Sunday, June 29, 2014

Clinging and the backward 'C'

Life Rocks!
I must say we've made great progress at the job of purging and organizing this past week. In the living room my goal was to get rid of enough books/dvds to completely empty the bookshelf we'd stuck on top of the secretary desk.

I was a bit ruthless. Dvd's we'd not watched in ages or would not likely watch again went out. A great pile of them. A great pile of books, including some I really loved, but my heart was steel. 

There's a "Freecycle" table next to the front entry downstairs. The dvds went to a friend down the hall who came by while I was busy purging, the books to the Freecycle table. I had my doubts if some of the philosophy and history books would go but they flew.

Contents which were staying were then redistributed between the remaining bookcases, the empty one was cleaned and dusted and carried off to the bedroom where it slid into my closet beneath my clothes and was then filled with my art supplies and such.  There's now a nice neat space in the linen closet for other things.

I bought a nice white square basket for the "disaster" towels; you know - the ones you have to keep on hand for when a grain of rice get stuck in the gasket of the dishwasher and a flood ensues? That new basket went on the top shelf of the linen closet, with the disaster towels rolled in it. Since I can't really reach that shelf I've been throwing the folded towels up there, and they magically unfolded themselves on the journey, arriving to lie in odd configurations on a shelf I can't reach to straighten without a ladder. 

I'm not sure if it's just this building or if this is the new norm everywhere, but any time a neighbour comes over they have to inspect our entire place, so you feel an obligation to be at least reasonably presentable at all times. This building has a dozen differently configured units, and each configuration can be flipped right or left, so there are dozens of combinations and there seems to be an obsession about which one you have and how you use the rooms. "Do you have a 'C', or 'Z'? Mine's a backward 'C', or "I have an 'L'." The 'L' is a studio, with the room we use as a living room, plus a kitchen/dining room, plus of course the bathroom and linen closet combo.  Pauline downstairs has an 'L' and uses the 'den' as her bedroom, shoehorning her sofa and living area in the six foot extension past the kitchen cupboards.

We have a backward 'C'. We use the 'den' as a living room, and the kitchen/dining room as kitchen and dining room. Of course we also have a bedroom. A neighbour who visited a few days ago inspected our place then said he has the 'L', uses the den as his office during the day and has a Murphy bed he sleeps on. I know someone with a 'L' who has boxes lining every wall with a single recliner in the middle of the dining area facing a TV on the wall. I don't think she even has a bed. The wall of boxes bristles with hangers and broomsticks, mop sticks, odd bits of unidentifiable metal. I don't know how she finds anything. More to the point I don't know how she keeps from putting out an eye!

I guess what fascinates us about all these others' homes is behind what someone signing themselves as  Sauveteur commented on Apartment Therapy a couple of years back; "Every home tells the story of the person or people who live there. All you need to do is open the door and the story that your house is trying to tell the world will immediately say what you would rather keep a secret."       

When a first-time visitor came a few days ago, I expected him to come in and sit down in the living room as invited. Instead he walked around (I was a bit shocked) and looked at everything. He asked about our configuration, the backwards 'C'.  As we talked he looked around, with bored disinterest, like you look at the health posters on the doctor's exam room wall, at the pictures of my parents, the bleached and long-dead turtle shell I picked up beside a dusty country road 30 years ago, the seashells, the paintings on the walls, the model ship in the case, my "pile-of-books" coffee table. These sentimental "treasures" of mine meant nothing to him. They didn't even rouse his curiosity.

One basic Buddhist teaching is that there is suffering in life, and that we suffer to the degree we crave and cling. So is the secret revealed by my home that I cling too much to the past? The art is old, the photos are of people who are gone. Seashells, such lovely forms but the animals who built them are long, long dead. Old rusting boxes, for pencils, cough drops and dusting powder; and aside from my medical references and nature books (identification of birds, plants, mushrooms, trees, etc.) I prefer old books. Books about people going back to childhood homes and towns and finding the town or themselves irrevocably changed.

There is an antidote to unhealthy clinging in Buddhism, the eight-fold path that shows us how to live with moderation. I'm doing my best to get this place organized and uncluttered, but even more I need to stop clinging to the past. The past is (literally) no place to stay. It's simply the place you journeyed  from, physically but even more importantly, metaphorically; Wendell Berry said;  …the world cannot be discovered by a journey of miles, no matter how long, but only by a spiritual journey, a journey of one inch, very arduous and humbling and joyful, by which we arrive at the ground at our own feet, and learn to be at home. ~ The Unforeseen Wilderness    

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