When I think about the soul, I think about Silence, Stillness, Solitude and perhaps the most important - Simplicity. I could list all that comes between us and our respective souls: twenty-four hour news, busy schedules, people pleasing, stuff, stuff and more stuff...but if you’re like I was, you don’t need a list, you’re living it.
Our bodies (brain included) have not evolved as fast as the demands of modern life. We’re not biochemically, physiologically, emotionally or spiritually designed for these times. Those “S” words are more than lovely notions, they’re essential for our health and humanity. To be disconnected from our soul is to be disconnected from our purpose, our potential and our joy. The world, however, is desperately needing us to tap into our greatest of all resources.
But how do we approach that part of us we’ve neglected for so long? Where do we start? Clearing the way can be like weeding a garden… or it can be like a raptor ransacking a nest in one fell swoop. I’ve done both.
As I thought about my life, I began noticing the amount of time, energy and attention “stuff” took from me - buying, moving, returning, dusting, looking for, putting away, maintaining, replacing the batteries for, being distracted by, and in some cases feeling bad about. I decided to simplify my life, starting with clutter. I trusted that the physical and seemingly mundane process of going through one drawer at a time would help me find my way. “Does this rubber band ball matter to me? Is this important to me? Do I need it...NOW? Is it meaningful ...NOW? Is it beautiful to me...NOW? Does this item add to my current life or does it take away from it?” With these repetitive questions, I was rewiring my brain.
Old letters, awards, papers, photos...stored in boxes - each kept me tethered to the past - to a person that no longer existed…thankfully - a do gooder, people pleaser, mostly A student (which sadly I knew because some of those papers were report cards...from elementary school), the pianist who was terrified at each recital, the gymnast with natural ability who never soared due to low confidence and sprained ankles, the girl who got the “S” (satisfactory) instead of “E” (excellent) for class participation, the friend who saved letters and pictures, but never kept in touch particularly well. That validation seeker lived in boxes...heavy boxes that I carried with each move.
Then there were the items in my closet that kept me oriented to possibility - the future. The plum velvet sequined topped dress, tags intact. One day I would look amazing at some formal event. I could just see me…standing there...completely bored, because in the real world standing around making small talk isn’t my thing. Such items gave me a tinge of pain, not because I wanted the image, but because of the waste - someone else could be having the time of her life in them right then...just not me, not then and maybe never.
Feeling ready to cut the cords from the past, imaginary future and even shame, I purged. I also tried to teach my daughter to be thoughtful about the her own items and spaces. I wish this transition was as graceful as it may sound.
Eventually this carried over to decluttering the more emotional and psychologic aspects of my life. With time, I started to hear what was emerging from inside. First this came in the form of art, writing, poetry and songs and then later, in the form of ideas of a psychiatric practice that was more holistic. A practice that made sense ... to me.
Despite all of the above, our next move highlighted how much stuff remained. Some had quietly crept into our lives since that first decluttering and some I’d still hung onto all while patting myself on the back for how much I’d gotten rid of.
*** 3 years later ***
“When you’re in a fire, you have no choice when to leave your home and belongings,” I tell my husband. “At least, we have that choice.” Finally, a possibility that I could move beyond what had been fatigue, brain fog, pain and neurologic symptoms. Leaving carried the possibility that our daughter would no longer complain, “I don’t feel good,” “My eyes hurt,” or “I’m having my breathing problem.”
Feeling a bit like the Von Trapp Family Singers, we left that evening - not across the Alps, but across town for a hotel that had reduced rates for extended stays. The disaster we found ourselves fleeing from was a six by six inch section of wood with a couple of toxic mold species fighting it out…all while spewing invisible mold spores covered with toxins into the air.. into the HVAC system … throughout our home and ultimately into my daughter and me. We both tested positive for toxic levels of mycotoxins.
Instead of asking is this meaningful, beautiful, or useful, the questions my husband and I asked, while donned in hazmat suits and respirators, related to survival…”Could this make us sick?” “Could this kill us?” we joked (in part) ....“Could the (unseen) toxic mold spores be removed?” “Was this worth the trouble and expense to clean?”
Some families upon learning they have mold toxicity will leave with only “the clothes on their back.” Others will do some minimal remediation. We did what we thought was best for us at the time. In the end, 80% of our belongings were gone. Along with the remaining 20%, we were left with gratitude to have each other, the hope of restored health and the ability to return to our house after nine weeks.
We also had more space - not only in our home, but also in our schedules and in our lives - space that allowed and still allows us to breath, think and be - space we’re not eager to fill. We’ve taken time and are exceedingly particular about what items we allow into our home. We’re also exceedingly particular about who and what activities we allow into our lives.
For anyone reading this - “May you live all the days of your life,” (Jonathan Swift). If you’re longing to transform your life, I hope this post speaks to you. What if you had to leave it all and get down to what really matters in your brief time here on earth? What (and who) matters to you right now - not 10, 20 or 30 years ago and not next year or in ten years. Right now.