Sunday, November 18, 2007

On Happiness: Giving it Away

This weekend, a friend of mine moved out of her apartment of ten years. Messy roommate situation, messy subtler situation. She looked around her boxed up apartment to find almost 100 boxes, furniture in various conditions, much of her from her childhood home. She lost both her parents at a young age. She has worked so hard to get her life in order, to find her place in the world. She is one of the bravest people I know.

And even with so much courage, so much meditation on detaching herself from worldly possessions for the sake of lasting happiness, she is having a tough time letting go. Despite the fact that she is thrilled to be saving money, time, and effort by cleaning out many of these remaining remnants of her past, she is finding that letting go is in many ways just as painful as hanging on.

In the U.S., we are criticized as a nation of consumers, pack rats, too few people with too much stuff. I agree with that to an extent, except when the possessions we have really stand for a diary, a journal of where we've been and who's played a part. My friend isn't just letting of materials items; in a very really sense she is putting to rest a part of her life gone by. Giving up what's been, what's defined her, for the sake of what could be. It's the gamble of a lifetime, literally.

We forget - details, events, emotions. Our minds have a wonderful way of glossing over many awful experiences, dulling the pain, or shock, or discomfort so that we can move forward. Friends and family remind us, and we keep mementos of past experiences to memorialize them. By giving away these mementos, we are not only giving away possessions, but also giving away the ability to recall the details down the road. We are losing a part of ourselves.

And we have to. We can't possibly hang on to all of it. A lifetime holds so many things, people, occurrences. We have to assume the responsibility of editing our lives - of culling out the things that matter most from the great cumulative mass of living. It is the toughest job we will ever do. In seemingly simple acts like giving away furniture, we are choosing how to remember our lives and how to we will be remembered by others. As nice as a clean slate sounds, there is a period of mourning that happens in the cleansing.

My friend walked me to the subway Saturday afternoon after we spent a good couple of hours hashing through this idea of letting go. All I could do was give her two giant hugs, promise her my positive energy, and assure her that the next chapter would be an adventure. I am sure she walked away teary-eyed. I did, too. It's part of the cleansing - a clean slate is on the way.

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