Clear out your living space and you clear out your mind. And vice versa. I don’t remember where or when I picked up that bit of wisdom, but over the years, it has proven to be true. I’m back in the de-cluttering mode, a task I started in the spring, and continued in fits and starts since then.
Most of the stuff I’ve collected over the years is made of paper: countless boxes of books, piles of notebooks and journals, file boxes of essays composed during various academic forays, and a few portfolios of drawings. Layers of artifacts. One trunk is even filled with genealogical lore. My mother was into that. I am not, and yet I don’t quite know what to do with these small black and white prints carefully pasted into albums nearly 100 years ago. I recognize very few of these aunts, uncles, and distant cousins. I’ve lost track of anyone who might value the prints, and yet, there they are, my ancestors. It doesn’t feel right to just pitch them into the trash. So they’ll sit a while longer in the garage, taking up space.
I believe this is a good analogy to some of what clutters the mind – there is much we are attached to that no longer serves any purpose. It just takes up space. What we need is the wisdom and will to make a clean cut, an energy shown in traditional images of Manjushri, the Buddha of Wisdom, whose right hand holds a flaming sword which can cut through our knots of confusion.
While sorting through old books, journals, and papers, I find that most have lost their meaning. A few mark important phases of life, and I hang onto them like graduation or wedding photos, or a favorite old coffee cup. Only a very small minority of items seem current. A rare find was this personal statement I included in a brochure for a local storytelling festival in 2001. It would fit this blog today.
“I believe we all tell ourselves stories almost all of the time, largely unnoticed interior narratives of what we are like and what the world is like. Telling or listening to stories in a “formal” setting, besides being pure fun, can invite us to re-imagine our own lives. Our lives may not be so different from the lives of the characters of Story. Anywhere can be the crossroads, and any voice can be the helpful creature by the side of the path, and the Water of Life may be nearer than we think.”
Archaeologists uncover pot shards and skulls and try to figure out what vanished people were like. I periodically sift through these relics and find myself wondering what my vanished selves were really like. There are threads of continuity, of course, but I think they’re a lot more subtle than I ordinarily imagine, like a fluttering movement, glimpsed at the corner of the eyes.
In the end, I really believe that these day-to-day selves come down to a matter of just which stories we favor and tell ourselves over and over. Which papers, books, and pot shards we keep nearby.
I think it’s a lot like the movie, Secondhand Lions, which is all about stories, when Hub (Robert Duvall) says, “If you want to believe in something, believe in it. Doesn’t matter if it isn’t true. You believe in it anyway.”