HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated May 3, 2015 –
I am a packrat.
My son Mio called me on this when he saw the state of my laptop screen. There were icons of apps and files, photos, screen captures, Word documents, random stuff that I had downloaded but never even opened. Even my trash icon was full. It was a mess.
When Mio suggested that I trash two thirds of what was visible on my screen, I felt uneasy. What if I decide later that I need them? I asked him if he was serious. He looked at me and said an emphatic yes, even though he knew it was not the answer I wanted to hear.
His simple rule was: Be ruthless! Anything that you have not opened or used in the past four months will probably never be used and you must get rid of it. Besides, such files only eat up memory. And you can always download them again when you need them.
Without looking back, I did exactly as he ordered. That was a year and a half ago, and now my desktop is again as messy as ever.
In real life, it is even harder to let go of things. Through the years, we accumulate a lot of stuff. In my case, I am averse to throwing anything away. I have this strange attachment to clothes, gadgets, shoes, receipts, or anything given to me. I accumulate clothes but I do not wear many of them. I hardly wear the “special” ones since I save them for “special” occasions. So, many of my “special” clothes remain practically unused. And yet I can’t throw them away because they are “special.”
I used to be a collector. For a time, I liked watches. I had quite a collection of strange watches. They were not expensive but they were interesting. Every time I traveled anywhere, I looked for the strangest, most gimmicky ones and I bought them. Then one day, I just lost interest in watches and ended up giving some away and just losing the others.
Once in a while, I fall in love with an artist and I buy his or her every CD I can get hold of. I have a 14-CD collection of the Brazilian artist Joyce whom I have liked since I randomly picked up her record when I went to Brazil in 1991. I also collect books of writers I enjoy like Neale Donald Walsch, Ken Wilber and Joseph Campbell.
I like collecting them and have no desire to throw them away because I enjoy them and engage with them often.
My wife likes to buy stuff more than I do. She buys art pieces, furniture and other things for the house even if she still does not know what to do with them or where to put them. She also gets into hobbies and so accumulates a lot of things. We have pottery, utensils and cabinets full of ceramic vases, cups, bowls, plates that she keeps years after giving up the hobby. Right now, they occupy a huge space in the living room of our old house. I have no idea where they will end up unless we give them away.
At certain points in life, we are called to give up stuff and remove the clutter in our physical spaces. But there is another call that is just as important and that is to clear our internal clutter.
We are asked to sort out what is important in our lives and throw away old beliefs, attitudes, and mindsets that no longer matter, so we can travel lighter. We don’t want to be burdened by things that are no longer useful at certain stages in our lives. In fact, they may not only be a burden to carry, they could sabotage our journey to the next stage of where life is leading us.
We transferred to a new house recently and I was surprised that I handled the sorting out of what to bring and what to leave behind easier than I thought.
I was guided by a simple question: What am I willing to part with and never see again for the rest of my life? As I went through every piece of clothing, I felt liberated and freed from many items. I discarded more than half of my wardrobe.
Internally, the exercise is a bit more complicated. When I look at my life and I see all my imperfections and character flaws, I know that what is being asked of me is not so much to change myself, but to accept all of what I am — faults, weaknesses, strengths and blessings as well.
I am not saying I am perfect. Far from it. There is definitely always room for change. But the dynamics on how I can change myself are quite different in this arena.
It is not easy. At certain points in our lives, we think we’ve moved forward, and at other times, we know we have not. In fact, we could have even moved backwards.
I used to berate myself for my erring ways and engage in self-loathing. But now, I realize that looking at myself in a kinder way makes it easier for me to let go of habits and ways of thinking that are not good for me. I do not feel threatened, calling myself out.
More than the militant self that wants to put me through boot camp or rehab, I am listening more to the Zen teacher in me that says that I am okay as I am, that I am still a work in progress even at my age. I may rearrange or redesign my life as I please, provided I am doing my internal inventory honestly.
We need to have an intimate knowing of ourselves where we see the fine print that tells us where our true motives lie. If we can be honest with ourselves at this level, we can be more objective and call ourselves out when we see that we are sabotaging ourselves.
One can’t be a packrat psychologically and spiritually and see clearly. We have to let things go. Our souls need the space to be free. If we can’t do this, we should resign ourselves to living stagnantly with the clutter.