‘Shed love’

Over the last three months, several people I know have left their organisations unexpectedly with a big fall-out to follow.  The reasons?  Death, disrepute, scapegoating…  The consequences? For those left behind, sadness, grief, discomfort, anxiety, an absence of closure, and perhaps, for some, a feeling of ‘there but for the grace of God go I’.  Also a sudden lessening of ambition.

Whatever happened to people quietly deciding to leave their jobs and move on?  Whatever happened to leaving do’s?  Now I find myself in pre-scheduled work groups, the dates falling unfortunately close on the heels of these sudden departures, with not surprisingly glum, anxious, perplexed people attending, no one feeling very comfortable about acknowledging or in some cases even naming their loss.  I find myself in a different role.  The venues are fitting – one, for example, is called a palace and looks like a prison, with weeds growing all around the neglected building and bars on the windows.

Life has a way of offering balance though, so in parallel with this, I also have recently found myself working with a small group of people who are planning their work and career transitions well, and whose behaviour reflects appropriate respect and care for themselves and others.  When I visit them, I almost have to pinch myself. Am I dreaming?  Are there still places and people like this?  Even the receptionist is beaming and welcoming!  And it’s not a profession I would normally associate with all these qualities.

With a great deal of drama happening outside and around me, I observe myself not feeling attached, which doesn’t mean I don’t empathise or feel the bafflement and raw pain of others at times.

So when two people recently talked to me on separate occasions, both animatedly, about their new sheds, I was myself a little baffled at first.  The first person put up photos on Facebook of her plain-faced shed from various angles, adorned with celebratory bunting, entitled ‘Shed love’.  What was this all about?!  When we met she explained how this new shed had transformed her life.  She now has a space that is hers, ‘a room of one’s own’, and it feels special and gives her another place to be, to reflect, outside the sometimes crowded house.

A few weeks later, another person mentioned he had recently built a shed and that this was a key happening in his life.  Sheds again?! His story was incredibly powerful, he talked about planning, managing and building the shed himself, the pleasure of creating something tangible that was there to see and could be used, with a purpose – a process with a beginning and an end which in this time of limbo and uncertainty is even more reassuring.  In the course of building this shed for his father to use for his metal-working, he had created a space for himself to work in, to be home and yet not home.  And in building the shed himself, he also reconnected with his grandfather who had been a carpenter.  Home, work and family generations all come together in and through the shed.  The shed is symbolic of an integrated life, it’s a vehicle for feeling grounded and connected.  It is a ‘little bit of space’ and shows that he is ‘in a good space’

I now feel much better-inclined towards sheds.  If a shack with a roof can bring such a sense of well-being to people, then it should be celebrated!

My version of a shed is a small summerhouse in the garden which was already here (maybe a summerhouse is just an inflated name for a shed!).  It’s a good space to read and reflect, to have a conversation when the weather outside isn’t quite up to it, and it gives absolutely the most wonderful view for yoga practice, especially when lying down, with its wonderful leafy canopy.

I guess that you could say these two people who built their own sheds are attached to their constructions.  They look upon them with pleasure, fondness, anticipation and expectation.  Their sheds are a refuge from the bad stuff happpening around, and they are symbolic of space and freedom.  Is such an attachment to a material object, a tangible place which opens up the possibilities for space and freedom, a bad thing.

The other day when I was waiting for someone, I made a list of everything that gives me pleasure.  (My ‘shed’ wasn’t on it as this was before my ‘shed epiphany’.)  I just wrote things down, until I dried up:

–    Sun on the hills or fields
–    Being by the ocean
–    What lifts my heart
–    A friendly exchange
–    A stimulating thought
–    A question I can’t answer
–    Someone speaking from their heart
–    Music that is heartfelt
–    Something unaffected
–    Ambiguity
–    Something unexpected – synchronicity

This all came quite quickly and effortlessly.  Then I wondered, am I attached to what gives me pleasure?  If attachment is the expectation of pleasure, it may be that when I anticipate some of these things and simultaneously remember the pleasure they may offer and have offered in the past, I am attached to them.  It is the memories I have of how they make me feel that creates the attachment.  And I am not often disappointed in the reinforcement each present impression makes, which makes the anticipation of pleasure and the attachment even stronger.

Why do we have attachments and what are we avoiding in holding on to them, and sometimes so fiercely?  If you look at the nature of your attachments and go beneath their surface, you may discover what insights they offer.  What are you seeking to heal or reconcile through the attachment, and what are you seeking to avoid?  Exploring the attachment to views of oneself can be particularly fruitful I find.

There is a certain art to expecting the unexpected.  I know it will happen (like the magic of the well), I just don’t know when, although once you’re open to it, it’s actually quite often.  So I’m not surprised by it, I just observe it when it happens and let it unfold.  I think I have a healthy relationship with it – but am I kidding myself?  Is being attached to the unexpected really being a bit of a thrill-seeker, caught up in a pattern of response?  Why do I need to feel this connection through unpredictability, that makes me feel so alive?

Everytime I think I shed an attachment, I discover another layer.  Maybe that’s just being human.  Yet having the attachment may be self-reaffirming when the pleasure is reinforced, but it also leaves you vulnerable to feeling undermined and even lost at sea when the pleasure is not confirmed or even withheld.  Even sheds get woodworm.  The only other immediate option is pain – until you learn how to be healthily attached, how to be able to let go but still be there.

I find myself talking to people whose attachment to enjoyment/pleasure/security….has reversed.  The rug has been pulled out from under their feet so to speak, and they have moved from pleasure to pain.  Each state is equally one of bondage, only when we’re in the pleasure bit of the cycle we don’t see it that way.  It’s delightful.  We just want it to continue indefinitely – maybe forever.  The cycle of pleasure and pain is a kind of human bondage, the two are inextricably linked;  and every time we step out of a cycle, another revolution reinstates itself.

Is this because we are bred into a reward/punishment mentality?  I was recently reminded of Stephen Covey’s thinking about effective interactions and how there are, broadly speaking, two types of groups, the earliest type of group experience of course being the family.  Most of us grow up conditioned to be in a reward/punishment framework, eg ‘if you eat your dinner, then you can watch television’, ‘if you don’t finish your homework, you can’t go out this weekend’ etc.  Many of us never get out of this type of interaction and so we go on to live life as adults really still in the Parent/Child mode.

Why are we so attached to the Parent-Child mode when it is inherently constraining of ourselves and our relationships?  It is yet another iteration of the pleasure-pain cycle, a form of bondage. It leads to adversity and non-productive drama.  We see this in everyday relationships, in domestic life, in organisations, and in and between nations. Is it because it’s familiar, it’s easier?  It’s about blame rather than responsibility – echoes of that phrase the ‘feral underclass’.  And why is it such a struggle to move out of it? Just because it’s familiar?

There is a different place to be where the interaction is not about punishment or reward but more about a genuine exchange of views and feelings, with well-being, honesty, empathy, equality and other such values at its heart.  This could be an item on my list of what gives me pleasure.  Yet is this vision of human interactions just another (unrealised) attachment?  Is wanting any outcome attachment?

Is all attachment negative?  I was interested to read this description of positive attachment which is differentiated from the emotional bondage of negative attachment: ‘Be positively attached. Live that inspiration which you have imbibed         and do not look for a physical connection. Closeness does not mean anything.         It is what you can give and not what you can receive that is important.’  ‘…we all have some ability, and it is the positive expression of that ability which takes us high up in life.  We have also received inspiration in our own ways, according to our mentality and receptivity, and it is time that we used that inspiration and ability.’  (www.yogamag.net/archives/1997/djuly97/posatgu.shtml)

Positive attachment is not about being attached to something outside of yourself, it is contributing your own power and ability to the world and making a difference.  You cannot empower without having power yourself.  So it is not solipsistic and self-engrossed, it is self-centered (in a non-egoistic way) so that you can be in and of the world – like a tree whose roots give them the stability and certainty to branch out.

Going back to ‘shed love’, my friends are positively attached to their sheds because these structures give them a space to get in touch with who they are and be positively attached, to be rooted like a lotus leaf.

‘A lotus is born in water and lives in water and yet it remains absolutely free from the effects of water.’

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25 Responses to ‘Shed love’

  1. Chris says:

    I love this. Having seen the title the last thing I thought about was wooden constructions in the garden. They say that one of the Oxford (?) colleges sets one of its really esoteric exams in the form of single word questions such as “Why?”. I wonder what Karin would have got if she’d set us the two-word equivalent “Shed love”?

  2. Cicero says:

    Miserable departures. A couple of observations. Having worked in both the public and private sectors for many years in various jobs there is no doubt that the public sector is far more cruel and unpleasant, than the private sector, when dealing with people. I have been truly horrified at the thoughtless and callous conduct of HR in the public sector. They would have loaded the trucks for the gas chambers without demur.

    I have fired people in both environments in my time and had my managers do the same- but always with the same imperative to treat the departing person with dignity. And have a leaving do if at all possible.(This is not always possible if you have inadvertently hired a nutter).

    Always remember those of us who live by the sword will one day die by it-and you want your executioner to have good manners and a sharp blade.

    I have been fired from both the public and private sectors (who hasn’t ?)and the experience was hugely more pleasurable in the private sector. Both were very lucrative experiences but the quality of the leaving does in the private sectors were more generous and better fun. And it was very apparent in the public sector that the senior people doing the firing were terrified. There was I , mentally counting the money, while they were wetting themselves lest they invoked a legal action. Whereas in the private sector we both had proper lawyers acting and then had a drink.

    Ill manners and insensitivity are usually marks of the weak who have been overpromoted. (Beware the ambitious for they should never be afforded power).

    Sheds of course are important because they are a rare opportunity to create something oneself in a world where so little can be self determined.

    • Karin says:

      I haven’t.

      Michael, as you repeat the point about HR in public sector, so do I; I have some good friends and people I admire who work in HR in the public sector. Risky to generalise based on specific experience.

      Your views, as ever, are controversial.

      • Chris says:

        I’ve never been fired. But I have fired people in the private sector, where in my industry the rules meant that you went that day. It was always done, as far as I could see, with consideration for the departing person’s feelings. Possibly because you might be the one on the other side of the conversation the next day. It was a job where you never kept more at work then you could carry home in a single bag.

        I’d hate to think that Michael is right – that it is so black and white as between the private and public sectors. Surely there are good and bad eggs in every basket?


      • Karin says:

        Thanks for your measured words, Chris. Of course it isn’t that black and white, is anything? However, the public sector struggles to ‘fire’ anyone, especially promptly, as Michael well knows, which is also a mixed blessing. I have seen the effort to release someone who isn’t up to a job take years literally, some people can play the system in that time, and also some people who actually would be relieved to be let go but maybe can’t yet see it are kept hanging on in pain for a long time.

        While this line of discussion is not the core of what my post is about, it does demonstrate the power of attachment even in situations where cognitively the goal/desire is to let go.

        I am though really interested to know what your answer is to ‘Shed love’?

  3. Madhu Sameer says:

    About the last part, attachment shares its origins with addiction. The difference is simply of the degree, but we tend not to see it that way, 🙂

  4. Karin says:

    Thanks, Madhu. Of course we prefer not to see it that way! 🙂

  5. Chris says:

    Continuing the Michael/Karin/Chris conversation (since the system doesn’t want to give me a reply option in the right place) :-

    I think it is so cruel to let people struggle on. If they are deemed to be failing you can bet they know it whether it is a fair judgement or not and if the end is inevitable the sooner the better so that they can get on with their lives and someone who can do the job more satisfactorily can get started.

    My proposition was Shed Love without the Why – though I may tackle that one later. First thoughts on the original brief: Somewhat tongue in cheek.

    Shed love. Can you ever do that? Shedding something is about casting it off, maybe sloughing it like a snake does a skin, wriggling out and shaking free. Can anything as deep as love be shed in that way? I could maybe shed affection, or liking or lesser emotions even possibly addiction, but love? No – for me that is a word that describes something too deeply ingrained, too basic, too permanent – something that cannot be shed. I’d say that if you can shed it then it isn’t love.

    Or maybe we are thinking about loving a shed – a wooden construction in the corner of the garden. We may like the appearance of a shed – its shape, colour, conformation. We may enjoy the feelings of peace and freedom we get when we enter that space, which is maybe the only respite from a busy home. Maybe it’s a den where we can enjoy a hobby, maybe its tidy storage appeals to us. But love it? I think not.

    Or perhaps we have inadvertently stumbled on a romantic but illicit liaison which takes place among the flower pots and the drying onions. The lady of the house and the gardener’s boy entwined in rapture.

  6. souldipper says:

    I too adore simplicity. My house is too big if I have to unplug/replug my vacuum more than twice to vacuum the whole place. The simplicity keeps me open to hearing the planet’s heartbeat and rhythm. It keeps me in healthy priorities and relationships.

    • Karin says:

      Are you equating ‘shed love’ with simplicity? Or is that ‘shed life’?! One can carry one’s inner complexity into a small external space of course…I like your points about the relationship between simplicity, openness, healthy priorities and relationships.

      On another wider note, I am intrigued by where people are going in their comments to this post. The core is about attachment, most comments don’t seem to want to go there!

  7. Chris says:

    Triggered by Souldipper’s comments I wonder whether one of the attractions of a shed may be its size. You rarely get huge sheds. As I look despairingly at the amount of maintenance and housework my large old rambling house requires (and doesn’t get) a shed seems so manageable, so within the scope of what I can control, so able to be knocked down and replaced if it deteriorates. So much of my life falls outside those criteria. Since Karin pointed our thoughts this way I find myself eyeing our litte ramshackle blue shed crammed with things we no longer use or want but to which we seem incomprehensively attached. I get the feeling that ruthless destruction there followed by a new shed managed under different rules might feel like a springclean of my mind.

    • Karin says:

      I like your comment(s) Chris. I think a key point is ‘managed under different rules’ and also, I would want to add, ‘under regular review’. So easy to repeat old patterns under a new guise.

  8. Chris says:

    No! Regular review turns the shed into an extension of the house. Something to be cleaned and tidied. Let it run riot and then enjoy purging it again a few years down the track.

    That thought does make me wonder whether the undeniable attraction of sheds is less about attachment than it is about detachment. We feel attached to them because they offer us detachment from other parts of our lives.

  9. I like the concept of healthy attachment!

  10. Susan says:

    On ‘shed love’ – I indeed longed for my own shed when I was a child and used to watch my dad do wood work in the little shed in our back garden. We called it a ‘cree’ which is Durham dialect with Norse origins I think and I love the word. I have recently achieved a shed of my own and am delighted with it. It has a sofa and table and a few chairs, three windows and a cedar clad roof. I sit in it and do, well, nothing much. I haven’t quite got the gist of what I will use it for yet, but am very happy it is here and always feel very calm when I am in there with a cup if tea.

    As if to illustrate the power of the nostaligia of the shed, my husband has rushed to buy a wood vice and set it up in the shed to replicate the set up that both of our dads had, but I am not sure that he will use it. And I am rather miffed to have my own shed appropriated in this way.

    Roald Dahl and George Bernard Shaw wrote in their sheds, so I might just start writing there in the old fashioned way with a pen and paper!

    • Karin says:

      Hi Susan,
      ‘Cree’ is a wonderful word…and the start of cre-ate! I did read about Roald Dahl’s shed last week (on Facebook!) and thought of putting a link here. Sheds are creative places, I think, in all sorts of ways. And the way they connect people with their pasts and futures is interesting too.

      Sitting and being in your shed is a great use for it. How many places do we have where we feel we can just sit and be?

      Thanks for your comments. Nice to read you here.

      • Susan says:

        I have not thought as cree as cre-a-tive – how appropriate. Other wonderful words from my childhood are: gully, ket, loddon, cracket, gadgey and spuggy. My kids use them now as I have introduced them into our family vocab. I like the way that language connects my grandfather, who was a proper Durham miner and his great grandsons who are Londoners.

        About sitting and being, there is something compelling about the security and intimacy of small spaces. We used to have a very small spare bedroom, big enough to fit only an elaborate iron victorian bed stead and rather lumpy mattress. But we all loved that room and used to sneak in there to read. The cat loved it too and would stretch out and have afternoon-long snoozes in there.

      • Karin says:

        Hi Susan, I love these words from your childhood, they are so guttural and visceral, they feel really earthy. As if they were excavated from underground! It is fantastic the way the language connects you and your family with your heritage/lineage.
        I also agree with what you say about small spaces and how reassuring they are – perhaps a return to the womb. I used to love playing indoors on the very occasional rainy days we had in LA as a child, and my mother would create a kind of tent for me to play in which was really cosy. I like small spaces and there is something especially inviting about a small garden, well-tended, which you can see into but can’t enter……I had that experience this weekend.
        I am really enjoying your comments, they are so evocative of things past and present.

  11. Chris says:

    Oh Susan, you make me envious! We have been perfectly happy with our old shed (used as a rubbish store) for 20 years and have felt no need for a more leisure-oriented one but there is now much talk of “our new shed” – which seems to have become a given without formal consultation since Karin posted Shed Love.

    And in answer to Karin’s question about where we can sit and be the answer increasingly in my case is my bed. This has become something akin to an indoor shed, gradually morphing from somewhere I went when I was ready to sleep into a full-on 24/7 personal living area. I remember reading many years ago in a book (called, I think, Anybody Can Do Anything by Betty somebody ???) about a grandmother who practically lived in her bed and would produce all sorts of unlikely things from under the pillows or the sheets. I fear I am heading that way.

    • Karin says:

      Hi Chris, I know you won’t mind if I disagree with you. For me the image of living in a bed is not what I meant by a place to sit and be. Perhaps I feel this strongly as I have seen what happens when someone becomes bedridden and the bed becomes like a prison in which the person atrophies physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.
      I was thinking of the shed as a positive choice – somewhere to go where the demands of life can be suspended, a space just to be. In that space you can rediscover who you are and that replenishes you to go out and be and do, back in the world with all its demands.

  12. Susan says:

    Imagine – a bed in a shed…..bliss!

  13. Chris says:

    Hi again Karin,

    I know what you mean about people retreating to bed to live there and eventually die there. But my bed isn’t like that. The more I think about it the more I realise that it really is an indoor shed. A limited area but in a space that nobody else will invade and where I can withdraw from the world, switch off and draw breath before stepping back on to the mad roundabout. A place where I can think, dream, talk to myself and be uniquely me.

    But I have another bed in another house and I’d never think of describing that one as an indoor shed. That one’s for sleeping. Different houses, different beds, different patterns of life. Same me. Just different aspects.

    • Karin says:

      I didn’t think your bed was like that, Chris! I am quite happy if your bed now seems like an indoor shed – this post is certainly going places I never dreamed of…..but I would come back to the theme of my post which (as I recall, not having reread it recently!) is about attachment and its strong powers of attraction over us. I would see the shed symbol as offering at its heart a place to be – not to think or do anything. And so, for me, ultimately the shed is a powerful symbol of peaceful being without attachment to any activity or pursuit. Maybe this is at the heart of your meaning too.

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