Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Giving it all away

A few months ago, I started giving away nearly everything I own.

It’s not the first time. I’ve actually gone through this “purification exercise” every five to ten years since first seeing George Carlin’s “stuff” routine in high school.

A portion of this spiritually-lightening endeavor includes giving away furniture, electronics, books, CDs, and other accumulated possessions that actually weigh you down. (Imagine—as my Mom often does—dragging a sled, tethered around your neck, behind you, with everything you own piled high on top of it.) Sure, these items have value; they could easily be sold on Craigslist. But it’s much more rewarding to give them away. (If you don’t believe me, try it.)

Another key part of the periodic purification includes paying off debts, as well as recommitting to your closest friends (and letting go of others).

Do you have a specific time in your life where you felt most balanced? Most happy? Most connected to others, and to the world? I do.

In 1995 and 1996, I was living in the Peace Corps without a car, microwave (or any oven), television, cell phone, computer, Internet connection, or e-mail account. Life was better than good; it was great. I spent a lot time with neighbors, wrote letters, read for hours at a time, and took a lot of long, brisk walks, including at night and in the dead of winter.

I also drank and ate heartily, hosted and attended parties and bonfires, camped, cooked, listened to the radio, visited with elderly neighbors, and learned the contours of my community and the people in it. I took train trips with friends on the weekend and stayed in other friends’ homes, drank a lot of tea, and argued and laughed with all of them about just about everything. (They remain among my closest friends today.)

A few days ago, I realized that this particular season’s cycle of purification is a kind of return to that time in my life. I’m walking and reading a lot more, and have reduced computing and social networking to almost zero. (Closing the Facebook account, you will soon learn, has the added advantage of letting go of the obligatory “friends-of-friends” and “work mates” you almost never actually speak to or meet with.)

Without the stuff and the distractions back in 1996, everything seemed possible, and I spent the next ten years growing in exciting and unexpected new ways. Now, again, without all of the extra stuff and without those burdensome distractions, everyday life is enjoyable, and everything again seems possible. No matter where the economy is headed.