It is Autumn and we are moving back into the house from summer fun and clearing out unused stuff has been my recent activity. Do we use it? How often? Does it lift me? Bring joy? Does it burden me or just sit there taking up space? These are some of the questions. In the midst of all the clearing I have found myself in a synchronistic moment/process.
On Monday, I opened the book The Wisdom of the Native Americans Edited by Kent Newburn to a piece on giving, “The Beauty of Generosity”. In this section was described the tradition of the Giveaway Ceremony. It was customary at a wedding, funeral, or birth to give everything away to the guests, to the poor, the aged, fostering right relationship with the whole community, and this ritual was shared with the community as a value.
It reminded me that when my children were younger we rented, with a group of friends every New Years, a Girl Scout camp lodge. It was fantastic for the adults and the kids. We camped out in the lodge for a couple of nights, shared meals, cooked, played games, went sledding. One year I had read about this practice of the giveaway and suggested we all bring something to give away, something that was special or useful. So all the adults and all the children gave something away to whomever wanted it. It was fun and we all talked about what it felt like to give away something we really liked but were willing to part with having no expectations of the use of the gift or getting something in return.
I remembered a man I knew a number of years ago who gave all his possessions away, everything. He said it was his way of answering the call of all the many Bible verses regarding wealth and materialism. He thought there might be some effect in doing so. Maybe a cleansing, less burden, feeling more spiritual, loving, feeling closer to God. I heard the surprise and disappointment in the telling. He was free of possessions but still had the same life issues, relationship, work issues, and security fears. He acknowledged that while the giving felt good it did not give him what he expected or sought.
That evening I opened the Dhammapada (ancient memorized teachings of Buddha translated by Eknath Easwaran) and the section read, “Let us live in joy, never attached among those who are selfishly attached. Let us live in freedom even among those who are bound by selfish attachment.”
Today, the noon hour on MPR was devoted to Dorothy Day, activist and leader of the Catholic Worker Movement who inspired me in the 80’s regarding voluntary poverty. I read everything she wrote and was written about her. Leo and I were in a simple living group who supported each other in making decisions in our life that honored the environment and global living, conscious of consumerism. It is no secret, we still very much consume, a long life learning. (Just as an aside, during that time I also read all of Carlos Castaneda’s books. What an interesting and intense time!)
Anyway, all these stories have in common the concept of attachment. We can have healthy attachment and non healthy attachment. Being defined by what we have in the material world or being burdened with the weight, the worry, the care of life goods keeps us bound. But we can also let ourselves be attached to a person with fear of loosing, loss of love. The monastic life in any tradition asks for a vow of poverty but even a monk living in a cell has to deal with attachment, to other monks, the robe, the cell, the community.
Most of us know the freedom of going camping or backpacking or on an extended trip and living with less for some time and the enjoyment of the experience. We also know we will be going home to all our goods. I think of all the people this year worldwide who have lost everything to fire, flood, wind, rain. The acts of nature that take all the possessions. And, all the acts of violence that take loved ones and has hit hard again this week.
i don’t have answers to any of these ways of being, stories, losses, and connection to stuff and people. What is intriguing to me about these stories has to do with being in right relationship whether with an object, a person, myself, or community. For me right relationship simply put is being mindfully present, allowing the person to be him or herself, allowing the object to be the object not my identification. Right relationship means that we do not bind each other from loving, growth, learning. Right relationship helps us identify what we actually need to live. And right relationship allows us to continue to help each other to move through this world as spirits in a body that we are, moving to Self actualization or God realization however we wish to name.
We all know we will go to our death and take nothing yet we all probably have something we do not wish to part from at this time. I think it is good for us to know. We may find over time that this object no longer means what it did as it’s meaning came from within us who is constantly changing. We may find over time that we have attained a sense of freedom that puts us in right relationship to all that we carry, lifts our spirits, and brings us to joy.
Our backpacks when walking the Camino 2017