When I was little (around 4 or so) I dug up a section of tulip bulbs my parents had planted around the edge of our circle driveway. I think I was on some kind of treasure hunt, like I would find magic beans in the ground or something, and I remember that when they noticed what I was doing, it didn’t sit well. What I learned from the bean hunting was a) don’t dig up bulbs and b) don’t make a mess.
Flash forward a year or so later to my pink bathroom…and when I say pink, I mean 1970’s pink tub, toilet, pink painted walls and the very large potted plant that was supposed to stay on the landing at the top of our stairs. Apparently it wasn’t enough to dig things up outside, I needed to do the digging inside. So I set out to repot the plant (which I’d somehow dragged up three steps, through my bedroom, and into the bathroom – all without spilling it). The repotting destination was the bathtub. I knew without a doubt I could do this and more importantly I knew I could do it without making a mess. I was confident. I (thought I) was quiet. I was making great progress until my mom walked in.
My mom says now that’s the only time she almost cried about something I did when I was little and apparently my definition of “not making a mess” was diabolically opposed to hers. And in the end, the bathroom got cleaned up, the plant was repotted in its container (it never quite made it into the bathtub thankfully – the dirt on the other hand…), and I learned that digging in the dirt should never ever be done inside (and apparently only done outside under parental supervision until the age of 10). In other words, because I hadn’t learned it the first time with the tulip bulbs, messes were generally bad and not to be made.
As an adult, life is still messy. It’s unavoidable. Sometimes we make messes ourselves – some on purpose, many not – and sometimes we find ourselves inadvertently in messes we never saw coming. Most of the time messes are thought of negatively, or else we wouldn’t be calling them “messes” to start with, but by shifting our perspective we can look at messes differently. Here are three ways to approach messiness from a positive perspective:
Messes reveal hidden wisdom. Much like I thought I might find magic beans in the form of tulip bulbs, being messy, trying new things, or having something go wildly off course can cause you to have an aha moment or even discover things about yourself (and others) that you never knew. How you use what you’ve learned is up to you but sometimes being forced to spend your time and energy on something you hadn’t planned to deal with can sharpen your awareness and lead to new insights.
Messes reveal your values and perspective. Having to take time to clean something up, literally or figuratively, immediately puts you in touch with your values. The more fired up you are about something, the more it’s probably either a deep passion or in big conflict with what you value. Notice those feelings and ask yourself how honoring those feelings can keep you out of a similar mess next time. Your perspective about what constitutes a mess and how you approach fixing the situation will also be revealed as you go through the clean-up phase so notice how you look at the situation and how others may view it differently.
Messes brings out strengths you may not know you had. People lose jobs, get evicted, become hurt, or fall ill. Mother Nature wreaks havoc on neighborhoods; the power goes out, trees fall through roofs, and lives are upended. These are all things that cause pain, suffering, and upheaval on several levels. They’re also where we often see people come together to help one another, and where we see people who could fall into playing the victim rise above their situation and decide to be victors instead. When situations and circumstances force us to, we can choose to focus on the bad, or we can choose to focus on how to move forward, one small step at a time. It’s always our choice and that choice often allows us to bring forth a will we didn’t know we had inside us.
I still dig in the dirt, just not in my bathroom. I still try to do things in my house (that are not dirt related) that I just know I can pull off and that instead result in at least ten minutes of clean up time. Making messes is something we do, sometimes gleefully, sometimes accidentally. It’s how we learn from our messes and how we look at them that make the difference. So the next time you find yourself in a State of Mess remember to shift your perspective and see what you can learn.