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Sartori and Functional Happiness

"First, you will understand, then you will understand, and then you will understand again."  

A spiritual teacher gave those words to me  many years ago. They are as true for me now as they were then.

After reading the latest posts on many of the blogs I follow, I noticed that I was not alone in going into the new year with an agenda of clearing and re-organizing my spaces--both home and office / studio. It must be instinctual, to begin a new cycle of time by achieving greater clarity in our physical surroundings.  Which, of course, are never only physical.
I read once that the Japanese language has just one word for both "house" and "person." Unfortunately, the article didn't say what that word is! The concept stayed with me, though, and over the years, I have come to understand it and then understand it again. I've hired organizers to help me clarify my spaces, and I 've read more than one great book on the subject. Two of my favorites are Peter Walsh's It's All Too Much and Pamela Kristan's The Spirit of Getting Organized. Kristan also offers good advice on "sustainable time management." I trust that writers, editors, photographers, designers, or artists of any kind will agree that organizing is harder for us. Organizing, especially for people who create and produce things for a living, cannot be a static, done-one-time affair.

I've certainly gone into organization battle many times. Long a reader of Zen philosophy, I remain aware that "it is the emptiness of the cup which makes it useful," and have known that sartori (enlightenment) can strike like lightning, even as it cannot be bidden to arrive. My lucha has made things better, but I never experienced the sartori moment that might help me reach a state of being the Japanese language describes as "functional happiness."

In the flick of a moment, my adult son channeled the sartori I needed straight into my right ear during a phone conversation on New Year's Day. Still struggling with books and papers, family records, and on and on, I asked him: "Do you think I should add some more shelves to my office (a small room already containing 40 shelves)?" He replied: "If you add more shelves, you're just going to look at the stuff on them and say to yourself, 'Oh, God, I have more shit.'" Pardon the "french (sic)," but it took the four-letter word for the Zen master's rod to strike and awaken my mind.


The next day, somehow, I had a whole new eye for reorganizing with purpose. I set about to edit my space as I would edit a short story or a poem. How could I make it better, clearer, more engaging, more useful? I began by culling books--again--but this time, it felt as though I had dislodged something central. One book decision led to another, and these led to other decisions in other areas. Chief among those decisions was that usage is far more important than storage. I'm organizing things to be used--not stored. For example: the books are no longer alphabetical in order, or organized by size, but by how they relate to my writing and art projects. They are now connected to my life in a physical way that represents how they are connected to my intellectual and creative life. I know, I know, it sounds obvious. Perhaps because it is.  But it is also glorious--sartori is not to be explained.

For once, I feel headed toward true functional happiness. I plan to carry that concept with me into this new year, enjoying the ephiphany of it on this day after Ephiphany. And I wish you and yours great functional happiness in 2011.

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