Our relationship to stuff is an interesting one. It is like a mirror in many ways to our internal state. I use to have a difficult time letting go of stuff, literally and metaphorically. I held onto objects, people, stories and feelings fiercely. My grasp was tight to my life, so tight I couldn’t breathe. There once was no space externally or internally to grow or rest. When I was young there was no insight to know I was drowning out of my own choices in thinking. I didn’t know yet that it wasn’t what was happening in life as much as my relationship to it that mattered.
In my late twenties, after being a staunch atheist, after growing up a horrible Christian, I started to explore eastern philosophy and religion. My intro was into Hinduism and Yoga. Not just the asana and stretching part, but he chakra and eight limbs part. This eventually led me to Buddhism, particularly Vajrayana Buddhism from Tibet, which I still practice today. Vajrayana Buddhism is of the belief that everything, every single thing in life, is a vehicle for waking up to our direct experience. Our direct experience in this lineage is being fully present and alive to whatever is happening with a spacious dose of acceptance, compassion and loving kindness. I mean, that sounds kinda cool, right?
Hold up, why is Jenn talking religion? How the fuck is this related to boats? Why the wig? I will get there, hold on. Spirituality to me is the interconnectedness of all life and experience. It is about those moments of spacious awe where we feel both small and big. Where we feel totally in connection with the raw beauty and sadness of existence. It is where impermanence shows up and we surrender to it and are fully in the now. You don’t need religion to have this. Everyone has had experiences of it at one time or another.
Sailors often have spiritual experiences when they are in the groove, or when seeing the horizon stretch out before them, or when sea creatures pop up suddenly beside them from the deep. Nature often brings us these feelings of awe and wonder, of being immersed in the now and in sync with the changing tides of life. It’s those moments where we don’t judge or analyze, but simply notice. We are truly being. That’s a big reason why we all need to be outside more. Personally, I also need a framework around me to cultivate and intentionally practice showing up for life as it is. Mostly because I am stubborn. Without structured practice, I get caught up in my very busy habitual mind and miss the moment. Buddhist meditation practice is all about training the mind. It is by no means the only way to do that, and it is my way.
So, I’ve been going through my things and purging them to live aboard my 29 foot sailboat. You can’t have a lot on a small boat. I am going to write more about why I am choosing to do this in another post. One aspect of this choice is impermanence. Mid-life has woken me up even more to the fact that all this literal stuff around me is ultimately not going with me. I’m gonna die and most, if not all, is going to goodwill or the dump. I decided I wanted time and experiences with the life I have left. I do not want more stuff, which never made me that happy anyway. I do want more time with myself and the people I love. Time is our most precious commodity, the one we never get back, and we never know how much of it we really have.
All of this leads me to the fucking amazingly awesome wig. Thanks for trusting me so far to make some kind of integrated point. As I was going through my things I noticed after all these years of practice how much easier it is to let go. I use to get sweaty palms thinking of getting rid of anything shiny or fabulous. I’m like a magpie and feel I might die without a certain amount of sparkle in my nest. Things hold memories to me as well, and nostalgia for the good times are hard to let go of. The nostalgia is often tied into my relationships. I have been blessed with amazing friends who are family in this life. Tribe. People that have showed up time and again for years supporting me, loving me, holding me accountable, challenging me, and very importantly laughing with me.
It breaks my heart at times knowing that eventually we will all lose one another. The final fate of any kind of love is loss. I like to practice saying hello and goodbye with incredible intention, gratitude and love for my tribe. I never know when the last time will be. I try to make each time count. I also know that no matter where we are or what happens I have internalized these folks into my heart and will carry them with me always. Our only true immortality is through our impact on others. That is why going through my things this time was so different.
This time I noticed that my attachment didn’t lie in the things. Wig or no wig I’m fine. Although I am keeping that fucking wig. The attachment is to the memory of dancing in my living room with my BFF in that crazy wig. This time I noticed that my main attachment is to my feelings, ideas and experiences. Going through stacks of old papers and books from graduate school made me immensely grateful for my education and Buddhist practice. It made my heart fill with the intimate and thoughtful relationships I have gained. I was humbled again by the amazing influences of many authors and teachers. I realized that no matter what happens to my things, I get to take my ideas, memories, relationships and feelings with me. I get to take my nutty sense of humor, my nerdy obsessive way of researching and talent for self-reflection and insight everywhere. My friends are in my heart and a phone call away. My education and practice are present in how I walk and talk. I was filled with gratitude for my great privilege in being able to cultivate the presence and self-love to be able to recognize all that.
There was a time when the thought of taking me and my experiences everywhere I went would have been a nightmare. My mind was so cluttered and claustrophobic. My shame and self-loathing were strong. I lived with immense trauma. I did all I could to avoid myself. While I still hit edges of all of that, I know how to work with it now. Even my shame and trauma has a place for growth, it is all opportunity. Going through my physical stuff has allowed me to see the space I have cultivated internally over 15 years of diligent practice and asking for help in many places. At the same time I noticed another edge. There is always another edge when you pay attention. The impermanence of my mind. I am aging, shit isn’t as clear in there. I can’t always remember things like I use to. I don’t have the energy I once did to have adventures with friends or research non-stop. With this realization a moment of panic seized me. Will I always be me? Will my mind stay sharp, my body able, will I remember? OH FUCK! BATTEN DOWN THE HATCHES!! GRAB THE WIG!!! A STORM IS ROLLING IN!!!!
Then I took a breath. I paused. I practiced. The answer is no. Not even that will last. My body will age and lose its ability. My mind will dull. I will forget many things. Such is life if you grow old. I will die. It is scary to our minds to think of not being. There is also relief if you sit with it long enough. You don’t get to take anything with you folks, not even you. You’ve been practicing for that fate already if you look closely. Even that sense of self you hold onto right now has been impermanent. Change is constant. The me at 43 is a very different person than 23. Hell, the me of an hour ago is different. Mid-life is a great reminder of this as my moods swing sometimes dramatically, thank you perimenopause and hormones. So you might as well settle in and learn to be with the now, because ultimately it is all any of us have anyway. The precious now IS you and your life, how do you want to relate to it?