Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Packing Up My History: How Personal Narratives Can Hold You Back

For the first week since February, I have failed to make a post. Circumstances have made it suddenly obligatory that TheLordofDarkness and I clean out the basement of our former house, which we had been using for storage. And said project monopolized all of my physical and mental energy for the week. Sadly, I have a few more weeks yet to go. 

So I descend to the cellar of my personal history and sort through all of the stuff I have accumulated in my adulthood, but don't actually use. Why do I keep this stuff? I suspect it has something to do with using physical objects to anchor my non-physical identity.

I am thinking of  "identity" as my personal narrative, the collection of my individual experiences, what makes me me and not you. These solid objects -- books, Strawberry Shortcake dolls I played with as a kid, my daughter's baby clothes, a picture that is too ugly to hang on the wall -- all of these are what make me special, unique. They point to an individual who is most definitely here.

And if I lose these "things" that make me me ... what will happen to me? Will I cease to exist? Of course not. But I feel this pulling (mine is in my stomach) when I hand over my "treasures" because there just isn't any room for them any more.

Things I Have Held On To
  1. Dance clothes. These are the leotard, tights and shoes I danced in during undergrad. I took a ballet class partly for exercise and partly for nostalgia, remembering my long hours of dance class at the performing arts school I attended.
  2. Grandfather's shirts. My grandfather had a particular style of dress from which he never varied: jeans, a long-sleeved flannel, cowboy boots and a large shinny belt buckle, donning the seal of the state of North Dakota. Nothing quite like sinking into his lap, his chuckle and the aroma of Lucky Strikes. 
  3. Gymnastics uniform. Ah, yes. This is probably where the greatest pride of my youth lies. Tumbling, swinging, flying, chin high, sticking your flat chest out, proud as a peacock. This is my proudest me at my proudest moment.
  4. Childhood Winnie-the-Pooh lamp. Somehow, hanging on to this feels like being that child again. Reading bedtime stories with my dad. Dreaming that I could be anything I wanted to be. When I look at this lamp, I think I would like to be that child again.
  5. Religious artwork handmade by my aunt. This is a tough one. I feel bad giving it away as my aunt is a professional artist, and a particularly good one. But I will never hang it up in my house. I can't give it to another family member as they all have one exactly like it. Giving it away feels like betraying my family. So, it collects dust.
  6. Textbooks. Containing a good portion of the knowledge I have accumulated, some of which I have rejected but am grateful to have learned nonetheless. I have fooled myself into thinking I will look at them again someday. 
    Damn those cute baby girl clothes!
  7. Children's clothing. I have not yet given up on the idea of blessing humanity with yet another of my gorgeous offspring. However, truth be told, there are some baby clothes, like that pink baby dress with the lacy ruffles, that I will probably still hold onto long after the rest have been hauled off to Goodwill. I have dreams of my Dementia-ed self spending my nursing home days clinging to such relics, and gazing longingly over pictures of my angels. And, repeating it again the next day, as I will have forgotten the entire previous day.
So, I pack each of these pieces of myself away in boxes, and rent a storage unit to hold them until I can afford a residence capable of housing "all" of me.

I wonder if these bits of myself are holding me back from being the me that I right now. Am I fully able to let go of these narratives of myself? Some individuals are so attached to their material possessions, extensions of themselves, they could not possibly live without them. Am I like this? Am I enough right now, without all these trinkets?

A popular Zen teaching is that you have everything you need to be happy at this very moment, you only have to realize it. This teaching is sometimes illustrated using Magic Eye artwork. At first glance, the page is merely covered in seemingly random patches of color, shapes and lines, but once your eyes adjust, you see a 3D image of a whale, or a beach house, or a space ship. The 3D image was there even when you couldn't see it. It just took an adjustment of perspective. 

An adjustment of perspective, not a change of circumstances, is what I needed to see that I can be happy in this moment without anything extra. Without all my stuff. Just me is enough.