This post is part 1 of a 4-part series on fulfillment. Find part 2 here.
You may be familiar with Marie Kondo’s KonMari method for clearing clutter and how she reminds us to ask ourselves if an object sparks joy when we’re deciding if we should part with it or not. Her goal with this question is to invite us to be more conscious of the items we accumulate by redirecting our attention from the object itself to what the object means to us.
The concept I’m going to explain in this post works in a similar way and can be applied to far more than simply de-cluttering or paring down our possessions. What Marie Kondo is asking us to do is to focus on the intrinsic value or essence quality of a possession. But essence is a concept that can also help you determine what you want in all areas of your life in order find meaning in your experience and feel more fulfilled.
Essence is the fulfilling feeling that things we value bring to us. The thing itself is the form. Essence is the deeper significance or the feeling-experience that a particular form holds for you.
Let’s take a wooden spoon as a simple example of the form. The spoon is obviously an object, but what is its intrinsic value beyond allowing you to stir something? Well, even if you’re not an avid cook, you probably find wooden spoons practical because they don’t get hot like metal ones do and won’t scratch the surface of your non-stick pans. They not only feel comfortable in your hand, some can be quite beautiful, and they are definitely more environmentally friendly than spoons made from other materials.
The best example of essence I can give you from my own life is the gallery of photographs of my children on the walls of my home. The photos themselves and the frames they’re in—the form—aren’t what make me value them. What brings me essence is the way I feel when I look at them, recalling the moments they capture, the love I feel for my daughters and the enjoyment those memories bring to me. I also feel blessed to have these amazing young women in my life.
To bring more essence into your life, focus on the small and immediate.
An experience doesn’t have to be major or enthralling to bring you essence in spades. A walk out to the mailbox on a summer day when the weather is just perfect can be enough to bring you a feeling of deep contentment and enjoyment. And when life feels mundane or boring, a focus on the essence you already have can help your life feel more meaningful.
When you make a point of noticing a hummingbird zoom past your window, you might feel more connection to Nature. Or maybe essence comes from that biweekly phone call with a close friend who is always a lot of fun, and also fills you with a sense of belonging.
Discovery is likely an important essence if you enjoy trying new varieties of vegetables or flowers in your garden.
In a previous post, I talked about how essence can help keep you grounded during especially difficult times. When you undergo challenging periods, a focus on the essence in the little things can help bring balance and perspective to painful experiences. For example, you can focus on the kindness a healthcare worker showed when you were going through a health challenge. You can take pleasure in the flowers well-wishers sent you and notice all the affection that went into their efforts on your behalf.
Look for the essences that are in your life right now. Start small and keep it simple.
First, identify the essences that are most important to you. I’ve provided a list here to help you get started, as well as a mindfulness activity to help you focus on the essence qualities you already have in your life.
What essences are important to you?
To determine the essence qualities that matter most to you, ask yourself:
- What are the things I love having in my life?
- What are the essence qualities of these things?
For example, if you love the quilt your grandmother made for you, what is it about the quilt that makes it so essence rich? Most likely, it’s about recalling your relationship with her. Was it her unconditional love and acceptance? The stability of knowing she was always there? The delight you felt when you spent time with her?
You can also identify an important essence from its absence:
To figure this out, ask yourself:
- Which areas of my life are unrewarding and unsatisfying?
- Which essence qualities are missing from these areas?
Think about a relationship in which you feel unfulfilled. What is missing from that relationship, or what would make you look forward to spending time with that person?
If you dread going into work, what essence would make that dread dissipate or even turn things around so you look forward to your job instead? (Hint: you don’t necessarily need to find another job.)
Once you identify the essences that make life meaningful for you, then you can start looking for small ways to bring those essence qualities into the areas of your life that lack essence.
It may even be that these essences are already present, but you aren’t making a point of putting your attention on them. If you can be more mindful of noticing and appreciating them, you can actually improve your quality of life right now, with just a simple shift in the focus of your attention.
Take good care : )