can seem absolutely hopeless to wait and wait for some possibility to feel right, like they say will happen, especially when every one seems right for a burning few hours. But setting your goggles to one dream setting in particular can clear all the garbage away and bring the do-able components into focus.4 years ago

  • Anne: There is a great book called Creating a Life Worth Living that you might like. I remember the exercises being in some part about visualizing your happiness and then figuring out how to make it a reality. I think this is a useful tool when figuring out “what next?”4 years ago

  • Katie @ cakes, tea and dreams: I love this idea and will definitely be mulling it over some more. Thank you so much for sharing, Sarah.4 years ago

  • Erin: I love this post, Sarah. I was just sharing a detail-rich, expansive vision of a dream life with my husband last weekend. It may not have been the most realistic “thought-dream”, but still, it is useful to keep coming back to the ingredients you feel would make an ideal life.4 years ago

  • Ann: Wonderful, thought-provoking post, Sarah! I’m always thinking about my “ideal” life and home – I think it’s important to write it down so you can realize how much of it you’re already living anyway. Also, the idea of manifesting that mood you’re looking for is much better way of figuring out what it is you really want. Time for a change in perspective for me.4 years ago

  • Mary Beth: Ooh, I love this. First of all I feel the same about decorating my home–I know what I like when I see it but am no natural and making it happen. As far as envisioning the ideal life goes–what a good idea. I imagine that coming back to this question, in times of stress or uncertainty, would be very grounding and guiding. I’m definitely going to give this more thought.4 years ago

  • amber: I never really had the opportunity to decorate my house the way I wanted to when college and then working a crappy job and then dropping everything and going to grad school. Now I have more of a chance, and honestly, I’m a little overwhelmed with all the options. Do I want to go dreamy, romantic, or clean, modern? I admit that I’m afraid of committing to furniture pieces for fear that I will change my mind.
    So I totally feel ya. It’s almost as if it’s easier for me to write about my intentions and dreams than to actually DO them. I love your idea of choosing a word of phrase of description and going with that.
    I can’t wait to get cracking. I feel like making some curtains this minute. Or maybe just browsing Etsy and trying’s Poppy’s idea of a collage!4 years ago

  • Lisa: Being disabled and home bound, the only thing that I have control over “expanding” is my mind. I borrowed your French Friday idea and have turned it into a weekly regional food, wine, cheese and brief education of different world cuisines and cultures. Typically music is involved and occasionally a dress. Last week: Spain. Tonight is Italy with some recipes from the Union Square Cafe.
    We (husband & me) may not be able to have these experiences outside of our home but they give us something to look forward to, which I believe is KEY to homeostasis.
    (ho·me·o·sta·sis  [hoh-mee-uh-stey-sis]
    –noun
    1. the tendency of a system, esp. the physiological system of higher animals, to maintain internal stability, owing to the coordinated response of its parts to any situation or stimulus tending to disturb its normal condition or function.
    2. Psychology. a state of psychological equilibrium obtained when tension or a drive has been reduced or eliminated.4 years ago

  • Karen: What a wonderful and thought provoking post! Thank you so much for sharing. I love the idea of finding words and moods to use when decorating, finding a wardrobe, and especially in creating a life for yourself. It’s easy to picture things you know you like, but fitting them into the right spots can be tricky…narrowing down those key words and ideas would surely help that though!4 years ago

  • Lilly: Simply put the words I’m looking for are: freedom, carefree and energizing. My favorite thing in the world is the sea so I have things to constantly remind me of it.4 years ago

  • Lynne: Wow! Love this post – perfect timing as I am, for the next 6 months, in that pondering stage for creating, designing the life. The words I am looking for are: Wonderment, freedom, authentic, simple and full. I love color, art, beauty, love and pure expression and seasons. Thank you for igniting the ponder.4 years ago

  • Krista: Sarah – I have reconnected with your blog after an on-line hiatus and am thrilled to see that your writing is ever clear, clever and inspiring. You truly have a gift for making a thought/idea resonate with a reader… well done, as ever.4 years ago

  • evontameca: I love gilded, ornate, mirrors and have been able to collect a few. I envision stair runners, complete with brass rods. But all in all, my ideal look would be neo-classical- ecclectic. Oh, and here’s an easy way to perhaps find (or unfind) the mood you’re trying to create… watch Selling New York. I’m a recent fan. The apartments they showcase go anywhere from ultra modern-chic to having a very classic look and mood. I love it.4 years ago

  • Kristine: Wow! You totally captured (again!) what I’ve been thinking about lately. I need to sit and think about he life I want to be creating rather than just coasting, but I love the idea of expansiveness as well, along with copious amounts of those toffee graham cracker bars. Yummy!4 years ago

  • My Dream Home…: [...] I want all of that too! You get confused with what you like and what you really want and then I read this blog post at Pink of Perfection and it kind of clicked – figure out what mood you want your life to set and the rest will [...]1 year ago

  • When Senses Slide Wide Open « Pink of Perfection: [...] When I think back on my trip, now already growing smaller as weeks pass, I think of a few things. The warm, clean design I so love and the golden light in winter windows; the space that cushioned my life so that I could see with a new gratitude and love what, or rather who, was right in front of me; and that wonderful wide-eyed sense of freedom. It’s either a relative or another word for one of my most beloved feelings on earth: expansiveness. [...]1 year ago

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We live only to discover beauty. All else is a form of waiting.
- Khalil Gibran