Monday, August 15, 2016

Trying To Learn About Freedom





It's been over six years now since our family unloaded most of our stuff, including our large house on its large plot of land. We didn't do it all at once, as one might imagine. It took us nearly a year, with countless trips to the dump, donations to Goodwill, and Craig's List sales, just to get our stuff down to a light enough load that we would even consider moving. And then there was still a year after the move where we continued to sort through our storage locker, the largest unit they had, going down three locker sizes over the course of the next 12 months. There are still a few pieces of furniture in there that really ought to be sent along to more useful lives, but the motivation isn't there since we're now down to the least expensive space they rent.

It wasn't always easy, especially as some of the stuff of which we rid ourselves had been with us a long time, decades in many cases, even since childhood. I literally said, "Goodbye," to some of the things, but as melancholy as the process sometimes left me, there is nothing like the feeling of lightness, of freedom, that comes from getting rid of stuff.

A year ago, we got a new dog, a puppy, a sweet girl that was named Stella by my three-year-old friend Brogan. If I thought I'd grown less attached to stuff over the past few years, Stella let me see that I'm still unhealthily attached to it, as she's finished tearing a hole in our living room rug that was started years ago by a former pet, shredded a pillow, and gnawed holes in the seat cushions of two dining chairs.

I said to my wife, a joke backed by despair, "She's destroying the last few sticks of things we own!"

It reminds me of something from Stephen and Ondrea Levine's book, Who Dies?

You see this goblet? For me, this glass is already broken. I enjoy it. I drink out of it. It holds my water admirably, sometimes even reflecting the sun in beautiful patterns. If I should tap it, it has a lovely ring to it. But when I put this glass on a shelf and the wind knocks it over, or my elbow brushes it off the table and it falls to the ground and shatters, I say, "Of course." When I understand that this glass is already broken, every moment with it is precious. Every moment is just what it is, and nothing need be otherwise.

For the better part of six years, I've been trying to move in the direction of this kind of enlightenment, one of which I sometimes remind myself with the short-hand of "easy come, easy go," but the advent of Stella has shown me that stuff still has a hold on me. Perhaps it doesn't own me to the degree it once did, but I still experienced a small heartbreak when I came home to find the floor covered in the stuffing that once plumped our pillow, even if I intellectually knew it had always been torn to shreds.

For the past several years, I've been reading a book to the children by John Muth, entitled Zen Shorts. One of the fables features a bear who awakes to find a raccoon burglar in his home. Instead of reacting with fear or anger, the bear is sad that he owns nothing of value for the raccoon to take with him, so he gives him the old, tattered robe off his back. I may never get there, but it's a goal toward which my soul yearns.

I've scolded Stella when I've caught her destroying one of our possessions, just as we might scold children who are ripping pages from a book or using a marker to draw on the car seat. We want them to understand the value of things, of stuff, how it costs money, how it is scarce, how it is precious and must be preserved. But when I'm traveling like I am right now, my world of stuff reduced to only what my backpack can hold, I wonder why it is that we habitually attempt to teach our children those dubious lessons about stuff, while ignoring the far greater one they are attempting to teach us about freedom. 



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