Thursday, December 2, 2010

Giving up stuff

There's been a lot of talk as the economic slump lengthens about people simplifying their lives.  The evening news recently touched on a guy who has gotten rid of everything he owns that won't fit into a rather small cardboard box.  (I bet he kept his Blackberry, though.)  And there's been a vogue among women, maybe in the big cities, to choose just six items of outer clothing and wear only those for a whole month.  The rule seems to be about outer clothing, and surely you'd be allowed a change of underwear, some pajamas, shoes, a coat. . . . I saw a magazine spread about this a while back, no doubt in some doctor's office, and it seemed the game doomed you to wear black and white.  Also, nothing was said about jewelry.  I, personally, never went on retreat with only one pair of earrings until this year, when I was too tired to care.  Then I bought some earrings in the gift store.

Now, about stuff.  I am sure my own life is like that Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a veritable whirlpool of stuff, such as four big plastic boxes full of clothes I don't (and can't) wear anymore - untouched since we moved here in 2004.  I have become newly conscious of this kind of thing now that Tom and I are talking about what would be involved in moving to a smaller place.  What to do with stuff.  Hundreds and hundreds of books - what do you really have to keep, given that we live in the city with the #1 library in the whole United States?  (And wouldn't it be better to have that important book on your Kindle, which you can always carry if you want to?)

As hard as all that is, the stuff that is weighing you down, the stuff you have to renounce, is invisible, in your head.  Just extrapolating from myself, it's the ideas of what you ought to do, how you ought to be, what's important, or should be, what isn't important, really, and you shouldn't care about it.  That's just a start.  There are old, bad memories and the grudges stemming from them.  The low-self-esteem triggers, the things you Shud have done, worse, the things you Shud'n have.  The money wasted, the fun you passed up, the European trip not taken, the beautiful prom dress given away, gone forever, and the time, all that time wasted on stupid jobs, all that effort trying to be a gardener when in fact you'd rather drift around enjoying other people's gardens.  I'll stop here - I'm sure you can make your own list.

I realized today that the only reason we can even talk about moving out of this house is that I have given up the stuff in my head that said I should be able to supervise home maintenance if it comes to that.  Shouldn't anyone?  Where did I get this?  I guess from the generalization that I, oldest child of two insistently perfect people, should be able to do anything - weren't they?  And then we inherited devout suppositions about home ownership and being decent people. Sorry, it's true.  A midwestern thing, maybe.

But, as a good friend and I have been discussing lately, you can only get so far going down that kind of causal analysis road - why are you the way you are, that road.  More important is what are you, or as Zen asks, Who are you?  Really.  There are surely a hundred ways to explore that question, sitting in meditation being only one of them.  It's a good one, though, forcing you to become quiet and sensitive to your approach and avoidance, to realize what you're reluctant to do, and what you yearn for, and what you'd just as soon leave behind.

[image:  From blogfish, crew member of the Plastiki, Marcus Erickson, imitating an ocean creature floating in a sea of junk.]

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