I believe I have mentioned more than once that shortly after we return from sabbatical – while we are still in a “journeying lightly” emotional space – we will be engaging in the process Marie Kondo outlines in her book, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. With this firmly in mind, I have still managed to accumulate a truly breath-taking collection of guidebooks, maps, flyers, and brochures measuring 8.75” in height (if I round down generously…) I have promised my husband – whose relationship to paper things is much more casual than mine – with hand on heart, that several of the heaviest will be left in London before we fly back across the Atlantic.
Many of these guidebooks and maps (as I believe I have also mentioned) are out of date, anyway. Surprisingly, this does not make discarding them easier, so I am trying to prepare myself psychologically to stay strong (and honor my promise). What I feel like is that I am abandoning faithful companions who (I know they are inanimate and I should say “which” or “that”, but they don’t feel inanimate!) have traveled with us since 1993 (the maps) and 1997 (the guidebooks). This means they are filled with little notes from previous trips…and memories, lots of memories. For those of you who have switched successfully to the digital age and use the web as your primary resource, this may make no sense. So, you will just need to be patient with me here.
But what is the most interesting aspect to me about this situation and my emotional response is how easy it is to hold mutually exclusive values…and how hard it is to stay clear and centered about what I say (and truly believe) I want: less material possessions and more space in my life. One of the reason I have responded so well to Kondo’s book is she understands that we acquire material possessions because they have meaning and, therefore, we need to disconnect the meaning from the object if we are going to release them and move on (as opposed to releasing them and immediately replacing them with something else to which we can transfer the meaning.)
Maybe for you, the idea of discarding old travel guides is “easy peasy” (This is a phrase to which I was introduced by the ticket agent at the train station when I asked him how difficult is was to get from Helensburgh to Edinburgh. It was actually, “Easy peasy, my dear.” But I digress.) So travel guides and maps are ‘just temporary paper’ to you. Do any of the following carry more meaning: photos of your parents in their youth? or your children as infants? your notes from college courses? the textbooks that cost so much you couldn’t even buy a cup of coffee for a whole semester? love letters? the leather gloves your grandmother wore on her wedding day? the purse/shoes/silk scarf/pin you paid “too much” for? your father’s/mother’s/grandfather’s/ grandmother’s military uniform (or medals, or Phi Beta Kappa key?) the rose from your prom/wedding/mother’s prom/mother’s wedding?
Work with me here. If none of those sound like a challenge, think of something that does.
When my mother died, I wanted something that she had used every day to remember her by. I chose a pair of her sunglasses. She and I loved sunglasses and always chose big, Audrey Hepburn style glasses. One day, putting my daughter into her car seat, I set them on the top of the car and drove away. Two blocks down the road, I realized with horror what I had done, made a U-turn and found them, already in pieces on the street. I sat there with the bits in my lap and my head on the steering wheel and sobbed until my daughter began to cry along with me, in sympathy I assume. I kept the ear piece from those sunglasses for several years before I was able to disconnect my memory of my mother from the object (which she would probably have broken or lost in those years had she been alive and using them.) My head was crystal clear that my mother was not present in that ear piece and that I would not forget my mother if I threw away that bit of plastic, my heart told me something else entirely. My good intentions simply could not trump my emotional need.
Being a born and bred Universalist, I don’t believe in the road to hell, so let’s say the road to psychological turmoil, emotional fog, and anxiety is paved with good intentions. And part of the inner journey of this sabbatical has been (and continues to be) the practice of choosing a different road. I want to be traveling a road toward clarity, inner peace, consonance, and emotional balance.
In the normal course of life, it is hard to notice where I have lodged (or displaced) meaning because the ‘meaning making’ often passes in a flash. And meaning doesn’t always get displaced to the most logical item. So, I am using the guidebooks and maps as a catalyst for some introspection about other bits of memorabilia (and pieces of clothing, and decorative items, and small appliances) that are awaiting me at home…and to consider how I sabotage my best intent, the value for which I truly yearn, by failing to notice that some other habitual behavior is constantly deflecting me. This can be the difficulty of letting go of a role that used to define me; it can be my expectation about other people’s expectations of me; or my fantasy about what a successful life looks like; or my Yankee genes which are programmed to save things “in case.”
Sabbatical allow me to ask some questions, like:
- Who is connected to this item (role, expectation, behavior) emotionally?
- What events are connected to it?
- What am I really afraid of losing if I release this item (expectation, role, behavior)?
and, perhaps most important:
- Is the yearning I am feeling toward a different priority real? Or is it something I think I ‘should’ want?
So, yes, the travel guides will go to the charity shop before we pack to return to the States. They are filled with beautiful illustrations and someone will want them for a school report or to cut up and make collages from. I need to release them (and probably 50% of the brochures and maps and flyers, too). I need to do this not merely because I promised my husband, but because I truly want to travel more lightly and these travel books are no longer fulfilling their purpose, they are just weight in the suitcase, and clutter in my life. My memories of traveling with our daughter in 1993 and 1997 — which is the freight these items are carrying — don’t actually need the guidebooks as a touchstone; they lodge as permanently as anything in this temporal world can, in my heart.
As Solstice looms with its long long period of light, may the light of your own inner wisdom shine brightly within you. Whether you are grappling with this, or with something quite other, may you find a little more clarity and a little better sense of balance.
May the dreaming darkness unfold new story.
May the dawning day reveal new clarity.
May heart-felt yearning inspire new possibility.
May discontent suggest new direction.
And may your journey be toward liberation. Always toward liberation.
Text © 2015, Andrea La Sonde Anastos
Photos © 2015, 2013 Immram Chara, LLC
Speaking of Travel: There are some new photos in the sliders on the home page and the blog. I will be updating and changing frequently as we journey.