Stuff: Compulsion and Attachment

Stuff:  Compulsion and Attachment

I’ve been thinking about stuff lately.

My stuff.

Literal “stuff.”

I have a lot of stuff.

I have an office full of books and religious mementos, and even more at home.

I have a “growing” collection of bonsai trees, orchids and cacti.  I also have a collection of bonsai pots, most of which are really too small to use.  But, I think they’re neat and fun to look at.

I have collections of statues – monks, asian “mud men,” and carvings of saints from Guatemala.

We have more chairs in our home than we’ve ever entertained enough people at one time to use.  We, likewise, have enough cups and glasses to serve beverages to more people than could actually fit in our home, including if a few were double-fisted drinkers!

My garage is packed wall-to-wall with tools, Christmas decor, future projects, my Harley, and misc biker paraphernalia.

My closets are stuffed with more clothes than I need, including, thankfully, many items that are now too large for me to wear.  Given my history of weight fluctuation, I haven’t had the courage to give away the fat clothes yet.

Though I’ve greatly reduced the collection I had, I still have an assortment of musical instruments, ranging from bongos to guitars to an 8-string ukulele.

I do have a lot of stuff.

Why so much?  Well, I’ve been reflecting on that.

None of my “stuff” is of great monetary value.  But, a lot of if has great value too me.  In some cases, the value is knowledge, as in the books I own and read.  In some cases, the value is enjoyment and entertainment, as in the plants I tend and the instruments I play.  In some cases, the value is pragmatic, as in the different clothes I wear for different occasions and climates.  In some cases, the value is beauty, as in the items decorating my home and office.  In same cases, the value is sentimental, as in the items I’ve collected from varying life experiences.  In some cases, the value is utilitarian, as in the tools in my garage.

Somehow, I confess, I’m comforted by my things.  I enjoy being surrounded by them, looking at them, using them, and remembering where I got one thing or another.  Each thing, unless it is purely utilitarian, tells a story for me.  While some feel pleasure and freedom in simplicity, and some enjoy minimalist design, I like environments that tell a story through the objects on display.

Come into my office, and we could spend hours discussing where all of the different things have come from, what they mean, and why they matter to me.  The same thing could happen in my home, or on my back porch.

I also particularly enjoy the process of searching and finding different things.  It’s like a treasure hunt!  And, at times, I enjoy passing my finds along to others, so they can enjoy them.  (BTW – I have a few plants I’d be glad to share with anyone who is interested!)

But, I also recognize my accumulation of “stuff” might be a problem.  Though I never spend a lot of money on any one thing, the accumulated value of my things is likely greater than I’d like to admit, and those dollars probably could have been used in better ways.  Things take time to maintain – especially plants and Harleys – which is time I could use for other, better, activities.  And, someday, when I’m gone, someone will have to deal with getting rid of all of it (sorry kids!).

The area I likely need to work on most is the way “stuff” can be like a drug.  I’ll admit, there’s a “high” that comes from finding the “unexpected.”  Always on the search for another book, another piece of clothing, another plant, another bonsai pot can be rather compulsive, and perhaps an escapist method of looking for comfort and pleasure in things rather than God.  It can be a way of avoiding, or numbing, negative feelings, too.

Some call it, “Retail Therapy.”

While I love all of my varied and miscellaneous things, I’ve been reflecting on how attached I am to them.  I’ve sold a few things lately, and I’m working on selling some more.  Some things I hold on to because I’ll likely want or need it later.  There are other things, though, I think I could part with… if I had to.  I don’t necessarily want to.  But, if life demanded it, I could part with any number of things I like, but don’t necessarily need.

I think that’s the goal.  Regardless of how much stuff a person has – a lot or a little, minimalist or maximalist – the issue is compulsion and attachment.  Does the thing really have value, beyond the feeling that drove the acquisition?  And, how attached am I to the thing?

In pastoral counseling, I often ask people to hold out their hands, palms up, and to imagine whatever hope, dream, desire, need, demand they have, resting in their open hands.  The point of the exercise is that when we want something badly, we tend to grip it tightly.  But, even with hands open, we still hold the thing.  The difference is, when we stop gripping the thing, it can be removed from our hands, possibly to be replaced with something better.  Or maybe having open, empty, receptive hands is good too.

So, yes, I confess, I have a lot of stuff.  I’m working on the compulsive collecting, and appreciating what I already have.  And, I’m working on holding all things loosely.

How much stuff have you got?

“Stay focused! Disruptions are coming!”

“Stay focused!  Disruptions are coming!”

I recently returned to yoga.

Though I’m not a big fan of most forms of exercise, I do really love yoga!   Yoga provides a teacher-led, group-based, meditative practice, building strength from head to toe, burning fat, increasing flexibility and balance – all things I desperately need.  For an hour, or so, yoga consumes the full focus and effort of my whole being.  I generally leave a yoga class physically depleted, emotionally centered, and soulfully re-charged – not to mention, pretty sweaty!

My Monday instructor is a young, petite woman, named Ariel.  She has a gentle voice, clear instruction, a steady pace, logical movements, and she challenges me to push my limits.  I’ve had a number of yoga instructors, and she rates among the best.

This morning, Ariel had us begin, lying on our backs, relaxed, slowing our breathing, and finding our “center.”  All of a sudden, the classroom doors banged open, as chatty students from a different class returned exercise mats they’d borrowed.  Then, some students showed up late to our class.  Then, a maintenance guy came in, drilling something.

Chaos, rudely interrupting our feeble efforts to achieve inner peace.

In the midst of the noisy disruption, Ariel quietly arose, walked to the center of the room, and with a strong, clear voice said, something to the effect, “Stay centered.  Focus on your breathing.  Life is full of distractions and intrusions, just like these.  You have to learn how to stay relaxed and centered – in life and in yoga – even when there are interruptions.  Hold on to your peace.  Stay focused!”  Then she returned to her mat, and continued the class.

I have to say, I was very impressed with her composure, focus, and ability to turn a challenging situation into a teaching moment.  She saved our class, and provided a great life lesson.  “Life is full of disruptions.  You have to learn to stay focused.  Don’t lose your peace.” 

Honestly, if Ariel hadn’t taken control, I was on the verge of getting up and walking out.  I’d quickly lost my focus, and was becoming increasingly irritated.  Her strong, clear instruction calmed me, helping me regain my center, leading to a great – though challenging – workout.

The truth is, that kind of thing happens to me all of the time.  I begin everyday with prayer and meditation.  I start every day centered and spiritually grounded, or try to.  But, as they say, “stuff” happens.  Something on the news or social media irritates me.  Someone misses an appointment.  A driver offends me.  I feel stressed by my “to-do” list.  I spill coffee on my freshly-ironed shirt.  Unexpected crises disrupt my well-planned schedule.  The car won’t start, or I get a flat tire.  Whatever the issue is, the peace I worked so hard to establish, and wish to maintain, flies out the window, leaving me in a frenzied state of irritable distress.

I lose my peace, all of the time.  Unfortunately, it really doesn’t take much.

I bet you do, too.

As Ariel took control of today’s class, I wondered if she could possibly follow me around, everyday, reminding me when the disruptions come, over and over: “Stay focused.  Stay centered.  Breath.  Don’t lose your peace!”?  But, I’m guessing that might seem a little strange.  And, she might actually have other commitments and obligations – like yoga classes to teach.

Maybe I need to learn how to stay centered and focused on my own.

How about you?

Recalibrating Your Soul

Recalibrating Your Soul

Among my favorite memories are early morning walks on the beach, alone, with my Panasonic RX4920 Stereo Boombox resting on my shoulder, playing my favorite reggae music.  Those were High School and college years, in the 1980s, on random Florida beaches, playing mixed tapes of my favorites songs by Bob Marley, UB40, and a lesser-known band, Steel Pulse.  Something about those early morning, walking alone, the sound of waves lapping the shore, and those reggae rhythms, recalibrated my heart and soul to their proper and preferred tempo.

It was good for my soul.

Riding my motorcycle is a similar experience.  When I find a long stretch of empty road – especially ones with some gentle wind and curve – cruising around 70 mph (give or take), my feet resting on my highway pegs, I relax, take a few deep breaths, and find my inner RPMs returning to their ideal operating speed.  I don’t have a stereo on my bike, and I don’t want one.  The mixed-tape I need has been permanently stored in my head.

I remember an opening scene of the Sons of Anarchy series: its night, and the Sons are riding a California highway, and, in the background, Jax says, “Something happens at around 92 miles an hour – thunder-headers drown out all sound, engine vibrations travels at a heart’s rate, field of vision funnels into the immediate and suddenly you’re not on the road, you’re in it. A part of it.  That’s why I love these long runs. All your problems, all the noise, gone. Nothing else to worry about except what’s right in front of you. Maybe that’s the lesson for me today, to hold on to these simple moments.” 

I rarely go 92 mph.  But, I get his point.

I’ve experienced the same in a rocking chair, on my porch, on a cool Spring morning.

For some, it’s running or yoga.  For others, it’s fishing or canoeing.  For others, it’s horseback riding.  For some, it’s swinging a hammer.  For many, it’s keeping a Sabbath day.

Whether or not you’ve found a time, place or activity that uniquely settles your heart and soul, I think we all need it.  I know we do.  It’s just so easy to get out of whack.  Just like a motorcycle engine operates at an ideal speed and RPMs, but may need an occasional recalibration, I think the same is true for the human soul.

The stressful demands of life and work; the competing demands on our focus and attention; the countless distractions and interruptions; the flood of meaningless data; the barrage of incessant noise; the push and pull of wants, desires, and needs; the pressure to perform and measure-up to some ridiculous standard; countless worries and sources of anxiety; the external and internal critical voices; all muddling your brain, driving your heart-rate, and clouding your soul.  We all need moments – regular moments, frequent moments – and practices, to let it all go, to find your centered-place, to breath deeply, and to return to your best God-intended rhythm.

My soul needs it – demands it.  I bet yours does too.