I just finished a week-long build of a ‘cob’ house. Cob is a method of building walls with a combination of clay, sand, water and straw used around the world for centuries (some of these are still standing). It was an experience. I had never done anything like that in my life and it held several lessons for me. Not only were the instructors generous and understanding, but the participants were varied, interesting and exceptional humans. It gave me much to think about and new ways to look at and understand the mind and the ‘building blocks’ of our lives.
Learning from the Ground Up
I have trouble being a beginner sometimes. I know that you can’t start everything at an advanced level with all the new things that are presented to us daily. When we are good at something, we can be a wonderful resource to others; we can contribute from our experience; and we can also hold ourselves back. Many times, when we have some expertise in a particular field we can ‘know it all’ – and we sometimes forget that there are other ways of doing things that we might not have yet experienced. Sometimes we dismiss other options or opinions from those who lack our experience, or get annoyed by simple questions asked by beginners.
Milan Kundera wrote, “Indeed, the only serious questions are the ones that a child can formulate.” And it’s true – I learned as much or more from my youngest, teen student than I did from my older and ‘wiser’ ones. The questions were different and forced me to use a different part of my know-how and thinking to answer. Many people come for hypnosis because, at some point in their life, they didn’t ask a question, didn’t know what was going on or what to do, and made up a coping mechanism that stopped working at some point in time. It might not be supportive or helpful, but it had the happy warmth of feeling familiar.
Pushing outside of our comfort level, out of the familiar, may not feel great. When you don’t know, there may be some confusion, fear or worry. However, that blank, new sheet of paper that you’re writing another chapter of your life and learning holds so much potential. As I began to learn the basics of building, it followed that we started building from the bottom of the wall, not the top. Go figure.
The Iceberg of Preparation
Just like the submerged majority of an iceberg, much of the work had already been done before we arrived to ‘build’. The foundation was in place, the shower wall (which couldn’t be made out of ‘mud’ for obvious reasons) was built, the wooden framework, electrical, plumbing basics… you get the idea. While the walls we were building would take up most of the look of the end product, the planning that is a little more ‘out of view’ in the final product needed to be impeccable to have this project go forward.
It is the same in the mind. Remember the subconscious doesn’t have a ‘moral’ perspective on what we do, so it really comes down to whether a habitual thought, feeling or action is working for you. So practicing and preparing for something can enhance your ‘ownership’ and confidence. However, this can work against us as well. Have you ever worried about something before it happened – maybe lost sleep, or fretted, or got distracted from others in your life while you pre-planned the outcome? And once it happened, you said to yourself. “Well, that wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.” We can create dreams or nightmares in advance, especially in the world of belief, feelings, and thoughts. So we need to take a step back and figure out what we really want. Would you plant tomato seeds if you wanted pepper plants? Understanding that everything might not go as planned is one thing, but focusing our energies and anticipation, that accompanies our planning, in a more positive way helps us to plant the correct mental seeds for us to grow.
Two Out of Three (or Some Things Take Time?)
One of the instructors said of building houses, “Do you want it cheap, fast, good? Pick two.” I’m not one to sing the Rolling Stones song “You can’t always get what you want…” because I do believe that when we direct our minds, we can often achieve more than we originally thought possible. However, there is sometimes a reality of resources that needs to be considered.
Yet given this ‘problem’, our vastly creative mind can come up with many different solutions. Sometimes when challenged, our heavy-weight champion subconscious mind draws elegant, brilliant connections from other aspects of our lives to come up with new options for the situation at hand. It may not be traditional or even expected, yet great things can come from forcing our minds to work on alternatives and opportunities.
Looking closer at the options of “cheap, fast, good”, sometimes the first impressions are not the same as their longer-term consequences. Have you ever bought something that was a ‘bargain’ that we’ve been paying for ever since? We sometimes need to process the difference between cost and value. Speed is another issue – have you ever taken the back roads which took so much longer than the highway, yet the journey was more pleasurable? Sometimes we need to look at time with a different lens (quality vs quantity, for example). And finally ‘good’ – the ever-present question of what it ‘good enough’. This seems to be a challenge to many. Remember to look at your influences, your early messages and be cautious before you put yourself and your unique combination of attributes, skills and experiences down. They are valuable and so are you.
Built for Humans (or Size Matters)
How much space do you need to live? We’ll start with physical space, but then get into mental and emotion footprints as well. This was a discussion in the pre-planning section of a house build and asked the question about how many people try to fit into their houses as opposed to how houses should fit into their lives. There seems to be a ‘norm’ for how a house should look but does it actually fit? If you don’t cook, do you need a kitchen? Or if that’s your passion, do you have the kitchen you want and need? If you only sleep in your bedroom, what space do you actually need?
Because of the labour intensity of cob building, one considers even the space above the bed to be somewhat unnecessary (unless you regularly jump up and down on top of it). When you are looking at reducing the size of your footprint, design choices come to light as much more important. Which got me thinking… we have a relatively limited time in this existence, how can we design for our best life. This is a mental and emotional space planning as well. Does it mean that we need to say “no” more often about the things that aren’t important to us (but we might have been guilted into it). Something that we’ve put off for ‘someday’ – could we schedule it in before the end of the year? (this might force our subconscious to spring into problem-solving action) If you really thought about this space you’re in, what would you start or stop?
The past is done and we can’t rewind, yet the unfolding song of our life has yet to be played. What’s the tune in your head and how do you plan to dance to it? The greeting card saying still applies, “Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take but by the moments that take our breath away.” Try that on for size.
It takes a village…
Other than building a house with my own hands, something I hadn’t expected to do, it was the group of people I built with that made such a difference in the experience. There were a variety of personalities and perspectives yet there was a common goal and common direction. While we approached the construction from different histories, our time together was one of community and cooperation. We tended to start with areas we felt most comfortable with yet discovered hidden talents and areas where we blossomed and took responsibility for in the process. As I watched our progress grow, I was amazed at the increased speed and enjoyment that bloomed out of working together.
Many people have been taught to ‘do it yourself’ or have been given the message that you should be doing it all, on your own. This week reminded me that asking and giving help not only made the outcome better but also makes the journey much more pleasurable. If you have a strong network of individuals where you give and take regularly, studies say that your resilience to mental and physical ‘bugs’ is much greater. If you don’t, all is not lost. Ask for a hand or an opinion from someone else, give support to others at work, with a volunteer organization. Yet do both – just like breathing, we need to take in as much as we let go. This is a wonderful habit that grows and has innumerable positive side effects.
As for the completion of the sentence, people in cob houses shouldn’t throw mud… it’s heavy… then again, playing in the mud isn’t a bad way to spend your time, sometimes…
Build on, and enjoy,