Rx for Frazzled Minds and Harried Hearts: Contentment Chests and Comfort Drawers

Gradually, as you become curator of your
own contentment you will learn to embrace
the gentle yearnings of your heart.

                                    --Simple Abundance (January 1st)

Remember how glorious life feels on a “good” day?  “It is as I imagine waltzing on ice might be. A great delicious sweep in one direction, taking you your full strength, and then with no trouble at all, an equally delicious sweep in the opposite direction,” the sublime Anglo-American playwright and Jungian psychologist Florida Scott-Maxwell reminisced in her marvelous memoir The Measure of My Days which she wrote when she was a mere slip of a girl of 84.  Here was a woman who knew how to wrestle a good day from a week and good years from decades, an art we can all aspire to accomplish and are our musings for this week.

Good days—ah, yes—the delicious sweep in full strength across the ice pond of time and space. How do we number them? Hmmm…Has it been that long for you, too, ma Chérie?  Well, on a good day you wake up refreshed, your hair behaves beautifully, your clothes are comfortably looser, all the lights are green, you’re early for every appointment, there are no lines, always a parking space, deadlines are met with ease. Checks arrive in the mail. Children, lovers and pets, all adorable.  Compliments abound. Dinner, from leftovers, is scrumptious, inexpensive and served forth with gusto; the discount wine sips like a grand cru, there’s a new riveting English mystery or period drama to watch. Everyone nestles snug in their bed. A quiet hour. The Gratitude Journal overflows and so do sweet dreams.

A bad day needs no poetic recall because we can’t seem to wake up or escape them.  Bad days begin, in the biblical sense of Job, Jonah or Jacob, after we’ve been tossing and turning to little avail, wrestling with worry and darkness instead of angels.  At least angels leave you with a blessing.  Still, lying awake and fretting about something that you cannot solve by yourself in the middle of the night produces nothing but frustration, bewilderment, despair and exhaustion and drains your three most precious natural resources: time, creative energy and emotion. You don’t have to wait until spring to join the Night’s Watch or the return of the Walking Dead.  You’re miles ahead of them.

So this is what I do to perk up or snap out of it, usually while I’m waiting for the tea to brew. Our minds cannot hold two opposing thoughts at the same time. And one picture of something delightful is better than turning on any 24/7 news feed which is toxic and teetering, no matter who is screaming at whom. We both know this immediately catapults us into upset while we’re still in our pajamas derailing the day quicker than the devil could wish. 

 So I go to a special fabric covered box and I open it. I take a deep breath. Then, I slowly finger its contents.  Inside are all kinds of things that make me happy—clippings from different magazines, cards and letters I’ve saved, matches from wonderful bistros, paint and fabric swatches, photographs, brochures, a rapturous curl of salmon colored silk ribbon.  What’s this? Here’s a travel promotion on heavy stock paper cardboard about great train journeys I hope to go on someday:  The elegantly restored glamorous South African Rovos Rail between Cape Town and Pretoria; the Art Deco Orient Express from London to Venice with stops in Paris, Innsbruck and Verona.  The seven night journey on the shocking pink Golden Chariot from Bangalore to Mysore and the Nagarhole National Park where I shall disembark … oh the kettle’s boiled…

But look, here’s a clipping that reminds me how much I love the idea of slipcovers for dining room chairs, with buttons down the back, like the spine of a Grace Kelly sheath; that vintage 1920s exuberantly colored hankies make fetching fabric bracelets and how a toddler’s blue and white smocked gingham dress from Best & Co (circa 1950) pulled together with a swathe of white silk ribbon makes the most adorable lampshade I’ve ever seen.  I feel better already.  Yes, I feel…dare I say it? Happily Distracted.   Once more reminded there is beauty in the world that personally lights a small candle of hope which makes facing dark moments so much easier.  Not easy, but easier.  Now it’s time to Keep Calm and Pray and have a cup of tea.  

The Contentment Chest grew out of one of Simple Abundance’s basic tools called the Comfort Drawer (March 7th) which was created with the intention to entice us to give Life another chance when we were having “criss-cross” days.   You see every suggestion in SA was originally gleaned as a personal science project—homegrown remedies for frazzled minds and harried hearts to comfort and cheer in my own Research & Development lab. Sweetheart, that’s how I know these remedies work.

The Comfort Drawer ritual is intended to break the cycle of bad days and restless, worrisome nights--that endless stretch somewhere between riding out Life’s unexpected squalls or getting us through “the getting through” stages which take longer than we ever expect. Eventually we begin to view ourselves as little more than work horses, carrying our loved ones safely through their rough patches with soothing words and small treats—then collapsing ourselves for another fitful night.  It’s so easy during tumultuous times to slowly but surely fall under the radar of self-care and then off our To-Do List altogether.  If you’re like me, when women go through challenges and crises, constantly rising to the occasion for others, even the thought of providing comfort for ourselves seems somehow frivolous and indulgent.  Babes in arms, we’ve got to get a grip for ourselves to keep going.

Why is self-nurturing so hard for women?  I’ve been asking myself that question for 25 years, privately and in print—and it’s still the most difficult challenge I’ve ever come up against.  I think if we start calling it “self-preservation”, we’d take self-care more seriously, because once you do start caring for yourself, the levees break, and a whole lot of shaking starts going on for a whole lot of other people.  However, if we want to begin writing our memoirs  at 84 like Florida Scott-Maxwell’s “one woman’s vivid, enduring celebration of life and aging” or be closing a Parisian runway show as the incomparable, 85-years-fabulous supermodel Carmen Dell’Orefice did for the Chinese couturier Guo Pei last week, then let the self-preservation commence. Let’s all to aspire to this Grand Swell Dame advice: “I’m going for 105, then I’ll see if I want to change professions.”  

Model Carmen Dell’Orefice at the January 2017 Guo Pei fashion show

Model Carmen Dell’Orefice at the January 2017 Guo Pei fashion show

For those readers, both cherished and/or new to the magic of Simple Abundance secrets, how about a little refresher?  Find one dresser drawer or pretty fabric covered storage boxes in which you can stockpile small indulgences.  Usually, these small treats are what people give you for your birthday or the holidays but instead of opening them, you keep them for moments when you can really enjoy them. THINK OF THIS AS YOUR SECRET STASH OF SERENITY. Shelves don’t really work because our little treats just spill over and we end-up bestowing them as gifts upon other lucky people to enjoy; and unlidded baskets, well we can’t even go there, my sweet, because that’s how that divinely decadent L’Occitane en Provence indulgent hand crème set ended up hidden under mismatched hand towels until you moved.

Like the time honored no fail-tradition of filling a Christmas stocking with “Something to eat, something to read, something to play with, and something they need,” here’s a simple Comfort Drawer recipe and evening.  Start with a fabulous bath and afterwards include something scrumptious to nibble, some sentimental to conjure up happy memories, something soothing to listen to (or watch), something lovely to sip, something soft to cuddle up in, something fragrant to smell and something delightful to peruse.  

In other words we reach and heal the soul through the senses.  To get you started, think small boxes of chocolate truffles (or diabetic hard candies), miniature (one-serving) fruit cordials or after dinner drinks; a vial of Bach’s Rescue Remedy (a homeopathic flower essence); a velvet herbal sleeping pillow, or aromatherapy pillow spray; a satin eye mask to shut out distractions; different bath oils or gels; a tin of fancy biscuits and a sampler of unusual teas.  Add magazines that you don’t read regularly, new-to-you detective novel, black and white movie DVDs, whatever you fancy but can’t stream and your own Desert Island discs.  Now with a pair of cashmere or angora socks, you’re pretty well set, if not for the next decade then at least the next month.

And the Contentment Chest?  I know that somewhere you have clippings, because most women are inveterate clippers from catalogs, magazines and savers of every piece of paper that’s ever crossed our palms.  We clip because we want to remember something lovely or beautiful or pleasant or intriguing or dream about another way of living, especially if it isn’t practical.  Who knows maybe it will be in the future?  But who cares?  Just looking at it makes us happy right now.  And that’s all that counts right at this moment.  

Women also tear and clip because we want to be organized.  This would be fine if we already had neatly marked filing folders waiting to receive these insights, but women are not organized when we’re worried, especially about money and our futures.  Sadly worries about both have a scurrying, furtive nature.  Our sacred passions and our genuine needs and wants—for security and serenity—become secretive and shameful because we believe if we can’t afford our dreams now, we must snuff them out or hide them.

This week I want you to take fifteen minute snatches (if you have a timer, even better) and just go around the house and find your stash.  If the clippings still don’t register a zing from your heart, toss and start fresh.  Be on the lookout for a pleasing covered, lidded box—Goldilocks size medium—and transform your yearnings into something tangible to soothe your ravished heart and worried mind.  As you collect what makes you happy, one clipping at a time, your capacity to dream begins anew.  As you become thankful for each moment of contentment and write it down to remember, our capacity for comfort grows, as does our capacity to share comfort with others.  The wonderful Melody Beattie reminds us, “Every moment in time we have it all, even when we think we don’t.”  Just shift your focus a few minutes at a time with bookends of Grace and goodness—at the beginning of each day and at the end.  It works wonders.

You’ll amazed when you discover the spiritual reason behind self-preservation.  If it seems like I'm writing about hand crème, Babe, read between the lines and feel how cherished every one of you are to me; it's only because I know for Whom I write, that my passion and purpose becomes a personal prompt to remind you to take care of yourselves (and in reminding you, I'm given a much needed nudge).  For when Heaven whispers to each of us, there are no hands or no feet on earth but yours to be instruments of peace, sowing love where there is hate, faith where there is doubt, hope where there is despair, light where there is darkness and joy to replace sadness, then you'll know you need to take better care of yourself for all of us. (Thank you St. Francis and St. Teresa of Avila for the reminder).

Sending you dearest love, and always from my heart to yours, blessings on our courage.