Dear Suze: 'How Do You Replenish Your Soul?'
Answers to this and other intriguing reader questions.
Well hello! Welcome to this month’s Slightly Wicked Advice column in which Dear Suze responds to reader queries about soul satisfaction and dealing with inlaws. Need advice? Submit your questions anonymously here.) And you’ll find info about our May writing retreat below. Lastly, if you love It’s Not Just You, share it or consider upgrading to paid at our special Spring rate.
How Do You Fill Up Your Soul On a Tuesday Afternoon?
The universe has unexpectedly gifted you an unscheduled hour and a half on a Tuesday afternoon. The dishes need washing, the thank you notes need writing, and you can't remember the last time you swept the hall. Obligations aside, how do you best use this time to fill up your soul?
Dear Tuesday Afternoon,
What a delightful question. I'm not sure whether you're asking because you want ideas for what you could do to fill up your soul, or you'd just like to hear what I do. So I'll give you a bit of both.
I'd like to first consider the phrase "fill up your soul."
To "fill up" implies there's a space or a lack. And with that idea, you've marched directly into my most fearsome and recurrent struggle: the urge to fill up all the blank spaces or to skitter away from them. I'm driven mad by those static interludes during which I can't decide what to say or write or do. So I fill my wary little soul with whatever’s handy. I’ll run off and get a back massage or buy a peanut butter cookie (or two), download a course on how to do hypnosis (because that'll solve everything, right?), or paw around Twitter for something to be enraged about. (Nothing blots out the terror of ambiguity better than anger.)
I could blame the mental hegemony of the internet, or Twitter specifically, or maybe the faults woven into my DNA. But as Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön explains it, this intolerance of uncertainty has been a human vulnerability forever.
We're so desperate to fill in the spaces you'd think those cracks were where our demons sneak in. But it's the other way around. By not running from that unsettling quietude, or an empty heart or afternoon, you make it easier for your wiser, less venal angels to find you. Or at the very least, you can hear them better.
So when you ask how I'd fill up my soul, I know the answer isn't to come up with a wise and intriguing suggestion for an enlightening activity. Rather, it’s to put my ear down close to my soul and listen hard, as poet Anne Sexton put it.
So I'm thinking about times when I simply left the gate open to my spirit without expectations. Like afternoons when I fell into conversations or environments that didn't offer a sure thrill or a lesson or obvious utility. These are the unbounded meadows, not the roller coasters.
Last summer, I took on the F subway one afternoon to the end of the line at Brighton Beach in Brooklyn. It was the closest I could get to traveling abroad. I walked the boardwalk and ate salmon roe without knowing what I was looking for. An epic summer storm stomped through, and I don't think I'll forget standing there as gallons of water poured down on me, watching the lightning dance over the Atlantic and the dome of the Aquarium. (You can see photos here and an essay about that afternoon here on TIME.com.)
I used to travel a bit in the orbits of celebrities and bazillionaires. In those worlds, there was an almost cartoonish quest to fill time, space, and mind with the most exotic or enriching experiences money can bring.
Sometimes I'd get a chance to talk with the essential staff, the stylist or lead scheduler who travels everywhere with the primary luminary. These are the people who visit Planet Very-Wealthy or Planet Famous often but don't live there. They stay in the same absurdly luxe hotels, get escorted from private planes through secret elite-person airport customs entries, and escape the chaos in quiet SUVs. And wherever they arrive, there are always extravagant treats and little gifts laid out to welcome the entourage, like offerings to the gods of influence.
Eventually, though, the firmament is reconfigured, and those jobs end. Then, poof, one day, the regular people go back to their regular-person lives. I wondered whether they regret even knowing what it's like to live in a universe where life's sharp edges are smoothed so efficiently. Some told me they will miss the access, the excitement, and the wild magnifying glass of money that can make huge problems small and small problems seem enormous.
But the insider staff don't necessarily long for that life. Visiting elite worlds can crack open a new sense of possibility, inspiration even. But there's a psychic price for spending too much time in a place where desires are not allowed to lie fallow. It reinforces the illusion that staying full is the goal rather than staying open.
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'I Don't Want To Move To My In-law's Property. Am I being hard-headed?'
My problem is this: My wife's parents are 82 and 78. They live in a somewhat rural area on a 5-acre property. They are now having difficulty living there. My father-in-law refuses to look at Senior Living homes which are maintenance-free because he is the kind of person who will not pay for something he can do.
[They] have asked my wife if we would move into their home and take over the place, with the idea being that they would have a garage apartment or mobile home put there in which they would live. My thoughts are: if I wanted 5 acres to mow, I would have bought it years ago. And if [the property] is too much for my inlaws now, [will] I be in the same situation in 20 years?
I am feeling sad that my wife is acting as if I am crushing her dream. I would gladly allow my inlaws to live with us, but I don't want to take over their place. As a result of having to depend on just my salary, we don't live in a super nice home or neighborhood. My in-laws have been "helping" us with major expenses over the years, even though I never asked for nor wanted the help. I suppose it was a bribe to be paid off now?
Am I being hard-headed or callous?
Need advice? Submit your questions to Dear Suze here.
No, you're not being hard-headed. Your preferences about where to live are no less valid than your wife's. But this is as much a referendum on your marriage as it is a question about where to live.
Say no to the move, and as you suspect, you may well be crushing your wife's dream to live in an area she loves with her parents close by. You'd have to be prepared for her to feel resentful and upset as she tries to manage her parents' affairs from afar. It could be a dealbreaker for her. Would that atmosphere make your life more untenable than moving?
On the flip side, say yes to the move to your inlaw's property, and you'll have to wrangle your own bitterness at leaving a lifestyle that you like.
If you do choose to move to the inlaw's place, it'll be tempting to see every inconvenience through the lens of righteous resentment. I've done that, and it's always hurt me more than anyone. At the very least, it'll be tempting to keep reminding your wife of the sacrifice you made.
But if you do the opposite and say yes with an open heart, you have a chance of finding contentment. The challenge is to tell frame this move as a chance to start over with your wife, not as a loss for you. You could say: 'Hey, I know you love it there, and it's important to be able to care for your parents, as they've been helpful to us, and I want to try it.' And if you're worried about the property upkeep, maybe paying for assistance with that kind of work can be the comprise you ask for.
At the very least, you can say you tried with your whole self, not a grudging little sliver.
Need advice? Submit your questions to Dear Suze here.
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