Stuff, Gifts, and Heartbreak: The Holiday-Mixed-With-Moving Blues

Pot Pie with the Most Important Phrase

Right now, the value of “stuff” and the torment it can bring is taking up the bulk of my attention. The thing is, it’s the holiday season. The time you are supposed to buy stuff for other people. The other thing is that I’m packing to move to Austin, Texas from Connecticut.

I’m moving out of the home I grew up in, which has steadily accumulated the things that I have cherished throughout  my life. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve left this terribly boring state many times. For the last ten years I have not been living here. However, each time I would get a new fantastic idea of where the wind was telling me to go, I would stop here and drop off everything that I wasn’t taking with me. So now there is a great pile of everything from My Little Ponies to little stones from India to stones I gathered while hitch hiking to letters my dad sent me from prison. All of these things are here, accumulated, and, for the most part, irritating.

On one hand, I love them. I cherish them. I want to keep them forever and ever so that I can remember the glorious moments of my childhood when I was playing. So that I can remember the thrill of catching perfect rides on the 80. So that I can remember sitting in random towns, with random people, feeling like the world was a big and exciting place. There’s even a love poem that some stranger wrote for me in Albuquerque while I was making jewelry at a coffee shop, and for the life of me I cannot throw it out.

On the other hand, I don’t want all this stuff. It takes up space. It takes up time. It causes me to remember the past and prevents me from living in the moment. I can live in the moment while remembering the past, but, well, that’s just not the same now, is it?

So what do you do with this stuff, how do you decide what to get rid of, and how do you decide what to get for people? They are just going to throw it away someday, heartbroken over the trash can, putting it in and taking it out, trying to not feel like they are insulting you by throwing it out. Or at least, that’s how I feel.

All of these gifts that have been bought for me over the years, they amount to guilt right now. The more expensive the gift, the more horrible I feel admitting that I have never used, worn, ate or burned it. If it’s something like a candle, I can do my best to burn it now, but there are only so many candles you can burn at once. And sometimes, you have to move to Austin. And sometimes, there is nowhere to leave all. that. stuff.

Some people suggest taking pictures of the things that we love. This is a great idea. But that quality of touching the things is so critical, at least for me, in truly remembering the times that they invoke. This is a magical process, and one that I am not easily willing to let go of. However, is it worth it? This is my big question. Is it worth it to have the memory? If I was stuck in a convalescent home with nothing left to live for, then yeah, maybe I would love to hold the things from my adventures and remember all the feelings involved. But there is no way that these things are going to make it THAT long. And there is also no way that I can predict whether or not I will end up paralyzed with nothing to do but rummage through my tangible memories. So what do I do?

Throw them away.

It all gets thrown away.

Every wonderful gift you ever made, bought or stolen for someone you love eventually gets thrown away. Maybe you get them something huge for their house that they cannot possibly fit in the trash. In that case, they are going to get sick of it and secretly resent you for making them feel guilty for even considering hiring someone to throw the damn thing away.

This is the problem.

Each year at this time, we are expected to get obscene amounts of gifts. Personally, I make my presents each year. Mostly because I’m consistently rather broke. However, the thought of someone feeling guilty and brokenhearted for throwing away or donating a thing I made for them is not a good feeling. Yet, I still want to give something to each person I love and am geographically close to. How do you win?

I don’t know. All I know is that dealing with stuff that has been accumulating for years is very stressful. So to all the people that have bought me heartfelt gifts over the past 28 years, I say, thank you. I love you. I love you independently of the things you have bought for me, and I hope that throwing them away does nothing to detriment our friendship and the quality of connection that we experience.

I also say that it is a great idea to think of things that add to someone’s life without ever taking up space in it. A gift certificate for a massage or to their favorite restaurant. Some hand-made bath salts. A candle. Some edible undies. It doesn’t matter. Anything that can be used without taking up extra space on this little planet.

Because the only time to live is now. And the only thing that memories offer you is the nourishment of the past. Sometimes, this nourishment is invigorating. Other times, it bogs you down. And there is no way to predict the future, to figure out whether or not this or that specific item is going to eventually  nourish you. Sometimes you have to take a chance. Sometimes you have to throw away what you are sure of, and walk into what you are uncertain about.

Your whole life is waiting. The memories will be there, they just might take more effort. And your friends do not need you to go broke spending money on more stuff for them. They are just going to throw it out. Make them something that will break, give them something they can use. Make a good impact on their future by not going out of your way to add heartbreak to it.

And perhaps in this there is a deeper lesson. A lesson about walking away from what you have been holding onto too tightly. A lesson about letting to and feeling free in the present moment as you walk into the unknown.  A lesson, even, on spending time with people without relying on your ability to find them gifts as a representation of your true feelings.  But personally, I don’t even have time to reflect on it, because I have to figure out which journals to burn and which Pez dispensers deserve a spot in my allotted boxes.

Expanding into New Territory

Last night I had a dream that I had made a site based on writing articles for good people, and had found happiness.

Today I made that site, with the help of my amazing friend April Holman, and now it is ready to send its little feelers out into the world.

This is my new site, I would love for people to spread the word about it to their friends and family who are trying to get their sites off the ground. If their sites have to do with healing, in almost any way shape or form, more than they do with making money, then I would love to help them.

The problem with a master plan is that it involves lots of little plans.

My goal is to make those as fulfilling as possible, each step of the way.

I am starting by offering articles for people, so that they can get their sites to be full of useful content related to their fields of interest. Although I want to keep putting energy into this blog, I also need to make a living and continue to learn about the healing arts. Without the motivation of working for others, I find it hard to study the nuances of Ayurveda, Chinese Medicine, Western Herbalism and meditation that I so adore.

That is why I am posting this here, to help spread the word about my new project. I hope the information finds you well, and do not worry, I will continue to make posts that are hopefully useful to someone, somewhere.

The Recipe of Meaning & Lack Thereof in the Daily Micro-Traditions of America

This is the feeling of the moment.

Grow beyond what is holding you back.

Lately I have been noticing that there are an awful lot of traditions going on around me. Whether it is an elaborate wedding, a trip to the grocery store, or a question about how someone’s day was, there are endless moments where it feels like the symbolism of what an act is supposed to represent is relied upon by the person more than the actual feeling involved in the act. Sometimes it seems that we expect the tradition to take care of its own meaning without any effort on our part, and this, to me, is a problem.

Take weddings, for instance.

A fine idea. A beautiful event, even. Lots of people, all dressed up, present for the occasion of two people publicly committing themselves to each other in the name of God. Often times, delicious food and free drinks. Not a huge problem, but a very huge bill. All so that a human can express their intention of not letting their love fade for another human.

Then there are holidays. Who’s family’s house are we all going to go to, how many people do we each buy gifts for, who is getting me a gift so that I can get them a gift, etc. Delicious food, free drinks, huge bill. All so that humans can spend time with other humans that they are closely related to.

The problem I have is not with the traditions or rituals themselves. It is with the meaning that we put on them, or forget to put on them. It is the easy tendency to slide from our original connection to deep meaning and significance that we feel within ourselves into a numbness that amounts to just trying to do the right thing to fit with the protocol, expecting the meaning to take care of itself.

The thing about rituals that makes them powerful in both life-enhancing and life-destroying ways is that they remove the need for active thinking. This is sometimes how we feel closer to God, or the Spirit, or the Universe. We recite a mantra and feel that unity with everything around us because we have stopped making things up and have fallen into a trance. This trance can help us to remove the duality that our minds constantly create and help us see that things are all connected.

Or, it can make us feel numb. It can make us feel nothing. It can help us forget to logically think and allow us to go along with the motions. We can do so in the name of the tradition. We can buy an expensive gift and assume that this is a display of real love. We can have a fabulous wedding and assume that we have done all we could to foster our connection with our new spouse.

Weddings and holidays are two huge traditions, but the ones that have been really coming to my attention lately are the smaller ones. Micro-traditions, if you will. For instance, asking a question. This is an act that we are taught from a young age. If you want to know something, ask a question! However, something that many of us seem to have forgotten is that receiving the answer is part of that particular micro-traditon. The feeling of being open; of hearing the answer. You cannot leave that part out.

Same thing with spending time with another human being. Or walking the dog. Or taking a shower. Or making love. These things are all micro-traditions, but how often are we using them just to numb out the real feelings? Just to follow a protocol that we are comfortable with so that we can stop the act of feeling meaning? Are we adding all the ingredients except yeast for bread and expecting it to rise?

Some (most) weddings end in divorce. Some holiday gifts are bought while you are feeling spiteful. Some questions are asked with no intention of hearing the answer. Sometimes you can spend hours with someone and never even truly feel their presence. There are countless micro-traditions that get carried out every single day without the right ingredients. Even if they are carried out to perfection, they sometimes do not lead to the desired result of happiness. This doesn’t mean that happiness is unattainable, it merely means that no tradition or recipe is going to get you there.

My wish for myself is to pay more attention to this tendency. To actually feel what it is like to walk the dog, without having that me a tradition that I take part in daily without thinking about it. I want to never forget that without yeast, the bread isn’t going to rise. Without feeling, the traditions are not going to create the magic that we hold them to. And even with everything in place, there is no way to guarantee a future of anything. There is only a choice you can make, right now, to choose what is real to you.

Re-Claiming Your Stolen Sense of Intuition

I was eavesdropping on a conversation many years ago at Puffers Pond in Amherst, Massachusetts. It was a conversation between a young child and her mother. The mother was clearly in a bad mood, talking in curt little sentences, shoulders hunched, plowing her body through the sand and dragging the kid alongside her. The child asked,

“Are you angry, mommy?”

“No. I’m fine.” was her abrupt, angrily spoken answer.

“Oh. Okay!” The child cheerfully replied.

I watched them, and had a moment of revelation. That child had a great intuition. The child was correct in picking up on her mother’s obvious body language. At the same time, she was too young to say, “Are you sure you aren’t angry, mommy? See, you are walking much faster than me, your shoulders are showing obvious signs of tension and your voice is coming out in a rather abrasive manner…”

My concern was that from then on, the child was going to have similar intuitions, and think back to this day, even subconsciously. She was going to remember that if her mother had similar body language, she was probably not actually angry. This is a huge problem.

The child had a blind trust in the mother, as many of us do as children, especially if our parents are generally kind to us most of the time. We sort of have to. They feed us, protect us, and we know that we need them.

And yet, they are usually a bit crazy. They have to go to work, sometimes to a job they do not enjoy. They have to make money, they have to feed us, they have to give up some dreams in order to tend to ours. They have to conform to a society that is inherently working against their nature, working against their ability to touch in honestly with their emotions. And they pass that perverted blessing down to us without even realizing it.

They have to. We have to. We grow up and get some of our intuition back, but it takes work. And then, after those blissful years of thinking that we can change the world if we try hard enough, we realize that actually what we need is a job and an iPod and someone to marry us. Then we have kids and lack the patience to truly deal with our emotions, so we teach them to do the same. This is how I see the situation in an egg shell, even though there are many more bits and pieces.

The problem is that touching in with our emotions takes time. Not time tomorrow, not time next week or on our next vacation; time. Time. Right. Now.  It requires us to stop with the work, stop with the incessant thinking, and sit down. It requires us to be vulnerable, to express that vulnerability, to truly feel ourselves being in pain or being scared or being happy, even. It requires some spaciousness in the present moment, and this is precisely what many of us lack.

We all have our ways of touching in with our emotions and allowing ourselves to be. For some of us, there is meditation. For others, there are long jogs where we let our brains shut off. Everyone figures out some way to do this, but rarely do we have in-depth discussions about it. Especially with our kids. It is hard to teach these things, and we definitely do not learn about them in school.

And this is why the mainstream nuclear family’s ability to deal with emotions is steadily going down the drain. Everyone has their own room, everyone has their own music device and personal television, everyone can isolate and pretend that they are the only ones who have crazy emotions. The world around them is basically telling them that no one else struggles with these things, everyone else is fine, and their parents “love” them.

My earlier post about magic words dealt with this issue. Here, I want to go more into the idea of “I love you.” These words require almost nothing to say. Saying them out loud burns a half a calorie at most, depending on your personal metabolism.

Your parents may have said this to you a lot when you were little.  Maybe they still do. But what do they mean? Sometimes they look at you with pity and ask if you really need that second serving of dessert, but they love you. Sometimes they yell and tell you that you’ll never be a good driver if you use your brights on a side street, but they love you. Sometimes they look at your new partner with condescending eyes and barely listen to a word they say, but they love you. Is this love?

Personally, I don’t think so.

Or, maybe it is. Maybe it’s love, but not respect. Either way, it can cause a lot of confusion down the road. Whenever someone, especially a parent who you still have some respect for, says “I love you, but…” you are getting a very mixed signal. You are hearing that they love you, you are trying to figure out what this  means (or at least, at 28 years old, I still am) but you are seeing that there is clearly not a sense of respect at some moments. Sometimes there are even a lot of conditions on this so-called love. And then, there is the almighty “If you really loved me, you would…” and this is utter nonsense.

If someone is claiming to have unconditional love for you, and then treats you horribly, maybe they do love you in their own twisted version of the word. But they are not showing you respect, and you have to stop the wheels of your mind for a moment in order to touch in with how you feel.

No matter what someone means when they say they love you, you have to listen to your own feelings. How are they treating you? Try not to think about it in terms of concrete examples of what is love or not-love, but just think of how you feel. You can tell when someone is genuinely spending time with you, and you can also tell when someone is in their own head while with you and is hardly present at all. You should pay attention to the same things within yourself.

The problem is that our culture teaches us numbness at every possible moment. You are supposed to get a job, make money, come home and turn on the TV. You are supposed to work yourself to death to pay for things you never really  needed. You are definitely not supposed to sit in silence, taking breaths and feeling the air come into your body and fuel your very existence. This would be a waste of time, I mean, you could be working.

And this is what our parents have been taught. This is how they grew up, and this is how we are growing up. I love you is a set of words that is supposed to mean something, but often times, even coming from those that we have known the very longest, they mean nothing. They symbolize an intention, a play of power, an excuse. They are often times backed up by nothing, and yet we can hear them and turn into ourselves, trying to figure out why we feel insane.

The reason we feel insane is that we have been the little girl. We have all had intuitions that have been true, and yet the people we were intuiting about have told us we were wrong. We believed them. We repeat the process, hiding our fears and moods from those around us, telling people we love them when we have no clue what that means. We say it while thinking of other things, we say it without truly feeling anything. Even though we know the feelings are in there somewhere, we don’t have the time to stop our minds and touch in with them.

This is the problem. And the only solution is to stop. To listen. To trust your feelings, and let go of trying to make the square peg fit in the round hole. To realize that sometimes, people say they love us, and what they mean is something different. Sometimes, a parent or partner is truly disrespectful, regardless of how many calories they burn on words. The words I love you coming from their mouth does not need to make you second-guess your intuition. The words do not need to make you feel as if you are crazy, or not seeing something that you should be seeing.

All I’m saying is that I’ve been there, feeling crazy, trying to make myself believe something. God knows how many calories that burns, but regardless, my wish would be for myself and those around me to remember that our intuitions are valuable. Our time is valuable. Our lives are valuable. When someone calls us out on something, it may be hard to admit that they are right, but the more that we can foster this intuition in ourselves and others, the more this culture of isolation will be put in its place.