August 26, 2010

Shuffling Shit.

Last week, I moved stuff out of my small studio and transported it to my new apartment.  It took five hours.  Granted, I refused to use the more efficient "pack up your stuff in boxes" and chose the "chinese water torture" method of moving by slowly bringing down heaps of clothes and individual baskets one by one; regardless, the move took much longer than I (and my friendly helper) expected.  It also reminded me how much I hate stuff.

As a child, my mom was surprisingly calm and even-tempered considering the personalities of her three children (her calmness probably foreshadowed her eventual decision to run off to India to become a yoga teacher).  But the one thing that would knock her off her rocker (in a not-so-positive way) was. . . the BASEMENT.  Just saying the word brings me chills, flashbacks of a shrieking mother threatening to throw out everything that was shoved down there.   It was like when she went down into the depths of the house, Hades took her over and made her into a person that my siblings and I could only refer to as "evil mom."  She would walk down the steps after an inspirational Oprah show and simply go ballastic.

The basement also made her a liar.  In fact, it was the only time my mother ever lied.  "I promise you," she would begin in a scarily whispered voice, "that if you help me and spend one day...ONE DAY...going through the stuff in the basement, you will NEVER have to do it again."  We heard that freaking lie a good twenty-five times.  Other times, she would make no promises and just bark orders, beckoning us to emerge from the comforts of our room by repeatedly yelling our name from the basement until we could stand it no longer and finally succumbed to her screams. "Kerrrrrryyyyyy" she would yell from two floors down, "I need you for just a couple minutes (lie) in the BASEMEEEEENT!"  As we got older, she would return from her yoga room after meditating and sneak into the basement.  Instead of yelling, she would just sigh and state "Shuffling shit...I'm so sick of shuffling shit."  (a sure sign of a step closer to enlightenment)

But now, her crazed moments seem to make more sense after I too have slowly started to accumulate STUFF. And it makes me CRAZY.  I have become my mother.  I despise shuffling shit. (I already feel badly for my children, who will one day have to deal with a clothespin with a bucket for a Barbie Dreamhouses for them...)

When I lived in Santa Monica, I became friends with a man who essentially was a walking monk, Raymond.  He spent his days walking up and down the streets, with nothing but a plastic bag which he held in alternated hands.  I used to find him on various corners and we'd sit and talk.  Unbeknownest to him, the years of walking awakened him into a modern day prophet.  On one particular day, he said, "I think...we lose God a lot.  We lose sight of him.  It's like, picture a piece of paper.  Then picture a small black dot on that paper.  When there's nothing else on the paper but the dot, you can always see the dot.  But when you start to add things to the paper, when you start to fill that paper with stuff, it's hard to find the dot.  And then one day, maybe you can't see the dot anymore.  Life is that piece of paper, and God is the dot."

Raymond's analogy deeply resonated with me.  He, a man who had nothing, had freedom. He had the ability to see God all day because he was completely liberated from the distraction of stuff. He always had his eye on the dot.

Raymond's words echo those of Jesus who directed his followers to leave everything behind to follow Him; and echoed the teachings of Buddha who stressed that attachment to stuff, amongst other things, resulted in suffering.  It the freedom from wordly "goods" that helps the Mother Theresas of the world and the Jesuit priests and the Buddhist monks remain focused. Stuff doesn't only clutter our homes, it clutters our souls and weighs them down, and distracts our eyes from remaining focused on a Greater Truth.

And while I'm not yet to ready to completely rid myself of some baskets full of trivialities, I'm forcing myself to give away some of my excess, if only to get better a glimpse of that dot.


  1. This is excellent! Raymond's philosophy on the dot theory is profound. I can fit most of what I own in a few suitcases, and much of that I could really do without. The less I have, the lighter and more at peace I feel. I agree that a lot of stuff brings a heaviness with it. If I had it my way, we'd all go back to communal living in a village. But short of that, I'm committed to filling my life with people, and God, not stuff.

    You're insight is much appreciated and refreshing Kerry. Thank you for sharing your heart, for being vulnerable and for your worldview. You bless us.

  2. Amen! Nothing like a move to make you consider a more monastic lifestyle. The funny thing is that my relationship with my mother, when it comes to stuff, has been sort of the opposite. I hate clutter, and my mom is so comfortable with the accumulation of life's meaningless trappings, I sometimes think she is a borderline hoarder. What reassures me, though, is that she doesn't care about any of it. My mom has a certain Zen about stuff: she cares so little about it that she finds it a waste of her limited time on the planet to get rid of it. I realize that my propensity to clear the coffee table of a spent candle or pile of Science News issues is spurred by my own desire for order, and even for the appearance that our home is more orderly than it is, conforming to some ideal dwelling at once well appointed and efficient in our use of its cubic space. I yearn for the perfection of Architectural Digest. And still I know that what I love about home is the presence of my family, even if their presence is evidenced by unending stuff.

    I overstate my mother's clutter, but what I do find striking is how shallow I feel because my gut reaction is for Architectural Digest. I recently watched Michael Moore's "Capitalism: A Love Story," (reserve judgment, por favor) and listening to what priests had to say about capitalism's incompatibility with Catholic values was pretty jarring. Raymond landed on it, too. A modern-day Saint Luke? Too much stuff easily obscures what is important. But caught in between America’s Park Avenue dreams and Raymond’s enlightened asceticism/homelessness, I guess the best any of us can do is to try to see past the clutter and devote our energies to that which is worth our precious time on the planet.

  3. Jared-you and Ilea inspire me with your ability to pack your life into suitcases, although I'm pretty sure Ilea's is bigger with all those rolled tank tops :) But like you mentioned, I too strive for communal living, I'd like to be better at building the community of a village amongst the millions-dinners with neighbors, local eating, giving my excess to those on the corner. And more people, less stuff? Amen.

  4. Nate-your insight on your desire for Architectural Digest was spot on and poignant and made me reflect on how I'm currently living in my new apartment. My roommate loves leaving traces of himself wherever he goes (contacts containers on the sink, coconut waters on the end tables) and I'm always running around trying to sweep up the place clean of "clutter." BUT, I'm working on being like your mom and finding peace in accumulations because often they are touches of the people we love. Maybe this is my first step towards seeing past the clutter and spending my energy just BEING in an apartment with someone I love. Thanks you for your always wise thoughts.