Friday, November 6, 2015

Decluttering

"Embrace Simplicity"
- in my meditation garden -

We are barely into the month of November and I am already sick of the endless barrage of “holiday shopping” ads that have invaded the media. It seems as if we are in the full swing of the “getting ready for Christmas” season.

The other day I unfortunately found myself in the aisles of a local retail store that was all “geared up” for the holiday season. I was actually quite amazed at the amount of stuff people were frantically shoving into their shopping carts and noted one person in particular whose cart was so cluttered with all the “holiday bargains” that she literally had no room for anything more- clothes and jewelry, small appliances, toys and games.  I just couldn’t imagine that all those things were going to be wrapped up and given away as gifts and so I wondered what she was going to do with it all, where was she even going to store it when she got home?

As I studied that bulging cart of the “holiday shopper” next to me, I almost laughed out loud as I remembered something the ecologist, Wendell Berry, once said:

Don’t own so much clutter that you would be relieved to see
your house catch on fire.

I’ve been thinking of that shopping cart so filled up with all that stuff - maybe that’s why an article by columnist, David Brooks in yesterday’s New York Times really struck me. In his article Mr. Brooks talked about the “simplicity movements” that seem to be sweeping through much of today’s popular culture. It seems as if more and more people are finding the joy of simplifying their lives and getting rid of all the unnecessary clutter bogging them down. Brooks observes:

There’s clearly some process of discovery here.
Early in life you chose your identity by collecting things but later you update your identity
by throwing things away that are no longer useful, true and beautiful.

In a world of rampant materialism and manifold opportunities,
many people these days are apparently learning who they are
by choosing what they can do without.

Before I moved out to the desert I remember reading an article in the popular magazine, Simple Living. The author suggested that whenever you move to another house you should take all the books off your shelves, throw them on the floor and only pack up those books that are really important to you.

When we moved a few years ago I followed the advice in that magazine and pruned away many of the books I had accumulated over the years (along with all sorts of other stuff I gave away or threw away before moving out to the desert).  I found the process to be quite exhilarating and, as I think about it, the books I did ultimately keep did indeed show me something about who I am and what I cherish as valuable and true in my life.

I am reminded of something Meister Eckhart once said many centuries ago:

God is not found by adding but by a process of subtraction.

My guess is that the current popular movement toward greater simplicity is, at its core, a spiritual quest - a movement to discover a deeper wisdom, a greater truth about self-identity, a deeper insight into who “God” is. We can find this deeper wisdom by “decluttering” all the baggage we have accumulated over time - all the glib ideas and dogmatic certainties. You find that deeper wisdom when you take all the stuff on the shelves of your life and throw it on the floor, saving only what you think is true and beautiful to bring along with you on the journey.

It seems to me that this is why Jesus directs his disciples to “travel lightly” as they make their way on their journey of faith:

Take nothing for the journey except a walking stick,
no food, no traveler’s bag, no money

The Taoist, Lao Tzu, offers his disciples the same basic instructions:

Manifest plainness - Embrace simplicity
Reduce selfishness - Have few desires

The shopping cart of my life still has too much clutter in it and there are yet far too many books on the shelves of my life. I still carry around a lot of baggage but I know that my spiritual quest demands that I must let it all go until there is nothing left and only “God” remains.

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