Sunday, September 7, 2008

Clutter Part 3

An "expert" on clutter, who hires out to people to clean out their living spaces and who has written books about it, says his clients have told him that when they have begun and made headway in the process of decluttering their living spaces, they have found, to their amazement, that their physical body weight has dropped, often considerably, seemingly as a side effect.

This does not surprise me at all. Our belongings, same as our weight, and our inability to shed them, often can be protections against real threats or current losses or old fears.

Time Travel

We are fascinated by the concept of travelling to different times other than the one in which we ostensibly are currently living. Shamans are said to have the ability to move in and out of time and also present space.

But perhaps we overlook that all of us also have this ability in very specific ways. Are our dreams and our thoughts and our imaginations really so very different from our present realities?

Several days ago, a slat broke on my antique (inherited from my Grandmother) bed frame, amazingly when my small cat jumped up on my bed while I was asleep in the middle of the night. Too tired to get up to fix it that night or to move to another location, I returned to sleeping for the remainder of the night at a slight angle.

The next day, after one attempt to temporarily fix it, I called on my son, who was able to come a day or two later and repair it properly, with his always amazing skills; and so I could return to my normal bed (at a level angle!) after several nights of camping out in the living room.

The second night back, I dreamed I was sleeping in my old childhood bedroom. A vivid dream, not unusual in its vividness, with all the remembrances of the surroundings: the wallpaper, the size of the room, the bedside lamps, stuffed animals. During the dream, I woke - inside my dream, inside my childhood room - and it appeared that the bed – my childhood bed now, still in my dream – had fallen victim to the same problem, and the mattress was at an angle. I thought to myself, in my dream, “Oh, I need to call my son to fix the slat again.”

When I actually woke up, in my present bedroom and the 'present' time, it didn’t at all seem contradictory that when I was in my childhood surroundings yet I was thinking about what my adult son would do. It was seamless. I realized that this is one actuality of how we can move from one time period to another – there need not be contradictory assertions or any sense of incongruity. There is such a richness of remembrances and experiences in my head, that my thoughts easily flow from one to another, from one time period in my life to another. Especially in my dreams, I experience the same with visual images. It is a slight step to imagine that possibility of doing so, not just in thoughts, not just in visual images, but with a physical presence, even if simply a sense of physical presence. The knowledge is the same.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Power of Stories

After reading a series of books that, while enjoyable to begin and finish, were perhaps mainly to fill time, perhaps to avoid, again, my clutter.

But now, I have begun a book written beautifully, by an author who knows words, and who knows the human condition: The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry. And already I am entranced by an opening passage:

The terror and hurt in my story happened because when I was young I thought others were the authors of my fortune or misfortune; I did not know that a person could hold up a wall made of imaginary bricks and mortar against the horrors and cruel, dark tricks of time that assail us, and be the author therefore of themselves.

Ahhh, to be the author of oneself. To imagine that gift and to believe in the truth of that gift.

This is such a difficult lesson to learn, even with the marvelous examples of those outstanding who accomplish their dreams and give us shining proof of this through their accomplishments. But this passage reflects the truth not of world-shattering accomplishments, but rather, the understanding and satisfaction of an old woman reflecting on her quiet, own condition, by herself, in isolation.

Blame of others is always debilitating, even when meant with the purpose of discovery. And this wall of imaginary bricks and mortar is the internal, is the personal strength.


Later on, this marvelous Mr. Barry, writes, with the thoughts of his character, a 100-year-old woman living most of her life in an asylum, for, as yet, unknown reasons:

[The doctor’s] talk had locked me in silence, I know not why. It was not opening, easy, happy talk like my father’s, after all. I wanted to listen to him, but I did not want to answer now. That strange responsibility we feel towards others when they speak, to offer them the solace of any answer. Poor humans! And anyway he had not asked a question. He was merely floating there in the room, insubstantial, a living man in the midst of life, dying imperceptibly on his feet, like all of us.

I wish always to be aware of the amazing power of unspoken communication. Those words that are not heard but can be understood. I wish to listen with my heart, not just my ears, and to take the time to appreciate the silence and what the silence might be saying.


Earlier, the author had written through the thoughts of the old woman recalling her father:

My father’s happiness. It was a precious gift in itself….it strikes me that a person without anecdotes that they nurse while they live, and that survive them, are more likely to be utterly lost not only to history but the family following them. Of course this is the fate of most souls…

My father’s happiness not only redeemed him, but drove him to stories, and keeps him even now alive in me, like a second more patient and more pleasing soul within my poor soul.

My daughter has asked me time and again to write down my stories. Perhaps she knows better than I the truth of this. Finally, I, too, am impelled to find, is it redemption?, is it happiness in my own life?, to share these tidbits of my life. And certainly, tidbits themselves are powerful. My father, who seldom talked about his past, told to me three or four stories about his youth, short paragraphs, and for a couple of the anecdotes, only upon my asking him question after question. Then, when he was dying, one sentence expressing his beliefs and his love for me. I recall those few short stories and that one sentence over and over, and they fill me with his presence, his voice, his goodness, and, I believe, I even can smell his scent with this recall.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Clutter Part 2

I cried when my daughter threw out 20 old (unused but all different types) paper napkins that I had stashed on the lower shelf of the little table that was next to my “tv chair.”

Well, it really wasn’t because of the paper napkins. It was because of the things she was saying about me and my life (she was rather harsh) (but then, again, who else but a daughter can say these things so directly to her mother) (and they were true, sigh).

And yet, and yet. There were 20 old (unused) paper napkins on this shelf next to this chair. In my living room. Where, theoretically, I entertain guests, including my daughter.

(More about that, later. The implications are too great to take in all in one writing session.)

I did obtain from the library the book I referenced in the previous blog, and found a new book, which is as important, if not for me, then for the world to read and to know about:

Material World: A Global Family Portrait by Peter Menzel, Sierra Club Books, 1994. His dedication reads: This book is dedicated to my parents, and to my sons and their future children.


Hungry Planet: What the World Eats by Peter Menzel and Faith D’Aluisio, Material World Books & Ten Speed Press, 2005, published in China.

Looking at both of these books, reading them, learning from the individuals of one country after another, cultures different from my own, learning from family to family, different and yet with the same cares and dreams, meditating on the beautiful and extraordinary photographs. This is a path for me to incorporate that which I want to know: what is it that is truly necessary to me, for my daily life and for my spirit.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Clutter Part 1

(Since it's about clutter, there will definitely be more than one part)

The need to surround myself with goods. Understanding this need and exploring it is itself a whole subject.

The unwillingness to take the time to rid. Appreciating not just the time but the process of organizing, cleaning, putting away, throwing away. The lovely work of my friend who became a Buddhist priest: moving progressively from larger home to apartment and then to smaller apartment, and the ease with which she, “sold it, gave it away, threw it away,” talking about the process of stripping her goods from her surroundings and from the need to “own.” And this even while one of her two children was still at home with her.

Watching my daughter “clean” her room, ridding herself of those belongings of childhood, or simply of last month, last year, that which she no longer needs, no longer finds to be a necessary part of her life. And my visceral difficulty even seeing her throw away her own possessions, things that theoretically had nothing to do with me.

If one is, in fact, at whole with the universe, then individual and perhaps selfish ownership is unnecessary.

This understanding, hard to truly believe and harder to incorporate, still needs to be balanced against the experience of those who live through extreme poverty, extreme need, when food is not available, let alone other needs of comfort and warmth.

What is the basic need for each person, for me, for my life?

The astounding, moving book of photographs showing home possessions by families from across the world. The extraordinary massiveness of the American family’s home possessions compared to every other family portrayed.

I know that if I were to be photographed with my multiple and duplicating and unnecessary possessions, I would be shamed, it is so much more than I either need or am capable of utilizing. I keep an object even when I am not using it, for what reasons?

? Possible use in the future.
? In case another one breaks.
? Because it meant something to me at one time, and I recall that meaning.
? Because it might be too expensive to replace.
? Because I have not taken the time to organize and cull.

These are all past or future reasons; they take me out of the present, out of enjoying what I presently have and do, and, in a large way, are indications of my not trusting the future, not trusting the wonderful concept of when I have a need, the world and my surroundings will help me provide for that need. Perhaps if I concentrate on keeping the object only for the following reason: I know I currently enjoy using it or looking at it. I would also allow leeway for a reasonable period of time, if I know that I will be using it or enjoying it in the (relatively) near future. So “storage” would be for definite future activities or definite future use or giving away.

From a different perspective, I enjoy beauty and being surrounded by beauty. The clutter takes those items which I do love and in which I find solace from their loveliness, and dissipates their beauty, their chi. As with the concept of Japanese painting, or o-shodo, character painting, it is as important to recognize the importance of the space, the emptiness surrounding an object, as it is to create or recognize the intrinsic shape itself. It is the placement and the negative area that allows an object to exert its influence.

When clutter is eliminated, in an orderly and regular manner, then one can attend to the next task or activity with an enjoyment that is unfettered. Otherwise, the mind is distracted from the new task by the interference of the old, and with annoying thoughts of “I need to finish up...” or “I should have ...” These thoughts, again, take the focus away from the present.

So, maybe the important phrase above is “orderly and regular.” I will attend to some of that now and perhaps examine it more closely in this blog again soon.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Bad Dreams about Daughters (not Sons)

I smiled when my 91-year-old mother called me at 7:30 am (she doesn’t usually get up that early any more), and only said, in a sleepy voice,

“Are you all right? I had a bad dream.”

“Yes, I’m fine. What was the dream?”

“Oh, good, alright then. I’m going back to sleep. I’ll tell you later.”

When I’m upset or concerned about something, usually in my own life, I, too, will have a bad dream that involves my daughter. She’s so used to my calling to check in on her after one of these dreams that she tolerantly simply listens and then asks me what I think the dream means.

Of course, usually it is about myself, or whatever worries I might have. But the precious daughter, whom I adore and love and want the best for and have always wanted to protect, epitomizes the fears that emerge in the nighttime iteration of a home invasion or a snatch off the street or the bad guys running down the streets, shooting wildly, or some other such vivid enactment.

It is hard, and yet so important, to recognize the separateness of the daughter, to allow her her own responsibility for her life and the resulting consequences, especially the ones none of us can control. My son, kicking and screaming when he was sixteen, brought me to the realization of his own independence, his own responsibility early on. Most especially, he brought me to my belief in his ability to handle life, or perhaps more importantly, to acknowledge the possibility of his death, which, in fact, means he holds his life in his own hands. To be responsible for his life, other’s lives, including, later, my knowing that he would support me and his family in any crisis at any moment, fully and completely.

My daughter took responsibility for herself in a way that usually did not conflict with what I considered my responsibilities, and she didn’t quite need to kick and scream as did my son. And yet, and yet. After the first ten years or so of my children’s life, I finally didn’t have to quickly skip over any headlines that indicated an article might be about child abuse of one sort or another. When my daughter turned twenty-one, I let myself be absolved, in an odd emotional way, of the responsibility to always protect and to ward dangers away from her that I had felt uppermost for both my children being the primary caretaker in their lives as they were growing up. What helped, certainly, was to know that by the time she was six years old, she had a crystal clear understanding of herself, the person, that she knew the world and her place in it in a way that I could only envy. My son, too, had given me the lovely clue, when he was a year and a half old and decided exactly the point to jump down from a sloping wall, that he could judge the physical world and his own ability within it, better than any other.

With gratitude, to accept the bad dreams that emerge in any case, and to revel in the good ones.

After the Rainstorm

How beautiful after the rainstorm. A gorgeous fulfilling rain last night. Not so much lightening as would have been expected – perhaps in other areas, but a lot of distant thunder rolling through. The initial front, the line of severest storms, taking down branches, leaves, swaying trees. Fast fast moving, they said 60 miles/hour with heavy winds. Beautiful sound. My cats with different personalities. B&W Patience knowing immediately upon the arrival of the storm and searching for under a bed or the basement for protection and for hiding until it had fully passed. My grey Jasmine excited, as was I, coming to the open screened window, enjoying the sounds and sights as much as I did, perching on the window sill to take it in and watch. This is one of the joys of having my bed next to the open window – hearing and smelling and feeling the energy of the world outside, and yet still staying in the comfort and protection of my home, my bed. The wind became too strong, and I did need to partly shut the window because the rain was blowing in on me, but opening it again, for the latter part of the storm. After the initial twenty minutes of fierce wind and rain, the slow constant, continuing rainfall for the next several hours, giving me lovely sleep and comfort.

This morning waking up to a soft continuing patter of very gentle raindrops still making their impressions on the puddles outside. Both cats excited to go out. The fresh smells of the trees and grass after the rain. A continued slight greyness as the sun rises behind the clouds and the birds re-emerge.

My awareness of what happens in my miniature backyard is so limited compared to what Patience and Jasmine know and hear and smell, and yet, I am grateful for how increased is my own awareness as a result of the wonderful Tracking classes and my own ears and eyes being opened to the gifts the plants and animals and weather give us all the time, with or without our acknowledgment. During this wonderful and powerful storm (our electricity only went out twice, and then not for long), where do each of the many creatures in my backyard burrow? How do they stay dry if not warm? Where exactly do they find shelter? I know so little. Even the watermelon plant that I received from the Community Farm: It amazes me that with the battering of the severe rain and wind, this morning, the strong stems of the little plants will reassert themselves and stand upright again, waiting with great patience for the sun, when it does reappear, to nourish them along with the gorgeous and soaking rain.