My last return to Jacksonville closed the loop of a thirty year meander that took me from Jacksonville to Chicago, San Francisco, back to Jacksonville, Ashland, Portland, San Francisco again until it siren-songed me back in 2002. By then l had accumulated a lot of stuff, most of which did not fit into a modest, circa 1889 house. But it was really nice stuff, so we stuffed the stuff into a storage unit for the short-term, until such time as we found the right town and the right house. The short-term has now lasted nine years, and the stuff of my former life languishes, waiting for some sort of future.
It is, I find, a real struggle to place one’s self firmly and squarely in the here and now, to look with a clear, hard eye at what is true in the present tense. It’s not easy to speak the truth to yourself, to let go of the old story line, but it’s utterly necessary if you wish to lead any kind of real and vibrant life. To “get real,” as Dr. Phil would say, I need to question my decade-long death grip on things hidden away, things that may or may not serve or represent the me that I am today.
We store all sorts of things, tangible and intangible. We hold on to worn out dreams and old resentments as hard and fast as old LPs and half-used cans of paint. Much of what we store has value, but its value cannot be redeemed unless it is brought into the light: the beautiful painting, the unexplored talent, the extra bed, or the desire to sail to Hawaii all depend on breathing life into what has been stored away in the dark.
It’s not really the things themselves that we cling to of course: it’s the memories and feelings and longings those things engender. And that’s not necessarily bad as long as the stuff, along with the emotions behind it, have a place and function in the here and now. The “things” need to be present and accounted for. They need to serve in some way.
Stored stuff has no value, be it in the unconscious or a box in the closet. It serves only to take up space and siphon off energy in the form of money, worry, fear, disease or wishful thinking. It keeps part of you in the past and part of you in an imaginary future where you tell yourself that you’ll use the stuff you tucked away. And this constricts your presence in the Now.
It serves to ask, what are you hanging on to and why? Who are you without it? Without the old hurt, the designer sofa, the resume of accomplishments, the jeans that used to fit but are now too small? Who are you without the blame, the excuses, the habits, the fear? What stories are you telling yourself about these things, and are they even true?
Freedom and aliveness come from being wholly truthful and wholly present. Freedom and aliveness come when we unlock the door to the storage unit and drag everything out into the light for a good sorting. This is called therapy. Therapy is the commitment to get rid of the stuff that no longer serves. It is the commitment to finding, and ultimately accepting, the truth of who you are in this present moment; not who you were, not who you wish you were, or think you ought to be, but who you are. Right here. Right now.
When you unpack all the stuff you will find things you forgot you had. You’ll find things you won’t know why you kept. You’ll find things that make you smile with remembering but no longer need. And you’ll find things that you can use or share. Haul out the beautiful Mexican armoire and the box of extra dishes, the old tricycle and the term papers you wrote thirty years ago. While you’re at it, drag out the well-worn resentments and painful memories and the almost forgotten talents and atrophied dreams and either use them, or let them go. You can make three piles: sell; use; give away. Doing this will free you from what was, but is no more, free you from living for “someday.” Someday doesn’t exist. There is only this day and nothing, as Goethe said, is worth more than this day.
Over the past couple of decades I’ve succeeded in unpacking most of the intangible stuff of my past, which I am busy sorting and organizing and writing into a book. The rest of it, all the stuff crammed into a metal box on Highway 238, will (I swear) be coming out and finding its place as well. It’s gorgeous stuff, but it’s just stuff: chattels, as my great-grandmother would say. It’s who I was, who I wished to be perhaps, but it’s not who I am.
Who I am lives in a small, sweet house with a swing my husband made for me on an old walnut tree. I can be found here most mornings before dawn, sitting on my front porch with some tea and a small pack of dogs, sometimes in the company of my sweet children, watching the sun rise over the Beekman Woods, glad that I am right here, right now.