About a week before the wedding, I was using our paper cutter at work to slice the ceremony programs (which is why they were all a little crooked). I texted my bridesmaid Helen to ask to if I should order a bushel of dried lavender so I could glue a sprig on each program and make them look better. Because right now they looked pretty busted.
And the great friend that she is (who always promised to tell me if I went to far), she finally asked, “But why?” And all I could think was, “Because it isn’t enough! I haven’t done enough!”
The crazy didn’t end there, oh no. After my failure to construct a ribbon curtain for our outdoor ceremony, I stopped on the way to our venue at a garden center for some potted plants. Ben asked me why we needed them to which I responded, completely in zombie bride mode, “My ribbon curtain failed. We have no ceremony decorations! You have to have those!” Later, during the ceremony, I remember snorting at myself a bit when seeing the $40 potted plants I fought so hard for, tipping over in the front of the lawn where we got married. The ceremony was outside. Why did I need plants?
Unity ceremony, the only potted plant we really needed.
Now it wasn’t until the end of planning that the stress caught up with me. I was told otherwise I stayed surprisingly low key throughout the process. But now that I look back, I see how the crazy seed was planted: Pinterest, The Knot, and all those budget bride blogs that only show the good (and never the ugly) sides of DIY. They were like crack for a budgeting bride, and the lanterns and birdcages were how I got my fix.
Buddha to the rescue
A friend of mine recently lent me the book “10% Happier” by Dan Harris from ABC, who chronicles his discovery of Mindfulness while reporting on various religions. I was excited to find that a newer “convert” of Buddhism was writing on this topic since its a goal of mine as well; and I often feel unworthy since I’m NOT a retreat-attending, yoga-for-the-people card holding, non-meat eating Buddhist (yet?). In the scheme of things, I am very early in my Buddhist education, and was excited to find that Dan Harris’ cynical yet quirky tone is similar to the one I aspire for on this blog.
At one point, he mentions that during a retreat a teacher of his talked about the common misinterpretation of the Buddhist idea of Dukkha, aka “Life is Suffering.” Most people hear this and think, “Why would I want to follow a religion that sounds so miserable? I’m supposed to accept that life is terrible? Fun!”
Well, we’re all missing the boat a bit, but that’s okay. It’s an odd phrase and very confusing if you aren’t told the rest of the message. Turns out it’s poorly translated as well. Dukkha actually translates more closely into “Life is stressful.” Yes! Yes it is! And the rest of the main message is that the stress (or suffering) comes from attaching ourselves to the idea that A. Things or events will make us complete and B. Those things are going be around forever. The more we let go of these ideas, the closer we come to enlightenment (which in their terms is a jolly mix of understanding, compassion, clarity and contentment…in a nutshell).
Stress relief is actually just a lovely side-effect of seeing the world clearly. The idea of Buddhism is not the notion that life sucks and we should learn to deal with it. It’s understanding that there is good and bad, and neither is going to remain permanent. Whether it’s the most delicious tiramisu on the planet, a root canal, or say…a wedding day…
(Whenever I do this, I hear “Tradition” from Fiddler on the Roof start to play but with the word “Transitiiiiionnn, Transition!”)
When planning a wedding, in regard to my own and while helping friends, there is the inevitable feeling that your list will never end.
Even when you enlist your friends’ help! (yes that’s a sand bucket)
And it’s not only your things-to-do list, but also your shopping list. Now there are a million blogs out there about small budget weddings, glitzy weddings, hipster weddings, the whole thing, and all of them seem to have a similar thing in common: lots of things and lots of steps. Personal touches and ways to impress your guests are wonderful, but when do these things start to overshadow the marriage itself? And once you’ve bought into the idea that someone else managed to make their wedding “that cute” with little money and “little effort” a modern day pressure to craft grows into an obsession with obtaining a blog worthy wedding. At least this is what happened with me.
There is a Buddhist idea wrapped up in the lesson of impermanence that we are always waiting for the next thing to complete us. This is another idea that came up is Harris’ book. We are waiting for the next relationship, the end of the week, the next paycheck, the next cup of coffee. That thing will make us complete. And because of all this waiting, we are missing the fact that the last thing arrived, and it wasn’t enough.
This was how my wedding planning snowballed for me. I was on a budget, yes, but we also wanted to throw the majority of our budget into our guests being well-fed, well boozed-up, and comfortable. So once that was taken care of, the money for all the tchotchkes Pinterest tells you to buy was slim. And this is when this weird panic set in as a bride.
I am throwing the money into the food and experience, but not into things like a matching cake, disco lighting, 500 paper lanterns, and a mashed potato bar (which I’ll admit, I was pretty sad the day we cut it). But nonetheless, I still tried to keep up with the Pinterest pressure.
It wasn’t until I was spray painting 150 small handstamped tambourines with glitter paint that I asked myself, “What am I doing???” Here I am with the wind blowing paint all over my apartment door (it’s still sparkly) two weeks before my wedding. I’m making inside joke wedding-favors that most people will not even take home. All because I learned that you are supposed to get personalized favors. I was proving my worthiness through homemade dollar store props. And with each addition of things, I never felt that complete feeling I was searching for. Even after the wedding was over, I still stressed looking through the pictures that maybe I hadn’t done enough.
But what actually matters is that I had one of the best days of my life. Everyone was incredible loving and generous, no one cared when little things went wrong, the food was delicious, the crazy idea to DJ it ourselves worked out, people DANCED, our made-up cocktail was a hit, and Ben and I got married!
The part of the blog where I relate this to other parts of life…
This realization continued to help me past the days of hot gluing ribbons to mason jars. When it comes to my job, my artistic career, decorating the house, and even on our honeymoon, I remind myself a lot that our Pinterest idea of things in not going to bring happiness. When these blogs and Pinterest were invented, they were created to share ideas, which is dandy, and I still love to use it for that. But when it comes to things in our lives that we believe we are judged for (money, career, weddings), it can become a social peacocking site. And clearly I’m leaving out the pressure from the wedding business itself, that isn’t a walk in the park as far as pressure, but since I mainly approached things from a DIY standpoint, I can only speak of this side of things.
But to all my friends who are planning now, remember that the personal touches and projects that bring you joy are the ones to keep around. But there is no need to go past that. There are plenty of other logistical tasks to throw your energy into, including caring about your relationship and your guests, the whole original reason you’re planning all this craziness in the first place.
Either way, planning a huge event is never going to be “easy”, but the more we remember that it is all passing (the good and the bad), the more we can take a step back and realize that it is all enough, and pretty wonderful.
All wedding photos by and linked to Kim Craven Photography because she’s awesssooommme.